Lessons Learned

I realised the other day that the 13th anniversary of me changing scales is coming up at the end of January, 2013. I regard the start of my involvement in the scale as starting from the date of the first kit I built in Jan, 2000. This happened to be a Century Models K, 4 wheeler but the kit is irrelevant. The trigger for these musings on the amount of time I’ve been working in O-scale (now a longer period of time that I worked in HO) and the scale I work in – namely 1:43.5 – has been the construction of a model of the station on my new layout “Morpeth”.

As I may have mentioned in my last post, this is my second model of this building. The previous version was built about 8-10 years ago for the first layout I built in O using Morpeth as its inspiration. While this earlier model didn’t survive to see service on my new layout, it has provided a small container of detail parts (chimneys, doors and windows) that I had intended using on the new model if they turned out to be in a useable condition.

I’ve spent the last week working on the platform surface in front of the main building. In Byways of Steam 14 http://www.australianmodelrailways.com/evframe.html (a book that contains an article by Ian Dunn on the Morpeth Line) there is a plan of the building I am constructing. On this plan it states that the platform surface is 6″X6″ stone “tile” with the platform edge being of cut stone. The photos I have of this station show that the platform face is of brick with the top capped in large blocks of stone. I have always assumed that this is sandstone, but I have no definitive answer as to what type of stone it was.

There are only about five photos of this station building that I’m aware of and none of them show how the 6″x6″ tile on the platform surface was laid: was it laid in straight courses or staggered in an offset pattern? In my first version of this building I used Evergreen styrene 6″x6″ embossed sheet to represent this tiled surface and this did a more than satisfactory job of representing what may have existed on the station surface. Of course this time I had decided to wear a hair shirt by scribing the various stone surfaces into DAS modelling clay hadn’t I? While the use of styrene in the previous model had dictated that the tiles would be represented in straight lines, this time I had to decide whether I wanted to do an offset pattern (or herringbone for that matter). In the end the decision was easy: as scribing the tiles in straight lines was going to be far easier than doing an offset pattern I decided to forgo the joy of my daily dose of self-flagellation and went for the straight lines. I’m crazy but I’m not stupid! 🙂

When you’re “doing it yourself”, as opposed to using ready-made products of any sort such as styrene sheet, you can make things any size you like. While the Evergreen sheet material is great to work with, it is to 1/4″ scale (1:48), which means that the embossed tiles are ever so slightly smaller than 6″x6″ if it had been represented in 1:43.5. For this building I would scribe the tiles as close to exactly 6″x6″ as I could, which made them exactly 3.5mmx3.5mm square. There is a very good reason 1:43.5 is sometimes referred to as 7mm scale: it’s because 1′ imperial is represented as 7mm on any model built in the scale. So a 6″x6″ tile is 3.5mmx3.5mm. The last time I built this station as a model I also struggled to come up with an effective way to represent the cut stone capping on the front edges of the station platform. In the earlier version I used lengths of styrene angle painted to a yellow, :sandstone” colour. Well I hoped it looked like sandstone…

While the use of styrene in the earlier model worked ok, when I came to review the model in light of almost 10 years modelling experience, I felt that there were a couple of problems with using this material to represent natural and man-made stone building materials. The first and most obvious problem was that the course lines of the embossed styrene are far too straight and neat for my taste. I’ve probably spent too long drooling over photos of the work of great narrow gauge modellers like Geoff Nott to be satisfied with “straight and neat”. Secondly, I find that the surface of styrene is far too smooth and clean to represent stone surfaces easily or well. The DAS modelling clay produces a porous surface when dry and naturally lends itself to matt finishes and random edges and lines. The difference is like chalk and cheese. None of this is to say that I don’t like styrene, I do, however as far as I’m concerned it’s horses for courses: while I’ve found the use of the modelling clay to be time-consuming and tedious, it produces a very satisfactory result when you’re trying to represent stone or brick.

What really got me thinking about scale was taking a look at the windows and doors I was thinking of recycling from the earlier model. These were Grandt Line products and, at the time, I was more than happy with them. However about 3 years ago I had built a model of a prefab concrete station and the method of construction required me to make doors that were properly proportioned for 1:43.5, rather than letting me get away with pressing 1/4″ scale items into service. I’d ignored this difference in the past but I wanted this building to be on the money so I got some of the left over castings for the prefab station out today and set them next to the Gandt Line doors. I’ve been intellectually aware that 1:48 is smaller than 1:43.5 but having these doors in the two different scales side by side made the difference very apparent, especially with a properly scaled 1:43.5 figure standing next to them.

The doors I had made for the earlier model simply looked right in relation to the height of the walls and of the figure, which scaled out at 5’9″ tall. I had 5 leftover castings and this is enough for the doors that lead into offices and waiting rooms and had windows in them. There are 3 more doors needed and all of these are entrances to toilets, so I will make them from styrene without windows. For most applications I think using 1:48 items is fine but there are times when close enough is not good enough. You’d have thought after 13 years in this scale I would know this but it seems we sometimes need to learn lessons more than once. I’m glad I got those castings out and checked them against the Grandt Line items: having the smaller doors in the completed station would have bugged me no end and once they’d been installed and the building located there would have been no way of changing them.

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