Garden Railroad Structures
Trains need people and businesses to serve. Industries give your railroad a raison d'etre, while they add a sense of realism and points of interest. Houses and stores symbolize the communities that the railroad serves.
As the hobby of Garden Railroading has matured, we've recognized the many differences between structures built for indoor railroads and structures built to look good and to last in harsh weather conditions. (We've also recognized the economic differences, which is one reason trashbashing caught on early and continues to be practiced.)
Deprived of cardboard, brick paper, and many kinds of paint and craft products, learning to use weather-resistant materials such as PVC, concrete, and aluminum, or to protect other materials, such as wood and plastic, against the weather, many garden railroaders have "pushed the envelope" for model structures, in terms of size, realism, and durability. As the rest of us stumble in their wake, we occasionally pick up tips that we can apply. That's where Family Garden Trains comes in. Our hope is to provide articles that summarize what we have learned so far in ways that any new hobbiest can understand and apply. Eventually we hope to add other articles that provide details and alternative methods that may appeal to the more experienced modeler.
Our primary goal is to help you populate your garden railroad with structures that you can prepare with reasonable (but not exceptional) skill and effort, for prices that won't dwarf your investment in the rest of your railroad. At no point will we claim that our way is the only way, or even necessarily the best way. Rather, we describe approaches that have worked for us and will probably work for you.
The articles currently available in the Structures category include:
In addition, if you want to get some buildings onto your railroad now, with very little fuss (and not too much expense), check out the Buildings for Garden Railroad catalog page.
- Stuff to Have on Hand - A list of products you should keep in your shop so you don't have to run to the store for a couple dollars' worth of glue or primer every time you want to work on a structure.
- Preparing Plastic Garden Railroading Structures for Long-Term Use
- Using Stencils to Make Buildings - Borrowing a page from "crafters," use our window and door stencil patterns, to make effective, but inexpensive buildings. We include downloadable stencil patterns in three scales, as well as .svg files you can use with some craftecutters to make your own stencils quickly. 1:29, O scale, and S scale patterns are included. New, March, 2013
- Introduction to Craftcutters - A popular scrapbooking accessory can be quite useful in model railroading applications, but only if you buy the right one. We include it in the "structure" section because we've been busy using this to cut out windowframes and other useful structure parts. New, March, 2013
- Cast in Concrete - Ben Hartman's Stone Houses - A depression-era artist's "rock-solid" technique for making miniature outdoor buildings that have lasted 60+ years.
- Glazing Windows with Lucite® - A step-by-step example to help you add a professional finishing touch to your buildings.
- Adapting Inexpensive Materials
- Trashbashing 101 - Updated for 2013 - About twelve years after our first Trashbashing article was published, things have changed enough to justify updating the article. Can you still convert busted-up or discarded toy buildings into attractive, inexpensive, weather-resistant scale buildings, with about as much work as it takes to properly prep the average kit? Yes. But the source materials are getting harder to find, and inexpensive alternatives are becoming available. We have added more photos and tips, but we also discuss when it makes more sense to choose an alternative approach. Updated, May, 2013
- Trashbashing Step-By-Step - This followup to our "Trashbashing 101" article has additional tips on using masking tape to get a clean, professional paint job with no skill required but patience. The name "trashbashing" means that we're using busted-up toy buildings as a starting point, something we did back in the early eighties, when almost nothing else was available in Large Scale. But the principles apply to almost any model you paint. Detailed photographs record each step. New, October, 2012
- Temporary Building Fronts from Recycled Plastic Signs
- If you have access to a color laser printer, you can print inexpensive, attractive building fronts that you can afford to leave out in bad weather or public displays. - New, September, 2012
Printed Buildings for Outdoor Railroads
Folks who are on a budget, or whose railroads are exposed to vandalism or theft should find this article useful. It describes an easy and inexpensive way to use your color printer, some waterproof label material, and some concrete blocks to make a whole business district. Click on the following link for more information. New, August, 2009
- Converting an Artline Bird Feeder into a Gazebo - A popular, easy, and inexpensive trashbashing project that will result in a model you will enjoy for years. New, November, 2008
- Recycle Road Spam - Our first article about getting free building materials by recycling illegally-posted fluted plastic signs. January, 2008
- Making Corrugated Metal Panels from Disposable Aluminum Pans
Create nearly-free building materials with a Fiskars paper crimper and some recyclable aluminum products. New, January, 2009
- Mullions - Free windowframes from vegetable trays, fruit baskets, and more. - Updated October, 2008
- Bridges and Tunnels
- Trestles 101 - Introduction to building trestles for your garden railroad - it's not as hard as it looks - you simply build a "jig" to help you align the pieces, then build a few simple subassemblies (called bents) at a time. Originally published, July, 2007. See also Rod Horsburgh's Windowsill Trestle article below.
- Building a Simple Foam Viaduct - An easy and possibly impressive way to fill the gap between your raised railroad and the ground - September, 2007
- Building an HDPE Tunnel Portal - an easy but effective project by reader Daryll Smith, New April, 2009
- Rod Horsburgh's Windowsill Trestle - An indoor display bridge that can be moved outside when the time comes. This uses the basic principles explained in the Trestles 101 article above, but adds additional details such as a water barrel platform. New, July, 2009
- Cribbing - Build attractive "retaining walls" to complement your tunnel portals and mountain trackage, another easy but effective project by reader Daryll Smith. New June, 2009
Buildings for Indoors
Of course any building that will hold up outdoors will also hold up indoors - if you have room for it. Here are some ideas that will only work indoors, but are perfect for storage tracks, train shows, - wherever rain and UV are not an issue. Most of them also keep down space, expense and weight. Also, they're mostly from our BigIndoorTrains(tm) pages.
- Easy Street Scene - This popular building project uses downloadable building graphics and a little cardboard or foam board to build up a convincing downtown scene that is only a few inches deep - perfect for shelf layouts, tight spots, and dioramas. We also provide links to high-resolution graphics that will work for any scale. - April, 2008
Photo-Based 3-D Buildings - Bob Anderson used our building front graphics to create an entire Large Scale downtown setting for a local train show. It was so well received, he's already thinking about how he can make it better for next year. If you have an indoor railroad of any kind, or if you've been asked to loan buildings to a train show or other display, and you don't have any to spare, this could give you some inspiration.
- New, December, 2010!
- Log Cabin Building Flat - This "building flat" uses downloadable graphics and foam board or cardboard to dress up a narrow corner of your railroad or village. The techniques in this project can be used for almost any kind of building you want to represent in a tiny space. December, 2007.
- Related Resources - In addition, we have many photographic and graphic resources you can use to add structures or building fronts to your indoor railroad, including:
- Building Front Photos -
High-resolution photographs of classic buildings and building fronts that you can print off and use to provide backgrounds on indoor railroads, especially shelf railroads.
- Business and Station Signs -
This section includes commercial quality signs and posters that you can resize and print to use on your railroad buildings and accessories.
- Building Textures - This section includes downloadable "brick paper," flagstone patterns, and other commercial quality graphics you can resize and print to use for buildings and backgrounds.
- Tribute to Tinplate Articles -
If you want a fun old-time look for your indoor railroad, these Big Indoor Trains™ projects replicate the look of the tinplated-steel toys and towns of a century ago. Free downloadable commercial-grade graphics and instructions included.
- Tinplate Textures - This Big Indoor Trains™ feature includes brick, shingle, siding, door and window patterns that you can use to design your own tinplate-inspired structures. Tinplate-inspired patterns in seasonal colors are available on the Halloween and Fall Textures and Christmas Building Textures pages as well.
Related Articles from Other People
Most of the articles below are for people of "intermediate" skills. However reading them before you start your next big project may help you find a way of doing things that works for you.
- George Schreyer's structure articles - George likes to try out new things, then tell us what he did wrong as well as what he did right. Among his experiments are buildings made of concrete and other inexpensive materials. His pages have a number of articles on these structures and methods. I'm putting a list of the ones I find most interesting here, but once you get to his site, you're bound to find more. If you wind up talking to George, tell him I said, "Hi."
- Making Your Own Windows, by Bruce Chandler - Using styrene strips and a simple form to build attractive windowframes from scratch. Hosted by Large Scale Central web site.
- Building a Stone Mill by Bruce Chandler - Using materials from Stoneworks model builders' supplies, scratchbuilder Bruce Chandler builds an impressive stone-and-concrete mill for his outdoor railroad. Also hosted by Large Scale Central web site.
- Build a Backwoods Water Tank by Dwight Ennis. Redwood "timber" construction makes this project eye-catching. Dimensions are given for 1:20.3 scale, the same scale as the Bachmann Shay. Several parts that you might have to buy from hobby providers are recommended, and navigating the articles is a little tricky, but if you're interested in something truly original and "backwoodsey", take a look. This article also has many tips on scratchbuilding with wood in general, so it's worth a read even if you don't build this particular project. Free, downloadable plans are included.
Note: MyLargeScale.com is planning on moving these articles to a new area, so if this link breaks, please notify me, then go to MyLargeScale.com and navigate to the new articles section. Thanks, Shad, and Dwight for making this resource available.
Tell me about your projects
Our club, the Miami Valley Garden Railway Society, has several individuals whose structure-building efforts far exceed my own, so I know other folks have also pioneered new techniques. Do you have any new technique or recommendation you'd like to add to our list? If you do, especially if you can come up with how-to descriptions and photos, I'd love to post them here.