SCRATCHBUILD A RIO GRANDE WATER TANK
By Al Sohl
LARGE SCALE MODELS of specific prototypes require a lot of scratchbuilding. Most of the kits and detail parts hobbyists in the smaller scales have enjoyed for years are absent from the larger scales. What do we do? We make 'em ourselves.
As a result, the water tank I will describe is "99.99-percent pure". I made nearly every part myself-including the wood. The only commercial items were the two hatch door hinges and the chain on the spout. I built my model to 1:24 scale but, obviously, you could build yours to any scale you like.
Anybody about to attempt such a project should have a moderate amount of either model building experience or talent and plenty of time and patience. For that reason, I will make no attempt to describe how to build the model; instead I will cover only the highlights so you may use your own favorite construction techniques.
THE TANK BODY
I drew my own full-size plans for the various subassemblies. I based most on a drawing of the D&RGW's tank at Los Pi˝os, a few miles northeast of Chama, New Mexico. I freelanced the deviations from the prototype following D&RGW narrow gauge standard practices. They included relocating the ladder and roof hatch and changing the shape of the roof.
I built the roof from 1/8-inch thick model aircraft plywood with pine supports. I replaced the newer round shingled roof with an older octagonal tarpaper version. I represented the tarpaper with bond paper. I cut it into strips 3 scale feet wide, stained the paper with diluted Floquil paint, white glued it to the tank, and weathered it with sandpaper.
The subroofing is 1/4-inch thick plywood. The plans, section views, and Figures 1 and 2 illustrate construction. I made the hatch from styrene and the handle from brass rod. The operating hinges, as I said earlier, are commercial parts. I turned the finial on the roof from styrene rod and used brass shim stock to represent flashing.
If you open the hatch you can see water inside the tank. I represented it with a mixture of blue-green-black paint as a dye and several applications of gloss medium.
I built up the tank body from internal support disks. I cut them from 1/2-inch thick plywood and separated them with pine spacers. I cut individual tank boards from sheet basswood, sanded them to size, and weathered them with a mixture of shoe dye and rubbing alcohol. After that, I "painted" the boards by staining them four different shades of Floquil Depot Buff and, when the paint dried, I cemented the boards to the disks. I applied more weathering near the base with diluted shoe dye and gloss medium to give the appearance of water soaked boards. Finally, I cut the flat tank bands from cardstock and formed the round bands from brass rod.
Since no commercial spout casting was available, I built my own from brass and it operates. I formed the eyelets for the chain from brass rod. The spout feed pipe is brass tubing and shim stock. The tank feed pipe is also brass tubing. I painted all piping with Floquil Engine Black, rusted it by sprinkling on baking soda while the paint was still wet, and touched the baking soda with a very dilute mixture of Floquil Rust, Roof Brown, and Diosol thinner.
The spout hanger and counterweight support detail required about twenty hours' work and more than one hundred individual parts. I ripped the wood to approximate size on a table saw and sanded it to final dimensions. I enhanced the grain with the back edge of an X-Acto knife blade, added knot and nail holes, and stained the wood with the shoe dye and alcohol mixture. I milled the counterweights from a block of brass and formed the eyelets from brass rod. I also turned the pulleys from brass, secured them with brass nut-bolt-washer castings, and formed the blocks from styrene.
BASE AND DETAILS
I built the base from pine I ripped on the table saw and sanded to size. Again I added grain with a knife blade and stained the parts with the shoe dye and alcohol mixture. The nut-bolt-washers are hex head brass bolts with real washers and nuts. I used piano wire for the truss supports and secured them with 00-90 washers and nuts.
I also ripped and sanded the pine forming the frostbox. It received the usual shoe dye and alcohol treatment. The interior has a lining of the same "tarpaper" covering the roof. I cut the signs from magazine advertisements, sanded them to a closer-to-scale thickness, then weathered them by scraping with an X-Acto knife and more sanding. The feed pipe is brass tubing. The wet look of the dirt floor inside the frostbox comes from gloss medium. The hatch on the frostbox opens and, as on the roof hatch, I purchased the hinges and used brass rod for the handle.
The ladders use commercial stripwood. I built up a jig to speed assembly. HO scale decals provide the "DRGW MW" lettering on the side of the ladder. The weathering on the short ladder is a different shade from the rest of the tank and paint spatters suggest previous assignments along the right-of-way.
The worker on the ladder began life as a "walking" Preiser figure. I added cotton hair and beard, a styrene waist pouch, and clothing from facial tissue. I also made up my own wrenches by slicing open 0-80 and 00-90 nuts, cutting them in half, and soldering them to brass strapping handles. The screwdriver, hammers, and other tools are bits of brass and styrene. The toolbox is basswood.
I had to make my own trash, too. I turned the bottles from Lucite rod, then drilled out the tops, cemented an acetate disk to the bottom, and glued on labels. The broken bottle near the crossbucks consists of broken pieces of glass fuse I dyed green and cemented to a plastic base. I reduced part of an actual newspaper to scale size and glued one to the diorama base. The other sits on the front seat of the truck. The Campbell's soup can near the railroad crossing and the vegetable can under the water tank are hollow plastic tubes with plastic lids and bases. I reduced actual labels to size, colored them appropriately, and weathered them.
The grease pail is acetate with a wire handle, the grease itself is epoxy I died black, and the applicator is turned basswood. I built up the shovel from an acetate "blade", a brass tube "handle insert", and a wood dowel handle. Since then I have discovered commercial tool set castings.
The crossing sign follows a Colorado Midland prototype. I built it from pine. The nails are pins; the NBWs are 00-90 hex head bolts, washers, and nuts. The truck is an Ertl metal kit with various modifications such as MV lenses and cardstock bumpers to provide the same open middle as the prototype's. The truck driver and old man are modified Preiser figures.
The scenery follows standard practice: Hydrocal« plaster over a plywood base, real dirt, ground foam, hemp, Woodland Scenics field grass, and gloss medium for the puddles.
The model won First Place Diorama in an Northeast Regional NMRA contest in 1991 and Second Place Diorama in the National Narrow Gauge Convention in Saint Louis in 1990.