Advice on what structure models to avoid

Discussion in 'Getting Started' started by railBuilderdhd, Dec 6, 2007.

  1. I’ve recently started to build my model railroad after about 25 years since I last had my hands on any model trains and I have so many questions. I want to start my questions by getting users options on what brands of structure and building models I should be looking for my layout. The local hobby shops I’ve been to do not have much to look at compared to what I’m able to find on-line. The problem I have with on-line is I don’t know what I’m really getting till I get the items and I figure if I like the models I’ll waste my budget on return shipping.
    I’m thinking of building my first layout to be a modern era railroad and I’m still looking into what scale I want to use. I’ve narrowed the scale down to HO or N. I would like to build in HO since there are some many more resources and they are more life-like but I don’t have the room I need to build a larger scale railroad. I know I’m not the first to have this issue with what scale to model but that’s for a later post.
    I would appreciate anyone’s thoughts on the qualities of the different structure models out there and what companies or model lines I really need to avoid if I want to build with the most life-like models.
  2. yellowlynn

    yellowlynn Member


    I can't help on the bldgs, but just a thought on the N or HO. Without knowing your age, the only thought is eyesight. If you have many years to go, either gauge. IF you are getting rickety....senile......ancient..., I'll get it in a minute, oh yes, up in years, the I'd pick HO.

  3. spitfire

    spitfire Active Member

    Well, until you know what scale you're modelling in, a lot of structure research is a bit premature. Some manufacturers make O, HO and N structures but there a lot that only do O, or only HO and N, or only N.

    I'm in HO so that's my area of model kit experience and I love buildings so I've done a fair bit of that type of modelling.

    I would say AVOID at all costs anything made by Bachmann under the label "Plasticville". I made the mistake of buying their movie theatre on sale and it was completely out of scale. The rest of the Plasticville line really lives up to its name: it looks like cheap plastic toys. Other cheap and not so great kits come from IHC (International Hobby Corp) and Model Power. The funny thing is, some of IHC's kits are actually quite good, but you have to pick and choose because some are quite awful!!

    NOTE: Bachmann did produce a beautiful line of kits under the Spectrum label, but they are no longer available except on Ebay now and then.

    Other sources of model kits are (in my order of preference)

    Walthers Cornerstone: incredible variety, excellent details, parts fit together very well, great instructions, and they'll even sell you parts if you ruin one. Slighty higher priced than others. I avoid their storefront buildings as there are cheaper and just as good on the market, but if you want a ready-mix plant or a steel mill, they're the only way to go.

    The newer Walthers modulars are fantastic for freelance industrial structures. Separate windows and doors make for easy painting, and they fit together very well.

    Design Preservation Models (DPM) Mostly storefront kits with very nice architectural detailing. Nothing very hard about these kits as they are simply four walls and a roof. On the downside, there is a lot of sprue work to remove, especially inside the window frames, and the window frames themselves are molded in place making them a little harder to paint. I have several of these and really like them.

    They also have modular parts for building larger structures, and a couple of smaller industrial kits as well. Walthers modulars are better IMO.

    City Classics have a great range of taller commercial buildings. Again, simple to put together, not a lot of cleanup. Windows and doors also molded in place. New this past year are printed clear acetate windows, with blinds and company names that match their city structures. I have quite a few of these.

    Rix Products: Smalltown USA make very inexpensive storefronts as well as some more modern single story warehouse type buildings. Excellent bang for the buck as they are cheap and easy to make. With a little paint and detailing they look as good as any of the pricier storefronts out there.

    Then there are the laser cut kits, sometimes called cratsman kits. The top of the line is Fine Scale Miniatures by George Selios. These are limited edition collector's items with prices to match, and require a serious time commitment and much patience to build. I have never purchased one of these, but they are stunning when built. Other laser cut buildings can be had from Branchline Trains, Bar Mills, Sierra West and others which I can't think of just at the moment. :)

    Also, Downtown Deco makes a range of hydrocal cast buildings in O. HO and N. They specialize more in the run-down, wrong side of the tracks urban buildings. I have one of their kits but have not built it yet. I confess I'm a little intimidated by working with hydrocal kits.

    Anyway, that should get you started! :) :) Have fun!!!

  4. tetters

    tetters Rail Spiking Fool!

    Great response Val. Something I'm sure folks not in the know yet will find your listing very handy. Ya know, folks like me! :mrgreen:
  5. Go Big1

    Go Big1 Member

    Val, thanks for the great reply. One of my winter goals is to try my hand at assembling my first building. I was thinking about doing a Walthers Cornerstone (Glacier Gravel, Black Gold Asphalt or similar).

    It's nice to know that someone that has built a lot of structures thinks that Walthers is good.
  6. nolatron

    nolatron Member

    If you're looking for some Modern buildings, check out Summit Custom
    Modern structure model kits and cutting service

    I've got their Taco Bell and Dominos kit in n-scale, and waiting for them to get some other HO kits done in N-scale next year.

    A little expensive for some stuff, but it was really easy to put together, and they look great. Plus I've yet to see any other manufacturer make these modern day store fronts.

    For my first model structure every built, I think I did an ok job on the Taco Bell. Dominos is still waiting to get assembled.
    [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG]

    I also love Walther's Cornerstone series kits. Their really easy to assemble and look great.
  7. Val -
    Thanks for the great reply. I know that I should know what scale I'm going to be building before I worry what models to buy but I was thinking I would like to know the quality of the models I can get for N or HO and if I’ll be happy with what I choose. I would like to build in HO but the space is not that much currently so I’m thinking of building in sections knowing that I’ll be moving soon and I can build from what I’ve started. Then I’ll not be stuck in the N scale when I really want to be building HO and I have a few items that are HO scale. I did look at some Cornerstone models and was thinking of those but I’ve only seen these on-line so I didn’t know if they are any good. Now I feel a little more like I can be comfortable getting these and be happy.

    You raise one question, are the laser cut models all on average better than the others?

  8. spitfire

    spitfire Active Member

    Well, the craftsman kits are much higher end, and come with all kinds of detail parts as well. I wouldn't automatically say they are "better" though, because it really depends on what you're going for and also what your skill level is.

    They're not good beginner kits IMO, but are a must if you're going for that old-time backwoods scenery, when most structure were wooden. Cities and towns have a lot of brick buildings so plastic kits work better there.

    My very first building was a Rix Products Smalltown USA storefront. I bought it before I even contemplated a layout, just to see how it would be to make. I think this makes an excellent starter project - much more so than a larger and more expensive Cornerstone kit. It will allow you to practice your gluing technique on something that you can afford to mess up! (Don't ask how I came by this information) sign1

    You didn't ask, but for glue I highly reccommend Ambroid Pro-Weld. The guy at my LHS turned me onto it when I bought that first building. I was going to use model airplane cement, but it is actually pretty hard to keep the glue from oozing out of seams and melting the surrounding detail.

    The Pro-weld is a liquid. You apply it with a brush. It goes into the joint through capillary action, and sets within 10 - 20 seconds. You can even get it onto the model surface without incurring any damage as long as you don't handle that part while wet with the glue.

    It does leave a bit of shine, but that is easily covered once you paint the model.

    Once you get good at this technique, then you can try a more complex structure, like the Walthers Cornerstone. In terms of quality, they are excellent. There's nothing worse than a kit that doesn't quite fit together, but with Walthers, that is never a problem.

  9. Russ Bellinis

    Russ Bellinis Active Member

    In adition to scale, you need to think about location of your railroad. That is the geographical area you are going to model not whether the railroad is in the garage, spare bedroom, or basement. Suydam is now being sold under a new name, and most of their structures are Southern California prototype, with a lot of California Mission style buildings. I think many of the Campbell kits are also of Southern California prtotypes. If you are modeling the Northeast, you will want to go with some of the reccomendations that Val gave. If you are modeling the Southwest, DPM is good, and Pike Stuff makes some nice sheet metal buildings. I've found a lot of nice houses that are available on the market don't work for the Southwest because they have shutters for the windows. Occasionally you will see fake shutters out here as decorative elements, but most houses don't have shutters. I don't think I've ever seen a working shutter on any window in So Cal.
  10. 60103

    60103 Pooh Bah

    There are all sorts of materials and all sorts of required skill levels.
    You get plastic, wood, wood & metal, wood laser-cut, plaster castings and resin castings. Even printed paper & cardboard.
    The plastic ones can look good with a bit of care and a good paint job, or they can look gaudy and toy-like.
    My wife likes the look of cardboard buildings, so I do a lot of those; the fact that they fit my era and location (British) doesn't hurt.
    You might consider buying a selection of kits to see what you like and how difficult they are. One thing about a modern era layout -- no buildings will be too modern.
    Check Spitfire's threads on buildings; I think she was doing them before trains.
  11. myltlpny

    myltlpny Member

    Wow, lots of good responses, and all valid. I haven't seen the kits Nolatron was showing, but I'm going to have to try them out.

    To me, it all depends on your skill level. I started out with the plastic box kits. In fact, I just bought a plastic IHC kit I think is perfect for what I want. Overall, I prefer the craftsman kits. I love working in wood, plaster and metal. They're definitely not beginner kits.
    However, you might find over time, you begin to like the challenge. So, start with the plastic kits (or even a pre-built or two). Then work up from there. Smalltown USA, MicroEngineering, IHC, and Walthers, all make good kits. Then go for the details like signs, window dressings, etc.. That's what will take even your plastic kits to the next level. This hobby, more than many others, is about growth.
  12. myltlpny - thanks for the post and I like the photo you have for your icon. I'm looking to model dock and I've been looking for cranes such as the picture you use.
  13. eightyeightfan1

    eightyeightfan1 Now I'm AMP'd

    I'd like to add here.....
    I don't know what your modeling level is, but the cheaper Bachmann, IHC, Model Power buildings do make great kitbashing fodder, and they even can come with doors and windows that would come in handy for scratchbuilding.

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