Articles - About the Hobby: Model Railroad Thoughts
About Scratchbuilding
Scratchbuilding is one of my favorite activities in this hobby. I started doing it due to limited availability of hobby funds. Hand-laying turnouts in N-scale was really my first serious effort. I found that waiting for a custom order for a couple of turnouts took too long, and I found it to be rather expensive. Hand-laying turnouts was scary at first, but became easier the more of them I did.

When I switched to S-scale, I started scratchbuilding freight cars, because there were some specific ones I wanted and they weren't available. In the process I have developed some thoughts, especially with regard to building freight cars.

As you start off by gluing the first couple of pieces of styrene together, the project is new and exciting. Assuming you have some of the styrene in stock, it costs very little, other than some time. The frame and the body go together relatively quickly, and within no time you have what looks like a reasonable facsimile of a scaled-down version of the car. You are not too worried about the project, because you don't have much invested in it yet.

Even though the project may not seem to go too fast, it is lightning speed compared to the detailing phase, which slows the project down to a near glacial speed. If you are modeling outside of the main scales (HO and N), you will likely have to fabricate a lot of the detail parts yourself (and figure out how to do that). The project is moving along, but the hours invested are starting to add up rapidly.

However, there will come a day, assuming you don't give up, when you officially declare the build finished. With the countless hours you have slaved over this project, you want to shout your jubilation from the mountain-top, or publish it in the local newspaper. However, you find that the moment is rather uneventful. After all of that concentrated effort, you just realize, "Oh, it is actually finished!". No fireworks.

Up next is the cleaning and painting of the model. This is a very scary moment, because one wrong move with the airbrush (or the air, or the moisture, or the paint mixture, or position of the sun and the moon, or how you hold your mouth at that moment), and your hard work will look rather bad.

OK, so the paint job wasn't too bad. Not great, but passable. Up next is applying the decals. Now it really gets intense. This step is not for the faint of heart. A true make-it-or-break-it moment. You decide to be totally clear-headed. No coffee that morning; no alcohol the night before. You get all your tools and materials ready. You practice the steps in your head, like a pro athlete. After carefully cutting out the decal from the sheet, you place it in the water. So far, so good. You make the surface of the model wet, and you place the decal on it. Horrors of horrors, the decal folds over on itself. Panic strikes. You begin to sweat. So much effort spent on this project, and now it is ruined. You take a deep breath, and carefully apply more water to the decal and with some fine tools and a small brush, you manage to rescue the decal. Several careful applications of Walthers' Solvaset gets the decal to nicely snuggle into the creases and crevices of the model. Life is good again.

I have found that as you get further along in a project, it gets harder and harder. It is really a mental game, because you constantly remind yourself of the money and many hours that you have invested in the project. The thought of having to trash it all and start over is too much to bear. However, the combination of the enthusiasm you had at the beginning of the project, and the vision you have in your head of the completed model, will help you through those "hard" times. The reward at the end of the journey/battle is worth it. Now you can say, if only to yourself, "I built that!".