CP Executive train in Albany

CP Executive train in Albany

Sunday, February 25, 2018

NMRA challenge: Scratchbuild something!

A week ago our Hudson Berkshire Division (of the NMRA) held its montly meeting, and instead of a layout tour or clinic we were told in our monthly newsletter it would be a "scratchbuilding night." Inspiration for our meeting comes from the Carolina Southern Division and their Program Chair, Scott Perry, for helping our Vice-President, Irwin Nathanson, prepare for and lead our meeting.The information that we were given in advance is:

Participants’ instructions will be to simply “build something” and all will have one hour to work on their creation. Options include houses, stations, factories, rolling stock, or…perhaps a bridge …see related article in this issue! Then there will be a “show and tell” so everyone can show their results and discuss what they built. You can build something just for this event or something that you might put on your layout. All materials will be supplied including cardboard, wood and plastic coffee stirrers, styrene sheets and shapes, bass wood in various forms, misc. metal tubes and forms and “pot luck” of material from [the host modeler's] Scrap Box that you might be able to use. [The]Scrap Box is mostly plastic windows, doors, walls … leftover parts from years of kit building. All HO but, for example, some windows would work with other scales.

Some limited tools will be supplied. For cutting, this includes safety razor blades. However, if you prefer, please feel free to bring your own Exacto Knife (#11 blade) or Scalpel. Newspapers, sandpaper, glues and quick-drying spray paint will also be supplied. Above all you need to bring is your imagination! Please do not bring any drawings, photos, plans, etc. The real “test” of this exercise is not to see if you can scratch build, but rather to challenge your creativity. Blank paper and pencil or pen for sketching out your project is acceptable. [Someone] is bringing his HO gauge Scale Ruler. Feel free to bring your own, especially if you model in another gauge.

Since I like scratchbuilding in styrene, I got pretty excited about this. I thought about what I might want to build, and focused on a hot dog grill shack like one might find in the Lake George area. Though they are sadly becoming a distant memory, they are frequently decorated on the outside with gaudy trim, whatever else might be lying around, and usually showing the effects of winter's neglect and seasonal financial constraints. The shape and design though was heavily influenced by Gus's Hot Dogs, a small dive place in Watervliet with an open window front wall and marginal seating capacity inside.

I brought two brand new #11 blade Xacto knives with me (along with more blades in case others needed some), a metal engineering square, a corner nibbler, a plastic kitchen cutting board which I have used for years for modeling, and my own small bin of styrene scraps. When we started, we were invited to come up in rows and look through the stuff and take things. I took one sheet of 6" x 12" styrene (I think 0.040"), and one HO door casting which I used to base everything else from. After a couple of sketches of raw dimensions on some newspaper, I started cutting and gluing.

I knew this model would not end up on my layout, but I did want to keep it and treasure it so I took the challenge seriously. I laid out the four walls and then used my knife and nibbler to cut out the window and door areas. I glued up the four sides and braced them with triangles of styrene on the inside, and then attached the door casting. Another trip up to the spare casting bin (after everyone else went through first, to be fair) yielded two odd window castings, a couple of flower pot details, and something that looked like a flat vent. I also found some odd brown patternwork that when sliced into strips resembled the bric a brac found on Lake George area buildings.

I wish I had the time (and file) to clean up the window openings better. The roof wasn't cut perfectly and there were gaps along the roof edges which I tried to hide with some round trim and I-beam material that resembled a gutter. My pen markings show on the styrene, but painting the structure was out for sure due to time constraints. The rear wall never had windows installed, and one side is blank styrene (but I imagine the grill is along that wall, so windows aren't necessary and all venting is through the roof.

After about 75 minutes, we had a show and tell period. There was a lot of cool stuff out there. Some people used cardboard and their buildings showed a bit of crudeness that comes with it. Some wooden structures were very well done. There definitely was a corrolary between small structures and more finished results. If you swung for the fences with a complex building, you likely didn't finish it. Had I been forced to use wood or cardstock, I likely wouldn't have been pretty frustrated. I hope to explore those mediums down the road, but learning them for the first time under time pressure without drawings would have surely led to a miserable evening.

Still, I had a wonderful time and am very proud of what I did. I take these contests seriously. In 2011 our division held a "Pair O’ Dice" contest where we were given several months to build/make something involving dice. Some people took the easy way out and simply named a structure with the play-on-words "Paradise" (lame) in it. Others used dice in unusual ways, such as for switch control markers, or buildings with actual dice somehow involved (casinos, tattoo parlers, etc.). I went off the rails and built a fanciful entire train involving dice, with the piece de resistance a gondola decorated as a craps table. I took second in the contest.

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