Scratch-Build a Two-Story Trackside Structure in HO Scale

Two story balsa Maple Valley Supply Co building h finished.

This is the Maple Valley Supply Company. It sits on the line that brings passengers from Midtown to Maple Valley on The Old General. The two-story structure is scratch-built in balsa. The windows and doors are plastic models purchased at a model railroad swap meet.

I drew plans for the structure on card stock. I built each of the walls by cutting, gluing and pinning balsa pieces on the wax-paper covered plans.

I love the way the framing looks on the wall interiors.

The gables and the front wall are two stories tall. The back wall is off-set by a scale 12 inches, so the walls were built separately. The end rooms are single story.

Balsa two story building without roof.
Two story balsa structure.

The siding pieces are cut from 1/32″ balsa sheeting. Since I have stud framing, it is easy to cut and glue individual lengths of siding for a more authentic appearance. Each siding piece is 3mm tall. Some modelers stain the balsa before gluing, but I choose to paint the finished structure.

Balsa building with roof trusses and decking.

I build roof trusses and individually glue them to the walls. I admit it’s difficult to build a bunch of balsa trusses that are exactly the same, but I get pretty close. As my middle school band teacher used to say, “It’s close enough for jazz.”

When the roof truss glue is dry, I apply individual planks the same way I attach the wall siding. My roof planks are all the same length. I don’t apply any covering other than paint.

The loading dock on the front of Maple Valley Supply Company is approximately 3 scale feet high and 4 feet deep with a ramp at the end. There is a double door on the far end and a single door in the center. The small storage room on the end has two small windows and a door.

Side view of balsa Maple Valley Supply Co outside town of Maple Valley.

I use acrylic paint diluted with water and mixed with a small amount of matte medium. With a little more scenery work to do around the structure, I think the Maple Valley Supply Company is ready for business.

Make Your Own Static Grass Applicator for Realistic Scenes

This definitely has to go in the category, “If I can do this, absolutely anyone can.” I made my own static grass applicator that really works!

I’ve been working steadily on the scenery of The Maple Valley Short Line Model Railroad. I’m creating scenes with more detail than I have on any other layout. On my previous model railroads I was happy with paint and some turf sprinkled here and there. The Maple Valley Short Line will probably be my last layout, so I’m doing it right.

I visited many sites showing modelers using static grass applicators, but when I looked at the cost I decided standing weeds weren’t necessary. I changed my mind. I started looking for videos showing how to make a static grass applicator and found several.

Blah Flag electric bag zapper and small strainer.

The self-built models are all pretty similar. It wasn’t difficult to find the parts. It was harder trying to tell myself I could actually do this and have it work.

The Black Flag Hand Held bug zapper I purchased for $10.95 at Home Depot promised to deliver 2750 volts of shocking power to any little critters that happened to get too close. It also delivered a powerful shock to my finger!

I found a small Farberware plastic strainer with a metal screen mesh to use as the grass spreader.

Separate pieces of bug zapper and small strainer.

I first removed all the screws from the back of the handle. Three screws held the zapper screen in place, three more screws were in the battery compartment. Once the screws were removed the pieces came apart easily.

Electric bug zapper wand wires exposed.

There were no screws in the wand, so I forced a screw driver blade into the seam to break the pieces apart. A red wire was soldered to the inner screen, a blue wire was soldered to each of the outer screens. I snipped the wires off at the screen. The two blue wires came from the same point on the control board, so I removed one.

Bug zapper handle opened to show control board.

After the extra blue wire was removed from the control board, I soldered a long green wire to the blue wire. I soldered a short red wire to the red wire from the board. The red wire carries power to the wire mesh basket. The green wire is attached to the area where the static grass will be applied. Static electricity is created by the field between the wire mesh and the surface of the layout.

Hand strainer with handle cut off, holes drilled to match screw posts. Red wire soldered to screen.

I held the strainer next to the zapper handle to see how much of the strainer handle would fit and cut off the remainder. The handle of the Farberware strainer is about the same width as the zapper handle. I held the cover of the zapper on the strainer handle and used a small drill bit to make pilot holes for the screws. I then used a larger bit, the size of the screw posts in the zapper handle, to carefully drill out the pilot holes. The handle of the strainer fits perfectly over the screw posts.

Hand strainer with holes drilled placed on screw posts in zapper handle. Red wire soldered to red wire from control board in the handle.

After tinning the wire, I poked it through the screen, made a loop and poked it back through the mesh. I twisted the wire with itself and soldered it, creating a solid connection.

Simple contact button on the side of the bug zapper handle.

The simple contact button on the side of the handle has to be held to create the static field between the two leads. The applicator is powered by two AA batteries.

Finished static grass applicator showing long green wire soldered to green wire on control board.

This is the finished product. The strainer handle fits tightly inside the zapper handle, thanks to the three screw posts. The cost of this static grass applicator was about $15.00.

I have already discovered using a static grass applicator takes some practice. I purchased some short static grass at Rider’s Hobby Shop, and I can see it’s too short. Taller grass will look more realistic in scenes where there is not much activity.

It’s best to use the static grass applicator on one small area at a time. A thinner white glue solution works better than glue right out of the bottle.

Good luck with your own static grass applicator construction. If I can do it, you can do it!

By the way, I wasn’t kidding about getting a shock. Make sure to keep your fingers away from the screen while you’re working on your scenes. You’ll find out quick, like I did, why bugs don’t like zappers!

Scandal at Maple Valley – Episode 28: Hank Rider and the Saddlehorns

Another Founders’ Day celebration has come and gone. Except for a few minor problems including a bunch of chickens escaping from a farm float during the parade and running through the streets of Maple Valley, it was a great success.

The special guest band for the main event was Hank Rider and the Saddlehorns. It’s incredible that two years in a row, Maple Valley has been able to bring in a famous country show. And just like last year, when Hank Rider sang the smash country chart topper “The Old Man”, everyone in the crowd knew the words. Tears were even seen on a few faces.

The Old Man

“I quit my job and hit the road, I married my guitar
Tired of my dead end life, it was time to be a star.
I couldn’t wait to hear the crowds all screamin’ out my name.
What happened next was all my fault, there was no one else to blame.

The first time I was on the stage there was no one in the room
‘Cept one old man way in the back, standin’ with a broom.
Well I sang my heart out anyway without a single cheer,
And when I was done the old man came and handed me a beer.

He said, ‘Son, don’t let it bother you that no one heard your songs,
I can see this kind of life just ain’t where you belong.
Pack your stuff, forget all this, today it’s not too late
To go back home where you belong before you share my fate.

I was a singer just like you, playin’ every night,
Twenty years of drivin’ hard and livin’ in the lights.
Then an old man came and talked to me just like I am to you
And tears rolled from these tired eyes ’cause every word was true.

He said he had a little boy he left for wealth and fame,
I didn’t care about what he said until he spoke his name.
Memories came flooding back, the name he breathed was mine,
I knew I was that little boy the old man left behind.

He said, ‘Son, I’m sorry for leaving you alone
If I could go and change it now you know I’d stay at home.
I never even thought how much my choice would cost,
But nothing I have ever done was worth the life I lost.’

I left the road and headed home to bury my guitar,
Dreams of fame and fortune didn’t get me very far.
When I arrived my little boy was standing at the door,
I knew then, and I know now, he’s what life is for.”

In other news, disturbing signs have been showing up around town. They read, “Recall Sheriff Pete Terkinberry.” Other signs are also appearing that read, “Elect Quintin O’Dillmotte, Sheriff of Kertok County”.

Sheriff Pete stepped into the Ya’ll Sit Cafe, as he does every morning, and Shorty called out from the kitchen, “Hey, Sheriff! What’s going on?! You don’t want to be sheriff anymore, or what?”

“Shorty, what are you talking about?!” Pete yelled back.

“Haven’t you seen the signs around town? Quintin wants to replace you. He says you should be recalled!” came the voice from the kitchen.

“Quintin O’Dillmotte couldn’t be sheriff of a playground!” the sheriff yelled, wishing he hadn’t. He looked around the cafe and several customers were staring at him.

Pete left the Ya’ll Sit without his coffee.


More Scenery Details on the Maple Valley Short Line Model Railroad

I love looking at photos and videos posted by fellow model railroaders. I have learned a great deal about scenery by watching others do what they do best.

I recently discovered I’ve been making a mistake. When I go into my train room, I tend to look at my whole layout from one end to the other. Sometimes I feel overwhelmed because there is still so much to do, and I lose sight of the best part of this great hobby. The work is really never done!

The secret I uncovered is that expert modelers often just work on a small part of the layout at a time. They take a small scene, like the one above on my layout under Three Tower Bridge, and create a masterpiece.

Just in this photo I can see several things that need more work:

  1. The base of the little shed needs to be blended with the surrounding ground cover.
  2. The foliage material around the first tower is too big.
  3. Obviously, this is a section of track that is awaiting ballast.
  4. The towers and the deck could use some weathering. Maybe some weathing powder would be good.

What I should do is focus on this piece of the layout, as if it were a module. For me, it might be a good idea to lay some plastic over the surrounding area so this part is all I see. I probably won’t do that.

I like this small section near Maple Valley. The two tanks on the stand need paint. The sign on the end of the freight shed is blank. I’ve never seen a small work shed with an orange roof.

I’m learning as I write. Looking at small photos of my layout is a great way to figure out how to improve the scenes.

Ballasting is an ongoing project. None of it has been glued in place yet. I’m still using my clear plastic ballast spreader and I’m running out of material, so I’ll have to make another trip to the hobby shop. Yesss!

This track section is the line that carries passengers on The Old General from Uptown to Maple Valley. Maple Valley is a popular tourist destination which is also the focus of a scandal that began over a year ago. A local resident, Sylvia Meisner, disappeared. Her burned car was found under Three Tower Bridge. The caboose on the right is almost directly above where the wreck was discovered. (You can read “Scandal at Maple Valley” on my blog – just click on the menu.)

Getting back to scenery progress, the freight dock on the left is terribly bare. I want to get a static grass applicator, or make one. The dock needs weeds, stacks of stuff, weathering, and workers.

Lots of work to be done here, and I don’t mean by the guys in the scene. The edges have to be blended with ground cover. The tower and small sheds need paint and weathering. Many weeds are needed, the ground cover needs help. A little more brown will look better.

The brush lichen along the curve is too big. I’ll pull it apart and replace it. I still have a lot of ground cover to finish between buildings in Maple Valley.

I still have a bunch of trees I made that are ready to have leaves applied. It’s been a busy summer and the layout was a little farther down the list.

Happy model railroading!

Scandal at Maple Valley – Episode 27: The Pancake-Off Fiasco

So much has happened in Maple Valley it’s difficult to know where to start.

Here we are in the dog days of summer, and Maple Valley School is already preparing for the first day of the new year. Students can’t wait to get back in the class room.

We are obviously well into the tourist season, and so far, the numbers have been good to Maple Valley businesses. Karpin Nickwall at Nickwall’s Genuine Maple Valley Candy has reported sales surpassing last season by 7%.

Hupgern’s Dairy has completely sold out of their famous homemade cheese curd ice cream twice. The next most favorite flavor is oyster on the half-cone. Marv Hupgern makes all the ice cream at the store and visitors can watch him.

The Founder’s Day celebration was a huge success. The Old General performed beautifully. Visitors can’t get enough of the General whether they’re watching or riding. I can’t either. I’ve been able to sit at the throttle twice and it never gets old.

The featured band was Hank Rider and the Saddlehorns. It always amazes me that my neighbors in Maple Valley know the words to all these country songs.

By far, the most requested song of the night was, “I’ll Bet You Three Biscuits!” Other great hits were, “Don’t Waste My Lard”, “Fry That Fish One More Time”, “Boot Fuzz Whiskey”, “She Loves Me For My Grits”, “I Can’t Help It If My Horse Likes Beer”, and finally, “You Ain’t Better Than My Ma”. It was a fantastic show that lasted well beyond ten o’clock.

The Annual Pancake-Off is a favorite event for residents and visitors. This year, the pancake-off played a more significant role because the funds raised were donated to the cause of finding Sylvia Meisner.

The event is a competition between all those who believe their pancakes are the best. Large griddles are set up on the front porches of the contestants and folks can go from porch to porch to sample the pancakes.

Shorty Cloverton always expects to win but never does. Clem Bittlefin is the champion, three years running. His batter is a secret even Mara, Clem’s wife, doesn’t know.

This year’s contest became something of a fiasco when Mayor Thrashborn and Sheriff Terkinberry, two of the four contest judges, got into a heated discussion that seemed to have nothing to do with pancakes. Those who were close by said they were arguing about a phone call. That’s all anyone knows. The mayor walked away from the sheriff and the contest. It was embarrassing.

After the pancake-off was over, when asked about the confrontation, Pete Terkinberry said it was nobody’s business. That answer seemed out of character for a man so well respected as the sheriff.

The prize for the fifteenth annual Maple Valley Founder’s Day Celebration Pancake-Off, to everyone’s surprise, was awarded to Ver and Vee Burthrap for their Jalapeño Surprise Buttermilk Pancakes. Photos were taken and will appear on the front page of the Kertok County Advertiser.

As a result of the pancake-off being used as a fund raiser, three thousand seven hundred and five dollars was added to the Find Sylvia Meisner Fund.

A hearty “Thank You!” to all who participated in and donated to the Founder’s Day Celebration Pancake-Off.

Scandal at Maple Valley – Episode 26: Events Turn

There’s good and weird news coming out of Maple Valley. Folks have been waiting for months to hear about the suit that was brought against Shorty Cloverton and several members of the town council including Sheriff Pete Terkinberry and Mayor Alvin Thrashborn.

For those who may not know, which, not ever wandering very far from Maple Valley, I honestly don’t know how that’s possible. But, last fall, a woman named Madeline Overweist stepped out of the Ya’ll Sit Cafe, walked a few steps, and a bat landed on her face. Mrs. Overweist, a visitor to Maple Valley who had come to town on The General, did not survive the shock.

Several weeks passed after the incident. Shorty Cloverton, owner of the cafe, was surprised by a stranger who gave him a large envelope from attorneys Skellson & Skellson. The family of Mrs. Overweist brought a suit against the town council and everyone on the BAT Strategic Health Investigation Team. The papers said all of them were at fault because they knew there were bats in Maple Valley.

The defendants almost didn’t make it beyond the depositions. Quintin O’Dillmotte could have been a witness for Skellson. He kept saying too much when he was answering questions.

“Mr. O’Dillmotte, tell us, what is your responsibility as a member of the BAT Strategic Health Investigation Team?” Mr. Skellson asked.

“Please, sir, call me Quintin.”

“Ok, Quintin, thank you. Would you like me to repeat the question?”

“No, I can tell you. I’ll be honest, I told everyone we have a serious bat problem and it’s going to be a sad day in Maple Valley when someone is attacked by one of these vicious creatures.”

“Quintin!!” hollered defense attorney, Kelso Mackverd. “Just answer the question, and nothing more!”

Quintin continued, “I have been on the BAT team for seven years. During that time we have literally done nothing to alleviate the bat problem in Maple Valley.”

“Quintin!! Stop!” demanded Mackverd. “Can we take a quick break?” he asked.

“Yes,” answered Skellson.

When the process resumed, Quintin looked like a scolded school boy. From then on he said little more than “Affirmative”, or “Negative”.

To everyone’s surprise, the judge in the case dismissed the suit. He said, in spite of the tragic events, no one could have known, under any circumstances, what an individual bat would do at any time. Complete control is impossible. Everyone breathed a sigh of relief.

The other news involves Sylvia Meisner, who has been missing for more than a year. Sheriff Pete received a phone call in the middle of the night. The female voice said, “What is wrong with you people? You can’t see the forest for the trees. Your answer is right under your nose.”

“Who is this?” Pete asked. The caller hung up. He spent the next two hours sitting on the side of his bed, going through scenarios in his mind of what the call might mean. Was it Sylvia? How could it be? If it was Sylvia, where has she been, and why? If it wasn’t Sylvia, who was it and what did she mean the answer is right under our nose?

At daylight, Pete called Alvin and told him about the call.

“The answer is right under our nose?” Alvin asked.

“That’s what she said.”

“Did you recognize the voice? Did it sound like Sylvia?” Alvin asked.

“She did, a little bit. Or maybe I just wanted her to sound like Sylvia,” Pete answered.

“This is so crazy. First don’t stop looking, now this,” Alvin said.

“Listen,” Pete said, “don’t tell anyone about this, especially Quintin. Don’t tell anyone. I want to wait and see if anything else happens in the next few days.”

“Right, right. No, I won’t tell Quintin, or anyone else,” Alvin said, thinking about who he could tell first.

“Alvin, please, I’m telling you as the sheriff. Don’t tell anyone. I mean it. I could actually charge you if it gets back to me that you talked about this.”

“What do you mean, charge me?” Alvin asked loudly.

“I could charge you with hindering an investigation,” Pete answered.

“You would do that?!” Alvin asked.

“I’m going to tell you again. Do not tell anyone about the call,” the sheriff said.

“Pete, you worry to much.”

“Alvin!! Are you listening to me?!”

“I hear you, Pete. Come on, we’re friends.”

“Yes, we’re friends, and I’m the sheriff, and I’m still investigating the disappearance of Sylvia Meisner. Don’t mess this up!!”

“Thanks a lot,” Alvin said.

“I’m just trying my best to find Sylvia or find out what happened to her. This is driving me crazy. I think I might be getting somewhere and then I end up no where. I’ve never seen anything like this in my life. If it was Sylvia who called me, why wouldn’t she tell me? She has to know we’re looking for her. Why wouldn’t she just say, ‘This is Sylvia, Pete, how are you?’ Sometimes I feel like giving up. But, somehow, some way, I have to find her,” Pete said. “Do you know what I mean, Alvin?”

“Alvin? Alvin, are you still there?”

Painting Beautiful Backdrops for Your Model Railroad

One of the beautiful things about model railroading, and scenery in particular, is that beauty is in the eye of the creator. If you think it’s incredible, then it is. We all like to be told our work is terrific, but the truth is you are the only one to please.

I pondered backdrops for a long time before I actually started working on them. In fact, I kept putting it off because I just didn’t think I could do it. In addition to having no real artistic talent, I have a condition known as essential tremors. If I hold my hands out in front of me it’s difficult to see any trembling. But the minute I try to do something small or detailed, like just signing my name, I have difficulty controlling my hand.

I considered painting right on the cinderblock wall but finally decided against it. I was afraid the mortar lines would show too much. I also thought about using posterboard. Our daughter, the real artist in the family, said the posterboard would wrinkle. I used foamboard which has a very smooth surface and it is about 3/16 of an inch thick, which gave the paintings a little bit of extra depth.

As I said, I’m no artist. Thank heavens for YouTube! I found a basic list of acrylic paint to use on my backdrops. I collected a bunch of platic containers with lids because I knew there would be a lot of mixing involved.

I began by deciding how high I wanted my backdrops to reach. My model railroad terrain is a blend of mountains, hills, and rocks. I didn’t want the backdrops to overpower the scenery in front of them. I drew a rough pencil outline of the mountains on the horizon. I then cut the foam board in the same general outline, and inch or so above the pencil line.

I used a light mixture of blues and titanium white with some matte medium to prevent a glossy appearance, and painted sky in varying depths along the top of the foam.

The first layer of mountains on the horizon is a gray-blue mixture to promote the illusion of distance and haze.

The secret to creating distance is to remember the most distant areas are the lightest. Each layer of color is gradually darker as the trees get closer. For forest areas, the greatest distance is the lightest green. Be careful to avoid following the same outline as the color above it. Don’t hesitate to allow part of a color layer to rise above the edge of the color behind it. In the middle photo, the outline of the treetops rises above the outline of the mountains behind it.

Experimenting with color mixtures is the best way to create the scene most pleasing to you. Use some scrap foam pieces and paint some mountains and trees. Let the paint dry, then start on the real thing.

Blue-gray paint creates mountain range.

A real challenge for me was painting a river to connect to my Maple Valley River running under four bridges, including my scratchbuilt trestle. I put that job off as long as I could. For non-artists like me, a little practice with vanishing points is necessary. A vanishing point is the spot on the horizon where all lines meet. If you stand on a road and look to the horizon, the road seems to disappear, although you know the road is just as wide four miles away as it is where you’re standing. Where the road disappears is the vanishing point.

The white inverted “v” shape in the photo above is the area will the river is painted. The wide area in front is closest to the viewer. The narrowing will indicate distance.

Another trick to help create the illusion of shape and distance is to indicate a light source. By dabbing some lighter paint on the left side of the trees, it appears as if the sun is shining from the left. All light source direction shouild be consistent throughout the paintings.

Painting individual pine trees was another learning experience. I started with a straight line with brown paint. Using a fan brush, I dabbed a green mixture unto the trunk on each side. Larger branches at the bottom, smaller at the top.

Light paint dabbed on side of the trees indicates sunlight coming from the left.

I tried my hand at painting a cabin in the woods. The road leading to the cabin has some distance by being wider at the bottom, narrow at the top. The cabin and shed lines also have vanishing points to eliminate a flat appearance.

Painted river with rocks on the bank.

I’m happy with the final outcome of the painted river meeting the epoxy river at the back of the layout. The bridge will carry vehicle traffic. I removed a track girder bridge to give a clearer view of the river.

Paint colors should match at the corners.

To make corners less noticeable, it is important that color layers match. Different shades of green meeting make corner lines more obvious.

Acrylic painting of large rocks with shadowing for depth.

I am really happy with these rock formations. The shading definitely gives the appearance of a light source on the left and shadow on the right, also giving the illusion of depth. For an audience of one, I am thoroughly pleased with the artwork.

The Maple Valley Short Line Model Railroad backdrops are complete. I did have one hiccup after the painting was finished. The foamboard curled when the paint was completely dry. I placed the foamboard, paint side down, on the floor. I placed a straight-edge on the foam board perpendicular to the direction of the curl. I pulled the foamboard up, making a slight crease. I was afraid the paint would crack, but it didn’t. The effort straightened the boards and they were ready to be glued to the wall.

I glued the paintings to the wall with a hot-glue gun. I placed the boards on the wall to mark exactly where they should be positioned when glued. I worked quickly after applying the hot glue to keep it from drying and hardening too fast.

Scandal at Maple Valley – Episode 25: Finding Sylvia Meisner

Everyone loves a parade, and the good folks in Maple Valley are no exception. When news quickly reached everyone that Sheriff Pete Terkinberry would soon patrol the three streets of town in a new squad car, excited anticipation of a parade swept like a wind-blown grass fire.

From one end of town to the other, neighbors gathered in the streets to watch the sheriff drive by in his new car. They waved, shouted, laughed, and a few cried. The dream of Maple Valley having its own police car finally came true.

The patrol car isn’t new. The Maple Valley council purchased it from the Chicago Police Department. It only has 61,000 miles on it, so folks here believe it was a good investment. Sheriff Pete is happier than anyone else. He’s been patrolling in his own car since he took office fourteen years ago when his father, Sheriff Wilton Chase Terkinberry passed away after thirty-four years as Sheriff of Terkot County.

Folks in Maple Valley are happy with any reason to have a parade. Believe it or not, last summer there was a parade because Hazel Wiklaten’s spaniel, Gertrude, had twelve healthy puppies. They were loaded into the bed of Berton Pilshur’s old pickup truck and before he reached the end of First Street, crowds of people stood on their porches waving as the twelve grand marshalls rolled by.

That parade went a long way to support rumors that Berton has eyes for Hazel. His wife Nellie passed away eight years ago. Hazel has been alone since her husband, Maxil Ned Wiklaten III, went on to his barn in the sky nine years ago. A year after Nellie died, neighbors saw Berton talking to Hazel over the fence. There’s been talk ever since.

With the arrival of the new police car, there seems to be more determination to find Sylvia Meisner. Certainly, with this fine new used patrol car, there won’t be any reason why answers to this year long mystery can’t be found. Sylvia is sure to come home now.

It’s good that the arguing over the cost of sending the sheriff and mayor to Chicago to pick up the new police car has ended. The vote to send the two officials was a tie. Since the mayor holds a higher office, he said his vote carried more weight, thereby causing the motion to pass. Well, that brought some of the folks attending the meeting to their feet. A few walked out. Nothing unusual for Maple Valley council meetings.

Scratch-Built Paned Windows in HO Scale

In a previous post, I wrote about scratch-building small cabins with balsa wood. By trial and error, sometimes resulting in more error than success, I filled in the window frames without actually making windows. I simply framed the space and added some trim.

I decided to try my hand at building paned windows that I could make in advance and pop them in place as I’m building new structures.

HO window template covered with wax paper

I first drew a template I could use repeatedly. A fellow modeler suggested covering templates with wax paper to prevent glued pieces from sticking to the template. Brilliant! (I then remembered my uncle building a plane from balsa and using wax paper to protect the template.)

I measured the windows on several of my plastic structures and many of them are about the same size, 3 x 5 on the HO scale ruler. I drew pane lines evenly across the window space.

I cut strips of thin balsa about 3mm wide and glued them together on the template. I use very small balsa material for the panes. I first painted the balsa and stood the pieces in a jar for drying. I cut the pane material just wider than the frame width and length. I glued the horizontal pieces to the frame, then put a spot of glue on the panes and the frame to hold the veritcal piece in place.

Three balsa HO scale windows

I think these windows look pretty good for a first attempt. They might still be a little large for HO scale, but not by much.

Scratch built HO scale balsa windows with trimming finished.

My first idea was to use two layers of framing and glue the pane material between them. That didn’t work well. The frames were too thick. After the glue has dried, I cut the trim back leaving a more realistic appearance.

Two balsa walls with HO scale windows installed.

After framing the walls, I drop the finished windows in place, gluing them to the studs. I then finish the walls by adding siding. Once the four walls are completed, I trim the edges for a smooth fit and glue them together.

Small HO scale cabin with windows ready for roofing.

I’m hooked on making these little cabins. I’m getting better at framing more quickly, and I build a few at a time. On recent models, I included the gables with the wall framing, making roofing easier. I don’t enjoy making roof trusses.

HO scale balsa four walls for layout store.

This frame is going to be a retail space on the Maple Valley Short Line Railroad. The large window and double door looks great. It may become the Ya’ll Sit Cafe in Maple Valley, owned by Shorty and Hannah Cloverton. (They’re the ones – among several others – who were sued for the unfortunate demise of Mrs. Madeline Overweist after a bat landed on her face outside the cafe.) The BAT Strategic Health Investigation Team is still working on the problem.

HO scale pencil template for balsa structure.

This is a template I recently finished for a larger scratch built structure. The building will be a two-story model with a first-floor extra room and a shed attachment. The numbers on the template correspond with measurements on the HO scale ruler.

Scratch building is a lot of fun. I have always enjoyed the scenery-building process of model railroading almost as much as running trains.

I am really looking forward to finding out what happened with the lawsuit brought against several prominent members of the Maple Valley town council. The lawfirm of Skellson & Skellson served Shorty Cloverton with the suit at the Ya’ll Sit Cafe a few days before Christmas.

One thing is certain. The Scandal at Maple Valley is not over. Not by a long shot.

Treasures from a Model Railroad Swap-Meet

Packages of styrene, balsa strips, plastic windows, and metal junk.

Everyone in model railroading, from those just getting started with the first circle of track to those seasoned folks with several layouts under their belts know how easy it is to quickly spend a lot of money.

Swap meets can be a model railroader’s best friend.

I love going to model railroad swap meets. It can be overwhelming with so much to see and choices to make. The good meets have rows and rows of tables with a wide variety of gauges from N scale to G and everything in between.

Just because it’s a swap meet does not mean prices are going to be rock bottom. You have to patiently search to find those great deals. There are many displays with folks who regularly do train shows. Some prices are no different than can be found in local hobby shops.

Yesterday, I attended the Railroad Days Train Show in Durand, Michigan. This is an annual event, but this was the first time for me, so I didn’t know what to expect. The show was held at the Durand Middle School. I couldn’t believe the number of cars in the parking lot!

We paid the five dollar entrance fee and started hunting. I already have plenty of locomotives and rolling stock. (I know that sounds like blasphemy, but my shelf-style 21 x 4 feet layout just won’t realistically hold any more.) I have more buildings than I can use. What I need most is junk. It’s the stuff lying around that makes scenes look realistic. Old tires, rusted bicycles, piles of broken pallets, window frames, and paint cans. Junk.

Box containing many random items from model railroad swap meet.

As I was about to enter the second large room of vendors, I spotted the treasure I was looking for. A box of junk for $5.00. I couldn’t believe it! I could see right away this was the find of the day. I thought it would be rude to dig through it, so I handed the owner a five dollar bill and thanked him before he could change his mind.

The first chance I had, I carefully searched through the items and everything convinced me I had struck gold!

I don’t run long passenger cars on my layout, so the four packages of car diaphragms will probably not be used, at least not for their intended purpose. Piled against the side of a building they will look terrific. I’ll improvise a spot for the elevated conveyor system. The little caboose-shed will look great with a little bit of weathering.

The small stationary crane is fantastic! Hidden down in the box were eleven small sheds including two outhouses! Scenery treasures!

A sandwich bag was packed with wheels, trucks, couplers and other junk. Some of the trucks are spring loaded. This load of stuff will be perfect for the engine house yard.

I have been making my own windows for the cabins I’m scratch-building. I found several packages of HO scale windows!

The barrels, tanks, and other items are metal. Just the stack of barrels is $12 at the hobby shop! The box of stuff got better with each item I pulled out.

One of the things I was looking for at the model railroad swap meet was vintage automobiles and trucks. I’m modeling the 50’s era, so finding the right vehicles at a good price requires some diligent searching. Once again, I uncovered a treasure!

Six metal and plastic HO scale cars and trucks.

I was a little kid on Christmas morning! A ’56 Ford T-Bird, a ’59 Chevy El Camino, a 40’s delivery truck, a ’57 Chevy Bel-Air, a 40’s Buick police car, and a ’55 Chevy Bel-Air Sport Coupe. The T-Bird, El Camino, and the ’55 Bel-Air are metal. Beautiful! (These were not in the junk box. The vehicles were purchased from a retired middle school teacher/assistant principal. It was great fun talking with him and he gave me a fantastic deal!)

The police car is especially important. Pete Terkinberry, the Sheriff of Kertok County, who lives in Maple Valley, has been using his own car for county duties. The police car was purchased from the Chicago Police Department when they ordered all new vehicles. Sheriff Terkinberry is looking forward to using a real police car to patrol Maple Valley and the surrounding area. The Maple Valley town council voted unanimously to purchase the used patrol car. They also approved the purchase of plane tickets for Sheriff Terkinberry and Mayor Alvin Thrashborn to fly to Chicago to retrieve the car and drive it back to Maple Valley.

Maple Valley Railroad box car and HO scale automobile

Probably the discovery that was the most fun was this Maple Valley box car. My layout is the Maple Valley Short Line Model Railroad.

I plan to make Durand Railroad Days and the Model Railroad Swap Meet an annual event on my calendar!