Branch Line Engine House
IntroductionDesigned by Jonathan Carr, This Branch Line Engine House is reminiscent of mid 19th to early 20th Century stone engine houses found on many small railroads throughout the U.S.
This particular model represents a single-stall engine house that can be built with or without an attached office (it could also represent a machine shop or powerhouse) and includes an optional cupola.
What's in the box - er, bag
RDA packs their models in a thick plastic bag. They have to - these models are heavy. Which means sturdy and not likely to be damaged in shipping or storage.
The model consists of an instruction sheet and approximately 106 gray injection molded parts by RDA:
12 Stone Wall Sprues
32 Pilasters and upper wall sections
6 Engine House windows
2 each office doors and windows
2 Freight doors
1 Cupola sprue
1 Detail sprue
3 Sheets of styrene for roof, bracing, and other miscellaneous uses
The plastic is a nice density and slightly soft, which enhances cutting and sanding and trimming. Molding is good with no flash, noticeable seam lines, or visible sink marks. However, ejector circles mar the visible sides of long parts on the cupola sprue; fortunately the parts are big enough hat filling and sanding should not be a problem. As you look at the parts - especially the wall sections - you may think, as I did, "Hmmm, those are big locking tabs." They are actually the expansion tabs of the injection process. Though they are big, they are easily removed with nippers or a razor saw. Removing these is when I appreciated the type of styrene RDA used for this model: the parts sawed/cut off easily, yet the parts are tough enough that I did not have to worry about damaging or warping them. The parts are held to hefty sprues by thick attachments. Again, the plastic makes it easy to cut them away without damaging the pieces as you might experience with more brittle styrene.
RDA stone detail is good. The model creator, the late Rod Guthrie, created a very popular and high quality stone panels for a roundhouse kit he was developing, that appears similar to the Midland Terminal Railroad 14 stall roundhouse in Colorado Springs, Colorado. One could build a structure limited only by one's imagination with this system. The blocks have a rough texture with mortar lines between. RDA tried to avoid the "cookie cutter" look and mixed the facades up a bit with at least two different stone patterns on the pilasters. Their casting of doors and windows is good. Some of the chimney parts might be "soft" - rounded edges - or perhaps that is how the masons layed the brick? Other detail pieces have sharp edges. RDA includes six engine house windows by Tichy.
There was one glaring omission: no doors for the locomotive portals in the original kit. RDA makes a small roundhouse that uses these wall components and it has doors. However, RDA did send me a set of excellent laser-cut wooded doors by Carolina Craftsman Kits.
You have to make the roof from the styrene sheets. No detail is molded on.
Instructions and painting
RDA guides you through assemble with 10 pages of well written and organized instructions. The four assembly steps and several weathering steps are well organized and written. They are illustrated with color photos of the model being built. I do not think the differences in the pilasters are well explained, nor how to use them on the corners.
RDA also suggests and demonstrates painting this stone structure.
Workin' on the railroad
So what is this model like to build? It is pretty simple to get the walls up.
You will need hefty snippers to cut the parts from those beefy sprues. I assembled this model almost exclusively with different CAs, mainly 5-15 second cure type. It worked great on the styrene. Another item I recommend is a machinist square or something similar. The walls will need support while you fit and glue them, and they need to be squared good-n-true.
Once off their sprue a couple of sections with large openings warped slightly. I cut a beam from the thick styrene sheet supplied with the kit to reinforce a few sections of walls. Then it was time to start raising the building.
Lining up the wall sections is easy. Although it is suggested in the instructions, I found little need to sand the edges. For the higher sections, a bit of sanding was required; I used a whole pilaster to join the upper extensions to their respective wall parts and the wall parts to each other. One thing to keep in mind is to make certain that you keep each corner overlapping like the opposite corner, i.e., wall X-front-left and X-front-right butts into the interior edges of wall A, and wall X-back-left and X-back-right butts into the interior edges of wall B. Otherwise your building will be cattywampus.
A square is very helpful here but the interior backing sheets hamper that at the corners. If I had to do it over again, I would cut them in half and leave enough gap to slip a square into. A model supply company makes injection molded corner squares for this purpose; you can also cut them from the sheet plastic included by RDA. Another thing I used to help square the walls is the roof. Make some tabs along the edge that will fit inside the top wall edges. I thought about mounting the walls to a floor yet scrubbed that idea because I was not certain if it would be too tight and impede an engine from entering the structure.
The tricky part is adding the office extension. It requires one odd wall section to be trimmed. Before you do that make sure your other walls are sturdy with square corners - it's much easier to fashion a roof to fit on rectangles and squares than onto polygons!
I just had to be different and changed the roofs. Putting a peaked roof on the office required two of the wall height extenders and extra tall pilasters. Those would be missed later as I needed them to fill in other spaces created by my roof arrangement!
RDA shows us how to make beams and internal supports with the supplied thick sheet. It is a good idea if you want to top the hall with a peaked roof.
The roof was cut to fit within the engine house main building. The sheets of styrene are not big enough to cover this void individually so I spliced a couple together. To hold and support them I used lengths of sprue. The roof helps square up the corners. I notched the lower corners to fit around the pilasters.
I decided to simulate tar paper for the roof. There are many aftermarket items you can buy for that, yet I decided to make mine out of good ol' fashion masking tape. I painted and re-tacked the corners that pulled up. Later I drybrushed and powdered the roof with various tones of gray.
To ventilate the engine house I used the six large vents supplied with the kit. I measured and evenly spaced spots to mount the vents. I drilled holes and shoved them in, carefully aligning them to stand upright along the sloped roof.
The office needed a lot of attention. I made my decision for the wall configuration and that required the roof oriented front to back. That required more precious wall height extensions and pilasters. Now the careful aligning and squaring of the office against the main building really paid off. The result is a false from for the office with the roof shedding water along the sides. I think it looks better than a single slope down from the main hall.
I waterproofed the roof with more masking tape 'tar paper' as per the main roof.
Doors and windows
This went pretty fast. The RDA office and freight doors fit into the portals from inside, as do the two office windows. The six engine house windows are a bit different. I am unsure whether they are meant to be installed from inside of on the exterior. They fill the window recess from the outside but they look a bit odd. Mounting from the inside they are too tall for their portals; careful alignment is required for the framing to be symmetrical when seen from the outside. These parts I secured with liquid model glue.
Engine stall doors
These did not come with the kit. I understand that RDA is planning to include them from now on. I painted them and joined them with CA. They fit into the engine portal but they are not long enough to span from the rail heads to the portal arch. (That is not uncommon with engine houses.)
Clerestory and chimneys
I wanted this feature and decided it would perch atop the office. Follow the instructions and it will go together well. I think it adds interest to the extension.
Three chimneys are made with two parts each. Both faces have nice brick detail while the sides are bare. I scored creases into the sides to try to simulate masonry. Also, the chimneys are not molded open. I suggest carving them open before assembly.
After they were assembled and painted I trimmed and filed them to set where I needed them.
To create my stone facade I utilized ideas by RDA and other sources. I mainly used common craft store acrylics. When dry I sealed them with a solvent clear matte, then washed in the mortar per RDA's example.
The colors for the building trim follows practices of my Jackson Purchase & Texas Railroad, plus heavy use of the deep green exterior paint so common around the turn of the century.
Open (engine) house
If you follow RDA's directions this model should go together well. I spent about 11 hours building this building: two hours preparing and joining the walls; four getting the roofs on; two adding windows and doors and vents; another assembling the clerestory; a couple for painting. This does not count time pondering and dry-fitting as you may not have to do as much as I.
This is the kit OOB. I will be detailing this branchline engine house with exterior lamps, a smokestack, electrical lines, guttering and downspouts. Included in the kit are foundation pieces, steps, roof overhang support braces, and other objects not used with this model. RDA also includes a small powerplant boiler; I will find a way to utilize several of these items, such as the roof overhang support braces to hold an overhang above the doors. Check back and see!
Branch Line Engine House is a neat building that has good detail, allowing you to have a sharp looking stone building without dealing with cast plaster or Hydrocal. It has lots of accessories, and can be built into an interesting kit. The modular assembly allows you to make almost whatever you can imaging.
A minor drawback is that I do not think the differences in the pilasters, nor how to use them on the corners, are well explained. A major omission is the lack of engine stall doors.
I think this will build into a very nice small loco facility. It has potential for even more. I look forward to building it and happily recommend it.
We thank RDA for sending this sample. Please tell vendors and retailers that you saw this model here - on RailRoadModeling.