Christopher Brimley updated April 4, 2011

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  • Big City ...Small Space

    Model Railroading - March 2002 - Page 38

    by Bill Hughes

    Photos by Tim Sommers

    For the past few years, I had been dreaming about modeling a Midwestern urban scene. This may seem rather odd, coming from a modeler who lives at the foot of the Wasatch Mountains in Utah. Not so odd though, considering I grew up in the 1950s just outside Sioux City, Iowa. Those childhood images are what we all seem to want to re-create in our adult years. Sioux City was a bustling, prosperous metropolis back then. It was one of the ten busiest railroad hubs in the nation during its heyday. Only recently have I come to appreciate some of the art deco buildings that were erected back then and how they serve as beautiful reminders of that era.

    Model Railroading - March 2002 - Page 39

    About two years ago, the leaders of the Hostlers Model Railroad Club here in Ogden put out a request for some new modules. Visitors to our annual train festival in March were starting to complain that they were seeing the same modules year after year. Just about this time, Bachmann announced the release of their new Cityscenes buildings. This series included two small skyscrapers, a large hotel, and a good-sized department store. This was just the spark that I was waiting for. Im not much of a scratchbuilder, so re-creating the tall buildings I would need had always been a stumbling block. Now I had no excuse. Recently I have seen much more interest in urban modeling. George Sellios, Art Fahie, Mike Palmiter and the Rensselaer Model Railroad Society among others, have led the way in this aspect of modeling.

    The Hostler modules have three mainline tracks that eat up 10" of real estate along the front of the modules. If I were to stick with the usual module depth of 24", I realized I wouldnt have nearly enough space to create a city with any convincing depth. I elected to make the module 38" deep. I also decided that the module would be at least 8' long. To make it easier to handle, I built the module as two 4' sections. Even though an 8' module would have been unwieldy, trying to align the two 4' sections with three mainline tracks at each show is a real pain in the neck.

    Model Railroading - March 2002 - Page 40

    I began construction with "plywood for the sides and back and 1x4 girders for support. The base on which the city rests is two layers of 2" pink insulating foam board. In hindsight, the advantage of using foam to save weight is minimal in a 4' module and trying to glue foam to foam and foam to wood in my garage in the middle of winter was not easy. I used " Masonite for the backdrop and rounded the corners.

    I then began assembling over 30 buildings. Many were built unmodified, but I painted and added mortar and weathering to most of them. Members of our round-robin modeling group came over to brainstorm how to place the buildings and plot out the streets to create a believable scene. We spent several evenings arranging and rearranging things till we got it just right.

    Creating the streets and sidewalks was a rewarding part of the project. Prototypical city streets are far too wide for modeling purposes. They eat up huge amounts of space and work against the feeling of tall buildings standing side-by-side forming deep canyons. I made the streets only about 27' wide. This allows two lanes of traffic and parking on only one side of the street, which makes the streets seem more crowded and bustling. The streets were made with one large sheet of .060 thick styrene across the entire base of the city. After the buildings and sidewalks were glued in place, I scribed in the expansion joints and cracks with dental tools. The streets were then spray painted with Concrete Gray, given a wash of India ink diluted in rubbing alcohol, and then airbrushed with Grimy Black to accentuate the gutters and tire tracks. I had a lot of fun adding drainage grates in the curbs and manhole covers in the streets and sidewalks. One visitor even asked me if I had plans to add steam coming out of them!

    Model Railroading - March 2002 - Page 41

    For the backdrop, buildings were cut out from a printed poster and applied with contact cement. Rob Spangler did a great job painting in the clouds and blending everything together. I have used a number of billboards from various manufacturers, but the new releases from Bar Mills are fantastic. Ive also installed one of their sidewalk freight elevators.

    The cathedral on the right side of the module has a wedding party coming down the steps. It also has interior lighting to show off the stained glass windows. I installed a speaker in the belfry and visitors can activate the bells by pushing a momentary contact button on the front of the module.

    Im very pleased at how my little city turned out. Of course, I have many details and mini-scenes still to be added. In the meantime, I can close my eyes and travel back to a simpler time.

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6 comments
  • SD45LONGHOODFOWARD TERRY /Tsunami decoder
    SD45LONGHOODFOWARD TERRY /Tsunami decoder This article was very informative i have learned a trick or two from reading it i like how the author use selective scenery compression and Thanks to Christopher Brimely also for sharing some hints and tips!
    May 4, 2011
  • Christopher Brimley
    Christopher Brimley Glad you liked the article, I found it to be very useful as well. Bill Hughes is a fantastic modeler and his current layout is fantastic. I wish I had something that showed it.
    May 4, 2011
  • SD45LONGHOODFOWARD TERRY /Tsunami decoder
    SD45LONGHOODFOWARD TERRY /Tsunami decoder Is his Work Any thing like George Sellios? he is my favorite urban modeler the era he models is not my favorite but his technique is fantastic...but finding a modern city modeler has been some what challenging for me any ways' and do you know of any Chris...  more
    May 4, 2011
  • Steven  Smith
    Steven Smith in terms of modern city layouts. There arent many out there. Vic Smith has a nice modern layout called Citys edge and it makes appearances in Model railroader, It has modern vehicles and trains but it doesnt have modern buildings just stuff from the 50s l...  more
    May 5, 2011 - 1 likes this