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  • Town and City Street Paving Made Easy With Walthers Modular Panels

    by V. S. Roseman

    Photos by the author

    Cobblestones set up with light gray mortar in a busy industrial area.
    Model Railroading - October 2004 - Page 31

    Walthers has recently introduced a line of styrene injection-molded street paving sets. This sectional approach to street building in HO scale provides a properly crowned street in your choice of brick or concrete. Each of these paving materials are available as a set of all straight sections with sidewalks and curbs, or in an intersection set that can form T or + city intersections. The latter also includes some straight panels and other useful panels such as elbow corners, which can form a round street ending if desired. All of these sets include proper curbing material as well as sidewalks, narrow and wide driveway aprons, drains, sewer covers and fire hydrants. To fit the drains, the street panels need to be notched by the modeler. To insert the sewer covers, a hole must be drilled in the paving. For those preferring not to do this type of work, some aftermarket manufacturers make stick-on sewer covers and drains. A third set from Walthers provides concrete lining to run an HO scale railroad track in the center of the street. Finally, a fourth set builds a representation of a modern molded railroad crossing. If you don't look too close, these sections dont look too different from some older types of railroad crossings seen at major streets. Although you could run tracks in or across any of these street panels, even through intersections, these last two sets make the work easier.

    Walthers Street Construction Method

    The pavement sections set up in pairs with a splice plate that is glued in from below. There are sidewalks and curbs that come ready to be attached. The appearance of the street panels can be improved by adding mortar between the bricks after the brick panels have been painted (Roberts Mortar or Scale Model Works Mortar). Apply it with a stick or your finger, then rub any excess material off with a damp cloth. Concrete gray or light gray will enhance the brick, but in fact, brick streets that carry motor traffic often have either no mortaring or dark mortar due to dirt. So you might want to use a black mortar to make a dirtier looking street. For the most realistic cobblestone, take the time to paint some individual stones. The color photos will give you an idea of what this looks like; you can tint a whole street while watching TV as it does not require a lot of brain work. When I do work like this, I start with either the darkest color and work lighter or the opposite. Starting with the darkest gray you want, mix a small amount in the bottom of a waxed cold drink cup or similar paint receptacle. Go over the panels, painting only a couple of stones in a square inch with the mixture. When the street is done, see how it looks. Next add some brown to the mix and repeat the procedure. Then add some white to make the color visibly lighter than the color of your paving stones. Repeat the painting procedure, and finally, wipe out the cup, or dispose of it and mix a very pale gray or gray-brown color. Add a few stones in color to each square inch of street material you have. You will have a very realistic cobblestone street. You can do the same kind of weathering with brick streets too, which will give the impression of aged or weathered brick.

    From low viewing angles the plastic has a strong specular (mirror like) reflection that needs to be dampened for it to look like real street paving. Painting it with flat paints (and even sanding the material first) will help to break up the super smooth surface and prevent excess reflection.

    The sectional brick pavement are ideal for simulating brick streets found in older neighborhoods, industrial zones of the 19th and first half of the 20th Centuries or in rebuilt modern downtown areas being preserved. The more modern concrete paving panels provide a simple modular method for improving the realism of most model railroads.

    Cobblestone Streets

    While some towns use the same type of paving for all of their streets, others use concrete on avenues and asphalt or other materials on side streets. Some also have cobblestone or brick streets in historical or rebuilt neighborhoods. It is easy to modify the Walthers street panels to create cobblestone streets or do a fair approximation of asphalt paving.

    Where cobblestone streets meet modern pavements such as asphalt, there is often a terminator strip of stones at the end of the cobbles. In some cases there is no terminator, and in still others, the paving material is just slopped over the cobblestones in an irregular separation.
    Model Railroading - October 2004 - Page 32

    Back in the 1950s, cobblestone paving was found fairly commonly, and some still exists today, but most has been paved over or ripped out. The photos showing asphalt partly covering the stones are representative of how we usually see cobblestones today, where the top paving has worn off. Prototype cobblestone streets shown here in the photos are side streets in Manhattan and do not have the usual center line made up of a longitudinal row of cobblestones set 90 to the street, which is probably more common on avenues. On streets with trolley car tracks, there would often be four to six rows of longitudinal stones on each side of the rails to show the loading gauge of the cars (overhang of the carbody) while in some towns only a single row of stones would be set to indicate trolley car clearances. Some cities even had cobblestone streets with concrete in the center, and tracks laid in this center strip. Walthers has a set that includes individual panels to be glued between the rails and to each side which are used with the street panels to make a complete street with a track. By trimming the paving sections it is possible to add a second track, turnouts or tracks at an angle to the street. Real cobblestones often did not have any mortaring, but in recent times - since the 1950s anyway - a gray mortaring was used. The problem here is that there is so little contrast between the mortar and the stones that it is difficult to show in model form. One end of the street may come out looking different from the other due to the amount of mortar you use, as there is really no way to control this except by going back and re-doing unsatisfactory sections. In fact, this is the way real streets look, varying with the amount of traffic that traverses each part of the street. A good example are the intersections near Gansevoort Street and 9th Avenue just below 14th Street in Manhattan, or any heavily used cobblestone streets that might still be in use in your town.

    The Rock Island runs down the center of cobblestone Kedzie Street thanks to Walthers concrete track sections.
    Model Railroading - October 2004 - Page 33

    Concrete and Asphalt Paving

    Light gray mortar or putty applied on the Walthers concrete panels could be used to minimize the visual effect of the panel joints. The concrete panels will look much better if you begin by lightly sanding the tops to eliminate plastic shine and to obtain a realistic texture. You could even paint a light coat of your favorite concrete color over the sanded surface to insure an absolutely flat finish. Curbs and sidewalks for either the brick or concrete paving sets can be painted in concrete color too for increased realism.

    When painted black (or a dark gray), the concrete street sections look a lot like asphalt. Lay out your streets and apply a plastic-compatible putty, such as Squadron Green Putty to the separating cracks. Sand lightly to smooth these putty lines and paint the street black (for new asphalt) or dark gray (for older asphalt) for a reasonable looking representation. Remember, except for cracking that appears on poorly applied streets there shouldn't be joints.

    Street Accessories

    Walthers supplies sewer covers, drain grates and fire hydrants in their street sets, and these are easy to install. Anywhere you want a sewer cover, drill a 1/4" hole in any street panel and insert a molded sewer cover from below and glue in place after painting it dark gray or black. Sewer covers tend to be a dark iron color, but some get polished to a silver gray by the wheels of cars. The drains need to be installed by notching the edge of a paving panel before installing the sidewalk. I use a Zona saw for this work. Walthers supplies some very nice fire hydrants or Johnny plugs as we used to call them. Fire hydrants were different colors in every city. Yellow or red are common hydrant colors, sometimes with a silver top. Here in New York they have always been painted black with a silver top for as long as I can remember. These can be glued to any sidewalk panel you like.

    Although many choose to make white or yellow stripes by using thin pinstriping tape available from automotive stores, it is the least realistic method because of the thickness and sheen of the tape...and it tends to loose adhesion in time. A better method is to use stripe decals (or cut decal film into strips). The decal stripes will settle down into bricks or other separations in the paving in a realistic way with the use of a decal setting solution. On concrete or asphalt streets, the stripes could be masked and painted, either with an airbrush or paintbrush, but this method really isnt practical for brick streets. Crosswalks, fire lanes, bus stops or other typical painted details found on streets can also be done with decals.

    In addition to the included sidewalks and curbs, there is a little curb ending strip to model a street with only dirt or grass beside the pavement. There are also wide and narrow driveway entrances in the sidewalk panel assortment; these could be spliced together to make wider ones. In addition to their obvious use as driveways for garages, alleys between building got these driveway pieces too.

    The street panels assemble with tabs that help key the parts. When a pair of matching parts are joined they form the complete crown (arch) of the roadway. When these are firmly together you can add the curb and sidewalk assemblies. The geometry of these parts is such that you can make any type of 90 corner, including double-wide avenues with two sets of roadways with a center median. I have found that it is useful to assemble individual modules of sidewalk and street, and then slip the sections together and draw out their locations on the layout with a pencil or marker. This helps to determine how many sets will be needed. As with most phases of construction, adding street paving can be done in stages, a little at a time.

    Curved Streets

    Curved streets are possible with some cutting beyond what was intended by the manufacturer. Continuous curves on real streets with brick or cobblestone are usually built with wedges formed between rows of bricks on the outer edge. While the best way to simulate this would be to cut thousands of individual bricks or cobblestones to match the Walthers sections, a much easier and nearly as good method would be to cut modules into trapezoidal forms as shown. A single piece can angle the street, while using more trapezoidal sections can form almost any kind of curved street you like.

    These are some easy modifications that can make these paving kits even more useful. With additional work it should be possible to make many other configurations of paved streets to suit your layout.

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