|Written by Paul D. Race for Family Garden Trains(tm)|
Recycle Road SpamWhen I was an indoor model railroader, I built entire communities out of cardboard. Unfortunately, building materials that work well outdoors tend to be a little more expensive than used cereal boxes. Don't fret; this article will tell you how to harvest free weather-proof building materials and beautify your community at the same time.
Every spring our streetcorners and telephone poles sprout a fresh crop of illegal, obnoxious signage from fly-by-night businesses. Almost all of these are now using a material called corrugated plastic or "vertically fluted" plastic. As far as I can tell, it holds up well against most weather, even without additional UV protection. With a coat of paint, it should last as long as any other material you are using outdoors. You can buy it in the store for a few dollars a sheet, but to me, it's better if I can get it for free, and, at the same time, make my neighborhood look less like a clearing-house for illegal and semi-legal enterprises.
But Doesn't "Free Speech" Give Fly-By-Night Businesses A Right To Clutter Our Neighborhoods and Roadways?No. Here are some things to think about.
Does that mean that everyone who puts up a fluted plastic sign on a street corner deserves a criminal investigation, or at least a public inquiry. No. Here are some "sort-of" exceptions.
The next time you see obnoxious road spam in your neighborhood, don't just think about an intrusive advertisement in a public place, think about a fly-by-night business operator (or worse yet, scam operator), throwing a ladder, a box of nails and a stack of signs, and a couple of friends into a van, driving to your neighborhood (or state) in search of new victims, er, customers, and trusting that your zoning and law enforcement people will be too busy - and your fellow citizens too timid - to clean up their litter.
Harvesting Road SpamThat said, many folks and even some police officers, don't realize that the signs are illegal and that you are doing a legal public service by removing them. (The strangest case I've heard of involved a pacifist church that wouldn't let anyone take down a "concealed carry course" sign on their corner because they would rather be mistakenly associated with handgun proliferation than to hurt the feelings of whoever put up the sign.) So before you start on a crusade, you might want to contact your local zoning board and ask them if they have a problem with you picking up litter and taking down road spam in your neighborhood. They usually won't, but this way you can write down their name. Then if a homeowner, business owner, or police officer gets nervous about you removing an eyesore, you can say "I talked to so-and-so at the zoning board, and he said it was okay." On the other hand, the zoning folks might want you to wear orange vests or to work through a citizen's group or something, and that's okay, too. Either way, explain that you will be recycling the plastic in an earth-friendly manner.
Also, some road spam is more obnoxious than others. If a legitimate local business with a local telephone # puts up an illegal sign in an obnoxious place that's not in my neighborhood, you can usually trust the zoning folks or that neighborhood's "clean-up committee" take care of it on their normal (usually semi-annual) rounds. However 1-800 # or web-site-only signs send a clear message that they have no part or interest in your community except a business plan that depends on devaluing your neighborhood and exploiting your neighbors.
You'll notice that many road spammers use special nails and step-ladders to make their signs inconvenient to remove from telephone poles. Most people reading this article will never get around to removing one piece of road spam, much less putting a ladder, a pry bar, and a nephew in their truck and taking these down. But that's okay - this kind of sign is probably better done as part of a "neighborhood watch" or other citizen's committee anyway. Also, if by some rare chance, the person who put the sign up is awake during daylight hours and sees you taking it down, you don't want to seem to be "acting alone."
Using Corrugated Plastic PanelsLet's say that you have somehow acquired one or more corrugated plastic panels. What can you do with them?
Well, the truth is that they're tricky to cut and paint doesn't always stick to them very well.
On the plus side, they have a lot of structural integrity in one direction, and they hold up to just about any kind of weather. Also, their "rippled" appearance provides an interesting texture that is suitable for "metal" factory roofs, and "wooden" external walls.
Applications: I'll be honest, I have yet to use corrugated plastic panels for a whole building. But I have used them to replace roofs that were destroyed by falling trees, and to provide "filler" on buildings that were missing a wall or part of a wall. The grain elevator at the right lost its roof when a tree fell on it in the spring of 2003. I replaced it in a few minutes using corrugated plastic that I sprayed gray then sprayed very lightly with rust primer. Sorry I don't have a better photo.
This building started as a Fischer Price fire house. With a new paint job, a Lucite garage door, and signage from our Business and Station Signs page, it became a tolerable garage. But the back was still open (so kids could reach in). I closed it with a piece of corrugated plastic panel about four years ago, and it's been fine ever since, although I did have to reglue it once. I think I used a silicone product both times.
In the interest of "garden railroading on a budget", I would like to try to using "found" corrugated plastic panels to build a building for almost nothing. I'm thinking about a cheap cedar frame (from leftover trestle materal), corrugated plastic for the walls and roof, and window mullions cut from vegetable trays. Stay tuned. :-)
Cutting: I have had reasonable luck cutting "with the grain" by scoring with a utility knife, and eventually cutting through. Cutting against the grain is harder. I have a small tinsnip-sort of craft scissor that does the job. A friend in Canada says he can cut it with an industrial-strength paper cutter (the kind you have to watch your fingers with). I may try a very fine blade on my jigsaw next time I need to cut a bunch, and report back to you.
Painting: Sadly, these don't hold paint very well. I've had better luck with leftover Duron-brand super-acrylic house paint than with spray paint (which I usually use for everything).
Gluing: I've found a couple off-brand glues that hold this, but nothing I can recommend 100%. Silicon adhesive holds it somewhat. Kevin Strong, a frequent Garden Railways contributor says he's had carpenters' glue melt corrugated plastic just enough to get it to sag in wierd ways overnight. So test any glue you want to use beforehand. We'll get back to you when we find something we feel is completely safe to use on this. In the meantime, it IS very easy to tack onto things.
Tell us about your projectsIf you've used road spam (or at least fluted plastic signage boards) to build a garden railroad project, please share it with our readers. Contact me with details and photographs.
Reader ResponseHelynn, of Humbird, Wisconsin writes:
Unfortunately, we don't have those kinds of signs tacked onto posts/fences/etc. in our area. However, a local convenience store uses large signs made of that material for advertising beer, soda pop and other items. I asked them what they did with the old signs and they said they just tossed them in the trash. So, now, they're saving them for me. I stop in once a week or so and pick up whatever they have.
I have some signs that are about 2' x 3' and others that are 3' x 7' and a few in between. I'm hoping to make a station with some of them but, that's a winter project.
Anyway, thought others might like to know about the convenience stores having these signs.
Thanks, again, for a great newsletter and website. I visit it often!
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