Atlas Skyscraper Complete (& modified)

Atlas produced a line of skyscraper kits well over a decade ago (as near as I can tell). Although they can still be found on eBay, they tend to be fairly pricey. The kits were produced in 3 versions; a square, rectangle, and a hexagon version (the later was a sort of gold/copper color vs the dark grey/black of the 2 former models).

I was fortunate to get the square one at a hobby shop for something close to its original retail price, which was a great find! However, I soon realized this thing is huge! Not just in height (which is what I wanted/expected!), but in footprint...the total base of the square skyscraper is about 9 inches!

Well, I had to make a choice...use the skyscraper as is, and take up a lot of urban real estate with one structure, give up and put it up on eBay for someone else to use, or cut it down and modify it to make it fit with my layout.
I chose the later, although with some trepidation. The materials used by Atlas in this kit are a fairly thick sheet of 'brittle' plastic...not the relatively 'soft' plastic most kits are made of. So cutting it was going to be very interesting (This plastic also has a slight amount of transparency, which could be good or bad depending on how you look at it - uh...no pun intended).

So, what did I do:

1. Cutting. I took about 1/3 of the front and back off the kit. Making the front of the building around 6 inches. I cut the sides by about half, slightly less than 4 inches deep. The dimensions were made to fit into the 'city block' that I had in mind for this building. I cut it the old-fashioned way: scoring with a knife. This was a long, tedious process to do with 8 different sections, and there are some areas where the plastic was just not willing to score nicely and 'cracked' a bit. Yikes...."try not to think what you COULD be getting for this on eBay right now" went through my mind a couple of times. Ultimately, I got it done!

2. General Lighting. Again, added a bazillion LED's. A flashing LED for the antenna on the roof. A total of seven LED's for the backlit "HSBC" signs (which is "Hong Kong Shanghai Banking Company" a great global 'brand' to go with my 'globalization' theme), an SMD over the office door, and about 5 LED's to light the HMV store also on the ground floor.

3. Office lighting. Before assembly, I taped the pieces together adjacent to the piece it would later be glued to. On the inside surface, I then used 1/2 in masking tape to 'block' random windows, spray painted the inside surface to create an 'opaque' area, then removed the masking tape. I later used some 'under counter' LED strips (from the local hardware store) glued to a central column inside the hollow building to give the transparent window areas some light. I may have to add more to get more light, but it works for now.

4. Assembly. Assembly on this bad boy required the big guns....so I 'borrowed' my wife's low-temp hot glue gun. Love that thing. The big challenge was getting a nice fit (I won't say seamless...that's hard enough with the factory finish!) between the connecting sections that I had cut and scored. I sanded down the edge so that my scored sides would have a 45 degree bevel, well, I tried the best I could. I give myself a "C" on that one. Something to come back to and work on later.

5. Other stuff. I had to create my own roof. The roof system on the original model was just inadequate to use for this sort of modification. Same with the first floor (with the exception of the 'entrance doors').

And that's it! Easy huh? Actually...about two weekends of work! What do you think?


Fleischmann, Tomix, and Kato Roadbed Track

Most of my layout is Kato Unitrack, but through the purchase of various starter sets or unique track capabilities, I've got a little bit of track from Tomix (primarily for their tight radius Tram system), Fleischmann Profitrack (that came with a starter set, but also for some excellent flex track), Minitrix and Atlas.

I thought it might be interesting to provide a few photo comparisons of two of those track systems that have roadbed that are not real well known in the US; Tomix Finetrack and Fleischmann's Profitrack. For reference, I'll also add in a piece of Unitrack (There are two other track systems in N Scale that I am aware of...the new Atlas track system [forgot the name] and the Bachmann EZ Track system)!

The photo at top shows, from left to right, the Fleischmann Profitrack, the Tomix Fine Track, and the Unitrack. Below is a close up of the Fleischmann and Tomix tracks:

As you can see, the Fleischmann is the narrowest, at just about 16mm, Tomix is a bit wider at 18mm, while the Kato Unitrack appears to be a hefty 25mm in comparison!

While they are all Code 80 - and thank goodness for that! - its fairly obvious that they will need a little effort to get to work together. Tomix, interestingly enough, seems to put its rail joiners on the opposite side of other manufacturers, and with that 'cast in' connector on the Tomix roadbed, some sort of modification (or a Kato Unitrack joiner for this purpose) is necessary.

A final shot below shows a side view....nothing spectacular here, except they all obviously work off different geometries (so you'll have to do some tricks to get them to work together somehow). While I have definite plans to use Finetrack for a tram system in my downtown remodel (103mm radius curves and accessories to make it look like rails in the street...although Kato appears to be right behind them!), Tomix is also coming out with a single track super-elevated curve! That will be cool and will require some big changes to my layout - but super-elevated curves are worth it!

I also have additional plans for the Fleischmann track...given its relative elevation to Unitrack, this would be great track for yards...although the cost of switches with motors in their system is crazy (E.g.: when it makes the Kato #4 switch look like a real value...its too much!).


UPDATE 5 December 2009:

Mel in the comments section is building a layout for his Grandson, and had a question about whether or not an adapter is needed for the Fleischmann track with either Atlas (code 80) or Minitrix track.  Its a good question, and I expect other people will wonder as well!

Here's a couple of photo's of the three types: The first is the Minitrix track connected to the Fleischmann profitrack with just the standard rail joiners from each company:

 While its not perfect, I don't know if any sort of adapter would help.  Below is the Atlas code 80 track and Fleischmann:

The Atlas track as well works nicely with the Fleischmann track.  The Fleischmann track is hair taller, but this can easily be addressed by a very thin shim.   If it were me, I would not worry about an adapter.  I recall reading somewhere that Trix does make an adapter, but I think this was for another track system (Rapido?) that I don't use.

Good luck on your layout project! 


Tomytec KFC

Way back in January I posted about my joy in getting a box full of cool little TomyTec buildings (Thanks again Plaza Japan on eBay!). I did mention that my layout is not particularly Japanese themed, so some 'globalization' would be in order. This is just a quick photo of the idea and an okay result of turning one of the buildings into a KFC (which I've personally seen in both China, Japan, and of course Europe...so yeah, 'global' in a weird way! :-)). I've been experimenting with various methods of creating lit or backlit signage for buildings. What you see in this photo is color inkjet printed decal on clear acrylic (sanded for the angle) using Testor's white laserjet decal paper (there are two LED's in the plastic behind it. I've also used other methods, mostly involving color laser printers to avoid that 'splotchy' look the inkjet decals have. More on that in another post....

This building lacks interior detail...which has sort of become an obsession with me. I rationalize the lack as I expect this to be too far from viewer for them to see into the store. Also, the glass doors were a 'quick and dirty' solution. All that you see there is a clear sheet of plastic with the metal wires from clipped LED's glued onto the plastic. That was a spur of the moment solution that turned out okay!

Well, thanks for reading! Hungry for chicken now?


Buildings and Building The City

Ahhh... Fall! While many of my American readers are thinking "Football!", for me, the cool air and shorter daylight means more time to spend on the layout! My current focus is downtown and the revisions I'm making to the layout driven by a desire for a more interesting, colorful and fun 'downtown'/ urban area on my layout (I spoke about this a bit here).

The image at top shows what sort of 'chaos' the layout is in right now...in fact, all trains have been removed and safely boxed up! What I am doing in the photo above is continuing to work on getting all of the various buildings I have to neatly align to more or less similar sized city 'blocks' (as I talked about here).

Today, I've been using a hot glue gun to attach the buildings together. I wasn't sure how I was going to do this, but hot glue seems to be the answer. The photo below shows the buildings in variuos stages of getting connected to each other. The wood boards are used to prop up the buildings so the wiring for all the lights doesn't get in the way and result in the buildings being unevenly attached.

The below photo is just another close up of the buildings

In addition to putting together the city blocks, I'm also 'modding' out the buildings that haven't seen any attention yet. I recently won a neat lot of older German N scale buildings (Kibri, Vollmer, etc...) and am now updating with new paint, lights, advertising, people, and other details. The below was a fairly simple building, but lights and some minimal detail have made this one of my favorites! :-)

Believe it or not, this building has 12 LED's in it! 4 for the 'backlit' "Super 24" sign, 2 SMD's for signs/advertising, 2 more for the rooftop billboard, 3 for the store interior, and one to backlight the upstairs apartments.

This is another building from my eBay 'score' that will need some work. The 'paper backing' for the upstairs apartment windows works fine, but for the ground floor shop display windows, I'll need to something a bit more interesting. Fortunately I just got a new shipment of LED's and resistors so I can start to add the lighting soon!

Okay, enough blogging...it's a rainy Saturday afternoon, the family is all out doing what they like to do...so I'm back to train room!


N Scale Office Furniture

Do you know what you can't buy in N Scale?

Office furniture.

Park benches? Yes!
Japanese food stands? Yes!
Oktoberfest details? Yes?
Office furniture? No.

Its as if the N Scale world excludes any 'white color' occupations! Which is a shame really, because Kato, Tomix, and Greenmax have really done some great N Scale buildings (1/150 scale at least) with big wide, modern looking windows which - to my eye - look somewhat naked with nothing going on 'inside'! One creative solution is to add various window treatments (I think there are some commercially available products out there that allow you to fill windows with illustrations, etc..), or to 'blur' them with some spray paint technique (dullcoat or specific products for this from hardware stores).

These approaches work okay for some buildings....the Vollmer and Kibri kits come with a pre-printed color sheet of paper that you insert into the building behind the windows which actually looks convincingly like drapes and window coverings when backlit with lighting. And for larger buildings, I've gone with a more 'suggestive' approach of blacking out some windows, and 'fogging' the rest with some 'glass fogging' spray paint from the hardware store. But these approaches don't work great for all of the buildings, so its time to get creative.

I decided I would create my own N scale office cubicles to fill some of the floors of my modern office structures (which, of course, are brightly lit). This was actually a pretty simple and easy exercise.

The simplest method I came up with requires two basic materials: A 1/2" or 12mm wide strip of styrene, and a 90 degree corner piece of styrene.

The flat styrene is cut to make squares or rectangles of slightly less than 1/2" or 9mm, and then cut a piece of the 90 degree styrene corner piece to 10-12mm (again, about a half inch or less). Then glue the corner piece end to the face of the flat styrene 'square' piece so that it is flush on the edge. The picture shows this better than I can explain it!

Once you've assembled a decent batch of these things (after all, a sole 'cubicle' is kind of a contradiction), I set them on a strip of masking tape and gave them a nice coat of a nuetral, boring color appropriate for the modern office environment.

Given all the excess stickers I find with the above mentioned Kato, Tomix, Greenmax kits, I use these stickers to add some color to the cube walls.

Wallah! Now that you have your cube, get to work! :-)

Okay wait, something's missing! Where do our little N Scale yuppies sit! This was a harder one for me to figure out, and I don't think the end result is as convincing as I wanted. Nevertheless, I used some Styrene I-beams, and cut them into about 1/8 inch pieces (or 4mm). I then used my trusty Xacto knife to carve the top portion into a U shape (which will be the 'seat') and gave a little trim to the center of the I-beam to hide the I-beam look. Is it a chair? Well, they lack backs and arms, but if a figure is glued to it, its unlikely that will be significant except to the most discerning eye. But did I succeed? I don't know. I think I've created the first scale model of toilets more than anything!

The proof is in the pudding (whatever that means), and when its all put together, I think it turned out okay.


Creating Sidewalks

Having (finally) come to a point where I think have 'enough' (is there really ever enough? :-) ) buildings to start putting my city together, the question of how to tie together various buildings- from different manufacturers- needs to finally be answered. Specifically, how to create a city scene with consistent looking sidewalks especially since most manufacturers have various ways of adding (or not) this feature to the structure.

Its very apparent that just using the 'default' sidewalks from various structures, and patching the gaps for those buildings without sidewalks, just won't look right. You also may, as I do, want to add street lights and other features. Additionally, given that every building in my city now has electricity (this is a modern city after all!) that means a LOT of wires need to be managed.

My solution is to create 'city blocks' that will have all the various buildings attached to the 'block' and allow for me to create a consistent sidewalk look. In addition, by unifying multiple buildings on one piece of 'city block', I can more easily manage the various electrical wires and connections.

In order to have 'sidewalks' that sit flat, are sturdy enough to hold multiple buildings, and stand up to the drilling etc... (to allow for the holes for the electrical wires) it has to be thin and rigid. The best choice I found is 1.5mm styrene sheets. According to some online scale calculators I used, where 1.9mm = 1 foot, then my sidewalk height is around 7 inches, which seems to be about right (and visually it looks good, see photo next to car).

As for how to set up my city block, I tried different combinations of buildings; looking for the best combination of height, width, and length, to give the appropriate affect. The photo shows a mock up of what I think will be 'city block #1'. The overall dimensions of this block are 8" x 16", a second block (not shown) is a bit wider at 9" x 16".

After determining the dimensions for my city blocks, I carefully cut the corners using a coin as a guide. I then made very light 'grooves' in the styrene for the sidewalk markings. I made a very small 'outline' for the curb around the entire outside edge, and then added in a grid of small, light grooves with the hobby knife for the main sidewalk part itself.

I used a 'concrete' colored spray paint from the local hobby shop. After that dried, I used some diluted Citadel black and brown ink (the Games Workshop brand, but I think any dilated paint would work just as well) to darken the grooves I made with the knife earlier.

I'll post some photos of the sidewalks and 'city blocks' once I've attached the buildings (the plan is to use hot glue to attach them, but not sure how well that will work) lights, and everything is all wired up!