Christopher Brimley updated December 2, 2011


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  • Kitbashing Ellis Engineering



    Details can be made to "pop" by applying the proper finish and color to your structures and details. The contrasting textures of the roof, brickwork and concrete foundation base help to give this building appeal. The chain-link fence in the front of the structure was removed for photographic purposes.
    Model Railroading - January 1999 - Page 54 Model Railroading - January 1999 - Page 55

    It's called the "art of model railroading," and that says it all. Combining the skill of a craftsman with the eye of an artist is something we do in model railroading all the time. Not just an accurate replica of a ship, plane, or even a train, but for the most part a modeling effort that goes beyond the "counting of rivets" and into the creativity, or "genesis" of modeling what was, or what could have been. It's a long reach, but one that almost everyone in this hobby of ours has attempted.

    One of the things that makes a railroad special is its scenery, and of course, its buildings. Kitbashing is a term that's been around for awhile, first popularized by modeling great Dave Frary, and refined through the years by other modelers, such as Art Curren. When I happen across a structure kit, the first question I ask myself is, "What can I do with it?" Earl Smallshaw, of Middletown, CT, has long used a simple philosophy... "If it can't be seen... don't model it." I've adopted this work ethic in everything I do, selectively choosing kit parts, often making big structures out of "little" ones, and forcing a creative hand at the same time.

    The boiler house used for this article is made by Kibri, a well-known European manufacturer known for producing outstanding quality injection-molded plastic kits. Available in both HO and N scales, this kit can be "snapped" together to form a unique structure, but by adding a little bit of styrene and a whole lot of patience this building can be doubled in size, and become a one-of-a kind structure, the kind that can help to give your model railroad its own identity!

    Let's Get Started

    Building "Ellis Engineering" is not only's inexpensive too! While many kitbash projects require the combination of multiple kits, almost everything you'll need comes inside of the Kibri Boiler House box. I've dipped into my scrap box to provide some extra details, but aside from a sheet of styrene and some HO scale 4x4 styrene strips (6x8 would work well for an HO structure), you'll need little other than your normal modeling tools.

    This building is meant to be viewed as per the lead photo. If placed in a scene that cannot be viewed from all sides this structure's "footprint" is more than doubled. As most railroads (especially modular and along-the-wall layouts) are generally only viewed from the front this building approach not only yields unique results...but stretches your building "dollar" as well.

    The basic floor plan in the Figure illustrates how to use the walls included with the kit to their best advantage. With a minor reshuffling of pieces the structure can easily be made to "face" the other way.

    Before assembling any kit pieces there is work to be done. As both the front and rear walls of the kit now face forward, two "new" end walls will have to be constructed for use as the rear of the building. Using a felt-tip marker trace the outline of wall section #2 onto a piece of styrene (or cardstock). You will need two identical pieces to complete the project. While you may wish to duplicate the cornice detail of the original walls, I didn't, choosing instead to simply capture their profiles and spray paint them a flat black.

    As this photo shows, painting can be as easy as 1-2-3 (left to right). The original structure is molded in a dark red/brown tone, so 1) spray with automotive gray primer, 2) dry-brush Polly-Scale Reefer Yellow, and 3) follow with an application of ground-up chalk.
    Model Railroading - January 1999 - Page 56

    I did not use the roof that came with the kit since I wanted the structure to have a more "American" flavor. A new roof was made from styrene laminated with the 4x4 strips, evenly spaced, to simulate metal roofing. While the pitch of the roof remained the same as the original, I now had to make not one, but two additional roofs for the new structures. By using the dimensions of the original I was able to easily duplicate its size for the shorter (original) structure, while elongating its new "sister" structure's roof by the length of the newly inserted wall #3 (see Figure).

    You will need to fabricate a new "side" wall, a "dummy," to represent the back, unseen part of the structure. Cut the "dummy" wall to the same height as the original, elongating it enough to assure that the new, longer building, will sit squarely to allow for proper roof installation. Remember, the only original kit parts in the new "addition" is end wall #2 ( formerly a rear wall), and a short section of wall #3 ( you may choose to make this structure even larger by employing more of the #3 wall so the recess between the two buildings can be made even more pronounced). I painted the unseen back wall black before assembling.

    Glue...Paint...and Glue Again

    The main structure has a total of seven wall pieces. I assembled mine using a squaring jig, such as those offered by Micro Mark. This structure features "poured concrete" foundation pieces that will be added after painting. Add the smaller "house" structure, glued to wall #2, before painting. You may wish to permanently affix the structure to a base made of wood, styrene or cardstock to hold it firmly in place during completion. I used automotive gray primer, followed by a coat of Polly Scale Reefer Yellow dry-brushed to the bricks and dusted with some black chalk to bring-out the details cast into the structure.

    Before adding the roof secure the windows in place. The fit is so snug that no glue is required, but first mist, not paint, the window mullions with a light coat of gray primer, it will serve to downplay the look of the oversized window frames so common in many plastic kits.

    The roof, with its added battens, was added after the structure was glued onto its base. An additional batten was used as a ridge beam, lying on the roof seam and hiding the joint. The roof was painted Flat Black, followed by a coat of Caboose Red, applied lightly so as to let the darker under coat show through.

    Cut and fit the lower "concrete" wall sections at this time. Rather than painting them, I applied a wash of alcohol and India ink to them to give them a mottled look. A light dusting of brown chalk helps to bring out the warm look of aged concrete.

    The Details

    After installing the toole chain-link fencing, nippers were used to trim the heads off of the fence post pins. You'll want to touch up the top of the posts with paint after this step.
    Model Railroading - January 1999 - Page 57

    Details can be the most expensive part of completing a scene, but they don't have to be. A good junk box and a little imagination is all you need to visually expand a scene and make it realistic. The concrete slabs that surround the front of the building are simply 220-grit sandpaper, sprayed with primer. They were cut into scale 20' squares, then torn to represent cracks, and glued down with DAP® contact cement. Don't make them look too neat - raise some (concrete) edges, but if it gets "out-of-hand," simply glue little pieces of ground foam along the seams to represent weeds (and hide any possible mistakes !). Here again, a little alcohol and India ink will go a long way in making the area look irregular, mottled and some what unkempt. Rubbing some brown chalk into the surface with your fingertip will add texture and color variation as well.

    Fences can be a lot of fun to build, and you needn't buy a kit to do it. Some straight pins, hammered with a small tack hammer every 8' scale feet make dandy fence posts. Brush paint the pins to eliminate their high gloss finish. Now, using a hobby knife and a steel rule, cut a piece of toole, (a fine mesh product available at any fabric store for about 25 cents), to a scale 6'-8' high. Spray both sides of the toole lightly with some primer. A little adhesive will hold it securely onto your fence posts. Clip the heads off of your posts, and you have a fence, and it only cost about a nickel to make.

    I added some girders to one side of the structure; it seems that Walthers gives these little gems away as interior details in many of their Cornerstone Series structures. If you're like me you can think of better things to do with them than hide them inside of a building.

    The sign was printed on a laser-jet printer, although any commercial sign will identify this building as well.

    That's it, if you thought only a "crafts man" could get results like this, think again. My tool box consists of little more than a hobby knife and a steel straight edge. Don't let your curiosity stop here, there isn't a kit made that can't be re-created with some simple's just another way of putting the "art" in model railroading.

    If you'd like to see more of my N scale Niagara & Pearl Creek layout, visit my web site at when you get the chance.

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