My 2nd Skyscraper Scratchbuild - DONE!

I've been waiting to close the book on this building for a long time.  I started working on this building last summer.  Initial progress was good, but after I got the LED's wired up, something about the building didn't look right, so it sat in the form below for about 6 months.  Background on my basic approach for this building was covered in an earlier post here if you're interested.
I looked at real high-rise office buildings where I live for inspiration.  What finally occurred to me, and the piece of the puzzle that I could not figure out, was the 'top' of the building...what to do?  I finally decided that I needed a relatively large 'top' for this building, and that some sort of corporate logo would be necessary.  I fiddled around with trying to cut some letters into the sintra I used for the top, but it never looked right.  I ended up cutting a rectangular hole and filling it with a piece of clear acrylic with 3 laser-printed logo's on clear transparency paper.  Tah-dah!  The "Sony" building is born!

The ground floor has always been basically the same....a fast food 'taco' joint, a pharmacy, and the building lobby, but the actual entrance went through about 4 different changes....the first version had doors that were over-sized for N Scale (I measured...but not very carefully!), decals that didn't stick right or look good, etc...  Its still not perfect, but it is N Scale, so I'm about 160x away from worrying about that!
The final piece for the ground floor, and a somewhat common feature on office buildings around here, was the 'glass' covering over the front of the building for pedestrians, etc.... 
Overall, I'm satisfied...I think mostly because its finally done!  What's neat is that my 'tall' buildings are really starting to accumulate and I'm finally getting to the point where this is going to feel like a real city!


A New Station - Combining Kato with Vollmer

The main railway station on Quinntopia has, since any of the 'little plastic people' can remember, been the Kato Overhead Station.  Its an ideal station of course, as it takes up little room in the crowded downtown area of the city but yet still provides access to the two lines that serve the inner city.

However, the little plastic people of Quinntopia had some issues.  For one, they didn't like climbing all those steps to get to the station, and then have to go down a bunch of steps to get to the train.  Is it too much to ask for an escalator-or an elevator?  My response has always been that if its good enough for Kato (and, presumably, Japan), then it should be good enough for Quinntopia.

Another complaint the LPP ("Little Plastic People" from now on) have about the station was that they think that a modern, well-lit, central-city station should have something more of a grand entrance?  My response has always been that art deco rail palaces are so 20th Century. And what's wrong with that really long stairway anyway?

Ultimately, I had to agree that the LPP had a point (which is one of the reasons its so hard to glue them down, another topic....), and that I really needed to do something about the downtown station.  Then I came across this:
It's a Vollmer 7510.  A modern train station (which is an oxymoron in the United States) from Germany that is now out of production.   I really liked the glass walls, the modern architecture, and in my own imagination, I could visualize the incorporation of this building with its large, welcoming entry/lobby, second-story offices, with the Kato Overhead Station. 

So that's what I did.  I had to completely disassemble the 7510, and gave just about everything a new coat of paint.  This meant that the Kato station needed a similar paint job; so they both went under the brush (or spray can to be more accurate). 

From the street side, a new entrance with lots of light, and large lobby and (in my pretend world) and elevator to wisk the weary travelers to the overhead concourse:
Of course, with all this renovation, the 'old' overhead station needed some improvements.  The most visible is the stairway down to the platform got an upgrade with new glass walls providing a view of the trains as you descend to the platform anticipating your journey.
And of course, the 'main entrance' now attempts to be a bit more inviting to our LPP travelers' with a large glass facade:
 Hopefully, this will keep the LPP happy for a while.  However, I have a feeling that they have more demands that I must meet.


Aoshima Apartments: 20 Stories of Fine Living!

Allright...so the Aoshima Apartments are done!  Now all the office workers I've been creating workspace for have a place to rest their heads!

This was a tough build though...a lot harder than I thought.  It was actually complicated by the fact that Aoshima did a great job with this kit.  There are plastic 'insert's for each floor of the building, which makes it very convenient to add lighting and details.  This sort of convenience works well if you go with the standard 5 story building, but I ordered 2 of these kits (each box contains two buildings) resulting in a 20 story monster!
So the inserts, which are somewhat important for stability, I think, ended up getting in the way quite a bit.  I got a lot of use out of my Dremel cutting blade with this kit.

I basically followed the instructions, and attempted to think a few steps ahead of the instruction's sequence to accommodate the fact that I was adding 4 buildings together.  The stairway is first, and its something I felt needed a few lights.  Hey, if someone's going to climb 20 floors of stairs to get to their apartment, the least I can do is give the an occasional light!  These are simple SMD LED's that went into a few somewhat random areas of the stairwell.
Once I had my stairwells wired, with extra bracing on the backside to hold them together, it was clear I needed to modify the 'inserts' to allow enough room for the extra wires and bracing as they tend to sit fairly snug against the stairwell's and exterior walls.  This was a lot of messy work...but thank goodness for the Dremel cutting blade.  This is not a job you want to attempt with a hobby knife.  The below photo shows the tortured inserts (additionally modified for another hole for the SMD light strips I decided to use for interior lighting, which also required some cutting down of the interior 'walls' on the inserts to allow more light to pass through):
The next photo skips about 5 tedious hours of attempting (not altogether successfully) to get all the exterior wall seams to stay tightly glued together.  Where I ended up with gaps, I used a bit of caulk to fill in the gaps, and then covered the caulk with Model Master's Camouflage Grey, which was a decent match for the stock color of the building.
As I mentioned at the top, this was a very time-consuming and somewhat tedious build, but in the end I think its worth it.  There aren't many modern apartment buildings with this look available, so I'm glad I spent the time on it.  The real time suck on this building were the dozens of sprues that needed cutting, filing, and sanding to fit.  And there are LOT of pieces....100 balconies alone, and 160 of the smaller 'fence' gates over the windows.  A lot of work.  My only complaint with this kit is that the plastic seemed very 'brittle'.  A lot of the detail pieces, especially the small 'fence' pieces, cracked when being removed the spru.

The lighting turned out how I wanted it to, however, just enough light to give the indication that some folks are at home, and others are dark, just like reality.
I sprayed a random group of the window scenes with black, white, and grey paint, to give different levels of opacity (sprayed the inside of the windows, of course!).  This was really an attempt to avoid even thinking attempting to add interior detail to this monster!
I wish I could have added a lot more of the SMD LED's to the stairwell, but I got some of the effect I was looking for. A flashing red LED on the roof (hey, its 20 stories, you bet we want a flashing light on this building) rounds out the project!


Tramway "Star House"

I just received this newly produced structure from a company called "Tramway" from Japan.  When I ordered it, there were no pictures available, only some mechanical drawings.  I was intrigued by the 3-sided shape of this building and I think it will be an interesting addition to the layout.

However, I was a bit surprised when I opened the box to see that this was a 'pre-built' structure, and not a kit.  I had fully expected a kit as that makes it a lot easier to custom paint and add lighting and other details (of course, I can't remember if the description when I pre-ordered it indicated it was completed or a kit, but it wouldn't be the first time I overlooked important details like that!).  Well, looks like there's going to be a change in plans (and that is what you get for assuming and not reading the fine print!).

So far I've gone about removing the roof.  It was tightly glued, so I'm a bit nervous about further demolition.  Unfortunately, the appearance of these buildings is just too plain and 'plastic-looking' so they're going to need several coats of paint on both the exterior and the interior (the interior paint is mainly to make the plastic less transparent for when interior lighting is added).
Another thing about this kit that surprised me, at least at first, was the fact that there is no identifiable 'ground' floor'.  There doesn't seem to be any entrance for this complex!  However, when you look at the back side you'll notice there's an entry into a small interior courtyard that would be the likely entrance for this building.
It's still a neat looking building, and my plans to 'triple-it' should make it an interesting addition to the burgeoning skyline of Quinntopia, but I'm a little bit vexed at the amount of work this is going to turn into! Ah well...."happy modeling" as they say (and hey, at least I'm still not working on that tram line!).


Locomotive Size Comparisons - Kato

On a previous post comparing some relatively random locomotives from several countries, a great question was raised about how Kato is 'scaling' its trains given that it produces most of its product for its home market of Japan (where all but the Shinkansens are at 1:150) in addition to some key items for the US and Europe.

So, I thought it would be fun to compare an obvious 1:150 model (I think); the Series 787 Relay Tsubame, and compare this to Kato's European offerings; the Thalys and the Class 66.

The Relay Tsubame comes in at just over 12 feet, according to this wiki entry.  I had difficulty getting the height for this model of the TGV used for the Thalys, the closest data I could find may not be quite right for the version of the TGV that Kato used for the Thalys model. The Class 66 data came from here.
 So....eyeballing the above photo...they look pretty much like you'd expect I think.  I could get out a ruler and measure the actual height, but in this case, that doesn't matter.  What's important to me is "do they look appropriately sized for their relative scales"? I'd have to say yes, but you can come to your own decision.  Nice work Kato.


N Scale Signals

I've always been impressed with layouts that have lots of signals.  But then I've also been quickly overwhelmed with the complexity of wiring a working signal system.  Since my layout's not very large, DCC does all that I need and various 'block' control techniques would only add more (unnecessary for me) complexity to the layout.

However, having recently adopted the BCD Switch system by George Stilwell to replace my Kato 'big blue' switches and to create a control panel with LED indications of switch positions, I took advantage of this wiring opportunity to also add in 'signals' at the turnouts themselves.

Creating these signals had some restrictions.  The BCD circuit requires 2-pole LED's, which means that adding off-the-shelf signals (with one common and at least several leads for other signal indications) was not an option.  As with many things in this hobby, sometimes you have to figure out a way to do things yourself.

I was able to easily find red/green bi-color LED's with 2 poles (rather than the much more common 3 poles) on eBay and while these would easily serve my needs at the control panel, I had to figure out how they were going to look on the layout.  Here's the 3mm red/green LED with wire leads soldered on:
My first attempt was to encase the LED in a piece of rectangular styrene.  Paint it up, and see how it looks.  Here's the result of that trial:
YIKES!  What is that??  Some sort of alien signaling device?  I knew this approach would be far from prototypical (unless I was going with a HAL 9000 look), but this thing looks like something from Mars!  Fortunately, the dwarf signal looks a little better (well, tolerable anyway)...
While I think I can live with the 'dwarf' signals, I can't live with those goofy 'HAL 9000' signals. I needed another solution.  Fortunately, Greenmax makes a plastic kit containing 4 signals that would fit the bill perfectly.  Here's what the pieces look like on the spru:
As the LED (even at 3mm!) is still too large (although there is a 2mm version of this that will work much better which I wasn't aware of when I originally built these) I had to grind out a little of the plastic on the back side of the signal, and sand down the LED without getting close to the electrical elements inside the plastic:
Then glue the LED to the back of the signal....
Paint it black (no humming please)....
Drill out a small hole from the front of the signal...smaller is best!  Ta-dah!  That LED that was covered with paint is now mostly only visible through the new tiny hole that was just made:
And install....here showing the green indication....
That's all there is to it!

Total cost for each signal?

  • LED's: 10 pack for $1.75 or  $0.18 each.
  • Greenmax Signals: 4 for about $5.00or $1.25 each.
  • Wires? Solder? Paint? Total...maybe a $1.00 for each signal?
Your looking at about $2, maybe $3 a signal!  Pretty good price if you can accept the compromises that these obviously force on you - for example, I really want to find a way to hide the LED wires, but even painted black, their not that noticeable to average folks.  Compared with the admittedly beautiful signals that Viessman makes, I can do the whole layout for the cost of one signal!

The Greenmax signals are a pretty acceptable looking 'generic' style  and I think they'd look pretty good on a US themed layout, as well as Japanese obvuiously, and possible British! But I don't think anything in continental Europe looks close to these (albeit this is not an area of specialty for me, so I'm likely wrong and ignorant).  Unforunately, cheap plastic kit signals don't seem to be available outside these Greenmax versions (and I believe some Model Power or Bachman stuff for the US). 

And compared to my first attempt, which are so bizarre looking, I'm quite happy with how these turned out - I know have a control panel with LED indication of switch positions, signals on the layout (partially) for layout indication, and all for a relatively decent sum!  Of course, I'm quite happy my signals don't creep me out with their uncanny resemblance to HAL 9000!

Finally, a quick comparison between the two:


Tram Line Construction Continues....

I really, really, really want to be done with the tram line.   I 'jumped the shark' on this last month, but after completing the bridge, I could finally go back in and 'fill in' the gaps on the rest of the tram line-  which means more plaster, sanding, painting, track-cleaning, etc....   I really don't like this part of it.  I can't tell you how many times I wish I had waited for Kato Unitram.

This is why I neither run trains, or talk about them on my blog.  Because they are all in boxes.  This stupid tram line and this dumb desire I had to 'improve' the old layout.  Well, I'm in it now.  Suck it up and stop complaining.  There are worse hobbies I imagine.