Friday, May 18, 2012

Bubba's Barber Shop (and Pool Hall)

The old Post Office in Robertsdale has gone through many changes over the years.  Built by the East Broad Top as a permanent home for the U. S. Post Office (which had occupied a corner of the Company Store for many years), the building also housed several apartments and community meeting rooms as well as a parade of small businesses.  

In modeling the building as it was in 1950, I noticed that there was a large plate glass store window on the right side, ground floor.  What sort of business might have occupied such a prominent space?  I learned that among other things, the building had been home to a barber shop.  What a coincidence!  Several years ago I purchased some painted figures on eBay: a barber with his mirror, chair, sink and even a client!  At the same time, I also bought an HO scale pool table and rack, with a pool shark bending over to make his shot.  Hmmm.  Which should it be?  A barber shop?  Or a pool hall?  Since the structure sits right on the edge of the layout, it was an ideal location for either of my miniature businesses.  But which one?  Aha!  Robertsdale was a small country town.  Businesses often offered a range of products and services.  The Company Store, for instance, also had a gas station fronting Main Street.  Why not a barber shop and pool hall combination?

And so the idea of Bubba's Barber Shop and Pool Hall was born!  Bubba was the name of my daughter's gray tabby, and since all the grandchildren had their names on various structures around the layout, I decided that Bubba deserved similar recognition. 

Inserting the barber shop/pool hall into the model was trickier than I thought.  There were number of internal supports and braces that had to be worked around.  I built up a box from .020 styrene sheet, leaving the ceiling off.  A floor of grooved styrene was cut to fit and painted to resemble wood.  A quick search on Google found some vintage wallpaper that was downloaded, cut to size and glued to the walls with the same scrapbooking adhesive from Michael's that I used on the company office building next store.  The barber's chair, sink, mirror, and hot towel steamer were cemented in place with Walther's Goo.  On the other side of the room I affixed the cue rack to the wall and the pool table and player to the floor, also with Goo.  A Tichy door from the scrap box was glued to the back wall for access to the bathroom. 

A removable ceiling was cut to sit on top of the shop and hold a pair of miniature 1.5 volt bulbs for lighting.  I bought an inexpensive AA battery holder and a mini-SPST throw switch from Radio Shack for around $5, glued the holder in place, and wired the two bulbs in parallel.  Since each of the bulbs has a current rating of 40 ma, the parallel hook-up pulls a current of 80 ma.  The switch was installed to save the battery for visitors who want to see the interior of Bubba's shop.

The mini-bulbs were inserted in a pair of green shades and suspended over the barber chair and the pool table.  With the lights dimmed over the layout, Bubba's Barber Shop and Pool Hall casts a warm glow from the plate glass window, inviting passers-by to stop in for a shave, a haircut, or a quick game of billiards.

Bubba's is fictional, of course, but even though I model the East Broad Top as it was in 1950, there is still room on the layout for a little tongue-in-cheek humor.  That's what makes model railroading fun for me; at the same time, it creates little pockets of interest for visitors to enjoy and remember.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Completing Company Square

Incorporated in 1872, Rockhill Iron and Coal Company (RICC) developed the coal and mineral resources on the east side of Broad Top Mountain in southern Huntingdon County, Pennsylvania.  The company town of Robertsdale was laid out in 1873 and 1874 near several coal mines the RICC was developing.  Robertsdale's "company square" served as the economic and social anchor for this coal mining community.  In previous posts, I have discussed how I scratchbuilt the Company Store, erected around 1874, and the Robertsdale Post Office, circa 1915.  I also built the distinctive stone block station, built in 1914, from an upgraded kit sold by the Friends of the East Broad Top (FEBT).  That left only one remaining structure: the RICC office building -- the most unique and challenging structure in "company square".   Here is a photo of the building today.  After the EBT shut down in 1956, the Post Office moved into space on the first floor.  Company records are store on the second floor.

The company office building was constructed around 1916 on the east side of Main Street, south of the East Broad Top tracks.  The two and a half story building features brick corbels at its cornices, as well as decorative brick quoins, lintels, sills and door surrounds.  The structure was originally valued at $2,000 in the Huntingdon County tax records, making it the most expensive single building in Robertsdale except for the Company Store.  Here is a view of the rear of the building, the side that will face the aisle on my layout.
There is no kit for this building, impressive as it is.  And scratchbuilding would prove challenging to say the least.  The building is constructed of Sears and Roebuck poured stone blocks, like the old Post Office and the Station; however, the decorative brick trim makes this considerably more complicated.   How could I model such complex brickwork, especially on the corners, where the bricks are interspersed with the stone blocks?

Fortunately, the FEBT offers printed sheets of the stone blocks and brick trim, in several scales.  I ordered a set of prints in HO scale, and received a mailing tube with two large sheets of paper stone and brick siding.  The material was more than enough to cover the building.  Brickwork for the corners, lintels, sills, cornice and chimney could be easily cut to size with a straight edge and Exacto knife.

With the problem of the brick and stone facing resolved, the project could move ahead in much the same way as the old Post Office building in my last post.  I used Gary Hart's indispensable field notes to measure and cut styrene sheet to the dimensions on the drawings.  Aside from the fancy brickwork, the building is basically a large rectangle.  After the walls were cut to size, holes for the windows and doors were cut out.  Here are Gary's 1989 notes for the office building.

The field notes also helped solve a dilemma regarding the double doors that today open out onto the porch roof .  In conversations with long-time residents of Robertsdale, no one seemed able to explain why the doors were there.  A notation on the field notes, on the other hand, specifies that the doors were a recent addition, and that in 1956, when the EBT closed down, there was a double window in the center of the building facing the tracks.  Accordingly, I cut an opening for windows rather than for a door, since I model the year 1950 on my layout.  I also found a photo from the late 1940's of the end of the building facing Main Street.  That photo shows that before the EBT shut down, there was no door on the end of the building.  It was clearly added later for the Post Office.  As originally built, the two ends of the structure were identical, with two double windows on each floor.  This is how I built the model.  Here the styrene has been spray painted with a gray primer to make it easier to see. 

Once the basic shell was assembled with spaces for doors and windows cut out, the next step was to glue the paper stone and brickwork to the styrene.  Here, however, I encountered another potential problem.  The sheets of stone blocks have to be applied first, then the decorative brickwork on top of the paper stone walls.  I fretted over the best way to glue all these layers onto the styrene shell without smearing or messing up the beautiful lithography. 

If you read my previous blog about the Company Store, you may remember that I had covered the sides of the structure with textured stone block paper from Micro Mark.  These special papers come with a self-adhesive backing, making assembly a snap.  But the paper from FEBT was not self-adhesive, and I was leery about using a water based adhesive -- like white glue -- on paper.  Once again the modeling community came to the rescue, when I learned from a fellow narrow gauger on the Yahoo! HOn3 Chat group that Michael's craft stores carry sheets of adhesive paper with backing on both sides!  Designed for scapbooking, you simply lift off the backing on one side of the adhesive, press on the image you want to preserve, cut around it, and peel off the backing on the other side.  You can then press whatever it is onto a page ... or in my case, a styrene wall!  Michaels carries two kinds of sheet adhesive -- an acid free 8 1/2 by 11 sheet called Recollections and a smaller sheet by the name of PEELnSTICK. 

Armed with several sheets of double-sided adhesive, I simply laid the precut sheets of stone block onto one side of the adhesive, cut off the excess, peeled off the back and PRESTO! Self adhesive stone and brickwork!  Here is how the building looked with the stone blocks and brick cornice applied.  I have also inserted the windows to see the full effect.  Windows were Tichy #8159 double and #8161 triple units, which were very close in size to the prototype.    I couldn't find a front door with side lites and transom like the original, so I made up the entrance from styrene strip and a standard Tichy #8197 5 panel door and frame.

The biggest challenge was in placing the brick trim on the corners of the building.  On the one hand, the corner brickwork meant that I didn't have to butt up the paper stone blocks exactly on the corner, since the corners would be covered by vertical strips of brick interspersed with stone block -- three rows of bricks between each block.  When done properly, the stonework on the corner strip blends with the stonework of the wall, giving an illusion of depth.  But it proved very tricky to line up the two sheets of stone blocks at the corner so that the brick and stone block trim fit precisely.  To give me a little more leeway, I decided to cement the corner strip in place with Aileen's Tacky Glue, so I would have time to adjust the trim up and down for  an exact fit.

With the cornice and corner trim in place, the rest of the brick trim was easily applied.   The result was every bit as impressive as I had hoped. 

This concluded the construction of the basic two story building.  In real life, the front of the building faced the EBT tracks.  Unfortunately, on my layout, the building lies between the tracks and the aisle, which means that the viewer sees the back of the building, as shown above.   There was simply no room for it to go anywhere else.  Fortunately, the rear of the building, though somewhat spartan in detail, remains interesting because of the two rear projections, the small window and door, and the chimney, all of which help to give the structure definition.

The last phase of constructing the company office building was the hip roof.   For the most part, I was able to follow the same process I used to build the old Post Office.  But there was one significant difference between the two.  The two and a half story office building has dormers facing both ends, each of which also has a hip roof!  Fortunately, the building was constructed so that the peak of the dormer roof is on a line with the peak of the main roof, so I was able to cut front and back roofs as a single unit including the roof of the dormer.  I found two small 6 pane windows in the scrap box, and with a little styrene lap siding, created the front and sides of the two dormers.

By now the RICC office building was beginning to look somewhat finished.  Only a few more details needed to be added.  As in the construction of the old Post Office, I again used gray diamond shingles from B.E.S.T.   It was tedious work on a roof this size, and the end dormers required a good deal of trimming and fitting, but the results were pleasing.  Here you can see the end of the roof on my workbench.  The B.E.S.T. shingles are a terrific product, and they are self-adhesive!

With the roof complete and the windows glazed, the only details left were to add the front and rear porch roofs (I covered them with a reddish tar paper from Builders in Scale) and the chimney.  At this point the structure looked nice, but maybe a bit too nice.  After all, the RICC office building sat only a few feet from the EBT main line for nearly half a century, and there was bound to be some weathering from all that smoke and soot.  So the final step was to apply streaks of white and black pastel chalk with a soft brush, first on the roof, then on the sides of the building.  It was hard to deliberately discolor a model that had taken weeks to construct, but the final result was much more realistic, and made the entire project come alive on the layout.

This concludes my discussion of how I built the four iconic structures in Robertsdale's "company square".  The next posts will explain how I detailed, scenicked and weathered this little coal mining town in the heart of the Alleghenies.