New Milestone: Structure Cores

I’ve spent the past week or so pushing to complete the structural core of each of the buildings on my rendition of the International Paper plant on Tonawanda Island.  I’ve reached that goal, marking another milestone in the construction of my layout.

There are a few minor buildings that I will eventually build, but the construction of those will be slightly different.  I chose to build all of the large structures from .080″ styrene in order to make them more stable and allow for fewer braces.  Thick styrene is a bit more difficult to work with, and the fact that I started with a 4′ x 8′ sheet presented a few unexpected difficulties, mostly around handling and snapping such an unwieldy piece of plastic.  I eventually worked out a system by which I would use a utility knife to score and a wall corner to snap the plastic.

After using up a 1 oz bottle of plastic welding adhesive that I bought for around $8 from the hobby store, I wised up and bought some adhesive from the store that sold me the styrene sheets.


This setup cost me $15 for 16 oz of adhesive, and $3 for the applicator.  I already had the pipette for decanting.  I’m always in favour of supporting hobby stores, but this was one of those projects where I was using such a large volume of materials that it made sense to buy in much larger quantity.  Despite the savings that I realized, I would suggest that the vast majority of hobbyists will never actually use more than a few ounces of adhesive over the course of a couple of years, and so this approach might not make sense for you.

I’ve built a very stable core for each of the large structures, over which I plan to add a veneer of styrene to represent the surface of the building.  The few photos that I’m working from indicate that the buildings at the factory appear to have been made from a range of materials over a period of time.  The veneer that I choose for each building will reflect that. I’ll cut openings in the core of the structure to allow for windows and doors to be installed into the veneer.  The only exception to this will be a long building that will serve as a flat against the wall.  That building will have windows that are frosted and mounted directly to the building core.

Here’s a tour of the plant buildings.  Remember that all of the exterior details are missing, as are all of the small buildings.  Of course, the entire array of tanks related to the digesting, bleaching, colouring, and chemical recovery processes are also missing.  I’ve pulled some of the colour out of the photos to make all of that stark white plastic show up better in the photos.

Finishing, Packaging, Shipping


The photo above shows the warehouse and shipping structure on the right.  This building will have rows of windows running its length, and represents a kind of mirror image of the actual building.  The two tracks that enter the shipping area either work as load-through from track 1 to track 2, or off-spot storage on track 2.  There are three spots on each track inside the building.  This is also where some of the packaging materials will arrive.  The building to the left of the warehouse is the finishing/packing building, and the next building over is where the paper machines are located.  The track in the foreground is the bulk coal storage area.  Not only is coal unloaded and stored on the ground here, but coal is also loaded back into hoppers and shuttled to the power house.


Paper Making Machines

The photo below shows an overview from the reverse angle of the same location.  The  shipping/warehouse is on the right.  The buildings housing the paper making machines are the large building in the middle with the peaked roof and the building attached to the front of it.




The next structure (below) is the annex to the paper making building where materials for treating the paper and pulp are received.  Shipments here will include kaolin, dyes, bleach, and other things related to making paper I haven’t quite figured out yet.

IMG_9554In the photo above, the two boxcars are spotted where the doors into the structure will be.  The boxcar on the left is spotted in a location that can double as tank car unloading facilities.  Facilities for that will be in the foreground of that spot.  The building on the far left of the above image is a very compressed rendition of the chemical recovery boiler. Some small buildings and tanks related to the liquids recovered at the boiler will populate the space between the two boxcars and the two tracks in the foreground. Note the 55 ton hopper hiding in the background.  That will be barely visible under a covered unloading pit.


Power House, Tank Car Unloading

In the photo below, you’ll see that same hopper car spotted in the location where the unloading pit will be.  I have to alter the tracks here a bit, so I’ve laid two Fast Tracks switch templates in the locations where I’ll be installing them.



In the above photo, the building behind the hopper car is the power house.  The building in front of the hopper car is the chemical recovery boiler seen in the reverse angle from the previous photo.  There’s a track that sneaks between the hopper car and the recovery boiler that goes to the two spots occupied by the boxcars in the previous photo.  The two tank cars in the foreground are spotted on another track I have yet to install.  Sulphuric acid and chlorine are received here.


Wood Chips and Digester


The last area of the plant is in the above photo, taken from the reverse angle of the previous photo.  This is where the paper making process begins, and as a result, this whole area has fewer large structures and will eventually feature lots of tanks and piping.  The chemical recovery boiler is on the right, and the same two tank cars are to the left of it.  The track in the background is where inbound trains arrive from North Tonawanda yard.  A building flat against the backdrop will represent two buildings where pulping takes place.  The track that goes off to the left at the front edge of the layout splits into two tracks.  One track is where boxcars of wood chips are spotted, and the other track is for more tank car unloading.  Again, this whole area at the left of this photo will be populated with tanks and piping related to the digesting of pulp and the storage and processing of the various other liquid stuff that comes in tank cars (I’ll need to do more research on the details).


Looking Forward

Even a small paper plant like the one I’m modelling is a vast and complicated place.  I had to do some serious compression to make a reasonable rendition of a small plant in 12 feet of layout.  I can’t recreate the actual track plan, and I can only really make buildings that are inspired by those that were at the plant.  Still, I think I’m on my way to achieving my goal of representing the place and the traffic with some accuracy.

These structure cores double as nice placeholders for the finished buildings that they will eventually become.  They also bring me that much closer to having more realistic operating sessions.  I can begin work on the buildings that I know about (like the warehouse) while I continue to research and identify the complicated operations at the other end of the process.



4 thoughts on “New Milestone: Structure Cores

  1. Hi Hunter,

    Your post has inspired me to break out my sheet of .080″ styrene and build the structure cores I need for my paper plant located on CN’s Pine Street Spur. Curious what, if anything, you used as internal bracing to keep the walls straight & square. I’m guessing they are not just the sheets of plastic that are visible externally, but that there’s something on the inside providing the shape. I was thinking of laminating the styrene to foamboard to help keep the walls straight, but it may be better to just use more plastic as bracing. Do you have a back view of any of the structures you could share to give some idea of what’s going on inside?



    • During the setup of a pair of walls, I’ll place one wall on the workbench and brace the other wall against it with a pair of setup blocks and some machinists squares to hold everything at right angles. Once everything is right where I want it, I run a bead of cement into the joint and let it sit for 10 to 20 seconds. Then I go through my scraps of styrene and make up some right angle triangles that I glue into the inside corners to give every joint a bit more support. Key to all of this is that I have a relatively large work surface that’s very flat (not perfect, but very close) and smooth. I can confidently cement walls together using the workbench surface as a starting point.

      I’ll post some pics of the inside of a building when I get a chance.

  2. Hi Hunter, I am going to need to build some fairly large structures on my S scale layout. The Can Company in Simcoe Ontario is one, which will require a lot of styrene. May I ask where you purchased the 4×8 sheet? I have looked in the Brantford Area before and haven’t come up with anything. Thanks, David

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