Tomytec and Tomix buildings

Well, after the 19 or so stories of the "Godzilla Corporation's" high-rise office complex, time for a break with some smaller, gap-filling structures.

Way back in February I blogged about how fun the Tomytec building collection ('The Town (Machinami) Collection No.7' to be exact) was. Although the quality isn't great (more on that below), the relative value and diversity of building types is very intriguing for anyone looking for something a little different in their N Scale structures. Plus, they're a lot of fun.

I've done a couple of minor modification to a couple of these, I blogged about the KFC 'conversion' already, and below is a photo of a Chinese restaurant with relatively minor changes.

This was an easy three or four LED modification, with a 'homemade' Peking Garden sign (backlit with LED's) over the front.

You can also make out some of the 'quality' issues with this series in that photo, and its really to be expected.  The walls, floors, etc.... are somewhat warped, and the method that is used to assemble them (which is really just sliding tabs into grooves and held there by friction) tends to result in less than flush corners and joints.  This is not a design problem for Tomytec, as it appears these are aimed for more of a toy-like collector than serious modelers.  In truth, this doesn't bother me much, and there's some things you can do as a modeler to address these issues that are pretty simple.

On the other hand, the amount of screen printing or painting that goes into each one of these models is very much surprising compared to the standard fare seen in most 'serious' kits, and I've yet to actual repaint one of these Tomytec models as their colors and detailing actually work quite well (particularly for 'fill areas' in my city that won't be highly visible).  I should also mention that you get a little packet of 'detail parts' with virtually every building as well, including stairs, signage for the roof, and other various pieces that are made to snap into various holes placed in the roof, floors, walls, etc....

One thing that doesn't look right about the above picture? Well, if its going to be in a 'city', then its not going to sit all alone without some neighbors next to it! And that, my friends, is one way of addressing the 'warped walls'.

The next project combines three of the TomyTec buildings, removes all the walls (in fact, the center building is actually a corner building that has a triangular footprint) and leaves nothing except the storefronts (only one of which was modified from a very 'traditional' looking Japanese storefront, to a more modern plate glass sort of front).

The following photos show these buildings in the middle of construction prior to the lighting and final 'details':

The building with the clear plastic 'front' is going to end up as a 'bank', the middle building stays untouched (I like the "Fuji Grill" name and graphics too much), while the corner building on the end, with a sort of stucco exterior, gets some crazy color-changing LED's (a nightclub perhaps? not sure what the Japanese characters on it say the building is, but I think a shady little club in the city will work!).

From the 'other side' of the block:

Yes, that brick building on the far left is not part of the Tomytec collection, but I think it looks like it would fit right into this neighborhood.  I think this will make an interesting little area of my city...after the cold, serious 'high rises', this will look like that block not too far off where things are just a little bit edgier!

One other recent project has been the Tomix 4048 'bow front building' conversion to a hotel.  This was relatively easy, but took me forever due to distractions from other projects.  I originally came across this building on Scaper's impressive Flickr site, and knew that I had to have one.  I used two kits, and tried to use the extra ground floor as a 'normal floor' (albeit with high ceilings), to pull this off, I added a strip of styrene in the doorway gap, some clear plastic for the window, and hopefully pull of something that looks like it could be a 4th floor ballroom or something.
I also went a bit overboard and added some interior detail.  I made two 'beds' out of various plastic parts, used scrap paper for wallpaper, and added an  LED for a table lamp (in addition to a third LED that is right above the window shooting down) and of course, a figure doing something.

By the way, its important to get a light source as near to the window as possible (you can see my LED in place below, which did require some milling of the frame above it when I put it together), if you place a light near the 'back' of all your detail, it puts all your detail work in shadow, thus losing a lot of the value of doing this sort of work in the first place.

Here's a shot of the final 'room' with the lady standing there.

Arghh... yes, there's still an unslightly gap there between the building sections (still not done).  And a final shot of the building just prior to its getting its signage (the "Mercuit Hotel"....a name my daughter came up with that means nothing at all!).

The ground floor has some basic 'hotel registration' detail as well, nothing fancy (although I did use the elevator banks that come with the Tomix kit), just a few figures, scrap paper glued to foamcore to simulate  a desk, etc...

With this building, I also used an old technique that modellers have used to simulate window blinds for the first time.  I don't recall the name of this tape (and it was hard to find), but prior to duct tape, this is the sort of thing you would use for packages.  It really does give a good simulation of blinds or drapes (and now I have a huge roll of it for future buildings)!


Creating a skyscraper from scratch (Part 3)

This should be the final post on my attempt at 'scratch-building' an N scale skyscraper! In Part 1, I talked about the materials I used and the basic look; in Part 2, I described how I created the sidewalls, floors, and dealt with interior 'details'; and in this post (Part 3, if my math is right!), I will describe how I addressed the ground floor, and wired it up!

Ground Floor:

For the ground floor I decided that this was a pure office building - without any sort of retail businesses. I think we all know these buildings...usually a cavernous space with elevators, escalators and some modern art on the walls. Fortunately, this was easy, as I used some excess escalator and elevator pieces left over from some of my Kato structures (or maybe Tomix, forget which), applied a neutral looking tan color to a sheet of styrene for the floor, and printed out some fake 'walls' for the sides.
As I talked about a bit in Part 1, the trick with scratch-building buildings is the question of how do you make windows (walls are easy, right?)? Well...doors are a similar challenge! For the lobby entrance to the "Godzilla Corporation's" high rise, I had to improvise yet again. Most of the glass/window 'detail' is merely etched lines on plastic, but I wanted something a bit different so I attempted to try my hand at a 'revolving' door for the building entrance. This was pretty simple to create, as all I did was use a round piece of plastic that was about the right size, sliced it in half, and then glued both halves to the entry lobby plastic. Unfortunately, I messed up a bit and used CA glue (aka "super glue") when I should have gone with plastic cement, thus the ugly-looking 'fogging' around this part. Arg!

I used some excess metal wire leads (from clipped LED's) as the 'metal' parts of the door. While I regret the glue error, overall I think I got the effect I was looking for (and in reality, once on the layout, the 'fogging' won't be noticeable).
Electrical Wiring:

As is my obsession, I love to light my buildings! Unfortunately, I'm not an electrician, so I slog my way through this stuff the best I can! For lighting the interior of the building, I am using 3mm LED's (that were ordered online and dirt cheap) with the appropriate resistors. Again, as I'm not much of an electrician, I used a handy website for calculating the resistor code which puts out this convenient wiring diagram:
The actual LED's are placed in the building by poking the leads through the foamcore on the 'floor' section that will be the ceiling for the floor to be lit (I don't light every floor!). If that didn't completely confuse you, here's a photo that will:
What little experience I have had with wiring N Scale buildings has shown that creating something to collect and manage all of the resistors and power leads is necessary in order to manage all those wires (uh...that was redundant). I could have tried to create a PCB board (like I know what I'm doing!), but what I did instead was use a low-temp glue gun to glue the resistors to a narrow board that would act as a 'virtual' PCB board and be well hidden. Below is the initial stage of wiring the top and bottom floors before the 'virtual PCB' is installed (and note the 'notch' in the foam core floors where the wires/PCB board will slot in):
Once I got to a certain point, I placed the 'virtual PCB board' in the building where I placed the notches and completed all my soldering. Here's the ugly truth of this in all its glory right here:
After cutting out small rectangular openings on the top of the building for the corporate logo (made with several layers of laser-printed 'transparencies' and back-lit with LED's), and the initial work on the roof started, its time to plug this thing in and get a sense of whether or not I've been able to achieve a reasonable looking skyscraper!
Oh yeah, that LED sticking out of the top of the building is actually one of two blinking red LED's that I got from a company called "Evans Designs"....I've found their flashing LED's look good and already come ready to install with all the appropriate electronics and can be hooked right to the 12v DC power source. Once the roof is finalized, these blinking red LED's will be placed at the corners of the roof (which brings the total LED count to 29!).

The floors with lighting have a few interior details (as described in Part 2). Its a bit hard to make out what's happening on this floor, maybe their roughing up that guy on the right? Hmmm....
And finally, the 'lobby entrance' with the revolving door and scurrying office workers complete the building:
And here's another look from the perspective of an N Scale pedestrian:
In summary, I'm pretty happy. My biggest regret was the accident with the CA glue and I definitely overdid it in terms of 'interior detail' as the floors without lighting are dark enough that the lack of detail would not be noticeable. Additionally (and I knew this going into it) but the 1/2 inch thick smoked acrylic I used for the 'glass' was too thick. Its nice and stable (and heavy!), but if you look close, you can tell its a thick piece of acrylic! But hey, it was cheap and I didn't need to do any cutting!

Total cost? Ironically, the most expensive parts were the Evergreeen styrene strips used to create the concrete columns on the fascia/building. I think I have about $12 there. The smoked acrylic was around $3, LED's and resistors was probably around $8, plus $6.50 for the flashing red LED's from Evan's Designs, another $5 or so for the can of 'camouflage gray' paint used for the concrete, and the sheet of foam core was probably another $5 or so. Bottom line? Maybe around $40 or $50 dollars.

So, the "Godzilla Corporation" finally has their corporate headquarters! Now they can get about their work of urban redevelopment and environmental mitigation (get it? ;-) ) in their fancy new office in downtown Quinntopia! They will soon have neighbors, as I am starting work on another scratch-built high-rise...the Saruman corporation!

CLICK HERE for Part 1!
CLICK HERE for Part 2!


Doubling up a Vollmer 7728 Gift Shop

I purchased a Vollmer 7728 N Scale Gift Shop almost a year ago. It sat on the shelf while I tried to figure out what to do with it, until I finally decided to order another one and attempt to make this a much taller building than the original designers intended, similar to what I did with the Greenmax 29 building. This was a very tricky kitbash, as the front of this building has unusual recesses and different windows on virtually each floor.

The first step, whenever I put together a new building, is get a paper towel and some water and clean off the sprues. I then remove the parts from the sprues and paint them (given how light the parts are, I usually place them on some masking tape so they don't go blowing off onto the ground or worse!). If I plan to light the building interior, I also put a coat of paint on the inside walls to ensure that no light can pass through the plastic walls.

My final plan was to combine the top two floors of each model together, as these floors are all 'recessed'. That will make the bottom four floors flush with the building front. I ended up having to use some styrene strips to make the entire front look seamless.

This is another 'fashion' store (I'm getting my daughter to help me come up with store ideas, and she thought my city needed more fashion stores!) but rather than use mannequins (e.g. N scale figures) in the shop windows as I've done with other stores, I just used images that look like those you'd see in a fashion store window. I sort of expect that this building won't be as visible as others, so I didn't go overboard with a lot of detail like I tend to do with others!

Again, lot's of LED's went into this building, and there is even one floor where the apartment dwellers can be seen inside (although the photo here is pretty crappy...can't get the camera to focus on the interior!). For most floors, I used the 'window coverings' that Vollmer includes...these do a nice job of simulating drapers and ensure that there's a bit of variety on every floor like you'd expect from a 'real' apartment building.

On the back side, there are large windows that I diffused with some laquer spray and overlaid with some clear orange acetate. I don't even know if this side will be visible but...well, at least its done.

All in all, this will be a bright - and colorful!- building on the layout! I still haven't decided what the roof sign will be yet (the sign up there now in the photo is a placeholder) but that can be worked out with other details later!


Japanese Wheel Cleaner for N Gauge

Above is the box for a nifty little item I picked up from PlazaJapan on eBay. Its from a Japanese manufacturer called Tsugawa Yokou, and its an interesting, simple, and seemingly very effective device (and did not require any soldering or decoder installation! :-)).

Below is what you get, and although all the materials and instructions are completely in Japanese, its not that hard to figure out! Plug the two alligator clips to a power source and start cleaning!

For only about $20 USD, this is a pretty cool device. I haven't used it a lot yet, but I expect I will. In my experience, I have really wanted an easier method of cleaning wheels for a long time (I always hated to put dirty wheels on 'just cleaned' track! Arg!)...this seems to do the job!

Below is a short video showing it work. The wheels basically sit on a foam material with enough conductive material in them to transmit power to the locomotive. Cool, huh?


Locomotive Roster: Kato DF 200 Red Bear

Another one of my recent acquisitions is the Kato model of a Japan Railways Freight DF 200 diesel locomotive. As is typical with most new Kato locomotives, the quality is great and the price and value are equally as satisfying!
Although this model doesn't come in DCC, Kato has made it very easy to convert (let's hope this is the trend, and that their friends at Tomix pick up on this!) with the replacement of the 'stock' light board with a new Digitrax DN163K0a decoder (which is also a light board and the decoder all in one unit). Digitrax describes this decoder as being for US outline locomotives (GP'9's etc...) but it works just fine with the DF 200 with the only change being that you'll need to shorten the leads to the LED's on the ends (which will require a bit of soldering). A fantastic description and tutorial of how this was done is on the Japanese Rail Forum.
I have to also mention that this locomotive and decoder were easy on the wallet! The locomotive ran about $80 USD, plus another $35 for the DN163K0a, for a total of $115 for a nice DCC equipped loco! Hmmm...in an earlier post, I praised the NEM 651 interface, but with a little soldering, these Digitrax 'drop in' decoders are a pretty good deal too (and I like the price compared to the $45 and up cost for typical NEM 651 decoders!). Although I wasn't that impressed with the process when I made a similar installation on my Kato Thalys, this was relatively pain free!

Its a fantastic, seemingly powerful little locomotive, while at the same time, being much quieter than older N Scale locomotives (which is, I find, something I am starting to expect more and more whenever I hear an old 'growler' from previous decades!). I was really drawn to the "Bo-Bo-Bo" trucks on this modern diesel, and the "Red Bear" logo and branding gives this engine some distinct character.

Yes, I will pursue my heresy and run this alongside locomotives from other countries. The only reason I might have hesitated is that the 1:150 scale of this diesel might look out of proportion to other locomotives at 1:160, but I haven't found this noticeable.