More scratch built layouts

“Greetings Alastair. I don’t know if you remember my story of “helping” to build my father in-law an “O” scale layout or not. But I thought I would ask the group’s opinion on scratch building and what they think it means (since I don’t really know!).

This is my first attempt at scratch building. Father in-law wanted an engine house (or road house) to make his yard look a little more finished. I used sheets of a poly-plastic material to cut the sides and top. The ends were premade store bought O scale tunnel portals (so that wasn’t scratch). The interior framing, while not finished with tools etc., is also plastic “4X4”cut to length, glued up. I tried to keep in scale as much as possible. The lighting is premade (such as the fixture at the opening). I did add a welder and welding lighting to the left side of the engine for a little more realism. The whole thing was painted using 4 or 5 different colors, as it was all bright white to start.

Thoughts and opinions requested.

Pete, San Jose Calif. USA”

engine house 01

engine house 02

engine house 03

engine house 04

engine house 05

“Hi my name is Paul,

I’ve been seeing some excellent bridges on here, and some great ideas too. I have a bridge i would like to share . I used one size of lumber 1/8×1/8 balsa for the majority of the structure. The only plans I used were based on the best looking arch I could form,and a few pIctures I found on google .the patience was the hardest part but well worth the outcome.

Thanx Paul”




A big thanks to Paul and Pete. I do love seeing what appears in my inbox every morning.

Sometimes it’s jaw dropping, sometimes it’s just plain rude. And over the years I have picked up quite a few cyber friends too.

I often hear from ‘builder Kim’ who sends me pics and tales about the Canadian winters. I thought he was pulling my leg when he said he was upset about his neighbor having to shoot a bear that was going through their bins. How wrong I was.


Paul, in Oz, sends me a Christmas card every year.

The talented Dave is always sending me fab stuff.

And some of the stories folk send in – that have nothing to do with trains or modelling – keep me amused for hours.

When I posted a pic of my German Shepherd puppy, I got a stack of mails (if you’ve mailed me about him, you will get a reply! I’m working through ’em). Anyhow, he’s grown big and bouncy and I love him to bits. If you’re wondering, I called him Basil.


And then there’s John.

John is a scratch builder who likes trains, but likes boats more. We started mailing each other about 3 years ago, and ever since then he’s kept me entertained. His videos are just as funny as they are helpful.

When he launched his site I was more than happy to help him – he soon discovered what I did: it absorbs all your time and costs much more than you anticipated.

Anyhow, he’s asked me for a favour and I’m more than happy to oblige. His site is membership – but he’s also added a ‘golden key’ (flattery gets you everywhere).

So if scratch building boats and trains is your thing, but membership sites aren’t, you can grab this until Sunday night. It gets you all of John’s content, but without the monthly payments.

(Click here to see what John’s site is about – use the above link to get the key).

Make no mistake, I’m deeply biased when it comes to John’s stuff: I think it is excellent.

Right, ramble over, apart from: thanks to anyone and everyone who has ever mailed. I really do appreciate it. It’s been a bumpy old ride at times, but I do love my little site and all the comments, warts and all.



24 Responses to More scratch built layouts

  1. Seeing a bear is commonplace in Northern Ontario where my daughter lives and works for the Ministry of Natural Resources. Shooting or killing a bear is not necessary unless it is known to be attacking a human or domestic animal.
    Most bears will not do this and most of the time they are looking for vegetation or small animals (ground squirrels or insects) as food. When found in towns they likely are short of food and forage through the waste left by humans. Bears can be tranquilized and taken back to the wild. This is the best way to deal with them.
    If you do not want them around then don’t leave food waste where the bear can get at it.

  2. the tunnel portals are a great idea . So I would call this “Kit bashing. A “brick wall ‘ mold would also go good with the portals” but in any case its your engine house so enjoy it as its nice . and it fits and blends in to the scene’s site . as for the bridge . very nicely done . it will look good on your lay out ..

  3. Hi, everyone, well Pete’s engine house or shed as we would call it in the UK, I would call scratch built, even though it used a pre made tunnel portal as a doorway.
    Paul’s bridge is brilliant, a lot of effort gone into that, the result excellent work.
    No wooden bridges in the UK only stone or metal, so no chance to model one for a British layout. Mike S

  4. Hi! I’M from Canada and I the bridge that you did built , he’S verry nice and built well ……….. I was looking for builting a bridge and I saw it , but my question is .
    wath kind or where did you take the wood to built it ? I would appreciate a return from you if you don’t mind because it will help me verry much .

  5. As far as I am concerned, an item is ‘scratch built’ when it is not commercially available to buy either as a complete item or kit. Re-utilizing bits from other things (your tunnel portal) i.e. other kits, food cartons, milk bottles etc. etc. is all part of the process and part of the fun of modeling. It is surprising once you start building things how differently you will look at everyday items and start looking at them as a potential gas storage tank or lineside hut etc. Your shed looks great so carry on and enjoy.

  6. Hi. Having built models for over 40 years and been the Scottish scale model boat building champion for 3 years on the trot. I would like to put to rest the Scratch built discussion. Scratch building is where you either get a set of original drawings of the item to be built or draw your own design and then make everything. No buying buffers or masts or connectors or wheels etc. Everything must be made by the builder even down to sawing your own timber down to scale size. . Screws glue nails and pins are allowed as well as paint/ varnish. If you use any bought items then you are either a kit builder or semi scratch/scale builder. Hope this clears this up for everyone. Everyone keep up the good work some great layouts and stories.

  7. Sorry about the bear.But he was a repeat offender. He took out a two car garage door to my shed. He layed scatt or poop so he was laying claim to my yard. Also this same bear attacked two horses up the road a ways. he was watched for a few weeks on trail cam and found him wandering through kid infested lol yards. I have a pair of cougar’s that wander through here. They have learned to stay way from human’s.And don’t bother me as they have to live as well and don’t cause trouble. I have lock down bin’s. But that don’t stop him from picking the bin up and throwing it in the middle of the night. I have other bears around here but they behave and go on with there lives in peace.Also cross through my yard but don’t stay.Love all of nature just sometimes you get a very bad boy. I used to live in thunderbay Ontario. so I know bears.

  8. Absolutely Beautiful Paul!!

  9. Al
    I know I rarely post but do read and enjoy every newsletter. I love the tips and pictures like those posted in this one. My main reason for posting today though is to tell you that Basil is absolutely beautiful! Take care of him and he will give you many years of love as my 12 1/2 year old pup does.

  10. The bridge is great, what scale would that be built to. Also love the dog.

  11. As far as describing something as scratch built, I believe the model contests specify that all of the unit must be made from scratch usually including such things as windows and doors. If any pre-made kit parts are used, it is called ‘kit mingling’ although, in this case you only used parts (the tunnel portals) from one source. Some say that scratch built can use pre-made windows and doors, air conditioners, etc. but all the rest is made from raw materials such as styrene, wood, etc. So, this engine house is hard to define as just scratch built, kit mingling, or kit bashing. It seems, to me, it is closer to scratch built than the other definitions. Good job, too. And the bridge is great although I don’t know, from and engineering viewpoint, if the bracing is all correct but it looks good.

  12. Wow Paul.Very nice bridge that. Scratch built like that is so much nicer than a plastic bought thing that most people have them selves. How does it sound when you roll a locomotive and stock over. Each bridge has a sound of there own. I would like to hear it if possible with a video when you have it installed.Thanks for the build idea very nice.

  13. love that bridge I built one for double track made it a draw bridge cause it crosses my door way I’ll try to send some pics. but love that bridge love that bridge

  14. For a guy who claims not to know what scratch building is, Pete in San Jose does an excellent job of imitating one. His engine shed is terrific looking, and quite handsome. He should be proud. While “Scratchbuilding” implies creating everything in a model from basic materials, it certainly doesn’t preclude using a bit of “Kitbashing” in its definition–at least not to my mind. I shouldn’t worry about using the “pre-made” tunnel portals in his design. They integrated very well with the other elements of the design. Indeed, they enhanced it. Paul’s bridge is certainly another excellent example of “pristine” scratchbuilding. It’s a real wonder that he was able to construct a strong bridge out of such normally fragile balsa.

  15. Had a problem with a bear in my parts but it must have been corrected. There is a new sign on the main street – Bear Left.

  16. nice bridge and layout.

  17. Poor Bear, when I see a bear or a big cat I don’t tell anyone, because everyone wants to shoot it. They say what about the children? I say the bear or cat has to eat.

  18. Awesome stuff…..
    Love the bridge,
    The stories are great also.

  19. Glad to see some sense of humor popping up. I find some folk take themselves and their interests entirely too seriously. I think explicit definitions belong in academia and rocket science. Pleasurable activities can live with looser “rules”. I would say that the only hard and fast rule in railroad modeling is: Do what makes you happy. At the end of the evening, just before you turn out the lights, if you turn back and look at your layout, and you SMILE, you are doing it right.
    While I enjoy model building, and have done a bit in several genres, my primary hobby has been hacking full size cars. Many of the same concepts apply: oh, I must keep this part, I might use it one day…Oh, this is a nifty jar, bin, box, to store stuff in, I must keep it…Oh, I must get that hammer, drill, wrench, I am sure I will need it again one day….so, I have the biggest garage I have ever had, but only my one little MG fits inside because of the “stuff”. Now that age has limited my heavy mechanical activities, I am preparing to finally begin putting together the accumulation of N-scale bits and pieces filling the closet in my “study”. I think if I toss a couple of things, and rearrange the desk and bookcase, I can get at least a 6′ x 8′ area to construct a layout in…..
    I love the ideas and the photos. Don’t know if I have the talent or perseverance, but….

  20. The tunnel portal is a commercially manufactured part. The fact that you used it for something other than its intended purpose makes it a kitbash, not scratch built.

  21. Marvelous engine house/shed, suits the scene very well. I wont even join the argument about what is or isn’t scratch building, if you built it and it suits your set up then go for it. The balsa bridge is excellent, Australian modelers are spoilt for choice as wooden bridges of every sort were built here. British builders do have one on Brunel’s GWR Plymouth route where a temporary wooden viaduct was built. A spectacular bridge for any British layout.

  22. The engine house is terrific. Anyone who knows model trains will know that it is unique. The use of the tunnel portals is great. This is just me, but I would add an exhaust chimney…or even two, one at each end for the engine that is being worked on..

  23. Both items look great to me. As long as you’re happy with the results, I wouldn’t care what others thought. It takes time and skill to make a item so be happy with what you have and how you used something for other than what it was intended for. Great job by both of you.

  24. all I can say is wow!! the building and the bridge are great looking pieces of work let alone the bear and the dog, bet they were hard to make. lol

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