2. Bring On the Kits!

After a lifetime of modeling, I've accumulated an awful lot of "crap" that includes quite a few first-generation building kits. I have a number of favorites, many of which made it onto this layout (and several that didn't). In this case, they'll all be built in their original form—no kitbashing, just careful painting and weathering, with some gentle Americanization and just a smidge of era-appropriate detailing. Given my penchant for serious kitbashing, this in itself will be a challenge for me!

Pola dominates my picks for two reasons (actually, three). One, they were among the first to be imported; an early adopter of N Scale, Atlas was quick to rebrand many Pola first-gen items starting in 1967. And two, they made a great many useful, generic railroad-related structures that weren't overtly European in design. Arnold did the same, but their range was much more limited, and the kits were harder to find. Heljan also suffered from limited product range, as well as lower quality. By contrast, Faller, Kibri and Vollmer started out making mountain chalets, urban buildings and train stations, all of which were simply way too European-looking for use on a layout that's pretending to be American. Although Pola and Faller did produce several first-gen American-style kits, there were far too few to populate a complete layout. So, we were stuck making do!

Kit names link to individual detail pages.

  1. Pola Stone Enginehouse
  2. Pola Machine Shop — finished
  3. Pola Freight Depot — finished
  4. Pola Houses Under Construction
  5. Arnold Water Tower
  6. Pola Rolling Lift Bridge — finished
  7. Pola Machine Factory — under construction
  8. Pola Factory & Faller Water Tower
  9. Arnold Scale House
  10. Pola Freight Crane — under construction
  11. Heljan Coal Tower — finished
  12. Pola Freight Station
  13. Kibri Switch Tower
  14. Kibri Diesel Fuel Station
  15. Faller Tunnel Portals
  16. Atlas Plate Girder Bridges
  17. Pola Pedestrian Overpass

Plus, there are some other kits I'll be using that aren't on the plan:

Since I already own nearly all of these kits, I got started on them right away. Above, I've begun unboxing them (I should have videotaped the process, since unboxing is a thing these days—go figure). The detail pages above feature "mini-build blogs," so stay tuned to find out what happens next.

By the way, if you've visited before and seem to recall a sanding facility being among the kits that isn't there now, you're not imagining things. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn't get it to fit comfortably on the layout—even after bashing it down to less than half its normal size. The railroad will simply have to survive without sand. Instead, I've added the second Pola freight station, which I plan to model as an abandoned building.

One last item: lighting. I've not yet decided if I'll illuminate the buildings. However, if I do, I'm sorely tempted to use real light bulbs for that genuine tungsten glow; I'll power them at a lower voltage to prolong their life. I also have some first-gen street lights that I'll run regardless of which way I go with the buildings.

My Silly Rules

One of my goals for this project was to see what I could make of "stock" kits, so I laid down a few rules. The first was no kitbashing—indeed, no modifications of any sort, save for a few trivial exceptions. In my modeling heyday, I would automatically discard kit bases and then scratchbuild foundations, which went a long way to improving realism. This time around, I'll "embraced the base," leaving them just the way they are, applying only paint and maybe some weeds.

My exceptions are quite few. I allowed myself to omit trim and gutter details, as these often impart European flavor, and leaving them off is a quick and dirty way of Americanizing structures, even if only a little. Also, if the bases of two adjacent buildings interfered with one another, I'd slice off the excess from one base—but I'd often reattach the removed bit elsewhere on the same base so as to maintain the kit's character.

The one big exception to my rules is the little Pola freight station: it fit perfectly across from its bigger brother, and also hid one of the many unsightly uncouplers, but it was never a favorite kit of mine. So, I decided to model it as an abandoned/burned out structure, modifying it as lightly as possible, and using some extra roof parts from a spare houses under construction kit to make the collapsing roof.

Kitbuilding Philosophies and Techniques

For this layout, I'm not doing anything that couldn't have been done back in the late 60s or early 70s; that said, I'm definitely not adhering to the techniques I might have used back in my teens. Which is to say: no tube cement—I'm using MEK (a liquid solvent), which was available back then, and I'm painting nearly everything with rattle can spray paints, which were available back then. I'm not going to regress back to the days when I didn't know any better just for the sake of "purity," and risk building an unappealing, amateurish-looking layout. Of course, that may sound contradictory: I'm using kits, models and other items that are now all considered "substandard." The idea is to see how good I can make substandard products look without bending any "rules," and to have fun doing it!

My toolkit is dirt simple: flush cutters, a sharp knife, and nail files. I apply the same basic suite of construction techniques to virtually every kit, although the order of execution may not always be the same: I might complete certain subassemblies before painting; I might paint parts before removing them from the trees; etc. I also stick to a fairly limited number of colors, which gives the layout a cohesive, unified look, and avoids drawing too much attention to any one structure or scene. I also spray the back of almost every part with flat black, which helps disguise a structure's lack of interior, and makes it light-tight when illuminated.

Finally, I weather everything, and while this wasn't often done back in the day, there was nothing to stop anyone from doing it, least of all available materials. I make my own weathering washes from artist's gouache and water. It has only one drawback: it's water-soluble after it dries, so if a model will be handled a lot or subjected directly to moisture, it needs to be sealed with a clear flat finish. On the plus side, it's impossible to over-do an effect, as is the case with acrylic or especially India ink; it will not harm the paint under it; it dries absolutely dead flat; excess wash can be removed after it's dry with a damp paper towel; and, if you're not satisfied with an effect, you can just wash it all off and try again.

I use three basic weathering washes:

  • black wash—my substitute for India ink
  • rust wash—variable mix of burnt sienna and yellow ochre
  • mortar wash—white with a touch of yellow ochre

That's it. No modern-day magic tricks; just really basic modeling honed by decades of experience.

Previous Chapter | Chapter Index | Next Chapter

Copyright © 2017-2019 by David K. Smith. All Rights Reserved | Site Map