7/8ths scale building renovations

by Doc

After a year or so of laziness, neglect almost to the point of criminal, lethargy and a bout of Covid 19, I have found much solace, nay, even joy, in revisiting some of the buildings I made when I converted from 16mm to 7/8ths. As readers of these webpages already know, the running of the locos is not really my thing. I get pleasure from the crafting and the miniaturisation and the visual effects I can produce. Psychologically, I waver between a vain attempt to trick the eye into believing the scene unfolding is real, essentially full scale, and a full acceptance that it is a fantasy world anyway so might just as well be populated by Hobbits. That's why my little people are grotesques.


Renovation or a total rethink?

Winter wet, severe temperature changes and the ravages of cats, vermin and spiders made my pristine buildings a sorry sight. Arguably, UV light is the biggest killer. I shall no longer leave buildings out to be slowly destroyed and have, to that end, used pieces of an old replaced shed to build me a fine store. Re-claiming the full sized shed was a challenge in itself. Rather than throw anything away, I had stacked the disassembled building temporarily against a fence for a mere 6 years and was quite surprised to find it even vaguely useable. The fun was rebuilding it with the materials to hand, which is why its felted roof was replaced by two 6' by 4' glazed cold frame lids. I had a dozen of those given to me, along with a pair of 42 foot long greeenhouses, some years ago.
As with the full sized, so with the models. I determined to renovate using bits I had already or could make. I would buy as little as I could get away with

The "Mill" and new, old fire escape

One building, referred to once by my wife as "The Mill" so now known as such, was never quite right. The original idea was that a spur of track would actually enter the building and that the main line would go close enough to the gantry to enable diesel refuelling from the massive tank. Designed as always on the dining table, it seemed like a good idea. It wasn't. The Swift Sixteen "Tank" being solid was far too heavy and the gantry legs far too flimsy and poorly fixed. It proved a disaster and made but one appearance before it trashed. Yet, I maintained a sneaking affection for it. Something could be done.

The Mill as first completed.

Firstly, I was obliged to replace a nasty plastic tiled roof with a stencilled solid one. Much of the corrugated roofing had to be replaced and this time was fixed exactly as a tin roof ought to be, using nails but now held in place by the most superb adhesive a modeller could with for, Gorilla glue. Marvellous stuff. Runs like honey, takes a while to set, activated by moisture, fills gaps and holds nails in for life. Evil on hands.

How feeble-looking is that gantry?

I then turned my attention to that sorry gantry.

First of all, I realised that I had to secure it to a proper floor. You can probably see from the picture above that the legs were flimsily fixed into far too little extruded polystyrene, barely enough to keep them from doing the splits. That lasted five minutes!  I added a big chunk of extruded polystyrene, undercutting the wall to integrate it solidly with the building. For a suitable finish and to stiffen the floor even more, I also stencilled it with the roof tile stencil, but with the pattern at 90 degrees. Gratifyingly, while that same stencil makes a roof look tiled, it also makes a floor look slabbed. Turning the stencil 90 degrees helps of course and masonry paint with the surface dry brushed lighter is the finishing touch. Perhaps I ought to experiment with different colours but gray works. I slightly wish I had used a brick pattern as that would have allowed far more fun and games with colour and distressing, but there it is.

Given that I no longer seek to run a track that close to the building, I may also fix some "ground" under the hoist and even model something ready to be hoiked upwards.

The tank had been far too heavy, so I reamed the centre out as much as I could, plugged the end and resprayed. The job's a good'un. Next, I rebuilt the entire gantry, fixing it firmly using tile cement and grout to the floor and the wall. It still looked odd. It had always looked as if it lacked support and it made little sense that such a tank would only have access from an upstairs door onto the gantry. It had to have a fire escape at the naked end. But how?

I happened to have a sheet of aluminium diamond mesh from the time I was making loco steps and needed to cover those to look right. Once I'd worked out what size each stair tread would have to be and made one from scrap bass wood, I could then begin to design properly. I found that the staircase had to accommodate an 18cm drop to the ground from the gantry decking. On a sheet of paper, now armed with a single step, I was able to draw out precisely how 7 steps would go. It took a bit of thought. Just to add to the complication, I decided that the middle step would be a half landing and the staircase would take a 90 degree bend, as they do.

My first attempts at the half landing were too small. It looked silly. Eventually, I was satisfied and made up the residual 5 stair treads. But how was i going to fix them together?

Constructing the staircase

I have always had a problem with numbers and measurement. Don't ask me why. I'm the man who measures and marks the work out and still cuts the plank too short. In addition, I have never been able to draw a design to work to. I blame a life of gross astigmatism which, though corrected in my 40s has left a brain that cannot see a true line or a parallel. I design as I go and often need to have another person's eye to tell me if something is level. To me, if I use a spirit level, it usually ends up looking wrong. On this occasion though, I drew a plan onto which I could assemble steps to judge feasibility. Using lengths of plastruct "H" girder pinned through the drawing onto a slab of extruded polystyrene, I could shuffle steps around until they looked as if you could walk up them. By "pinning" I refer to my usual practice when making buildings of fixing two parts together with cocktail sticks. Dremel out a hole and pin, at first just a snug fit, then glued solid.

The step treads could be held in slots cut in the girders. I doubt very much if stairs would be constructed this way in real life, but then I also assume few cocktails are being drunk in steel fabrication units either.

YouTube Video

YouTube Video

The water tower.

I was never entirely happy with the water tower. I always knew my line needed some sort of water supply and that the underlying function had to be a decent head of water and a wide flexible pipe to convey it southwards. It so happened that I had a cube of extruded polystyrene and it was easy enough to glue wooden strapping to that with PVA to simulate tank reinforcement. I wanted it to be painted with red oxide as well as looking a bit rusty.One problem I ran into was that the red undercoat spray I love so much had a tendency to melt the poly! Steady lad!
When I came to re-invent the building, I soon can to realise that, although I had fitted a mains water riser, I had failed to properly address the matter of pressure equalisation and inspection. I needed to provide a ladder and some sort of lid. I was lucky enough to have, lurking about, a grey plastic cover for a British Telecom junction box. It actually looked as if it was galvanised and was a size enough to permit a man to get inside the tank, if need be. A brass wire handle bent to shape and the job's done.

The ladder took a little thought. The longest wooden dollshouse scale (1/12) was only 330mm long and i needed almost half as much again. Besides, for safe access to the top of the tank required hoops. By having to buy two from a dollshouse supplier on ebay I could then experiment with partially cutting through a ladder at close intervals and bending to conform to the right shape. I secured the shape by glueing to a sheet of paper, then filling the missing triangles with two pack wood filler. One set, the subsequent sanding filing and more filler where needed got the job done. I could have spent far more time perfecting it but, in the context of the whole building, it simply didn't merit that. I'll do it at th next renovation if it bothers me. It will!

The Depot

I had made the Goods Depot quite solidly, as I thought, but while its site was somewhat sheltered by overhanging conifers so less subject to UV and wet, it was at a part of the line less travelled so sadly neglected. How the door got detached and lost remains a mystery to this day. Rats?
What is most gratifying is to note how well the stencilled brick and stone surfaces survive but I guess since that is achieved using waterproof tile cement and grout, designed to withstand bathroom conditions and coated in masonry paint into the bargain, it ought to stand up to a good bit of stick. Wood is another matter and the door was wooden.

One thing I never quite liked about this building is that if you actually got down and looked through the admittedly filthy window, you might tell that the building had no back. It now has a charming little interior with shelves and posters on the wall and nobody can see any of it. But I know it's there and I had fun, so poo! It's entirely in keeping with the other obvious fact that nobody else reads anything I write nowadays but me. That's hobbies for you.

The depot now has a cat, weighing scales, a sack barrow and some crates. Billy Whizz, my brother-in-law, is sitting on a crate of Kalaschnikovs. Seth, the foreman, is less than delighted to see a dog by the looks of things

The Small Halt

I had built a very plain brick building as a halt, just a half face of a building to act as a photographic backdrop. It had no charm whatsoever unless I posed the Geezer on a bench. Sure, it had a quirky gas thing on the wall, but something much more had to be done. First off, it needed more support, in the shape of a platform base with a painted edge. It had to have more depth to it and, above all, it had to have some sort of canopy. In fact, it had to have some back story, some proper reason to exist with all the paraphernalia of a place inhabited by passengers and small freight.

In my 16mm days, I had bought some moulds to cast all sorts of fancy Victorian ironwork items using car body filler. I used a lot of the bits for the massive brewery I built, but I found a couple of bits left over. It was one of those "You couldn't make it up" moments. There they were, saved and neglected in a ditty box, just when I needed exactly that. I think I got rid of the moulds when I changed scales!

Simple enough to cut a rectangle of clear perspex but now I'm older and wiser, I no longer trust that anything I just glue will stay put. I used Plasticard "L" girder which I primed and prepainted with a green jaguar car spray paint. Then, I assembled the roof by drilling and pinning, using dressmaker's pins with the excess dremelled off AFTER the tiny amount of Gorilla glue had fully set. I refer to the stuff like honey that, like superglue, goes off with exposure to moisture and woe betide you if you get it on your fingers. The valance was cut from bass wood with the featured toothing drilled and scribed.

I had bought a really cheap Ender 3 3D printer, so I could also have printed the valance but, at that thickness, it would have had a tendency to warping and I like the business of fiddling about with wood anyway. I think it looks better too. I did print off some guttering lengths and supports which make a far better job than the original slab of wood moulding.
I'm always impressed how good the til
es look, despite knowing quite well that they are stencilled and so don't overlap as they should. The eye really can't tell and assumes they do.
The benches are bought in from a dolls-house supplier in white wood and stained and varnished. At the price you pay, I'd never make anything as good looking. 
The old fashioned fire extinguisher is from sculpy, brass wire and brass nut and washers, again, lucky finds in a ditty box of neglected bits from loco building days.