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Peter's Model Railroading | The Layout | Stops | The Hazel Mine Complex | Hazel Mine Tipple
Tipple Building Construction

(note: this building was constructed during my previous layout, so you will see that layout as the background to the photos)

Since the building is quite sizable (it is 28-1/2" long), I decided to make its frame out of plywood. I will laminate the visible sheathing to this frame. I had originally thought about making a detailed interior for this structure, but I just don't have the time to do that right now, so this approach makes for a fast and solid construction. The ends were made out of 3/4" plywood, so that there would be some glue surface to glue the long sides to. The sides were cut from 1/4" plywood. The roof slope was extrapolated from known measurements and scaled estimates of prototype photos. The roof angle wound up being about 48 degrees. The main body of the building is a scale 16 feet tall, and the roof area is an additional 13 feet tall.

A long, 1/4"-thick side wall isn't going to be sturdy enough, so I decided to add interior bracing. However, I didn't want that bracing to interfere with the windows of the building, so I first had to determine where those windows are on the building. From available prototype information, drawings, and photos, I determined there were 6 large windows and one small one. The large ones are 4 feet wide and 6 feet tall. The small one is 2 feet wide and 3 feet tall. As near as I can tell from photos and drawings, all seven windows appeared on both side walls at the same relative position. The shaded areas in the photo are where the windows need to be.

This then allowed me to position the internal braces, made out 3/4" plywood, and glue them into place. I am gluing them on a glass plate, so that their tops are flush with the top of the side panels.

The next day I put the building in its position on the layout, when I noticed that the 1/4" plywood sides had warped. The tipple foundation blocks are perfectly positioned, so you can see just how much of a warp there was.

But, because I had made the internal braces all the same width (height in this scenario), I was able to cut another piece of 1/4" plywood and glue that all the way through the interior. This made the whole thing be straight again, while still allowing for some of the "openness" of the underside of the tipple to be visible in the future. In the real world, the interior of the building, of course, had a floor in it as well.

At the back of the tipple (near the creek, and thus the mine entrance), the two sides are of a different length. After studying prototype photos, I concluded that the original covered area ended where the short side wall ended. The roof line must have been extended at some point in time, a bit over the tracks coming up from the incline, maybe because of weather.

As they say, "measure twice, cut once", I re-measured from the drawings and photos the positions of the windows, and clearly marked them on the side walls. I then marked the center point of each of the windows, and then duplicated those points on the other side wall, too.

I could then use my drill-press and a Forstner bit to cut out the window openings. So, why cut circles when the windows were rectangular? Well, the 1/4" plywood walls scale out to 16 inches in S-scale. I seriously doubt the walls of the tipple building were that thick. The walls were likely just metal framing covered by corrugated sheet material, with probably no insulation. So, to avoid the 1/4" plywood from being visible at the windows, I made the hole bigger than I need for the windows, so that I can build up the edges of the windows from styrene later on.

When I cut the ends of the building out 3/4" plywood, I made two of them. I knew the one for the back of the building was more complicated. I determined where the shorter end of the building ended, and then cut that end panel on the table saw, to leave me with two pieces, both having the same roof slope. The shorter end of the building is closed off, but the longer end is open to the tracks coming up from the mine's incline. I then cut and fitted some pieces of leftover plywood to enclose the walls.

Next, I wanted to add supports to the roof sheets, but when I did that, I noticed that there was something odd about the building. The long sides were nice and straight, but the front end wall didn't seem to line up with the concrete foundations, which I know are perfectly aligned. I took a square to the corner, and, sure enough, it was off. I used a square to attach the front end wall to the two long side panels, but somewhere along the way while the glue was drying, it must have wandered off somewhat. This top-down photo clearly shows the amount of a gap, as the interior floor "brace" I had put in there, was cut nice and straight.

To solve this issue, my plan was to cut out the end wall and start over again. I set the tablesaw fence at 1/4" and put the building on its end wall and made the cut. When I did that, the end wall snapped out and wound up being perfectly square to the other wall, as can be seen by the placement on the foundation blocks. So, now all I have to do is deal with this gap, but that can be easily hidden when I get around to installing the exterior sheathing.

To make sure that the cut didn't weaken the structure, and to make sure that the end wall remained at a 90-degree angle, I cut and glued this piece of plywood into the interior corner.

And, so then I decided to make this handy hand-tool carrying box...

Naw, just kiddin'! I had some leftover angle bracket wood, and glued two of them into the building, flush with the angled tops of the ends walls (the second one is behind the one visible in the photo). These will provide the support for the roofing material to be installed.

I spent some time thinking about whether or not to scratchbuild the window frames for this structure. The odds of finding the exact size in the exact configuration were pretty slim. I searched both S-, O-, and HO- products, but couldn't find anything that matched exactly. However, the amount of time it would take to do a credible job at building the window frames from scratch would be quit large, especially knowing that I'd have 14 window frames to make. So, I decided to go with the items sold by Tichy Train Group. There is one small 2'x3' window at the end of each side of the tipple. I found an exact match to the size in Tichy's S-scale "Work Car Window" (part #3536).

These come with window glazing, so that makes it easy. There are six per package, but I only need two.

There are six large windows per side. These measure 4'x6' (from my own estimation by measuring prototype photos). I was not able to get an exact match as far as size, but I found the 9-over-9 configuration more important than the dimensions. Tichy has these 27-pane windows, which are 9/9/9 format. So, my plan is to cut one of the 9x9 panes off of each, which leaves me with the configuration that is visible in the prototype photos.

A close-up of the panes in the bag.

Thinking about how to cut this frame up to make it closer to the size that I need, I decided to cut the top 9x9 portion off, while keeping its outer edge (on the left in the photo). I set up the NWSL Chopper, with its stop aligned with each of the cuts (since I have to do that for each of the 12 frames) and then just slowly cut through the part.

After a bit of filing, I could then just glue the top edge back to the larger piece, to form the window frame that I wanted. The metal weights hold the parts together while I apply the glue to the gap. I am doing the gluing on a sheet of glass, so that the glue doesn't stick, and to make sure that the parts line up perfectly.

This is the final frame, in its correct position. Since the prototype photos show no trim around the window openings, I am going to be installing this window frame "backwards". The photos show the bottom 9x9 section as sliding up, so I am going to position it such that it is on the inside of the building. So, this is the way the window frame looks when viewed from the outside.

Since the entire window frame has to fit within the opening (the 1/4" plywood is thicker than the total depth of the window frame part), I need to make the holes larger. I placed the center of the frame along the horizontal center line drawn through all the openings, and then traced out the outer edges of the frame. You can see where I shaded the to-be-cut-out parts.

I used a small handsaw to cut the vertical lines first, and then used a jigsaw to make the horizontal cuts. I was worried about the top of the plywood breaking, so I made sure to have the jigsaw cut as slow as it would go, and all the cuts went without a hitch. The window frame needs to fit somewhat loosely into the opening.

As I stated above, the window frame is thinner than the plywood, so I added some styrene strips to make up the scale 8" or so it was too short. They were glued in such a manner so as to not be visible from the outside. Remember that the frame is going to be positioned "backwards", which is why I glued these to the window frame's trim.

After making sure that each of the frames fits well within its opening, I cut two strips of 4"x10" styrene, applied 5-minute epoxy to one of its thin edges, and carefully positioned them on the inside of the building, on top of the window frame's styrene strips.

When the glue dried, this is what the interior looks like (upside-down). These long strips connect the window frames to the plywood sub-structure, and also prevent the windows from accidentally being pushed in if they are hit.

And this is what it looks like from the outside (right-side up).

The window frames have been installed on the other side as well.

A prototype photo clearly shows three small windows at, what is to me, the front of the building. There is also another incline, the purpose of which I am not clear on (maybe to remove slag), coming out of the building just under the pair of windows on the left side. I can't make out if it connects to the end of the building, proper, or if it is under the building. For my modeling purposes, I am going to assume that it is coming out of the underside of the building, proper. I eye-balled the location of these windows based on this one photo. Since the 2'x3' window frames package I had bought from Tichy had 6 frames in it, I decided to make these windows use the same frames. In the photo, these windows seem to match the size of the two small windows on the sides of the building.

The hard part was to cut through, and file smooth, the 3/4"-thick plywood end walls, to make the holes for the windows. But, with some elbow-grease, I got the three window panes installed.

Again, since I am not going to model the interior of this building, I painted the entire inside black. I am not going to put a sheet of black paper diagonally in the building, because I do still want the effect of being able to see through the building, but I want it to be dark enough so as to not be able to make out any details inside (of which there will be none).

Next, I painted the exterior of the window frames with PollyScale "Harbor Mist Gray". The window on the left has been so painted, while the one on the right has not.

The window "glass" came next. The Tichy packaging includes the thin, clear plastic, so I cut it to the shape of my modified frames (a good pair of scissors will cut nicely), and then glued them in. There were a total of 29 sections to cut and glue into position. I use Formula 509 "Canopy" glue for these, because it dries clear. I used a toothpick and just put tiny amounts on the interior side of the window frame, and then placed the clear plastic on top of that. Tichy recommends using styrene glue, but I tried it on a scrap piece and it crazed the plastic quite visibility.

Of course, you can quite clearly look through this glass to see the interior, so I next applied a quick coat of a dark gray Bragdon Enterprises weathering powder to the inside of all of the windows, to simulate coal dust flying around in the building making the windows dirty. This significantly affected the ability to see inside. Then, I noticed that ambient layout room lights had a sharp reflection on the exterior of the clear plastic "glass", so I gave each window a very quick spray of Testors "Dullcote" (on the outside only!) to remove any obvious reflections.

I have no photographic evidence of this, but I thought it might be nice to add lighting under the tipple building to shine on the tracks. After all, the mine, at its peak times, operated night and day. I placed the building on top of its foundation and marked where each of the tracks' centers are. I then extended those lines to the underside of the building.

Initially, I had thought about placing two or three individual SMD LEDs above each track. But, when I thought about all the wiring that that would take, including the SMD resistors, I decided to just use some leftover LED strips. Since these strips can usually be cut after every third LED, and to make sure there was even lighting, I decided to cut the strips into 6-LED sections. I then glued those to the bottom of the building with 5-minute epoxy.

It was then just a matter of drilling two holes near the ends of each strip, and soldering two wires, routing them to the interior of the building.

In the interior I routed the wires such that they were as short as possible, and stayed out of view from the windows as much as possible. I routed them over the interior bracing.

The LED strips are designed to take 12 volts. However, the beauty of LEDs is that they can run on less than that, if need be; they'll just be dimmer. LED strips can be quite bright. It had been my intent all along to have the interior lighting be run off of a 9V battery. I am trying to build a layout that does not require that it be plugged into the wall power sockets to operate (e.g. think of still running the layout while the house's electricity is temporarily out; gives me something to do during those times). So, since I planned on using a 9V battery, how was I going to turn the lighting on and off?

To the rescue come reed switches. I use those inside my locomotives to turn their internal battery power on and off. I can just hold a magnet near a reed switch and the lights will come on. The problem with the reed switches I have is that they are "normally-open", which means they don't allow current to run through them, unless a magnet is placed near them. So, in this situation, if I want to have the LEDs be on for a period of time, I have to place a magnet near the reed switch for that entire duration. It would be convenient, if I could have the magnet be placed on the roof somehow.

So, I went back to the prototype photos of this tipple and noticed that, in one photo, it shows two exhaust stacks near (what for me is) the front of the building.

This led me to the idea of having the exhaust stacks be removable, with one having a magnet at the bottom, and the other not. I could then swap out the stacks to turn the lights on or off. So, to implement that idea, I needed a way to mount the reed switch such that the magnet is within 1/2" of that switch. So, I mounted two dowels in the interior of the building where I estimated that the stacks were on the roof. Their placement didn't have to be exact.

After I glued the reed switch down on one of the dowels, I soldered wires to it, and then painted everything not black, black.

I just so happened to have a "shelf" at the back of the building where the opening is to the incline to the mine, to provide support for the odd angles of the various wood pieces back there. The opening in the back of the building is just big enough for me to stick my hand into, and so that is where I decided to place the 9V battery, in a holder. When the battery needs to be replaced, I can reach into the back of the building, pull out the battery (its wires are long enough to allow me to pull it out a ways, replace the battery, and then maneuver the battery back onto its shelf, so that it is out of sight. For a normally stationary layout, this loose placement will not pose any problems. I'll remove the battery if/when the layout needs to be moved, to avoid damaging the structure.

The roofing sub-structure is made out of 0.030" Evergreen sheet styrene. I wanted something solid enough to resist bending, but yet not too thick so as to draw attention to itself. These sheets are 21" long and 8" wide, and there are 4 sheets to a pack. My roof measures a scale 21.5' wide on each side, so I can get two full panels out of each sheet. In other words, I only need to touch two sheets out of this 4-pack.

Since my roof is just under 29" long, I needed to butt two sheets of styrene up against each other. So, before I attached the first one, I glued two support strips under it to make sure that the next sheet would line up with the first one.

I thought about using 5-minute epoxy to glue the sheet to the wooden sub-structure, but, after reading the instructions of the 5-minute epoxy, it explicitly mentions not to use it on styrene. So, I decided to use Aleene's Tacky Glue as the main glue, with a couple of spots of superglue to help hold the sheet in position quickly. Before I installed the styrene sheet, I used some sandpaper on the back where it would be in contact with the glue, to provide it with some extra hold. Then, I used blue masking tape to acts as clamps while the Tacky glue cured.

This worked surprisingly well, and so I cut, trimmed, and shaped the second piece of this half of the roof's sub-structure. With some creative taping, it stayed in place perfectly.

Now it is time to do the other side. That is where I plan on making two holes for the vents that stick out of the roof (see the "Lighting" topic). So, before I could attached the first full sheet on this side, I had to mark off where the two dowels are positioned in the interior, and drill two pilot holes in their exact location. As above, I glued that sheet in place. After removing the blue painters tape, I applied some styrene glue at the roof top where the two sheets meet, for extra support up there. I just need to install one more partial sheet at the end of this side.

This, then, completes the roofing support sheets. To finalize the work, I will trim off any excesses along the top (the ridge line), and the overhang over the walls.

Here's the view of the other side, with the holes for the two stacks.

I had previously saved six sheets of some sort of tin material, corrugated perfectly for S-scale. I had set them aside for this project. However, when I cut them to the scale 4'x8' sheets for the individual application to the exterior of the structure, their edges curled quite a bit. At the time I didn't think much of it, but it turned out to be a real pain to try to flatten them out again. I was unable to do so. So, I have decided to go back to my default standard for S-scale corrugated metal sheets, and that is "heavy-duty" aluminum foil, which I get at the grocery store. This photo shows the tools I use to prepare and attach the aluminum foil corrugated metal sheets.

To start this project, I made a simple jig with two pieces of strip wood glued to a piece of plywood. I made sure that they are exactly 90-degrees to each other. The long edge is 8-1/2' and the short one is 4-1/2'. I then used a knife to cut two grooves into the plywood for the opposite edges. I can then place a section of aluminum foil into this jig, and use a toothpick to gently press the grooves into the foil. This then allows me to cut, with a razor blade, along the grooves in the foil to create the rectangular shape. I use the metal square to make that cut. Cutting the foil requires a sharp blade to keep it from ripping the foil. I do two passes; the first one is very light, and the final one makes the separation. That seems to work reliably.

The black/dark-gray parts in the photo are the two dies that shape the foil to have the S-scale corrugations. They were made by Tom Fassett, who sold them in various scales. Unfortunately, Tom passed away several years ago, but you might be able to find similar ones on the Web.

So, when I have cut a piece of foil, I put it in the die jig, and then gently slide the two parts over each other. To get the corrugations to be vertical, you will want to try to get the sheet to be as square in the jig as possible. It does still shift from time to time. No worry, just re-position it, and try it again. Usually the foil will re-shape itself just fine. Note also that sometimes the foil will tear a bit at an end. I'm not too worried about that, because it makes the individual sheets appear to be aged a bit. The building is about 24 years old in the time period I model, so I would imagine that some of the sheets have taken a beating, or have been replaced over time.

Here are the first set of sheets attached to the building. I am using Aleene's Tacky glue to attach the foil sheets to the plywood sub-frame. I place the sheet in the position that I want, and then put a pencil mark on the plywood to indicate to where the glue should be spread. I then use a small, stiff paint brush to apply the glue to the plywood and to the surrounding sheets where the new one will overlap the existing ones. Next, I place the new sheet in its position, and then lightly use my finger to tap it into the glue. Sometimes the foil will pop up again at a corner, so I just keep working on at it until it sticks. Be careful about not getting glue on your finger, otherwise you'll make glue "finger prints" all over the foil.

I thought this view was quite nice as it clearly shows the scale size of the thickness of the aluminum foil. The corrugations look very real.

Another week's worth of progress. There are four rows worth of sheets. I staggered them, once I got started, so that I can place one sheet at each row. This is because I only want to work in the areas where the previous sheets are firmly in place to avoid moving them. In reality, I usually only do four sheets per day, with 8 sheets on weekend days. It takes a while to prepare the sheets, and then the gluing and installation can be a bit stressful. Also, I have to work around the windows and deal with smaller sections above the windows, so that all takes time. To keep it fun, I limit myself to just doing 4 or 8 sheets per day, i.e. one or two per row. This will take some time, but, after all, it is supposed to be a hobby.

I carefully marked on the white styrene where the holes were under the foil sheets for where the two chimneys are to be placed in the roof. I used an awl to carefully poke the holes through the foil (after the glue had thoroughly dried). When the sheathing is finished, I'll need to enlarge these holes for the final chimneys.

After a month of work on just the sheathing itself, I have mostly completed one of the long sides. I still need to do the roof ridge, but I am still thinking about how I want to tackle that, so I'll wait to do those last.

The back side end is now complete. I did not do the "floor" edge, because this is where the slope to the mine entrance will be later on, so I haven't decided how that will connect up to this end.

I wanted to share my process of how I dealt with the windows. Odds are slim that a corrugated sheet's edge lines up perfectly with the window's trim, so what I do is just glue a full sheet to the wall over the window. But, before I do that, I mark off on the exposed wood surface where the cut lines are to be for that window. That is why you see so many pencil lines on the wood. I then apply glue to the wood substrate and also to the edges of the window trim (very carefully). I place the sheet in position, making sure to press the sheet into the window trim, so that the glue will hold. I then walk away from it and let it dry for at least an hour.

When the glue has cured, I used an Exacto knife and line its sharp point up with the pencil marks and cut around the inner edge, as best as possible, of the window trim, to cut away the unwanted aluminum foil. The foil will cut easily, but you have to be careful in the corners. If any foil still remains, I use a tool to bend it back against the window trim, to be blended in later when I get around to the painting stage.

The "front" end is now finished. The sheets at the roof slope are pretty easy to cut with a sharp, new razor blade. Line the blade up with the styrene roof by placing about half of the blade on the styrene, and then cut the sheet by slowly moving the blade forward and sideways at the same time. This makes for a simple, flush cut, without the aluminum foil tearing or crumpling. Make sure that the glue is thoroughly dry first, though.

Work let up a bit, so I had more time to devote to this project, and so I completed attaching the sheathing to the last remaining long side.

With all of the sides and roof done, it is now time to tackle the ridge line. I wasn't sure how I was going to do this, so I left it to last. As you can see in this photo, I placed another row of sheets over the roof (both sides) up to just under the very tip of the ridge.

I decided to just place another 4x8 sheet over top of the ridge and gently folding it over the roof.

I worked from both ends toward the middle, so that the center piece would overlay both "ranges".

And with that, the sheathing part of the project is finished. For those who are curious, here's is my tally:
front end: 28 sheets.
back end: 26 sheets.
left side: 70 sheets.
right side: 78 sheets.
left roof: 118 sheets.
right roof: 124 sheets.
ridge: 41 sheets.
Overall total 4x8 sheets of aluminum foil cut, folded, and glued on: 485. Due to my work, this part of the project took me 3 calendar months. I timed myself in the middle of this project, and it took me 15 minutes to go from raw foil to 4 sheets glued down, so that means in actual time, I probably spent about 30 hours on this sheathing phase.

Since it is difficult to get anything to stick to bare aluminum, I decided to try Vallejo's "Surface Primer" as the primer layer first. This is my first ever time of using Vallejo paints. This is because my Floquil stash is running out, and I would like to start moving more toward using acrylic paints for the purpose of maintaining my excellent health. Since the tipple appears to be based on some sort of black color, I used their black primer, but they sell other colors of primer. It is hard to determine what the prototype building was painted as, since all photos I have are black&white, and they can be misleading based on how the sun fell on the building at the time the photo was taken.

It took me a relaxing week of hobby time to cover the entire building in this Vallejo primer.

For the final exterior paint layer, I decided to use Vallejo's "German C. Black Brown" (part #70.822).

I just painted a portion of the roof with that paint, so that you can see the difference between it and the black primer layer (on the right). The paint goes on looking very brown. However, when it dries, to my eye, it darkens quite a bit and does truly turn into a black-brown shade. The paint is thicker than the primer, but I applied it straight from the bottle. I hand-painted the building, and I detect no brush marks. The final sheen is matte.

It took me another relaxing week of hobby time to paint the entire exterior with this color. Since the Vallejo paint bottles are quite small, I was concerned about running out of paint before covering this entire building, but I had plenty and I still have paint left over in that bottle. Due to the camera and the layout lighting, the photo makes the building look a dark gray color, but in person it is a black-brown color. Either way, I am happy with the result.

I applied some weathering powder to the entire exterior of the building. I use Bragdon Enterprises' powders. The long side walls also have the powders applied, but the photo doesn't show it very well. I will likely add more weathering in the future, but that is something I can do at any time after the construction phase is completed.

The final touch to the exterior of the main building is to install the two exhaust vents. I had marked the holes into the aluminum sheathing before, so all I had to do was drill them out a bit wider to accommodate the vents.

I found a plastic tube in my scrapbox that was about the size of the vent. To one end I glued the magnet I need to turn on the LED lighting under the structure. I used superglue initially, but it eventually broke off when I was building the vents, so I re-attached it with 5-minute epoxy and that works.

So, here's the basic concept; two pipes sticking out of the roof to represent the two exhaust vents seen in prototype photos. They appear to be identical. One of the pipes (the one on the right in this photo) has the magnet glued to it.

Testing the magnet with the structure on the workbench. It still works!

I cut the pipes down to the approximate length I could determine from the prototype photo. There is a bulge of extra metal near where the vent pipe meets the roof, which I tried to approximate by gluing a square tube section to the pipe, and then filing it down to match the slope of the roof. When I then loosely placed the vents on the roof, they fell over easily. I knew I needed to make them a bit heavier at the bottom. So, since the pipes were hollow on the inside, I poured some of this very fine N-scale ballast into them, followed by several drops of superglue to hold it in place. I stuck the pipe into the ballast to allow the glue to dry.

With that done, this is where we are. You can see the lighting under the building being reflected off of the rails.

I then painted them with Vallejo paint (part #70.866, "Grey Green") which is different from the other colors used on the building, and then added a bit of weathering, too.

However, the vents still fell over quite often. Also, to turn off the LEDs, I swap the vents, and the one with the magnet was not fitting well in the other hole. So, I decided to add some bracing. After all, these vents are supposed to be able to handle snowfall in the winter time. I used a scale two-inch-thick brass wire and cut sections of it. I drilled matching holes into the exterior of the pipes and then used superglue to hold them in place. I did the gluing with the vents on the roof, so that they would have the correct shape, so that when I let go of them, they would stay in place.

I then did some touch-up painting on both the braces, the pipe, and the roof, and with that, the main building is finished! Note that the braces are not glued to the roof, as the vents are supposed to be removable. In calendar time, it took me 7 months and three weeks to build just this main building.