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Buildings for 7/8ths scale

by Doc

Dabbling in a new scale is fun and has fired up my enthusiasm for the hobby but comes with some problems to be resolved. Most important of these is the incompatibility of the new stock and figures with the buildings and other features already around the line. Unless something is done, the new things just look wrong, particularly when you come to take photographs or video. Some people get round this by having no buildings or by taking pictures only against a backdrop of plants and rocks. Given that a big piece of my enjoyment of the hobby is the total miniaturisation of everything, I was bound to attempt something more.

Trubblatt Mill, still awaiting guttering and downpipes. I'll also be putting a back on it
to make it look more dark and satanic through those over-clean windows.
Note the fire plaque and the reinforcing plates, made of Sculpey. The brick painting lettering
is waterslide decals printed on my inkjet. Closer, it does actually look as if the bricks are painted.

What is available?

Off the peg, nothing! There appear to be no manufacturers out there as yet offering buildings. Truth to tell, we have but a few consistently making buildings completely suitable for 16mm. Most of them are actually 1/24th scale. This is, in part because many masters seem to have been made using jigstones moulds. We get away with it, but only just; the buildings, particularly the doors are just a touch too small and, for those of us who love the outpourings from Rob Bennett, far too small. We have to be careful how we pose our Busybodies lest they look even more odd than Rob intended. So, what can we do?

Well, assuming that 7/8ths scale is not a million miles from 1/12th scale, we could use freely available dolls houses but nobody seems to make these in any railway or industrial context. The more your research, the more you come to realise how female dominated the dollhouse hobby is. To make matters worse, while there are masses of cheap as chips items at 1/12th scale out there, the vast majority are for interiors with a few garden implements as the exception. At least we can lay our hands on a good selection of doors and windows at reasonable prices, some in durable plastic, most of softwood. In short, we have to make our own, and why not? It's easy and I'm about to show you how easy.

Back to first principles

I think a totally believable 'back story' of an 18 inch gauge railway would be some small industrial process. You might justify laying a small track to service a mine or a quarry, a brewery or a mill. In my case, I decided that Trubblatt Mill would be a place for the manufacture of Victorian quack remedies and nostrums. That's not to say these substances had no pharmacological virtue. Oh No. There would be a decidedly cathartic outcome for most who were unwise enough to swallow them. I need not dwell further, other than to say that many of the plants gracing the DLR are quite toxic. It makes sense that these are not just steamed past but are harvested, turned into medicines and peddled.

I made my buildings from extruded polystyrene sheets. These are durable, can be drawn on, are easily cut with a craft knife and glued together with exterior grade PVA. I hold the setting parts together with cocktail sticks and reinforce the angled joints with Waterproof Tile Cement and Grout, bought in modest tubs from Homebase. 

I generally reinforce the right angles with a triangle of scrap poly, particularly at the foot of the wall. That also allows me to weight the building down with a well-place brick when I have it in its designated place on the platform. Bear in mind that these buildings are as light as a feather. That's a distinct advantage when you are carting around a building of this size. I'd be very surprised if anyone starts to make any commercially relevant 7/8ths buildings very soon. The moulds would be so much bigger than for 16mm scale and the amount of resin would make it so expensive to cast in any quantity. When you get a building facade that is a couple of feet long, you'd have to thicken the resin substantially.

Corner reinforcement ensures a good right angle. I'll put one at the top too, though
the roof generally suffices there.

I use the same substance to stencil on a brick pattern, taking care that the bricks marry up at the corners. The stencils are available from Bromley Craft products and come in 1/12th and 1/24th scales. Both these scales are 'wrong' for 16mm and 7/8ths but not enough to matter much. The 1/24th works better for 16mm because it is a little too small. The 1/12th size is fractionally too big but at least Rob Bennett's excellent 7/8ths Busybodies could get through the doors.

Before and after. See how blue extruded polystyrene transforms into a truly realistic
weatherproof brickwork with the help of tile cement and masonry paints.

Corner alignment of the brick pattern is important.

Once the grout has fully set, I give sand the surfaces a little to unify and take off bobbles and spill then give a wash with diluted grey masonry paint. Do this too soon and the grout redissolves! The masonry paint comes in convenient sample pots in a variety of colours. I mix until I get the exact tint I want and I vary that across an expanse of brickwork. After all, only a new build would be that uniform. For the same reason, I don't fuss too much nowadays about the stencil work. Sometimes it's rough. That's life.

Now, what about the roof? You can buy sheets of plastic tiles or slates both for 1/24th scale and 1/12th but they are expensive. Spend £7 or so on a stencil and you can make all the slate roofing you'll ever need. Ah, but the slates don't overlap with a stencil, do they? Correct! Nip outside and look up at your nearest slate roof. Can you see that it overlaps? No, you can't.

 I do make a slight concession to this overlap issue and it's this. When I paint a few individual slates with a slightly lighter wash of colour, to avoid too much appearance of uniformity, I also run a band of that lighter tint along the bottom edge of a few slates. Once you step back a foot or so, the illusion is perfect and you don't need to do that many.

Adding the details

The reality is that once you have produced a section of red brick, from a photographic backdrop point of view, you could leave it there. On the other hand, for me, I suppose, this is where the fun really begins. I want my buildings to look as if they are real with some function and a life history. At the very least, they need to be slightly weathered and crumbly, some with graffiti and the marks of time and weather. I like there to be guttering and downpipes and the evidence of the inevitable stains of the rusting of those elements on the brickwork. At 7/8ths scale, we can really go to town about the plumbing if we buy from JSM Miniatures but, although the ABS mouldings they supply are superb, they are expensive. I could have spent £45 equipping these two buildings. For me, there's much more fun to be had finding a way of suggesting these items. Luckily, Homebase sells a wide range of hardwood and softwood mouldings which will do nicely. Instead of the tricky business of fixing ABS to the buildings, wood glues to the polystyrene with PVA very nicely.

Scotia moulding looks enough like guttering for me

The guttering is the smallest scotia moulding they offer. No, it's not quite gutter shaped but it has a useful flat base which helps the fixing and the general proportions look fine when blackened and fixed in place. The down pipe are 8mm square section. I simply used masonry paint to protect and colour and I fixed the guttering in place supporting it by cocktail sticks ,merely pushed through the brickwork and glued in once I liked the set of it all. That's another major advantage of using extruded polystyrene for this job.

Guttering held up on cocktail sticks which will of course be trimmed back and painted black

The ridge tiles are also from Homebase; just V section softwood. I could groove the length at intervals to suggest individual tiles but a black felt pen line could do just as well. Best of all is a thin pale line of mid stone, crisped up on each side with a fine pencil.

Wooden ridge V section glued in place. When set, mortar lines will be painted every 
inch and a half, representing 18 inch ridge tiles.

See what I mean? Add a painted impression of a mortar joint and it comes to life.

Just one thing to add before I move on to another project. How do those gurt downpipes stay in place. Well, we all know that, being only wood dowelling, they are simply glued on the brick face with PVA. To look more scale realistic, they need some visible means of support. It so happens that Plastruct makes a square section hollow that neatly fits outside the wooden one and I happened to have some lurking in my ditty box. Sliced, one side removed ( then halved and and used as cheek pieces) and reassembled with Liquid Poly, these will slot over the down pipe and finish the job nicely. Of course they need Cambrian bold heads, red priming and black top coating too. I like using the red primer; apart from adhesion, if the black is half-heartedly applied, it resembles rust. I love rust.

Downpipe support brackets setting.

It's a tiny matter but downpipes need all the support they can get.

It's those little details that usually go un-noticed that give me so much pleasure. After all, once the building is finished, it is just a backdrop, better in my opinion behind a photograph of a cherished loco or a proudly displayed piece of newly built rolling stock than a full sized planked fence. Trubblatt Mill has cost me peanuts to make, given me days of creative pleasure, can be lifted with one hand and will serve its purpose for years.

Trubblatt Mill from the back.

Simply 7/8ths Dennis conversion of a Katie. Now THAT's what I'm talking about!

7/8ths scale Tunnel portals

Another problem encountered when converting up a scale is that the tunnel roof has to be lifted  I never really liked the concrete ones I had. They really bore no relationship to real stonework and, besides, I'm a red brick man at heart. I planned to clad the present structures in a brick stencilled finish but it was a Round Tuit sort of idea. Now I had to remove and/or lift the old portals, I might just as well make some. But, brick or stone; stone or brick? There's only one way to decide…..BOTH.

I elected to make a set of portals that were reversible which would mean that I would actually see which I preferred and then I realised that, from a video story board point of view, as well as variety of photographic backgrounds, it would be excellent.

Stone portal…...

or brick?