Christopher Brimley updated October 30, 2010


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  • Scratchbuilding a Sinclair Service Station

    Elberta Sinclar Service Station in N Scale

    Scratch building is not as difficult as it looks. Unfortunately, many people have too many misconceptions about scratch building and fear even touching it. On the other side of the coin, are those that are excited to jump in and scratch build and start on a structure that is too big or out of their skill level. They then get frustrated or overwhelmed and give up on the project. I know this because I did the same thing myself, but I learned by going back and doing a few smaller structures, picking up a few techniques, and growing from the experience.

    One of my first recommendations with your first few structures is to follow a prototype structure and to keep your model as close as you comfortably can to it. This will help to keep it more realistic and truer to whatever scale you build in. My next recommendation is to have patience. This step alone can leave you with a great model or a bad model and all of your fingers intact. Also, don’t expect your first few attempts to be museum quality; like most things, it takes practice to become great.

    History & Prototype

    The structure I will be building is modeled after a prototype Sinclair service station in the town of Elberta, UT.  


    For me, to call Elberta a town is technically wrong, as of the 2000 census, the population stood at 278. Elberta is also known as “The Slant” and was founded as Mt. Nebo. After water failure in 1901, most of the early settlers moved away. Purchased in 1907 by Matthew B. Whitney, the settlement was renamed Elberta after the Elberta peaches growing in the area.


    The Sinclair company, as it stands today, was created on May 1, 1916 and is based out of Salt Lake City, UT. It is currently one of the largest privately-owned companies in the United States.  In 1969, Sinclair was purchased by ARCO and because of federal anti-trust provisions, they were forced to sell off the East coast operations to British Petroleum. In 1976, ARCO spun-off the Sinclair name and sold it to the current owners, which included the operations between the Mississippi River and the Rocky Mountains.  Sinclair is also well known for only using oil drilled within the US and Canada and refining their oil in three refineries in Wyoming and Oklahoma.

    The Prototype

    The service station we are going to build measures 20'-6" wide, 26'-4" in length and stands at 18' tall.  The front wall appears to have stucco applied to it and framed in with 1x4's. In fact, the entire building is trimmed with standard dimensional lumber, 1x4's, 1x6's, 2x6's & 2x8's.  The rest of the building is clad in a corrugated metal from top to bottom. This will help to make construction easier, because you will be able to disguise mistakes if needed.  The windows and doors are also wood and the chimney is brick, so the building is built from very basic materials.
    Please use these supplied reference photos to help aid you on your endeavors of building your own version of this Sinclair service station.

    Door Detail Back Detail Left Profile Right Profile

    Construction Materials Needed

    Evergreen Scale Models

    • Sheet Styrene
      • .020" - #9020
    • Strip Styrene
      • .010 x.020" - #100
      • .010 x.030" - #101
      • .020 x.020" - #120
      • .020 x.030" - #121
      • .020 x.040" - #122
      • .020 x.060" - #123
      • .030 x.060" - #133
      • .060 x.060" - #153

    Builders In Scale

    Tichy Train Group


    • Flat White - XF2
    • Flat Green - XF5
    • Medium Grey - XF20
    • Dark Grey - XF24
    • Flat Earth - XF52
    • Red Brown - XF64

    Polly Scale

    • D&H Grey - 414197


    Step One

    Take a sheet of .020" styrene and on one of the long edges, make a tic mark 1 15/16" in from the short edge. Then do the same on the other long side from the same edge you measured from before. Now take a good straight edge, such as a metal ruler and line it up with the two tick marks you made. Use an X-acto knife with a sharp #11 blade and gently & slowly score the styrene sheet along the ruler being held firmly with your other hand, then make a few more passes with a little more pressure to cut the sheet to size. If you apply too much pressure on the first cut, this is where you will run into issues of your cuts not being straight and uneven. This one strip will be enough for all for walls.


    Now, using the same technique as before, make tic marks at 11/16" from the short side, then cut, now we have our first side wall. Repeat this to get your other side wall. Now we need to cut out the front and back. Let’s begin with the front. Measure up 1 5/16" and cut, this gives us our height. Measure 1 1/2" over and cut, that gives us our width. For the back, we will measure 1 7/32" to get our height and 1 7/16" for our width and cut. We can go ahead and cut for our roof pitch, measure down from the top about a 1/2" on both sides and make a mark. This is the bottom of the pitch, find your center point on the top and now you have all the marks to cut your roof. Go ahead and cut it with your blade, or if you have one, your Chopper.

    Step Two

    Now we need to layout our window and door openings that need to be cut. For all of the dimensions, please refer to the supplied guide for your measurements. When you layout for your windows and doors, use a mechanical or sharp pencil and put an X through the part that will be removed, this will help to prevent you from cutting out the wrong part. Much care is involved with this step, so take your time, you will make mistakes if you rush yourself. The side walls are the simplest to cut so start there. Cut the sides of the windows first and then cut the bottom. You only need to cut part of the way through and then you can snap out the scrap.   The back is done in the same way but you need to cut along the top of the window. For the front, be very careful as the sides of the door will be narrow and you do not want to break them off, so cut slowly and with little pressure. Once all cuts are made, take a jewelers file and square up your corners, if needed.

    For roof support, we will need to add some strip styrene to the back of the front wall. Simply sandwich the front and back walls and trace the roof pitch onto the back. We will add the support strips in a later step.

    Door & Window openings cut

    Step Three

    We are going to add the trim to the front wall now, you could do this step after you have the four walls together, but I find by doing this step it makes the glue up a little easier. First, I added a strip of .020x.030" styrene on both sides, flush with the face. The strips will protrude about .010" on the back, and we want that for our side walls to latch onto. Then, I added a .010x.020" strip across the top. Next, using the same size of strip, I added the vertical parts on the face. I then capped it off with some .020x.060" strip across the top. Lastly, on the front, I added some .010x.020" strip around the door opening to frame it in. I then filed any strip that ran long so it was all flush and snug. Now we are ready to assemble the walls together.

    Step Four

    Now the critical part with gluing up the walls into a little box that resembles a structure is to make sure that the corners are always square.  I first glue on the back to the inside of one the sides, then brace it with some .060" square styrene, this will also help to keep the corner square. Let the wall setup. Next, do the same thing for the opposing wall.  After both walls set up, I added some bracing along the bottom of the side walls for extra strength. Now, add the front to the rest of the assembly in the same manor. Use a smaller strip to brace the corners because of the door opening. The last thing I did was add a strip .020" square styrene across the top of the three back wall sections. This is necessary so the roof wont interfere with the tops of the windows.

    Walls & trim added

    Step Five

    The roof is the next endeavor, but before we start this we need to add the strips onto the back of the front wall as mentioned in step two. Because we added the strip along the tops of the walls, you need to compensate and adjust the strips the same distance. I used .060" square stock to make the roof supports.

    I cut the roof from the same stock as the walls and used the same methods, as well. The piece I cut for the roof is 2" long by 1 15/16" long, almost square. Next, you need to find the center point on the shorter side of the roof, and make a tic mark on both ends. Now you do not want to cut all of the way through, you just need to score it. Bend the sheet where the score is, but be careful not to break the seam. By doing this it will help to keep the roof straight and level. Now glue the roof to the structure, but use care to insure that all is well and good.

    Once the glue set up, I added .010x.030" trim around all the edges of the roof.  This is not a necessary step but I felt it added to the over all aesthetics of the roof.  Typically, I would add rafters to the underside of the roof for added detail, but as I was sticking to the prototype, I decided to leave them off.

    Roof Assembly

    Step Six

    Now we are going to start applying the corrugated metal siding to the structure, but before we do this I would paint a base coat on all of the trim, to ease the paint process. I used a flat brown and did not bother masking anything off due to the fact it will be covered soon. The siding comes in six-inch strips. We need to cut many 1/4" pieces from this stock.  The best method I have found is a sharp pair of scissors. I do not recommend using an X-acto knife. When you cut, try to ensure you are cutting straight, this is easy because the corrugations in the foil act as a guide. I also eyeball each cut; they do not need to be exact.

    There are a few methods to applying the siding. The method I used is plain old Cyanoacrylate (CA) glue.  The other method is using a double sided 3M transfer tape. I have used this method on other structures and does work well.  When applying your siding, be sure to stagger your layers if need.  On the corners you will need to wrap the siding around, so make sure the piece will cover the needed amount of space. Once you have siding on the walls, roof and the back of the front wall, you will need to cut a ridge cap. Again, using scissors, I cut a long and narrow strip (a little less then an 1/8"). I then applied this to the roof with the CA glue.

    The foil the corrugated siding is made from is highly reflective, so you will need to paint it. I use a thinned down medium grey, brushed on liberally.  I then added a few washes of a very thin dark grey and capped off with a wash of india ink/alcohol.

    All courrugated metal added

    Step Seven

    The windows I chose to use on my service station are good at capturing the feel of the prototype, but are not an exact match.  I was also going to modify the windows to more closely match the prototype, but I felt I should leave it as a fairly easy structure. The windows I chose are made by Titchy Train Group. I did do some minor modifications to the windows to help age them, such as cutting out mullions. I used the same flat brown as a base coat on the windows as on the trim. I then glued the windows to the structure -- be sure to check they are level. On the prototype, all of the windows are boarded up in one way or another.  So to try to match them I used basswood sheet and scrap sheet styrene. Both were stained with india ink/alcohol after I glued them onto the back of the windows. On the sections that I removed the mullions, I cut a small piece of basswood to fit inside.

    Windows added

    Step Eight

    I decided to go a little overboard on the doors and made them as close to the prototype as possible.  For your first scratch built structure I wouldn't recommend building it, but give it a try if you want.
    The frame of the door is built from .020x.020 and .040" strips, then backed with .020" sheet. The X bracing is also the .020" square stock. I then painted the door in a flat green, trying to match the very weathered door pattern.  The lighter portions are D&H Grey. I then added the basswood on the left doors and then added sheet styrene painted flat earth onto the right. Next, I added the two sheets of corrugated metal on the right two doors and painted with a wash of dark grey.  I then gave the door assembly a India ink/alcohol wash to further weather it.

    Step Nine

    Now we finally get to paint the front of the service station. I painted the front with thinned medium grey. Once the paint was dry, I added the Sinclair sign that I printed on decal paper in my printer. After the sign setup, I took an old brush that I had cut the bristles very short, dipped it in some flat white paint, wiped most of the paint off on a rag, and then add the paint to the front of the building in a stabbing motion to give it a textured look.

    Finished doors and sign

    Step Ten

    In the last step, I first glued the door in its opening -- try not to get glue on the painted surfaces. I then used the D&H Grey to weather and lighten up the trim on all locations, again attempting to match the prototype. The last little detail I added was a small electric meter on the right side. I made this from some .015" wire and a small piece of .030x.060" strip styrene.  I painted it with the D&H Grey, and added the illusion of a hole by using a ultra fine Sharpie.

    The Finished Structure


    I hope you have enjoyed reading these instructions as much as I enjoyed writing about and building the Sinclair for you. I hope some of you will take the time and try for yourself this little structure. If you do build it, please send TrainLife your photos so we can share them with other readers.

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