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My decision to attend the 16th Narrow Gauge Convention in Durango, Colorado in September 1997 brought up the big question: "Will I enter a model in the model competition?" The answer: "Well, why not, what have I got to lose?" Having made this decision, the biggest problem to overcome was how to get this model to the Convention in one piece, and hopefully back home again. The model had to travel from Melbourne, Australia, over 10,000 air miles and pass through five airports, and then travel some 1000 road miles in a rental car to get it to Durango.

The only option was for the model to be small enough to be included in my `carry on luggage'. This definitely excluded a large diorama or even a set of models, and being an `O' scale modeller, excluded most structures. Also not being a locomotive scratch builder, my options were starting to look very thin. What was left to choose? It had to be a piece of rolling stock or a passenger car.

What I needed was a flash of inspiration! This flash took some six months to appear, and came when I was looking through photographs from a previous trip to Colorado. There it was, the ideal prototype.                                        

The photograph was taken at the `Colorado Railroad Museum' and was of the Rio Grande Southern's Vance Junction depot. This ex-Denver and Rio Grande narrow gauge passenger car #263 had been sold to the Rio Grande Southern in 1890, and was eventually bought by the Museum in 1984. (see photograph below) One last decision had to made - will I model it as a structure or as a passenger car? After pondering this question for a couple of weeks I felt it would have more visual and emotional effect being a passenger car that had been left neglected and lonely, sitting on a long removed and forgotten railroad road-bed.

Now that the easy questions had been answered, the problem was how to build this delicate looking model. In the past I had built slightly weathered cars, but never something this weathered!

I decided to divide the project into five sections:                               

1. The main frame, floor and 

    under body detail

2. The walls and ends

3. The roof

4. The display base

5. The transporting box


Each section was built and completed separately, then  joined together to make a complete model.



Building the model followed fairly standard procedures for a passenger car where the interior and inside roof detail can be seen. What was needed was a method to achieve the highly weathered and decayed appearance of the wood and other materials that could be seen in the prototype.

Five tools were used to weather each piece of timber used in the model:

1. A thin, fine threaded screw used for metal, screwed into the end of a short piece of dowel to make a handle and with the head of the screw then filed off. This tool is then dragged along each face of the timber which imprints a coarse weathered grain effect.

2. A No.11 surgical blade and handle (or No.11 Exacto knife) was used to cut with the grain of the timber several times and then the two ends pulled apart to achieve the very jagged ends of some of the broken boards.

3. An old dental probe with a sharp point was used to add extra deep grain to the timber, especially on the ends of each board.

4. A brass wire brush to add finer grain and further add distress to the timber.

5. A 0.2 mm black Pental type pen was used to add shadow to the deeper grain in the timber. This was done after each piece of timber had been stained. This pen was also used to add nail holes.

After every piece of timber had been distressed and aged using the tools above, it was stained with a mixture of alcohol and shoe leather dye. Three shades, a dark grey, a brownish mid-grey and a brown, were used to achieve the variety of timber colours. By dipping the brush into two of the colours, more subtle colours were achieved. Black, ochre and white chalk powders were also used to add weathering and soften the effect on the timbers. These also gave the timbers a dry aged effect.

The tar paper on the roof of the car took a few experiments to achieve the desired aged effect. Cutting 200 grit paper backed sandpaper into the required sizes, each piece was held by tweezers over an electric stove hot plate turned up high, until it was singed. As well as turning the sandpaper black, the heat caused the glue used to bubble and also to make some of the edges curl up, achieving a very aged effect. These pieces of sandpaper were then glued to the roof using wood glue.

In a vain attempt to save the car, a canvas tarp had been thrown over the roof of the car. This tarp was made using a square of calico bone coloured material, painted with a weathered green paint. When dry, weak solutions of white and black paints were dripped onto the back of the tarp, allowing the solution to soak through the material. Weathering chalks were applied to achieve the final look.

Several panes of glass somehow remain in a few of the windows, however most are cracked and broken, and being Colorado, one pane has a bullet hole through it. These were cut from thin clear styrene.


To further enhance the model, and also to protect the model on its long journey, a small base was built with a short length of rusted rail on decaying ties was laid. This track was placed at an angle across the base to allow for areas of weeds and other junk to be placed to further enhance the appearance of neglect and isolation. The base also allowed a place to position many of the boards that had fallen of the body of the car giving a final touch of decay. Finally, a lone telegraph pole gives a link to the outside world, even if the telegraph wire is hanging limp and useless. The edge of the base was painted black, to show a mark of respect for a once great passenger car.


Not seen when the model is displayed, but a very important part of getting the model safely half way around the world and back again, is the transporting box. Built from 4 mm foam core board (a medium dense foam covered both sides with white paper), the box has two halves. The bottom half is two sides and two ends hinged using masking tape to the base. The sides and ends have soft foam attached to them, and when folded up, the foam gently rests against the model. The other half is a box with a top and four sides taped together with masking tape. The inside of the top has a layer of 1/2" soft foam attached to it, and with the sides of the base folded up, this top box sides tightly over the bottom half, firmly holding the model in place, protecting it from any sudden knocks or jolts. The outside dimensions of the box are the maximum that would fit into my `carry on' bag, which determined the size of the base.

At the 16th Narrow Gauge Convention in Durango, this model had the honour of being selected:

  •  Best Passenger Car

  •  Best Model in Show

  •  The Gazette Award

  •  The Caboose Hobbies Award

  •  The Jaks Industries Award

It was a great honour to accept these awards and I wish to thank all the attendees of the Narrow Gauge Convention who voted for this model. Thank you also to `The Gazette', `Caboose Hobbies' and `Jaks Industries' for considering this model worthy for their awards. . . . Laurie Green.