Best References

Model Railroad Structures From A to Z was
Model railroad scratchbuilding by Wayne E. & Mary Cay Wesolowski (older scratchbuilding techniques)****
Blue Ridge Summit, Pa. : Tab Books, c1981. 230 pages with illustrations, covers working with wood, strathmore and plaster in good detail for buildings and structures, possibly a bit better than the Frary books.  Recently reprinted by Carstens.

Darryl Huffman has produced a fantastic 4 DVD set on scratchbuilding wooden structures. Highly recommended for those just starting out with wood or more advanced modelers.

David Frary has several excellent books now available online! 303 Tips for Detailing Model Railroad Scenery and Structures**** and 222 Tips for Building Model Railroad Structures*** Can't beat the price either!

See my other references on the buiding links page.

Fun With Paper

Lately I've been messing around in O and N scale with paper bricks and car sides. I have yet to get a car side that I'm happy with yet but I've had some good luck with Paper Creek brick paper, especially in O scale.

This website will permanently put paid to the idea that paper cannot produce prototypical buildings:
Pendon Model Railroad Museum, incredible paper buildings

Strip cutter for paper

I've been doing some paper shingles ala Troels Kirk and I am tired of free hand cutting the strips. A cheap ruler, a removable cutting pad, some wood from the scrap box and a few screws an washers are all I used. Strips can be rapidly cut to a uniform width. I use an Olfa rotary cutter , you can usually find them anyplace that sells sewing supplies. Since your're not dragging a knife through the paper, it leaves a much cleaner edge. Very handy gadget for paper and cloth. There's a built-in guard as well so it's easy to store.

Strip Cutter


Tools and Material

A free image manipulation program that's been around a long time is GIMP. It's not quite as powerful as Photoshop but it's not hundreds of dollars either. I've found it adequate for so far for drawing up structures.

Regular paper is very bad and good quality Strathmore is muddy as well, photo paper is the way to go. It also cuts very cleanly, another nice bonus! I use an HP printer, other inks may react differently, you need to seal inkjet prints if you use water based paints, at least with HP. Otherwise one drop will give a really nasty look to your building!

For patterns for the siding and openings I built up a section of board and batten in O scale and scanned it. The window was scratchbuilt in 1/24 scale and scanned and for the small doors I  scanned some painted O Scale Grandt Line doors. Not original with me, I only steal the best ideas. Working at 8x makes thing so much easier and frankly its faster than software for somethings. Scanners usually don't have the circular distortion that even the best cameras have, so the scans require much less fussing.

For brick, there's some killer free images on the web from

Spreckels Station from Nov - Dec 1966 MR

While I think I could have done better, it seems to have come out OK for the most part. IfI was to do it over again, I would:

  • Bought the Grandt Line windows that are fairly close matches. I checked before, but just missed them.
  • Do my own assembly drawings, especially of the roof are which is slightly messed up.
  • Used styrene for the basic building structure then cover with heavy card and brick paper.
  • Possibly do my own brick paper with special patterns for the pillars. Paper Creek's courses also don't line up!
  • Match the brick colors a bit better if possible with the paint I use.

What went right:

  • Well it's finished except for a few minor items.
  • Embossing the brick paper really helped this model look good.
  • The bay window is done a bit better than Findlay's version, to be fair though, this is O scale; his was HO.
  • Printing out the arches as a separate detail worked well.

Brick Paper Details

Materials used are:

  • Paper Creek O scale brick paper
  • Bron's Killer Red double sided sticky tape
  • Balsa for backing
  • Computer printed building plans for cutting guidelines
  • Grumbacher Matte Spray Varnish, I'm using a can of Picture and Oil Painting Varnish, but the Damar varnish may have more wax or better characteristics. Damar is not synthetic so it may yellow in a hundred years or so ;)
  • Matching paint for touchups

Tools used:

  • X-Acto knife with lots of fresh blades
  • Single edged razor blades
  • Straight edge and square
  • Beading tools from craft store, these are sticks with various sizes of very small metal balls on the end
  • Blunted scribe end
  • Sandpaper and or files

How to use:

  1. Attach you patterns to the Balsa using double sticky tape.
  2. Cut out any openings and trim and sand the edges.
  3. Paint the edges a matching color, darker is better.
  4. Apply the brick paper, I wrap the vertical edges of the windows but not the bottoms or the top.
  5. Now texture  the horizontal lines using either a beading tool or the scribe. Be careful not to tear the paper.
  6. Now do the vertical lines, this is tedious but worth it.
  7. Start adding the other bits, painting and exposed edges as you go. Use double stick or Goo.

My friends thought these were Hydrocal castings until they picked them up!

Processing Images

For creation of texture papers and the like you need a bitmap manipulation program. Inkscape does not have some of the bitmap manipulations like something for lens distortion or shear. I'm not an Inkscape user, but I think for more advanced bit map stuff it defaults to running Gimp!

For textures usually I do:
1. Correct any lens distortion.
2. Correct any shear or rotation issues.
3. If required, correct any scaling issues, Y axis too long. etc. Don't need to except for brick!
4. If required, apply a gradient to even out brightness.
5. Tile the image if required for larger areas.

This gives you brick paper or siding for example. It does not give you the completed building if that's your aim.

I'm using an ancient CAD package that allows bitmap import, though it's showing its age. I have started playing with Inkscape as a replacement. While you can create complete buildings without a vector program, it's a lot easier with the use of one.

Some Q&A

Running parallel and behind my mainline trackage, I have an area 8" deep by 6' long "against the wall". I would like to place some  structures there, however due to the lack of space, I am not sure what to do. Is there some sort of rule-of-thumb about towns close to tracks?

While there may be rules of thumb, many of the older mining towns had a tendency to be topsy-turvy. You can place buildings as close to the track as will clear! As also notes in the South of the Border list, in South America, they are STILL extremely close to the tracks.

Would a "false front" town work or would it look unreal so close to the tracks?

There were towns were the trains ran down Main Street, this is less common than running in the back.

What about including background scenes? Any ideas you folks may have would deeply be appreciated.

I've been looking at TOC western mining towns, and I'm looking for ideas my self. Here's one suggestion for false backs, create a series of simple 2-3 story flats. These backs seem to be left unpainted most of the time. These will be the basis of your 'alley art', add stairways, shed additions, outhouses, maybe a barrel or two to catch rainwater. you can add fencing if desired, but it's not required. Don't forget firewood, trash and all the other things that accumulate with time. 8" should be more than enough space for this.

Building Shacks and the Like
If your comfortable with computer software, you can create paper prototypes fairly easily. I use both manual and computer methods. Here's some paper prototypes I created with CAD as well as a sketch used to create the CAD drawing. You can see one of the finished buildings on my web pages as well.
Paper prototype for shacks
Back of building with Grandt Line windows
Sketches of mining shacks

I recently finished a JV Models bunk house. The kits around $20 and it builds 2 10x20 bunkhouses. The materials that came with the kit were first rate. The strip wood was virtually fuzz free and the material used for tar paper looks very much like the real thing. I finished it with the shoe dye in rubbing alcohol trick. I used both black and brown dye. I'm going to go over the tar paper joints one more time with a thick media mixed with black to simulate tar. I'm also planning on mounting it on a small base for landscaping purposes. Once I've mounted it on its base, I'll splatter some mud around and otherwise finish aging it.

I did make a slight mistake on one side, I didn't let the wood dry overnight after staining. It apparently picks up enough liquid from even the shoe dye to swell the wood slightly. That side has the boards spaced slightly loosely!

I'll think I'll set the other one up as a tool shed. I really didn't like the second window that came in the kit. It's a horizontal slider and doesn't appear very period to me. I also put in wooden floors and didn't use the cardstock that came with the kit. The first photo is before I added battens, washed it with Chinese black ink and dry brushed some grey acrylic. The battens were dipped in sweet and sour and the boards were dipped in shoe dye.

Boone Morrison had a great article in the Gazette on building logging shacks. He used real redwood and the roofs have substantial overhang. Typical of a Northern California logging shack. For other locations, the overhang I show is about right. Also true if the shacks were skidded about.
Completed shack

Timber for shacks: 1890~1930s Southern California
Floor joists: 2x6~2x8 usually with cripple walls, not concrete or stone foundations
Studs: 2x4
Ceiling joists and rafters: 2x4 (no snow!)
No joist spans more than 10', common room sizes are 10x12, 8x10, etc.

In Newark, CA there's an old house that uses what looks to be 30-40 pound rail as fence posts! Railroads seem to have a lot of old rail to get rid of if they were an ongoing enterprise.

Buildings Hints and Tips:
I'm trying to make a "service" for my ticket booth.  The commercial ones I've seen look terrible, they detract from the building.

Depending how modern, you could build a wooden box and run the service drop into it. Build the drop as described by the other list member. The meter need not visible. This is how my house was wired (15 Amp service circa 1921) until I upgraded the service in the late 1980s. The box is not much bigger than a modern service panel.

19th Century Buildings

General Notes on 19th Century Architecture Books

One warning I have to give is that these books show buildings that were never built or were very special and not typical. If possible, I would use photographs of the neighborhoods that I wanted to reproduce. If that is an upscale neighborhood these books can help with the details. Still they have a wealth of other information that can be useful as well like costs and colors used in the period.

Costs of Building in the 19th Century

It's interesting to note how much inflation there's been over the past 140 years or so. Bicknell's Village Builder gives the building cost for many of the designs represented. They vary widely but $2-$5 a square foot is not a bad guess for higher end dwellings. Contrast this with the $100+ per square foot nowadays, though granted wiring, indoor plumbing, gas and insulation are nice to have. Note that the houses had a tendency to be much smaller than today's McMansions, another nice aspect of 19th Century modeling.

Victorian Building Colors

Some craft paint colors I found that were close matches for the various paint chips I've seen.

  • Folk Arts Raw Sienna
  • Americana Burnt Sienna
  • DeltaCraft Brown Iron Oxide
  • Folk Arts Raw Umber
  • DeltaCraft Barn Red
  • DeltaCraft Mudstone
  • DeltaCraft Seminole Green
  • DeltaCraft Timberline Green
  • DeltaCraft Pine Green
  • DeltaCraft Dark Brown

Since these are for scale 1:1 houses seen in daylight, they are probably too dark for most layouts, you will have to experiment a bit.

Random notes mostly from the buildingsandstructures Yahoo group

From Joseph Karkusiewicz - 15 lb. felt paper would have been have been used like what Tyvek is used for today.
It was also used in heavier weights as cheap roofing material.

If you go to financially or economically depressed areas, they install rooled roofing the wrong way, instead of like a large shingle. Why's that? I've seen it installed up and down on very shallow roofs but have never figured out why unless it was misinstalled? I have now seen historical photos with this on very steep pitched  roofs and have figured out that it's easier to install that way on these extremely steep roofs. You never see these in southern California!

When were floor tiles (as we think of them today) invented/used in home applications?
At least 100 years ago. It's called linoleum and was a popular Victorian flooring material glued down with a nasty tar. I've removed it from homes built in the 1900's

It is true that rolled roofing was used in past decades as a quick & cheap roof covering,
Still used today. My shack in Long Beach had it. Since it was on the third layer before the tear off, I think the bottom layer was the original. They lasted about 25 years a piece!

Today felt paper is stapled to a roof (seldom used on a wall) but 50 years ago hammer tacker staplers did not exist so small flat head roofing nails were used which would quickly rust & the paper dry out & crack & pull away from the nail. In those days felt paper was not used as a water barrier under other materials. Wood shingles & siding was applied directly to the roof or wall.
Sorry I've done a fair amount of work on 50-100 year old buildings in southern California and most had tarpaper/building paper under the siding, this could be a regional thing. Matter of fact I can only thing of a couple of exceptions with storage sheds.

Researching and Building Structures – List of Books

In addition to Google, I have to thank John Nehrich for the excellent RPI site that gave me a great list of books to start with. Even more good stuff came from the Buildings and structures group on Yahoo.

  • Architectural Modelling by David Rowe***, Wild Swan Publications, ISBN 0906867126 - Another wonderful book from the UK, covers a wide variety of materials. In the US I think you can get it from International Hobbies.
  • Cottage Modeling for Pendon by Chris Pilton***, Wild Swan Publications, ISBN 0906867576 - Awesome book about using paper for buildings. See the Pendon Railway Museum website for examples of paper buildings that will just blow your mind. I have a copy of Cottage Modelling, absolutely not for sale.  Some artists prefer different materials and are experts in different media. I don't think you can compare the paper buildings that appeared in the 50's RMC with Pendon, though some of Jack Works' buildings made from paper are mighty good looking.  In the US I think you can get it from International Hobbies. Only a three star because it's very British building orientation, for UK modelers a four! Very expensive on the used market here in the US, $100+.
  • Miniature building construction; an architectual guide for modellers by John Ahern(***) - For it's age it's simply outstanding. The only downsides are that computers aren't covered and the photos in the book are black and white of mediocre quality, none of which is Mr Ahern's fault. Recommended if you can find a copy, I got it through inter-library loan.
  • Model Making in Paper, Cardboard, and Metal by George Aspden(*) - This is aimed more at the craft crowd, you can give it a pass for buildings.
  • Modeling the Wild West** a collection of old RMC articles. I enjoy this book but the models are a pit primitive by today's standards. Recently published by Carstens.
  • Sawmill Modeling by Morgan Griffiths **** (West Coast loggers) ***(everyone else)
    I have a copy of  'Sawmill Modeling', it's mostly for the West Coast, specifically the Lake Tahoe area. It is outstanding, it has many detail drawings, one could easily build a decent model from the book. Includes pictures and drawings of the machinery as well as flumes and mill surroundings. About 8.5" x 11" with 103 pages with about 60 illustrations, photos and several large foldouts. This is an American publication, it should be available from better hobby shops.
  • Styrene Modelling - For scratchbuilding in plastic, I recommend the Evergreen book as a good basic introduction. The people at Evergreen are even nice enough to put most of it on line:
  • American Railway Bridges and Buildings: Official Reports, Association Railway Superintendents by American Railway Bridge and Building Association - 1898 (Google books) - (Trackside buildings and bridges)*** Some illustrations, has a section on water troughs and water scoops! There is a fair number of thumbnail plans for stations from various Eastern and Midwest railroads some going back to 1869 or earlier. Also covers temporary bridges fairly extensively, I imagine that washouts were a regular occurrence on most railroads considering the number of photos I've seen on the subject. Might make an interesting section on a layout, it would require dead slow operation and it could be very funky!. Lots of discussion on the why of railroad structure design along with cost information.
  • Appletons' Cyclopædia of Drawing: Designed as a Text-book for the Mechanic, Architect, Engineer 1857 (Google books) ((American modeling)* Mostly a book on drafting practices with a few building details and drawings thrown in. You can probably give this one a pass.
  • Architectural Engineering: With Especial Reference to High Building Construction, Including Many ... By Joseph Kendall Freitag – 1906 (Google books) (Western mining)*** (American modelling)*** Well illustrated
  • Specimen book of one hundred architectural designs by Amos Jackson Bicknell (American modelling)** Well illustrated An extraction from many of Bicknell's prior publications, many of which are very difficult to find. Difficult to model from though, plans are not complete.
  • Bicknell's Village Builder and Supplement -1872 (From bibliography, not digitized yet) (East and Midwest modelling)***
    Many of these designs were built and the costs were estimated or reported. Many unusual structures are included, a nice example is a jail with living quarters for the sheriff and his wife. Most of the buildings were built in the East or Midwest. Well illustrated with lots of scaled plans with details. It also includes a printed paint catalog of the Harrison Bros & Co. Since it is printed and not actual paint chips, it's probably not the closest match to the original that can be had. On the other hand this is the oldest color chart I've seen yet. The text does not go into any details on how to use these colors though. The reprint can be had for $30-$40 dollars, the original goes for $250+. I read mine courtesy of interlibrary loan.
  • Bicknell's Detail Cottage and Constructive Architecture (From bibliography, not digitized yet)
    Have not found a copy yet.
  • Bicknell's Cottage and villa Architecture (From bibliography, not digitized yet)
    Have not found a copy yet.
  • Bicknell's Street, Store and Bank Fronts (From bibliography, not digitized yet)
    Have not found a copy yet.
  • Bicknell's Public Buildings (From bibliography, not digitized yet)
    Have not found a copy yet.
  • Bicknell's School House and Church Architecture (From bibliography, not digitized yet)
    Have not found a copy yet.
  • Bicknell's Stables, Out-Buildings, Fences, etc (From bibliography, not digitized yet)
    Have not found a copy yet.
  • Building Construction and Superintendence By Frank Eugene Kidder -1899 (Google books) (Western mining)*** (American modelling)*** Includes framing for factories!
  • A Century of Color - American Exterior Decoration By Eric Owen Moss, recommended by Boone Morrison and others. Other titles by the same author Paint in America : the colors of historic buildings
  • Exterior decoration : a treatise on the artistic use of colors in the ornamentation of buildings and a series of designs, illustrating the effects of different combinations of colors in connection with various styles of architecture Reprint by Athenaeum library of nineteenth century America (Building colors)****
    In addition to illustrating how some one with good taste can paint their home or public building, it also has a series of paint chips from the Devoe company that are actual reproductions of the original paints in the Devoe catalog. Highly recommended, I found a copy via interlibrary loan, copies can be purchased in the $60+ range. There are modern versions on this book for persons restoring Victorians.
  • Fire Prevention and Fire Protection as Applied to Building Construction: A Handbook of Theory by Joseph Kendall Freitag - 1912 (Google books) (Western mining)*** (American modelling)***
  • Gold and Silver Mining in the West; the illustrated history of of an American dream by Tom H. Watkins, American West, 1971 (Western mining)**** (American modelling)*** This book is loaded with photos of mining town and their environs, while Mr. Watkins bemoans the fact that mining wrecked much of the natural environment, this doesn't stop him from writing some interesting mining history along with many great photos and illustrations. Some of the photos from this book are serving as an inspiration for my next module/layout.
  • Handbook of Building Construction: Data for Architects, Designing ... by George Albert Hool, Nathan Clarke Johnson – 1920 (Google books) (Western mining)*** (American modelling)***
  • Lambert Florin, various titles like Ghost Towns of the West. (Western mining)*** (American modelling)***
    A great collection of black and white photos of surviving buildings in much of the West. The earlier printings are on glossy paper and are better produced. They can be had fairly cheaply, $2 in one case! Recommended..
  • The New Carpenter's and Builder's Assistant, and Wood Worker's Guide By Lucius D. Gould -1879 (Google books)
    (Western mining)*** (American modelling)***
  • Old Homes Made New: Being a Collection of Plans, Exterior and Interior Views By William M. Woollett – 1878 (Google books) (Western mining)*** (American modelling)***
  • 100 Victorian Architectural Designs for Houses and Other Buildings (Dover reprint) (Western mining)*** (American modelling)***
  • A Pictorial History of American Mining by Howard N. Sloan , Crown Publishers, 1970 (Western mining)*** (American modelling)*** This one is a bit more general than the Watkins book, it also has some good photos and illustrations. Once again good inspiration for anyone looking to build a TOC mining railroad. This book also discusses the various minerals that were mined including coal and the like and has a cool picture of the Bureau of Mines emergency train car!
  • The Prevention of Loss by Fire and the System of Factory Mutual Insurance by Edward Atkinson - 1885 (Google books)
    (Western mining)*** (American modelling)*** Especially well illustrated!
  • Reinforced Concrete in Factory Construction by Atlas Portland Cement Company - 1907 (Google books) (Western mining)*** (American modelling)*** Well illustrated
  • Manual of the Construction Division of the Army: Section C, Engineering (1919)  (Google books)
  • Engineer Field Manual (1912)  (Google books)
  • Ports and Terminal Facilities (1918) - Has a few gems in it.  (Google books)
  • Handbook of Construction Cost - See pages 1469+ for railroad wharves. (Google books)
  • Buildings and Structures of American Railroads By Walter Gilman Berg (Google books)
  • This Was Sawmilling by Ralph Andrews **** (West Coast loggers) ***(everyone else) You can scenic it with this, great photos. Since you can get both fairly cheap. I'd go for both.
  • A Sketch of the Mills of the American Woolen Company by American Woolen Company – 1901 (Google books)
    (Western mining)*** (American modelling)***
  • Sloan's Victorian Buildings: Illustrations and Floor Plans for 60 Residences and Other Structures. Reprint of the 1852-3 Ed Pub in 2-Vol (Dover reprint) (Western mining)*** (American modelling)***
  • Stonework and Mill Construction (New England mills)**** (American modelling)**
    Excellent history of an older New England Mill town, lots of great color photos of one of the original New England mill towns.
  • The Suburban Cottage: Its Design and Construction By William Burnet Tuthill (1891) (Western mining)*** (American modelling)***
  • Two-family and Twin Houses: Consisting of a Variety of Designs Contributed by Leading Architects ...By William T. Comstock, William Phillips. (1908) (Google books) (Western mining)*** (American modelling)***
  • Victorian Architectural Details: Designs for Over 700 Stairs, Mantels, Doors, Windows, Cornices, Porches, and Other Decorative Elements (Dover reprint) (Western mining)*** (American modelling)***
  • Victorian Wooden and Brick Houses with Details (Dover reprint) (Western mining)*** (American modelling)***
  • Buildings and Structures of American Railroads By Walter Gilman Berg
  • Railroad structures and estimates By John Wilson Orrock
  • Reinforced concrete railway structures By James Dudley Ward Ball
  • Model Buidings and How to Make Them by Harvey Weiss - Don't bother, for very young children or hamfisted adults.

Searches used so far: publisher – Bicknell, Comstock, Bicknell & Comstock. AJ Bicknell Titles - Bicknell's