Scratchbuilding the Trolley Barn at Columbia, PA.
by Tony Segro
I’m in the process of building HO scale models of several buildings that existed in Columbia, Pennsylvania for the Columbia
Historical Society Museum’s HO scale model railroad. The buildings being modeled were located in the lower part of Columbia near the
Susquehanna River. The canals still existed as Columbia was a transfer point along the old Pennsylvania Canal of the 1840s. The time era
being modeled is 1920. At this time, Columbia was an important point along the Pennsylvania Railroad and also a terminus point for the
Columbia and Reading Railroad (part of the Reading Railroad empire). Columbia had a huge 40-stall full roundhouse and large yard in the
1880s, but the roundhouse was down to just 3 stalls by the 1920s. Archived photographs of most of the buildings serve as a guide for the
models. However, not every building of the time has a photograph on file. One such building is the old trolley barn along Commerce Street. I
was told that the building was a wooden structure on a concrete foundation.
While I model in styrene, plaster, clay and wood, I chose medium-weight strathmore as my media for the trolley barn. Strathmore is a media
which is used by watercolor artists. It can be found in art stores, and comes in 9”x12” sheets in a tablet. The tablet I have has 12 sheets of
140 lb. Strathmore. To begin, I created a drawing of the building using Autodesk AutoCAD. With AutoCAD, I can create a library of window
and door castings by Grandt Line and Tichy Train Group. I can import windows or doors of my choosing into the drawing.
A copy of the drawing is below. With AutoCAD, I can print out an HO scale drawing.
GUSSETS 2 END WALL TRUSSES
NO STRIP HERE
NO STRIP HERE
NO STRIP HERE
NO STRIP HERE
1 END WALL 1 STREET-SIDE WALL
4 MAIN ROOF TRUSSES
The windows drawn are not commercial window castings. They are just drawn to fit the window openings in the walls. There are 2 sizes of
strip wood that will be used for the model. These are 3/32”x3/32” (0.093”x0.093”) and 3/16”x3/16” (0.188”x0.188”). I can use the drawing as
template to cut the strip wood pieces.
Beginning with the 3/32” square strip wood, lay the wood on the drawing. Use a sharp double-edged razor blade to cut the wood.
Glue the strip wood directly to the drawing using white glue. Figure 1 shows this.
The next step is to scribe lines in the Strathmore. Sheet. The lines will represent individual boards on the wall. The lines should be
approximately 0.100” apart. Make a tick mark on the edge of the Strathmore using a drafting pencil. Using a metal machinist square and dial
calipers, scribe the lines using the backside of a #11 Xacto blade. (The “sharp” edge may be used if the blade is dull, and will not cut through
the Strathmore. The important point is to not cut through the Strathmore, but to keep the sheet intact.
The next step is to fit and cut pieces of the Strathmore to fit in between the pieces of strip wood glued to the drawing. These pieces
are then glued to the drawing also with the scribed side up and the boards going from top to bottom. Once the pieces of Strathmore are glued
in place, the bottom and top strips are cut and glued in place. Figure 2 shows the result of this process.
Carefully cut the glued wall from the rest of the drawing using a sharp #11 Xacto blade.
At this point, paint the inside of the wall using acrylic Raw Umber and Burnt Umber. Burnt Umber has a reddish tone, but both
colors are excellent colors for wood. A little water can be used to thin the paint and help it flow better. Because Strathmore is used for
watercolor paintings, and it’s glued to the strip wood, it can take water without warping. Once the wall dries, go back and dry brush with
neutral gray. (“Drybrushing” is a technique where the brush is totally dipped into paint. Then the paint is wiped off with a cloth or paper
towel. Very little paint remains on the brush). When dry brushing, stay light with your brush strokes, and brush in the same direction as the
boards. This technique will highlight the boards. Figure 3 illustrates the wall painted on the inside.
This step will deal with cutting and gluing windows. The materials will include acetate, a clear sheet of styrene approximately 0.010”
thick and a fine-line black Sharpie marking pen. On the drawing are six drawings of windows. Leaving a ¼” border around the outside of the
window, tape the acetate over the window on the drawing. Using the Sharpie, trace over all the lines on the window drawing. Cut the acetate
around the outside of the ¼” border with a sharp #11 blade. (Note: You do not need to cut all the way through the acetate. Just lightly score
the edges and snap the acetate along the scored edges).
Since acetate is a smooth surface, it needs to be roughed up (burnished) so it can be glued to the wall with drops of white glue.
Burnish along the border only using medium grit sand paper. Brush away any dust from the burnishing. Then, put one drop of white glue
(keep the drop small) on each of the 4 corners of the border and one at each midpoint along the 4 sides. Keep the white glue away from the
window itself. Carefully aligning the window with the window opening, attach the acetate window to the paper on the outside of the wall.
Hold firmly in place for about 30 seconds. Repeat this process for the other two windows along the wall. The window should dry in under a
Assemble the opposite side wall using the same techniques described in steps 1 through 6.
This step will give instructions for assembling the 4 interior roof trusses. The roof of the trolley barn will be supported by a total of
six trusses. Each end wall will have a truss, and there will be four trusses glued to the tops of the wide strips of wood on the inside of each side
wall. Each truss will require three gussets (connecting plates for the 3 pieces of strip wood used in the truss). This is why the drawing has six
“top” gussets and twelve “bottom” gussets. First, cut all the gussets from the drawing with a sharp #11 Xacto blade. Glue the top gussets to
Strathmore. Once they dry, cut around the gussets and remove them from the Strathmore sheet using the sharp Xacto blade. When gluing the
bottom gussets to the Strathmore sheet, six must point one way, and the remaining six must point the other way. This way the Strathmore will
be on the same side when the two opposite-facing gussets are glued to the wood strips.
Next, cut the 3/16” square wood strips and glue to the trusses on the drawing. Note the angles of the cuts. At the peak of the truss, the
wood strips should be cut vertically. Glue the 3 wood strips to the drawing. Then glue the top gusset to both strips at the peak, ( Strathmore
side up) making sure the gusset doesn’t extend past the top edge of the strip wood. Notice on the bottom of the truss, there is a square left
open on both ends. This is where the truss will be glued to the top of the interior walls. When gluing on the bottom gussets, this square must
remain free of glue and gussets. Glue one bottom gusset so that the Strathmore side is up. Then glue an “opposite-facing” gusset on the other
end. Next, carefully cut the finished truss from the drawing with the Xacto blade. Repeat this process for the other three interior trusses.
The construction of the two end walls will be described in this step. Note on the drawing that the long strips on the outside edges of
the end walls do not get any strips glued. These locations are places where the end walls will be attached to the side walls. When completed,
the end walls will fit inside the side walls. These walls are constructed in the same manner as described in steps 1 through 5 for the side walls.
To assemble the building, using a machinist square to keep walls perpendicular, glue one end wall to one side wall. Then, glue the
other end wall to the other side wall in the same fashion. Once the glue has dried, bring the walls together and glue them. Use a clamp or
string to hold the 4 walls in place while the glue dries. As the glue is drying, glue the four interior trusses from the top of one side wall to the
top of the other. Glue each truss at the top of the wide vertical strips on the side walls. Let the whole assembly dry. At this point, the interior
of the barn is completed as far as assembly. Now, we’ll turn our efforts to the outside of the building.
At this point, the outside of the building is nothing but white paper (the back side of the drawing) with some acetate windows glued
to the paper. The outside walls will be another layer of Strathmore glued to the paper. The window openings will need to be cut from the
Strathmore sheet prior to gluing. Using dial calipers set at 0.100”, make tick marks on a second sheet of Strathmore. As we did back in step 2,
use a machinist square to scribe lines (boards) in the Strathmore. Cut four wall pieces from the Strathmore sheet. Each piece will cover one
For the end wall with the door, glue the Strathmore to the wall with the boards going from top to bottom. Lay the building on its end
with the door on the bottom. With a sharp knife, cut the door out of the Strathmore from the inside of the building. Use this cut-out door as a
template for creating the frame above the arch. To do this, trace the arch on a piece of plain Strathmore (no scribed lines). Draw another arch
approximately 0.100” above the first arch. Cut this arch strip out and glue it above the door opening on the end wall. See Figure 4.
(Figure 4 depicts the wall after painting and trim is applied, but does also show the piece above the arch.)
To cut the window openings out of the side walls, hold the Strathmore wall on top of the assembled side wall so that the ends are
flush. Shift the wall down so that the windows are visible. Next, make tick marks on the Strathmore with a drafting pencil at the top corners of
the 3 sharpie-drawn windows. (Note: Do not tick mark the entire acetate piece. Jus tick mark at the corners of the sharpie drawing). Use a
machinist square and draw the lines up and down from the tick marks. Next, shift the wall so that the top and bottom of the Strathmore wall
are flush with the top and bottom of the assembled side wall, and that the window is visible. Make two tick marks on the Strathmore at the top
and bottom corners of the sharpie drawing. Square the marks off with the machinist square. Use a foot long metal straightedge to continue the
line if the square isn’t long enough. Cut out one window rectangle formed by the lines and check the alignment by laying the Strathmore wall
over the assembled building. Before cutting each window opening, doublecheck the prior cuts. Once all the windows align, glue the walls onto
the building. Next from leftover pieces of Strathmore, cut sills for the windows and glue them in place. Below the sills, cut a long, thin piece
of Strathmore to serve as a strip along the side walls. On the end walls, an extra strip is cut to be attached at the base of the triangular eaves.
Figure 5 shows the strips above and below the windows, and the long strip. Fig.6 shows the trusses installed.
Painting the building comes next. Like the inside walls, Raw Umber and Burnt Umber are the main colors. Mars Black watered down
serves as a black shadow wash. Neutral Gray is used for dry brushing.
SOME TIPS ON PAINTING WOOD:
Remember to always start at the top of the board, or at the bottom of the board. This is where the paints should be darker
as these areas would be less prone to fading in the sun.
Paint always darkens in tone as it dries
If a color is too dark, dilute it with water before it dries. This will quickly lighten the tone. It’s best to start light, and add
more once the paint dries.
You can paint individual boards if you wish.
Always paint in the same direction as the board is
I always keep a Dixie cup with water handy. You may also use a spray mist bottle from a distance, but avoid “soaking” the building with
water. A blow drier will also hasten the drying process , but don’t keep the heat on the building too long. Refer to figures 4-6 for some photos
of the painting process.
I’m not going to install tracks in the building until I get the building onto the layout. I’ll also be creating a concrete foundation for
the building to allow for the trolley to better fit through the door. But for now, the last item on the agenda is the roof and shingles. The roof
was constructed from matte board (the type of matte board that is used to mount paintings or photographs in a frame). I allowed for an
overhang of 1/8” on both ends and a 1/8” overhang on the sides. Once the roof is glued onto the trusses with white glue and is allowed to dry,
the shingles can be glued to the roof. Campbell shingles come in a roll and were glued to the roof. Half the width of the shingle strips are cut.
This allows the strips to overlap each other. Start from the bottom of each side of the roof and work your way toward the peak of the roof. Be
careful to keep the shingle rows straight from one row to the next. Once all shingles are installed, paint them with the same paints as the walls,
but keep them darker. Once the paint dries, clean up any overhanging edges with a sharp razor blade. Then lightly dry brush with Neutral
Gray. Figure 7 shows the completed roof.
I hope you try assembling with Strathmore and strip wood. It is a quick, non-expensive way of constructing a wooden building for your layout.
About the author:
Tony Segro is a member of the Stiegel Valley Model Railroad Club in Manheim, PA. He also is constructing HO scale models of Columbia
for the Columbia Historical Preservation Society in Columbia, PA. He has scratch built over 100 buildings for SVRR, the Columbia
Historical Preservation Society (CHiPS), as well as several local layouts. He works as a process engineer, with training in AutoCAD. He
also does woodburning art, and paints. He coached with the local youth sports organization for 33 years. and presently holds the office of