Sunday, September 13, 2009

When in Doubt, Build a Kit

It's been a slow few weeks. Between work, a bit of frustration with the Cricut, and family issues, I haven't done much model building, and didn't have time to do any of the big scenery projects on the layout. I'm mostly blocked on more finish scenery until I build more trees, but that's a messy job that deserves a nice, sunny weekend day.

For a change, I pulled out an old Fine Scale Miniatures kit. FSM is a famous name in the model railroad hobby. They started designing elaborate, highly detailed kits starting in the late 1960's, and were one of the first kit manufacturers to have the idea of limited run kits. They make a fixed number of kits, sell them at one time, and then never sell them again. Modelers buy the kits and hoard them for later, others trade them as collectibles, and some even get built. For building, FSM kits are well known because they included detailed instructions on how to build and weather the kits, because they aimed at board-by-board construction to get a highly-detailed (and usually a bit run-down) look, and because the kits always come with a big handful of tiny castings for every detail item from windows and architectural gingerbread to brooms and cats. Painting all these takes forever, but their kits look beautiful when done. Cynics would accuse FSM of doing caricatures of 1920's buildings - slightly odd buildings with strange additions, immense amounts of weathering and wear, and huge amounts of colorful detail. Sometimes, the built-up kits look a bit more like a Disney or movie-set version of 1930's buildings than is truly real. The caricature charge is probably true; these models are intended to be eye-catching, and they succeeded. As for amounts of wear, I've heard that set dressers on movies can go nuts trying to add all the detail needed to make a scene look correct, and maybe FSM realizes that more than most modelers.

I've never built an FSM kit. I've done a bunch of wooden craftsman kits, some laser cut kits, and done scratchbuilding, but I'd never gotten the full FSM experience. Luckily, Dear Wife was with me at the hobby shop one November, and asked if there was anything around that would make a nice Christmas gift. "How about that kit?" I pointed at a smaller 1970's FSM kit on the shelf; the price was a bit more than an impulse buy, but wasn't that crazy. She got it; it made a good Christmas gift, as it was something nice, and not something I would have bought on my own.

It's been an experience and a time-warp, as it brings back memories of all those 1970's style kit building tricks. They suggest using tiny dots of glue to secure wood to the templates, model airplane-style. They didn't have double-stick tape in the grocery store then. Paints are all solvent-based, and they recommend Floquil brand, back when that was one of the only choices for model railroaders. (Although I followed their suggestions of stains made from black paint, I got similar effects to using Weather-It (vinegar and steel wool wash), as well as using my favorite light grey fabric marker.) The walls were all machine or die-cut, not laser-cut, though they have the cute trick of having the outside clapboards and inside sheathing scribed on both sides of the same sheetwood. I'm also having to figure out how to paint the metal window castings to look like wood, rather than using nice laser-cut windows. They even include a roll of Campbell shingles, originally made from the same material as gummed brown packing tape, and Campbell's aluminum foil-made corrugated roofing. (I might substitute Paper Creek's beautifully rusted printed paper corrugated roofing.) They also suggest detailing the walls by embossing the end of the clapboards and using a pin to simulate nail holes. I'm not sure if all that work makes a difference, but I'll try it once.

It's also been a long time since I've had kit instructions printed on large blueprint-sized paper sheets. With laser-printers and Kinkos available everywhere, most kit manufacturers these days just print on plain paper, and sometimes include color pictures too.

The pictures show my progress - some castings painted, the platform done and looking great, and the building walls looking a bit... dark. I broke away from the instructions to try to make it look as if the building had been painted black originally. (Southern Pacific's engineering diagrams say that non-public facing buildings were painted black with red trim, so I wanted to try doing that instead of the nicer yellow-and-brown seen on stations and buildings along the tracks.)