The Val Ease Central Railroad

Taking Z Scale to the Public Around the World
(Text and photos Copyright Jeffrey MacHan

Last Spike: A PURRfect kitbash

Mike Ruffone, reporting live from Centre Val Ease

Good morning, dear listeners. We're here today at the grand opening of Val Ease County's newest manufacturing operation, the PURRfect Catfood Company. It appears that we have a few moments to wait as HIzzoner, the mayor of Val Ease East, and Miss Terry Investor, the CEO of PURRfect Catfood make their way through the crowd to the podium.

Located in the former Sparkling Spring Water Bottling Plant, the PURRfect Catfood Company has invested an undisclosed sum to completely refurbish and equip the new factory. For those of you who have not been following the long-running saga of this redevelopment project, the former bottling plant was forced to close rather suddenly when Bass McTrout, a well-known local fisherman snagged the hose of the plant's water intake line while fishing off the dock of Val Ease Port Authority. Despite the best efforts of the local Chamber of Commerce to keep the plant afloat as it were, federal regulators forced the closure of the plant and decreed a recall of all "Sparkling Spring" products nationwide. The loss of 70 jobs hit the local economy very hard to say the least.

The unexpected arrival of PURRfect promises the creation of more than 100 jobs at the plant. Local residents have responded enthusiastically to the company's invitation to bring road kill and deceased family pets to PURRfect recuperation centers located conveniently at participating veterinarians throughout the Valley.

Oh, It looks like the ribbon cutting ceremony is about to begin....

The transformation of the LifeLike factory to a more modest Z industrial building was basically a question of lowering the height of the floors, narrowing the width, removing a section of the smoke stack and repositioning the power house to the rear of the plant.

The PURRfect Catfood Company made the decision to make do with an existing building and convert it to their needs. The same is often the case in Z-scale modelling where we are faced with limited choices for scale structures. Fortunately, our friends in N-scale have a large variety of plastic kits and pre-built structures which we can sometimes remodel to our needs.

The space available for a trackside industry in Centre Val Ease was a narrow strip at the base of the escarpment separating Lower and Upper Centre Val Ease. I wanted an industry that would generate incoming and outgoing traffic using tankers and the occasional box car. At the time I was hunting for candidates, there were really no Z structures that would fit the available 2 inch by 5 inch footprint.

While browsing the aisles of my local hobby shop I came across a series of LifeLike built-up structures. The "Coverall Paint Factory" looked appealing although to the untrained eye, it didn't seem a likely candidate for CVE. But as I looked closer, I noticed that the structure had definite possibilities for successful surgery.

The biggest giveaways that an N-scale structure is, well, N-scale, are the windows and doors. Twelve-foot high doors are rather rare on Z buildings as are fifteen-foot high double-hung windows. The brick pattern on siding can also be a problem. However, the twelve-foot high industrial windows and the cinder-block pattern of the LifeLike paint factory were more than acceptable for my Z-scale industry. The areas that needed work were the height separating the two stories of the building, it's width and the height of the smoke stack.

(cutting and remodelling diagram)
The solution to all three problems was in my tool box, a razor saw, a jewelers flat file and a Northwest Short Line (NWSL) True-Sander. I'm pretty handy with a razor saw, especially when all I have to do is cut along a molded edge as was the case here. I have discovered that a razor saw doesn't always cut in a straight line. To compensate I like to cut slightly outside the desired edge, leaving some plastic as a buffer zone, and then file down to the final line. This helps me avoid having to fill in nicks and dips later on. The NWSL True-Sander really gives true straight edges. After a couple of passes with the sander, my upper and lower stories fit together PURRfectly. A fine bead of UHU styrene cement fused the joint into a solid bond.

Narrowing the factory to slightly wider than the boiler house was simply a matter of scribing a vertical line with a hobby knife tip along a steel straight edge, then cutting very carefully at a slight inward angle to create a corner bevel. I was also very careful to remove the corner strip from the outside wall without damaging the corner. Sanding the bevelled edge helped make a straight and smooth joint. The last major operation with the razor saw was to narrow the roof to slightly larger than the outline of the four supporting walls.

I added vertical drain pipes along the repaired edges to hide any imperfections in my cutting, filing and gluing. Adding a loading bay door and interior details and lighting completed the job. The storage tanks were kept intact although I removed the pipes that would normally have crossed over the tracks to the plant since they interfered with track cleaning. And what's a chimney without smoke? A ceramic sheathed Seuth smoke generator fits snugly into the top of the chimney. The ceramic sheath keeps the unit from heating the plastic chimney to the melting point. The generator is wired to a miniature sliding ON-OFF switch that I installed out of sight in the back of the boiler house. The main structure is glued to the layout base but the boiler house is positioned using flat magnetic strips which allow me to simply tip the chimney and attached boiler house on it's side when the time comes to close up the suitcase. The polarity of the "matched" magnetic strips makes setting up CVE a snap.

Kitbashing, kitmingling or scratchbashing using N-scale styrene kits as a starting point can be a highly rewarding method to craft interesting and unique Z structures. The next time you drop by a swap meet or your local hobby shop, cast your Z-eye over the N section. You just might find the PURRfect solution to your layout needs.