Sunday, February 10, 2013

Building the Market Street Station (and 3D-printing Architectural Details)

One of the reasons I like historical research is that it gives me additional inspiration and the occasional kick-in-the-pants to do more modeling. Sometimes, the research gives me insights into what other businesses I am modeling might look like - the report on Mission Valley Canning hinted at the appearance of a typical cannery. At other times, research about an unbuilt industry or building can make me eager to actually start construction.

Take the San Jose Market Street depot, for example. When the SP replaced the original 1860's station with a new depot built in 1883, stations with attached train sheds were all the rage. I've no idea why San Jose received such a depot. Perhaps the Victorians didn't appreciate being forced to walk into sunlight when boarding a train. Perhaps the buildings were modeled on Eastern stations intended for less pleasant weather. Perhaps the train shed helped a farm town's station look more impressive. There's some evidence for simply envy and image, too. I've seen reports that the Market Street station was built to compare favorably the South Pacific Coast's competing station and train shed in West San Jose. Regardless of the reason, the large shed was both an obvious landmark and product of its Victorian creation date. By the 1920's, it was hopelessly old-fashioned compared to the modern depots of the 1920's, lacking either the majesty of stone or the modern lines of Art Deco or Streamlined Moderne that might imply that San Jose was a forward-looking town. For the local comedians, disparaging the old station's train shed was always worth a few laughs. Patricia Loomis's "Signposts 2" book of famous San Jose streets repeated an old vaudeville joke that must've gotten some good laughs:

One comedian greets another with "How'd you get to San Jose?"
"I came on train."
"Where'd you get off?"
"That big thing that looks like a barn."
"Oh, yeah, Noah used it as an ark for one season, then sold it to the S.P."

Now that's classic entertainment. They don't make comedians like that any more.

I'd built the station building for Market Street back in 2003 when I first built the shelf layout. The station appeared quickly, but I always hesitated on starting the train shed. The missing train shed's been an obvious hole on that layout for several years now. When I researched the closing of the station in old newspapers back in December, I got reminded of how cool a building it would be, and with that inspiration, started building.

The train shed is built from styrene sheet and rod. My biggest challenge was getting the rough proportions of the building correct and identifying the wall configurations (and noticing the venting occasionally visible at the top of each wall). Actual construction took only a couple days once I'd tested out measurements and shape. Each side is 26 inches long, constructed of alternating body sections and leg supports. I created a jig to hold each of the body sections (with 6x12 beams forming the top and bottom trim) against each 12x12 leg at the proper height.

My biggest challenge was figuring out how to do the yellow-and-brown paint job. I'd initially decided to try assembling the skeleton and trim out of 12x12 styrene, painting all the trim brown, then dropping in pre-painted yellow scribed sheet for the body. A couple attempts at that convinced me I couldn't size the scribed siding perfectly enough for the walls to look neat. Instead, I glued the walls together as one assembly, with all trim and body assembled, then used masking to get the neat paint job. I initially spray-painted the entire model yellow, masked off the parts to keep the yellow body color, and sprayed the brown trim.

Although the rough shape of the train shed is simple, older pictures often hint at victorian trim throughout the structure. Like many late 19th century wood stations, the overall design resembled the Eastlake or Stick styles of architecture that borrowed every bit of ornamentation available from architectural feature catalogs of the era. Both styles were really a product of their time, for all that fancy carving was affordable only thanks to cheap mass production and power tools. Ornamented and carved brackets and corbels fit in the corner between each post and cross-beam and hold up the wide eaves.

Although I could hand-construct all these supports from styrene strip, I'd never be able to add the typical carved detail or add the curves often seen in the actual ornaments. No commercial sources could help either. Checking my Walthers catalog, I also didn't see any parts from Grandt Line or any other manufacturer that would be the right size and shape. Even my lucky eBay find of injection-molded Victorian windows, doors, and trim from some unknown kit or manufacturer didn't have the correct shapes or enough pieces for the train shed.

One possibility would be to make my own pieces somehow. Although my 3d printer or the commercial ones I used in the past wouldn't have enough detail, I knew better printers existed. Seth Neumann had created modern light fixtures and security cameras through the Shapeways 3d printer service using their high-resolution "Frosted Ultra Detail" material. Trying out Frosted Ultra Detail seemed worth a gamble.

With SketchUp, I drew 3d models for both the eave supports and brackets. Because of the size of the castings and the way Shapeways charges, it was best to attach all the parts to a single sprue, so I added a 0.5 mm square sprue and attached copies of the part design to the central sprue. The 3d design process made designing the small and large brackets easy, as the small brackets were just scaled-down versions of the large ones. Once I was reasonably satisfied with the design, I sent an order off to Shapeways, along with $25, and a couple weeks later I had two sprues of brackets and a sprue of eave supports - not necessarily cheap, but also not that much more than what it would have cost me to buy several packets of Grandt Line parts.

The smaller brackets are two scale feet (7mm) on a side; the larger brackets are four and a half feet, with sixteen small and two large brackets per sprue. The eave supports are 3' long, with 32 on the sprue. The details on the parts are pretty amazing; the brackets have carved circles that are 0.1 or 0.2 mm above the surface of the part, and they printed quite clearly. Each part is just a bit more than a millimeter thick. The parts show no layer lines; my only problem was that circle details on one side of the brackets didn't adhere and flaked off. I suspect the problems happened when the detail needed to be printed below the body of the bracket. That wasn't much of a problem for me - each piece only had one visible side.

The Market Street train shed still has a lot of work to do - what you see here is straight from this afternoon's spray painting, and there's a bunch of touch-up to do: add the roof, add remaining details, touch up paint, and weather. Stay tuned for more progress on the train shed!

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