Sunday, February 24, 2013

BG Tower and Techniques

My layout will require a great number of structures.  I also hope to model the prototype relatively faithfully.  I have been concerning myself lately with how I will accomplish this in light of the dearth of T-gauge structure kits.

I considered 3D printing and brass etching, both of which would require a great deal of design work, plus the manufacturing would need to be done by a third party with a slow turn-around time.  On the other hand, there are a variety of ready-to-print structure plans available, such as those from ScaleScenes or Model-Builder.  These can be re-sized into T-scale and printed in my own work-space.  The printed structure technique actually makes a great deal of sense in T, because at a 1:450 reduction,  texture and relief is less visible.  They are "pre-decorated" and inexpensive to boot.  

Some of the commercial structure designs can be used as-is or modified for my layout, but I will still require quite a lot of custom buildings.  Not that this is a bad thing!  In fact this is one reason I like T gauge;  I enjoy the challenge of figuring out how to build something new and unique.  I've gotten quite handy with photo editing software, due to my work on T-gauge rolling stock, so making my own structure artwork seemed doable..   

One reason I wanted to build BG tower was to get some practical experience modeling both printed structures, plus creating my own plan.  I had a copy of the B&O standard plans to refer to, plus some photos of the landmark spot from my railfanning days in Pittsburgh.  At 12x12 feet, BG is a small structure as well and relatively uncomplicated.  So I decided to model the tower as my first project.

First I created the design from the plans and photos.  This required about 6 hours of photo editing work, inclusive of making test prints.  I used the prototype photo as my "pallet" for textures and colors, doing a lot of "cloning" and cut/paste from the photos.   I am modeling the tower as it was in the 70's, so the paint was faded and appearance rather weathered.  Here's a pic of the work in progress:



I normally just print my rolling stock art on letter paper to test the size and appearance.  Here is the finished design image:  (Free to download for non-commercial use.)



The material for the walls and roof was the subject of some consideration.  At first, I just printed on plain copier paper for a test model, and frankly it looked pretty good!  



However, I knew thin paper wouldn't hold up over time--to changes in humidity and bumping as I work on the layout.  I considered thin styrene sheet, which would be relatively strong, and which I could  possibly print on directly, or apply a "sticker" or decal of the design to.  My experiments yielded the following:  Styrene sheet cannot be printed (easily at least) in an inkjet.  Clear stickers didn't seem crisp and sharp enough when applied to the white styrene sheet.  I tried printing directly on post-card weight cardstock and I was happy with it.  The jury remains out on the decal technique because I was happy enough with the cardstock.  It seems like less trouble than styrene+decals would be.  However, for a structure with more textures, that may be a good alternative... stay tuned!

The cardstock walls remained flat and unbowed, printing was crisp and bright.  I'm confident that with proper sealing there won't be issues with bowing or warping.  My biggest concern was the corners.  My technique is to cut out the structure as a long horizontal strip, and fold along the corners.  I lightly score the outside of the corners to make a crisp fold, and brace the inside with square or angle stock.  The only issue is the white exposed strip on the outside of the corner itself; and that the edge is not really sharp.  Painting cures the exposed white strip of card;  Experimenting a bit, I found I can also flow a fine line of cement along the outside edge to fill it in.  I used thinned Krystal Klear actually--just because I had it on hand.  Even though it's actually a bit rounded, it looks better than the un-filled edge, and when painted looks fine.  Here's a photo where the technique is visible in the reflection on the roof hip, galvanized iron hip roll on the original prototype.   All vertical edges were filled this way, and all edges on the roof. 


Below is one more photo of the mostly finished structure;  It still needs a staircase.  I am hoping to use etched brass from a model ship detail kit and add various other details such as a smoke-jack and train-order board.  A shot of Dullcote will seal it up.



All-in-all I'm quite happy with how it turned out and the technique!  As I do more I'll post updates.  

-Jesse








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