Building The Walthers Concrete Grain Elevator aka A Learning Experience

I recently completed building the Walthers Concrete Grain Elevator kit. It was a long build, for several reasons, and I made a number of mistakes. Let me walk you through how I built it and show you the mistakes I made.

“The only man who never makes a mistake is the man who never does anything” – Theodore Roosevelt

I’m calling this one a learning experience.

The kit comes in a large box and covers a footprint of 25cm x 13cm (approx. 9.8″ x 5.1″ or a scale 71.3′ x 37.1′) for the elevator itself and 23cm x 13cm (approx. 9.1″ x 5.1″ or a scale 65.6′ x 37.1′) for the silos. I list them separately because the silos are not attached to the elevator at all… much like real silos are built next to grain elevators and attached only with piping. The elevator is 34cm tall (approx. 13.4″ or a scale 97′ tall) and the silo complex with head house is 26cm tall (approx. 10.2″ or a scale 74′ tall).

The shell of the Walthers concrete grain elevator
The shell of the Walthers concrete grain elevator

The grain elevator is a giant rectangular structure built out of four walls plus roof pieces. The first problem I had was gluing the sides together. I tried using CA (Cyanoacrylate) glue but it really didn’t work well, perhaps because the edges didn’t line up very well. I ended up using No-More-Nails and that worked much better. Thicker CA might have worked too.

The major problem I had at the start was making the building square! The kit walls basically meet just at the edges so there is nothing to keep your supposedly square base from turning into a parallelogram.

Is it square?
Is it square?

I really struggled with this. The building felt really flimsy, because of the edge gluing problem I had above, and I was concerned I was going to screw it up and end up with a misshapen monstrosity. I put the kit aside for quite a while until I found the solution.

I have to credit Ron Einarson, local modeler extraordinaire, for providing his wisdom to enable me to continue. I talked with Ron at the NMRA Canada open house late in 2014 and explained my problem. He suggested the use of gussets to square up the corners. What a great idea!

The base
The base

I adapted it a bit. I took a piece of wood and glued it to the layout to provide a square edge. You’ll notice I notched the corner to clear the little bit of lip at the joint inside the shell.

Once that was firmly attached to the layout, I applied No-More-Nails to two of the bottom edges of the grain elevator and stuck it down to the layout. I only applied the glue only to the two edges that would be on the base. I wanted the other two to float so I could square them up afterward.

I put a few heavy objects next to the elevator to keep them pushed up against the base until the glue dried. No-More-Nails doesn’t take too long to dry.

Holding in Place
Holding in Place

Once that dried, I squared up the opposite corner and glued it down too.

Soon afterward, I noticed my first and second major mistakes.

1. I hadn’t painted the elevator. And it was glued down.

2. I had already glued the windows in.

So. What to do?

Ideally I wanted to spray paint the elevator.

I could have ripped it off the layout, with a fairly high risk of breaking the elevator or at best separating it at the joints and starting again.

Since I had already glued the windows in, I’d have to mask every window before spraying… and then there’s the problem of the paint fumes in the train room, where I work every weekday. To me, spraying it in place was out of the question.

All I had left was to brush paint it. Not ideal.

So I painted it with a paint brush. It doesn’t look great close up but it’s OK at the 3′ viewing distance. Sigh.

I learned my lesson and took the silos, roof pieces and so forth out to the garage and spray painted them.

Once that was done, I carried on with assembly and built the head house on top of the silos, and glued the roofs on the top of the elevator. Here you can see how I was holding the pieces in place while the No-More-Nails dried.

Waiting for the glue to dry
Waiting for the glue to dry

I installed the truck driveway on the back end. I glued the frame to the elevator and here I had glued the vertical wall on and was waiting for that glue to dry.

Always waiting for glue to dry
Always waiting for glue to dry

When I was building the head house, I noticed that you could look through the windows and see the emptiness inside and the backs of the windows on the other side. I decided to stick some junk in the middle to block the view and look vaguely like machinery.

I took a few blocks of foam and brush-painted them black, then glued them inside the head house with a little bit of silver piping from a refinery kit I never finished, from a previous layout..

It was then that I noticed a third mistake. You may have noticed it above the driveway two photos above.

3. I forgot to glue a door in.

The big problem is that they glue from the inside, and I had already glued the elevator down and glued the roofs on. There was no way to get into the elevator to glue it from the inside. I briefly considered some Mickey Mouse way of putting it in sideways, held with tweezers or something, then trying to pull it back into the right place but I decided there was a pretty high probability I would drop it inside.

I realized that the silos, not glued down to the layout, were covering over a large blank wall on the side of the elevator. I charged up my trusty Dremel and cut a hole in the side of the elevator before I thought too hard about what I was doing.

Making a hole
Making a hole

Once the hole was cut, it was easy enough to reach in and glue that last door. Now I also have a way in to put lights in should I decide to do that later.

I finished everything except the trackside shed and applied the Cargill decals that came with the kit. Note the rooftop dust collectors that came with the kit.

With Cargill decals

Once the shed was glued in place, I drilled a hole in the side of the elevator for the top of the car loading pipe. You’ll notice the support for that pipe in the photo above. I had to hold the pipe in place while the glue dried (CA this time) so I used a handy holder.

Grip it
Grip it

You can see the brush paint here in this closeup. Awful at close range.

After that was weathering and scenery… topics for another time.

Here are my take-aways / lessons learned from building the Walthers concrete grain elevator kit:

  1. Paint everything before assembly.
  2. Use gussets or something square on the base to keep everything square.
  3. Don’t glue structures to the layout if you can help it.
  4. No-More-Nails is da bomb.

Now the elevator is in service and receiving cars from CN. I’m going to call this a success! 🙂

 

Roadbed

I want to talk a bit about model railroad roadbed. This is the material between the tracks and the table or other structural material holding up the track. It simulates the ballast holding the track and ties in place on the real railroad. Usually the roadbed has a bevel on both sides, like the prototype, to promote drainage.

On model railroads, generally you can choose between cork and foam for the roadbed material. Each has their benefits and drawbacks.

Cork or foam?
Cork or foam?

Cork Roadbed

Cork roadbed usually comes in 3′ (1m) strips. The strips are precut so you can split it down the middle and end up with two thin strips, each with an angle on one edge. You split it, reverse, and butt the non-angled edges together as shown in the photograph above.

Cork holds nails very well, is easy to cut and work with, and holds curves pretty well. You can spike it down or glue it – your choice. Cork is the traditional material for model train roadbed.

One thing I don’t like about cork is the sharp edge you sometimes get when you split them apart. In the photo above you can see a sharp edge in the immediate foreground. You have to sand or cut this off or it will show up when you ballast the track.

You can buy cork strips individually at your local model train store, or it comes in boxes.

One low cost option is to buy sheet cork from your local home improvement store and cut it! John Longhurst describes how he did it.

 

Foam Roadbed

Foam Roadbed

Foam roadbed comes in rolls and is quite easy to install – simply unroll and spike or glue down. I prefer glue as it doesn’t hold spikes very well.

Foam is very easy to lay and is uniform and looks good once ballasted.

I find foam is harder to shape to curves and this may be a drawback, especially with sharper curves.

Typically you buy a box of foam roadbed with 24′ (8m) in a box.

 

Elevation

Track in Chaplin, SK
Track in Chaplin, SK

If you look at the prototype photo above, showing main line (left), siding (middle) and spur (right) track, you can see one important detail. The main line track is higher than the siding or spur tracks. This reflects greater amounts of ballast and general better construction of the main line track, which is intended for the highest speeds. Sometimes a lightly used industrial spur has little to no ballast at all.

You can simulate this on your model railroad using a few techniques. What I have done on my layout is to lay main line and siding track on HO scale roadbed, and industrial spurs on N scale roadbed.

N and HO scale cork roadbed

The track in the foreground above is laid on N scale cork roadbed, while the track in the background is on HO scale roadbed. It makes a subtle difference in the elevation.

Roadbed elevations
Roadbed elevations

Note that for cork roadbeds, you’ll need 3 strips of the N scale roadbed to be wide enough for HO scale track.

In order to get main lines to be slightly elevated above sidings, I used cardboard shims under the roadbed. You can see the shims in some of the photos above. I simply cut soda cracker boxes into strips and glued them to the table first before laying the roadbed on top. I love soup so I always have empty cracker boxes.

 

The Winner?

So… cork or foam?

For me there is no winner. I always used cork in previous layouts, and I have laid cork for the CN track in my current layout. I decided to try foam out for the CP track to see how it works out, and so far I prefer installing the foam over cork. They both cost about the same. Time will tell which works best but I have a feeling it doesn’t matter a whole lot.

What’s your experience been?

 

Ballasting

Ballasted track
Ballasted track

I ballasted the peninsula recently. It took me a long time to get started because I was pretty nervous about “doing it right”. Eventually I convinced myself to “just do it”. Watching a YouTube video or two helped.

I had three packs of fine gray ballast that was supposedly the same colour. Two of them looked identical but one was darker, so I mixed all three together in a bowl to get a more or less uniform look. A little variation in the colour is OK.

Bowl of Ballast
Bowl of Ballast

There’s my ballast laying tools – a spoon to lay it down, then two sizes of paint brushes to move it around.

It takes a bit of practice to figure out how much ballast to lay down and how to move it around. I put too much ballast down to start, so I had to sweep it down the track quite a ways to even it out. I still think I have a bit too much ballast down but it’ll do.

Once the ballast was laid, it was time to glue it down. I filled a spray bottle with a mixture of tap water and isopropyl alcohol to wet the ballast down. The alcohol is there to cut the surface tension of the water so it will soak right through.

Wet track
Wet track

The key is to mist it onto the track, rather than blast the ballast with a direct spray. A bit of the ballast might move but you can always fix it up with a little nudge while it’s still wet. The key is to get the track soaking wet. I had paper towel standing by to soak up the excess before it dripped onto the floor.

In another bottle I had a 50/50 mix of white glue and tap water. Once a section of track was totally wet, I dribbled the glue mix liberally onto the ballast. I ran a strip down between the rails then ran a strip or two on each side. Use lots of glue. Again, paper towel is handy to get the runoff.

Lots of white glue
Lots of white glue

It looks terrible, but just walk away and let it dry… thoroughly.

When it’s dry, the ballast is firmly held in place and will not come off. I used a vacuum cleaner to scoop up the excess and to find areas that didn’t get enough glue. There were a few patches where the water or glue had caused a bit of a washout, so I patched those up with the same method. Just be careful not to put too much water on as it could soften up the already ballasted parts.

It looks pretty good once dry, if I do say so myself!

Finished ballast
Finished ballast

I had a visitor comment that it looked like it was just laying there. I encouraged her to touch it to show it wasn’t going to move.

In the following photo you can see that I’ve started to add some weeds. I have a lot of “weed work” left to do but it’s looking good from a few feet away.

2015-08-15 21.28.19

PS Check out this post by TomW showing the construction of the T&K Railway round-the-room Lionel line. Such craftsmanship!

The Last Spike

The Last Spike

After many delays, the last spike was driven into CP’s track in Georgetown, Manitoba.

Few were on hand to witness the auspicious occasion. Citing budget cuts, CP Rail General Manager Bill Horne Van said, “All I can say is that the work has been adequately done in every way.” He then boarded the work train’s caboose and they pulled out of town, leaving the ballasting and other finishing work to local crews.

The Last Spike Ceremony

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Other posts about this layout:

The circle is restored

On Saturday I put the Bridge of Death back across the layout room door. I call it the Bridge of Death because any train that should derail on that bridge is in for a long fall to the carpeted floor. I keep meaning to put rails on the bridge (OK, plank) but so far I haven`t.

By putting the BoD in, I now have continuous running on the layout. My kids are fascinated by the trains running around and around without stopping, my baby son especially. My daughter keeps stopping the train and changing the cargo. 🙂

A short train crossing the Bridge of Death

Building a layout – shelves

My new layout is an around-the-walls style layout, with a peninsula coming from one end of the room. I decided to build the layout on shelf brackets screwed into the wall studs, with shelves cut from 4×8 foot sheets of plywood. This way, I would not have legs under the layout, leaving room for storage of my model railroad equipment and railroad ephemera.

I started by deciding what height to make the layout. As I mentioned before, the whole layout is on one level. Most people say you should build it somewhere between belt height and shoulder height. I chose a height of about 44″ from the carpet to the top of the plywood. I wanted it a little on the low side so kids would have a chance of seeing what’s on the layout with a little stool.


After borrowing a friend’s stud finder, I set about marking where the studs were on the walls with a pencil. I used a laser level on my tripod to make sure I was building the layout perfectly level.

Maybe I was geeking out a bit too much. Maybe I just wanted to use my Christmas present. 🙂

I screwed the supports into the wall at each end of the plywood sheet, then screwed the supports into the sheet from below to ensure no screw heads would be on the top. I then filled in the supports between the ends and screwed them into the board too. The result was a very very firm layout with no wobble. I’m pretty sure I could stand on it, but I haven’t tried. 🙂

In the corners where I couldn’t get supports in, I used little metal connectors to screw the two boards together and prop up pieces of plywood I cut to fill the corners. I reasoned there wouldn’t be much weight there so they didn’t have to be as strong as the rest of the layout.

For the end with the peninsula, I built a traditional box structure and put legs on it. The peninsula is going to be on legs and I figured it would need a firm, rigid structure to attach to.

I haven’t built the peninsula yet, since my layout room is doubling as a spare bedroom for a few more weeks. Soon, soon!

So far I’m very happy with the method I used to build the layout. It has made tracklaying a breeze and I appreciate the rigidity of the structure. The NSER was built on legs, and wasn’t attached to the walls, so it was a little wobbly until the whole thing was built. This layout is rock solid.