Thomas Oyster Company

Publication: Model Railroad News
Publication Date: June 2012

Interesting Connecticut prototype presents waterfront opportunities
BEST Thomas Oyster Co. Kit
Review and photos by Stephen M Priest, MMR

This BEST kit was a joy to build; parts fit well and created a very accurately scaled structure when finished.

Thomas Thomas, one of the first oyster farmers in the state of Connecticut, founded the Thomas Oyster House (Thomas Thomas was truly his name!). Built in 1874 at City Point, New Haven, Connecticut, Thomas used the oyster house for the family business. (New Haven once was New Englands largest oyster distribution center.)

The Thomas Oyster House is one of the few remaining typical small northern oyster houses. The building originally served as a culling shop, where oysters were sorted by size and shipped in their shells by barrel to markets in New York City and as far away as California. When Thomas Thomas died in 1918, his son, John, took over the business and converted the building to a shucking house. Workers opened the oysters upon receiving them from the oyster boats and packed them in ice wooden kegs for delivery to various markets. The building saw continued use until 1956, the year John Thomas retired.

In 1970, the Thomas family donated the building to the Mystic Seaports Museum of America. In 1984, the Thomas Oyster House was transported by barge to its present location in the museum. The museum has since restores and rebuilt the building.

This master building lit is easily assembled in a couple of evenings. The detail is great and includes a board-by-board dock/wharf, a detailed building with interior, and a nicely detailed shingle roof.

The Model

All building parts are cut from sheet material with a laser. A sharp hobby knife will free them from the sheet. All that is needed then is some paint and placement onto the structure in their correct location.

Although I am not a seaport modeler, I do build lots of craftsman kits. This kit is a medium-difficulty laser-cut kit that requires board-by-board construction of the kits dock section. The main structure is straightforward construction and can easily be assembled in one evening. The shingles are time-consuming and will probably take another evening to complete.

As with most kits, I have my own methods for assembly and finishing. This is not to say that the model designer/builders methods will not work. I have honed my modeling skills over the years to allow me to move along without waiting for wood glues to dry and so forth. In this review, I will be writing about how I built this kit using my methods, adhesives, and paints for assembly. As a skilled craftsman, you will bring your own skills to this project. The glues and finishes I describe are a personal preference and do not reflect the quality of the kit as presented to me. I also did not build the kit to represent its prototype; I chose my own colors and level of weathering. However, looking at the images provided with the kit, it does appear that if you wish to build an exact version of the prototype, this kit will deliver.

The structure portion o the kit features a unique double-wall system that helps the alleviate wall warpage and uses the inner wall to act as a stop to hold the windows and doors in place.

Lets Get Started

This kit uses a double-wall system that provides a highly stable structure when completed. The double-wall system also helps hold the windows, reduces warping and part breakage, and firmly holds the corner molding and other structure openings. My first step was to cut the eight wall sections free from their sheets and then lightly sand the tabs that held the walls in the sheets. These walls were than paired up as an outer and inner wall (the double wall), test-fitted, and then glued together using thick ACC. You will want to exercise some care here to make sure the walls are correctly bonded together. I glued all the wall sections in approximately 20 minutes. I then glued opposite corners together using a metal square on each corner. I used gap-filling ACC to keep the project moving along at an acceptable pace. Once dry, I glued he two pairs of walls together forming the structures four outer walls. At this point, I added the corner trim, cutting each piece to the exact length once the ACC had dried. I then added the main and first floors to the partially built kit. Kudos goes to BEST models for the floors exact fit.

After locating the roof sections, I marked the underside of the eaves in pencil at inch intervals. These marks will be used later when the rafter ends are added to the building. I then flipped over the two roof sections and glued them onto the structure. They are keyed to fit only one way. Again, I used ACC and accelerator for the joints. Although there is a simple interior that can be added to the kit, I chose to move the castings that make up that interior outside where they can be seen once the kit is completed. The entire structure then visited the airbrush booth for a quick coat of hand-mixed faded tan. I used Floquil tan and white to mix a well-used color for the job.

After the parts are removed from their laser-cut sheets, they are attached to an old kit box with double-sided tape. This holds them while they are airbrushed.

Window, Trim and Details

While the building sat drying, I turned my attention to removing the smaller detail parts such as windows. Railings, door hinges, latches, and the like. I cut these free from their sheets with a sharp hobby knife. A little more time is needed to trim the pieces before placing them on the double-sided tape. It took me some time to place the correct face of each part outward to accept paint. I managed to get only one piece reversed, which necessitated repainting the correct side after the paint had dried on the wrong side. I used a Testors German Military Turquoise for the trim paint because I thought it was an excellent match for the main structures faded tan. I then used the same method to paint the metal castings after removing some flashing from the pieces to a box while I airbrushed them in a dark tan. I then set the metal castings aside to dry.

The frame portion of the dock/wharf is built upside down on the provided plans. All the parts are cut to length, laid out, and then glued together on the plan. This makes the construction easy, exact and simple.

I next turned my attention to the dock. The dock is made board-by-board

Using pieces that must be cut by the builder. A Northwest Short Line Chopper II will help you with the monotonous task of cutting the dozens of exact-length boards. One must be cut by hand (a master) and then used to set the stops for the cutter. It is then a simple process of repeatedly cutting and removing the cut material from the chopper II. It works much like a paper cutter using a razor blade to cleanly slice through the strip wood. The dock decking on this kit consisted of three separate board lengths, and the Chopper II allowed me to cut all the pieces in less than 30 minutes. The main timber beams were all cut using a sharp hobby knife. The pilings are all hand-cut to length, and you will need to include the pilings that will be placed under the building itself. The scale plans included with the kit were used for both cutting the pieces to the correct length and cutting the correct number of parts. I built the dock upside down, I built it from the top toward the water, and it is important to envision your work that way.

The highly detailed shingle roof is added to the kit row-by-row. The kit designer cleverly provided a printed paper sheet that can be affixed to the roof to guide the placement of each shingle row. This keeps the rows straight. What a useful feature!

Building Roof, Rafter Ends, and Pilings

I set the dock minus its decking aside to dry. My attention again returned to the building and its unique floor that allows the pilings to be glued into place without any measuring. Simply use the extra piling pieces that you cut to length earlier and slip them into the holes in the outer flooring. The system works well and aligns the pilings exactly where they should be. I used a square to make them straight. I added the roof shingles row by row, starting from the lowest eve and working to the top point of the structure. BEST provides printed guides that I glued to the roof, and they were somewhat useful. However, I eventually found that a pair of dividers worked best for keeping the single rows straight. I tried several types of glue to adhere the shingles and found that Walthers Goo worked best. The Goo does not warp the wooden roof sheets, has an almost immediate tackiness, and dries quickly, allowing me to work continuously on the roof until complete. The shingle material has a waxy back surface to which the other glues would not permanently bond. Contact cement did not allow enough working time, and water-based wood glues warped the roofing sheet. The final touch was the copper ridge piece supplied with the kit in a self-adhesive strip. The only challenge there was to place the strip straight on the ridge, then bend it 45 degrees over the ridge. After the roof was dry, I knocked a few shingles loose and removed a few others to enhance the kits realism.

To add the rafter ends, I measured and cut 21 identical parallelograms (per side) and fitted them between the building side and the roofs lower edge. I dipped an edge in ACC and tweezed it into place on the 1/4 inch marks that I penciled on earlier. I checked each hand-placed piece for squareness and plumb. Four long-end trim pieces were also cut and glued into place forming the visible end rafters. It is crucial that the end rafter pieces fit tightly because they will be seen. I hand painted those pieces and the underside of the roof overhangs with German Armor Turquoise.

Next, I added the pre-painted windows, doors, and associated trim to the structure. I handled most of the wood pieces with the sharp tip of a hobby knife. I dappled ACC onto the surface or into the opening and then placed the trim or window with the blade. The doors were build up from several pieces sandwiched together to create the planking, the Z shaped stiffeners, and the wooden door latches. I built these on the workbench and transferred them to the kit where they were glue into place. I try to leave at least one door ajar to create a more appealing structure - neither completely closed, nor completely open. The process is time-consuming but not difficult. My main goal was to get everything square. I dry-brushed the barrels and culling vats with flat white to hint at shells. I then weathered the barrels and vats with chalk before gluing them onto the decking. I set the detail parts aside until the deck was assembled, stained, and weathered.

The structures underside features a laser-cut sheet that provides easy placement of the piers. Simply stick the precut dowel rods into the holes and glue.

The Dock

I left the dock decking until last to accurately glue the dock to the building portion of the kit. After I completed the socks construction, I flipped it over and added the building with its pilings attached to the dock. They should fit together perfectly. I added glue to the two subassemblies and set them together on a piece of glass to provide a flat and lever surface. All gluing was done with ACC and accelerator. At his point, I added the deck material that I had cut earlier. I intentionally left very small gaps between a few boards to enhance the board-by-board construction appearance. A Monster Nailer (www.monsternailer.com) was used to emboss the nail holes in the structure and on the decking. I took care to emboss the nail holes above the decks structural beams. I stained the dock with thinned Floquil Grimy Black and Reefer Gray. The colors can vary as much as you wish, but I chose a darker, more weathered look.


Finally, I added a little airbrush weathering to the finished building to blend the colors a bit. I used Floquil Concrete for this task. I then weathered the structure with appropriately colored weathering powders. I streaked the roof area, highlighted boards in the dock, and created an imaginary water line on the dock pilings, all with the weathering powders. My final task was to add the metal castings to the dock and then place some scrap wood pieces here and there.


The BEST kit was a joy to build; parts fit well and the finished product created a precise scale structure. The window detailing is second to none, and I love the twin Z doors on the structures ends. My only regret is that I will not be able to use the building on my next model railroad as built. That neat dock will simple have to go. However, that is the beauty of craftsman kits; they are infinitely alterable. I will probably place the structure in a hole so that the dock deck is level to the ground and then build the scenery right up to the structures edges. You dont need a seaport to take advantage of these neat kits and their excellent detailing. Check out the other BEST kits on line at www.besttrains.com. Like me, you will be impressed with BEST!


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