Crossing Shanties

Publication: Railroad Model Craftsman
Publication Date: August 2003

By Trevor Marshall

As every layout builder knows, model railroads have this uncanny ability to swallow detail parts. Go to the hobby shop and buy a bag of garbage cans, crates, automobiles, mailboxes, barrels, telephone poles and other detail items - enough to cover a square foot of model railroad. Then go home and add them to the layout - see how quickly they get soaked up? That square foot of details only really covered about 6"x6", didn't it!

But we like details - particularly ones that allow us to tell a story. This Bollinger Edgerly Scale Trains kit to build two crossing shanties is a perfect example. One of these shanties at each level crossing in town will take up very little layout real estate, yet provide the model railroader with beautiful little centerpiece for an interesting vignette wherever roads cross the rails.

Like many of the kits from this manufacturer, this one is based on a New England prototype: a crossing tender's shanty built by the Boston & Maine Railroad around 1910 in Winchendon, Massachusetts. But similar shelters were found on railroads across North America. In the days before worker's compensation, RRSPs and disability allowances, railroad employees who were either too old or too infirm (due to work related injury) to work on the trains were often made crossing tenders. The job was not laborious and provided employment to a person who might otherwise fall through society's cracks.

Crossing tenders often had a lot of time on their hands between trains, and some of these shanties were very well-kept. My favorite example of this is a picture in Through the Woods to Winnipesaukee: The Story of the Wolfborough Railroad by R.C. Libby and Carol M. Furnee (published by the Boston and Maine Railroad Historical Society), which shows crossing tender Ivory Rice in front of his shanty in Sanbornville, NH: Rice, an older gentleman with a Santa Claus beard, stands guard in hat, jacket, waistcoat and pants, flag in hand and the chain of his pocket watch clearly visible. His shanty is covered in climbing flowering vines and surrounded by a lush garden, the whole enclosed by a thigh-high picket fence. The caption notes Rice won many prizes from the B&M for his flowers, and I think the whole would make a wonderful scene in a minimum of space on a model railroad.

The kit includes a plastic bag of laser cut wood and cardstock parts; a bag of Grandt Line's excellent plastic castings for windows, doors and stove pipes; a bag of white metal castings, including two figures; a sheet of printed clear styrene for window glazing; a sheet of printed paper awnings; a sheet of peel and stick shingle strips; and four pieces of strip wood to be used for corners and under the eaves.

Instructions consist of a single 8.5"x11" sheet, double-sided, with a capsule history, 10-step instructions, nine black and white photos of the model showing various stages of construction and one black and white photo of the prototype. The instructions do assume that one has had previous experience building similar craftsman kits. For example, step 6 reads, "Using the HO scale 4"x4" cut the trim that will fit along the top of the shanty just under the eaves" - assuming the builder will cut the pieces so they form a complete square around the walls with no gaps at the corners, paint the pieces, then install them. Most modelers should have no problem - particularly if one refers to the in-progress photos.

Construction is straightforward: paint all the pieces, glue the window and door castings in place, assemble the walls using strip wood for the corners, add the trim under the eaves, install and shingle the roof, and add any other details. I used a modeler's knife and files for cleaning up parts, tweezers for installing pieces, and gap-filling CA applied with a pin for most assembly. The manufacturer suggests a number of variations: awnings, a stove pipe chimney, and a box for coal or wood are included for both shanties, but any or all of these can left off to change the look of the building. Having built my shanties in two different styles, I offer the following observations (steps refer to the manufacturer's instructions):

Step 1, painting: I used acrylic paints throughout: Buff Titanium and Raw Umber on outside walls, and Olive Green for the interior. I painted all sides of wooden pieces to minimize warping.

Step 2, add windows: The clear window glazing is printed with shades and a cutting guide. I decided to cut the glazing to fit inside each half of the window, right against the frames. This will almost double the time it takes to assemble the kit, but the kit goes together extremely quickly (particularly if one uses CA for assembly) and makes the finished building just that much nicer. This is the only place where I did not use CA, as it would mark the clear styrene. Small drops of white glue in each corner hold the glazing in the frames, and white glue dries clear.

On one shanty, I altered the frames to turn the kit's "four over four" windows into "one over one" versions. The doorframes and doors can be glued in place during this step as well. I modeled my doors partly open, and added door knobs to each using a short piece of .015" brass wire in a hole drilled with a #78 bit.

Steps 3 and 4, stripwood corners: The kit provides just enough strip wood for both shanties. I was too generous with my untrimmed sizes and had to reach for my wood supply to finish the second shanty, which can be seen by the slightly different treatment under the roof. One should have no problem if one measures each piece just a little over length and trims the pieces to shape after they have been glued to the walls.

Step 6, adding trim under the eaves: I added my roof at this time. The roof is a laser cut piece of heavy card, with score lines also added by laser to fold it correctly. I had trouble gluing my roof together, so I added a small piece of masking tape across the joint on the inside, which held things in place until the glue set.

I also used CA to secure a piece of .015" brass wire along each ridge on the roof, in the laser-cut grooves, to help the roof hold its shape. I liked the effect, so I added shingles to only one shanty, and painted the roof of the other one flat black.

Step 7, adding stovepipe: When making the hole in the roof for the pipe, be sure to locate it so the pipe will end up completely inside the shanty. It's one of those numbingly obvious things, but I had to elongate the opening I made. The good news is, shingling will hide any mistakes.

If modeling the shanties with the doors open, it'll be necessary to add a floor. I cut a partial floor from some scribed wood car siding and glued it in place. One could also build a floor with detailed interior (chair, desk, stove, flags, broom, etc.) as part of a base and set the finished shanty over top. I added a front step to one shanty, as shown.

Crossing shanties were once-common sights that are too often ignored on model railroads. Those whose layouts represent the first half of the 20th Century will want a number of these on their model railroads, offering crossing tenders refuge from the elements as they wait for their next call to duty. These shanties could also be used for other purposes, such as a shelter for a switch tender or a signal operator. In fact, one of these shanties would look right at home next to a ball signal, and take up much less space than an interlocking tower. One could also be used as a gatehouse for a factory.

This is a fun little kit that takes very little time to build, and the shanties would be excellent starting points for a pair of nicely detailed foreground scenes. What's more, most model railroads could use several kits' worth of these structures.

The HO kit for two crossing shanties is item 1012 from Bollinger Edgerly Scale Trains.


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