Santa Fe Cafe

Publication: Model Railroad News
Publication Date: December 2010

Review by Alan Houtz

Have you ever gone on a layout tour and noticed the same structures on layout after layout? The buildings you choose are going to determine, to a great deal, how your layout looks, and how well it matches your prototype.

It can be a struggle to come up with buildings that look right for you. Craftsman kits go a long way to solving this problem. They come in many shapes and sizes, and you can build anything from a crossing guard's shanty to an entire factory complex. They're often limited runs, so not everyone will have one. They can also be kitbashed or altered to meet your needs or available space.

Bollinger Edgerly Scale Trains specializes in craftsman level kits based on prototypes in various towns in New England and the Southwest. You can see photos of both the model and the prototype structure for many of the kits on BEST's website. In many cases, the originals are still standing and you can see them as they appear today. Laser-cut walls make getting the basic structure square easy and there is also board-by-board construction and other advanced techniques. The kit is suitable for modelers of all skill levels.

The Santa Fe Cafe kit is part of a project to recreate the town of Wickenburg, Arizona, as it appeared in 1915 for the Desert Caballeros Museum. James Bansner created scale drawings of this building from photographs, Sanborn maps, and the actual structure, which is still in use today. The result is a kit that builds into a nicely sized restaurant. There has been no selective compression, so size your downtown carefully.

Getting Started
The necessary tools and materials are fairly basic. A hobby knife with a supply of No. 11 blades, some sanding sticks, masking tape, a metal straight edge, a selection of squares and clamps, white or carpenters glue, Squadron modelers putty, and your favorite grade of ACC. I use both the thin and gap-filling ACCs depending on the type of joint I need. A hint for the frugal modeler: I like to get my sanding sticks from the Health & Beauty section at Wal- Mart. They are just as good as the hobby brands at a fraction of the cost.

Optional tools to aid construction include a Northwest Short Line "Chopper," a set of small files, some single-edged razor blades, and a self-healing cutting mat.

As with any craftsman kit, you'll do your best if you take your time. Read the instructions over thoroughly before starting. I went over them two or three times. Familiarize yourself with the parts. They come in several poly bags. I took everything out of the bags, verified I had the correct number of parts, and then went paint shopping. This is where things got a little interesting. It may be that the Northeast has a better supply of craft paints than the Midwest, because I had quite a time finding some of the recommended colors.

A Word on Paint
Model Master Desert Sand was easy, as was flat white, and whitewash. Two colors proved elusive. I had to mail order Design Master No. 742 Teal Blue, which was rather expensive. I don't regret it though, as this shade of teal is particularly vivid and really pops the trim on the finished building. The other teals I tried were just too flat. Apple Barrel's "Goose Feather" completely eluded me; you might try Folkart's "Barnwood" or "Mississippi Mud." You'll be looking for a warm gray-brown color to match the kit photos. A word of caution: don't trust your computer for color matching. I went to several websites and printed samples of colors to take to my local art supply stores but they often bore no resemblance to the actual colors. If you want to color match, take the color photos in the kit instructions with you.

A considerable amount of the build time was devoted to painting. I painted all of the individual pieces before assembly. It's much easier that way, as you won't have to mask anything, and you can paint the parts as a unit before you punch them out of the wood sheets. Since this is a laser-cut kit, you will have to sand some of the edges to remove the burn marks from the laser; they show through the light colors if you don't. This is especially true of the pieces that will be painted with the teal color.

Design Master paints are used primarily to paint flowers. They are more like a spray dye than a spray paint. They go on very thin and will require multiple coats for proper coverage. You'll want to keep some weights handy to keep flat parts flat as they dry. I had some minor issues with warping if I did not use weights. If a part warps on you, don't panic. Just apply another coat of paint, and apply the weight while it dries. Also, Design Master and Model Master paints are solvent based. A good respirator (not a dust mask) and a well-ventilated space are required for your safety. Your lungs will thank you.

The craft paints used on the plastic stucco walls require an undercoat of primer, or they will peel off the plastic. I used Badger's Modelflex primer gray. The walls are made up of a "sandwich" of the inner wood wall with tabs for location, and intermediate wall, and the outside plastic stucco wall. The kit instructions advise you repeatedly to test fit the parts before gluing and I can't stress enough how important this is. The wall pieces closely resemble each other, but each only goes one way. I test fit everything and then labeled the parts by writing in pencil, on the side I wasn't painting, what each wall panel was and where it went.

Building Tips
I built up the front wall with its trim, doors, and windows first. This gives you a nice preview of what the model will look like when it is finished and keeps you motivated. I had some issues with tight fits between tabs and slots, but the small modelers files were useful in dressing the slots. Be careful not to remove too much material or you will affect alignment.

I wanted my building to be lightly weathered, so I airbrushed the front wall with a light India ink wash before applying the decal, as recommended in the instructions. The decal is a very good-looking piece of artwork, but fragile. I would suggest using a piece of masking tape as a guide to keep the lettering straight. The decal is long, and narrow, and the film is very thin. It will also take several applications of decal setting solution to make it lie down over the board-and-batten siding. I got mine down straight, but in the process of applying decal setting solution, it got slightly out of line. I didn't want to risk damaging it, so I left it as is. It isn't very noticeable, just be careful with yours. After dull coating the front wall, I installed the clear plastic window material. It is sized to drop right into the window frames, and I attached it with Testors Canopy Glue.

After the front wall was done I built up the side and rear walls. Keep these centered as you go and everything will line up properly. I have one recommendation for the outer plastic stucco walls: Instead of using ACC, I would recommend contact cement, like Walthers Goo. It dries flexible, allows you some time to move the piece around as necessary, and will allow you to skip the clear coating of the wall middle sections.

Once your wall sections are assembled, you can "complete the box." This is fairly straightforward if you have test fit everything and marked the pieces for their proper location. One thing I did before assembling the walls was to paint the interior flat black. If you want to use this kit as a foreground model, there is certainly enough room for a detailed interior. Mine practically fell together, which is nice, as making the box can be challenging for some builders. Clamp the walls together while the glue dries, and make sure your tabs and slots are fully engaged. There were two gaps at the rear of the building between the side and rear stucco walls. I filled them with Squadron putty, and sanded them to make a smooth corner joint.

The underside and edges of the roof get painted the teal blue color, as they are exposed and function as the trim along the roof sides. As with the walls, test fit them and make sure you paint the correct sides and edges. It's easier than you think to get things backward! The roof panels also attach by tabs and slots. I glued them in place and weighed them down.

Like many buildings in the desert southwest, this one had a corrugated tin roof. The corrugated tin roof material is a bright silver out of the box. You'll need to age this material, as the desert sun and blowing sand were hard on building materials. I started by painting both sides of the roofing with Badger Modelflex Primer Gray. After this dried, I airbrushed on Com Art's Light Rust, Dark Rust, and Raw Sienna from their weathering set, and allowed it to dry. These paints are not permanent until sealed with a dull coat, so I wet a stiff-bristled brush and streaked the panels at random. After they dried again, I began cutting the panels into half-inchwide pieces per the instructions.

Cutting HO-scale corrugated tin requires a little practice. A slightly dull No. 11 blade works the best, as a new blade will tend to cut too fast and may snag in the material. What you want to do here is to mark your cut lines along the piece, then use the knife blade like a scribe. Lightly drag it along the cut line several times as if you were scribing styrene. Three or four light cuts should do it, and you'll get a nice clean edge. Don't worry if you mess up a few. I had two extra sheets of material left when I was done with my roof.

After all of the roof material was cut, I put it in a box and mixed it up so I would get random rust patterns as the individual pieces were applied. The individual pieces were attached to the roof with Walther's Goo. After they were all in place I weathered the roof further with an India ink wash, and a random dry brushing of primer gray. A final coat of Testors Dull Cote sealed everything.

I followed the recommendation in the instructions and mixed black paint and white glue to make tar. This was applied it to the edge of the roof where it meets the front wall, and the porch roof. This makes a nice looking tarred joint, and is easy to work with. Apply it with a piece of wire, or a straight pin.

There is a nice little bag of castings in the kit box. A ventilator, some smoke stacks, three barrels, a soda machine, and a water tank. There are also a couple of plastic smoke jacks. I painted these primer gray followed by Floquil's Old Silver for the ventilator, the water tank, and the smoke stacks. The plastic smoke jacks got a coat of Floquil's Engine Black. I left the barrels primer gray, and painted their bands black.

I placed the vents, stacks, and water tank approximately where they were shown on the photographs in the kit's instructions. Some artist's license is acceptable here. "Tar" was applied around their edges.

The last part I assembled was the sign. It is a sandwich of three pieces of wood glued together and painted flat black. The actual sign is not a decal, but a selfstick label that must be cut out and applied to the wood. Be careful not to get the assembly upside down. It's very easy to do, because the holes for the sign's mounting wire are hard to see after the signboard is painted black.

I made one change: the soda machine casting is nice, but I wanted something different. I substituted an older chesttype machine for the newer upright one. The barrels and soda machine were glued to the porch as shown in the photos. The sign will be permanently attached when I place the building on the layout.

Final Thoughts & Recommendations
This was a very nice, high-quality kit. There were no real problems, though I might do some things differently. For example, I would start the porch floor from one end and proceed to the other, rather than start in the middle of the entryway doors, as the instructions recommend.

There was one piece of strip lumber, 1/32-inch x 3/32-inch (colored green on the end) I could not identify and wasn't referenced in the instructions. I found it in the photos. It was painted teal, and glued across the top edge of the porch roof.

There were no major discrepancies during the build, and that's what's nice about craftsman kits. Read the instructions and, if you want, it's okay to change things around. If you should be building one of their kits and have a question, send them an e-mail or give them a call. I e-mailed Brian Bollinger several times with notes and questions during the course of this review and he always responded promptly.

If you are looking for a unique structure for your downtown, consider the Santa Fe Cafe or one of BEST's other buildings from historic Wickenburg, Arizona. Building this kit was a pleasant experience and I would highly recommend their products to anyone looking for distinctive buildings.

Article printed with permission
Model Railroad News


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