Wolf Creek roundhouse

An engine service area with turntable and a roundhouse can be quite an eye catcher on a layout, and as we worked on the track plan for Vigdis’ layout we planned for such an area in one corner of the room. There are many great kits on the market, But Vigdis wanted something a little more unique. Scratch building is always a possibility, but she didn’t feel quite ready for that yet, and so we resorted to searching on the Internet for other solutions. At Andersen Model Kits she found exactly what she was looking for; an old style wood craftsman kit of the Wolf Creek engine house and machine shop, which would match perfectly with the Laws turntable kit from Sequoia Scale Models she had ordered earlier.

The roundhouse has no specific prototype, but was originally scratch built by Dwight Ennis back in the 80’s. His design was a mix of different inspiration sources, mainly the Southern Pacific Lenzen roundhouse in San Jose, CA. Tom Andersen was looking for a roundhouse for his own H0n3 layout, and contacted Dwight after seeing pictures of his model on the Internet. After visiting Dwight and taking a lot of pictures, Tom built his own version of the roundhouse, and about a year later he came up with the idea of marketing it as a kit.

Tom manufactures each kit by hand on order, so there are many ways of adjusting the roundhouse. During this process there was a lot of e-mailing back and forth, and we had a great dialogue where we got a lot of help to adapt the model as we wanted. He was also very helpful during the building process, whenever we were stuck or not sure how to do things.

When all was decided, I made a simple CAD drawing (below) and e-mailed over to Tom, so he could start making the parts. We ended up with four stalls of 70 feet in length including two with inspection pit, the stall angle was reduced to 9 degrees, and the side building with the machine shop was moved to the other side of the roundhouse to better fit the limited space we had available.

CAD drawing of the roundhouse

This was also his first order from Norway, a little funny considering that he is of Norwegian descent and his grandfather immigrated to Michigan in 1912. Subsequently, we have also received feedback that he has received several inquiries from Norway, including a large order of trees that his wife Julie produces.

After a few months the kit arrived in the mail, but when we opened the box and saw a bunch of wooden sticks (below) we were suddenly a bit more skeptical. What on earth had we embarked upon!? ... Luckily it came with detailed assembly instructions, pictures and drawings with descriptions of the various parts, plus cutting jigs and several sheets of full size templates to be used as base for the construction. Still, it was a pretty big change from the kits we were used to, where all the parts were finished and the whole thing should just be put together.

Package from the US containing wooden sticks

The foundation for the roundhouse consists of five plywood pieces with milled slots for the tracks (Micro Engineering code 55) and inspection pits as ordered. When using another brand of track, the depth and width of the slots must be changed accordingly, but such is specified with the order. In addition, there were several bags with doors, windows and other small parts from Grandt Line and Monster Model & Laser Works among other.

Since the roundhouse would appear old and a bit shabby, something had to be done with the untreated and bright yellow wood. Instead of going over all surfaces with paint, we decided to try out another technique that we read about on the net; M. C. Fujiwara and his "Big Jug O’ Stain'. After the pieces were cut to correct lengths, they were put in a bath consisting essentially of pure isopropanol interspersed with small dabs of various earth tones from Woodland Scenics and mixed into a thin gray mix. There the parts would lie for a little while soaking up the dye, before being picked out and spread out on a paper towel to dry. The degree of coloring varies slightly from piece to piece, but I think this variation helps to create a little more life in the wood. The length of the process is also affecting the end result, we let the pieces soak for about 15 minutes.

While we were planning our roundhouse, Tom was working on a different and simpler roof construction, wondering what solution we wanted. Although the original design was considerably more complicated, we chose to stick with it, as it would also provide many more details. In the picture below, Vigdis is busy mass producing roof trusses, there are 4 trusses of different lengths for each stall. On the cutting board to the right are some of the support posts that will eventually be installed at the ends of each truss, these have not yet been dyed. When the trusses are finished, rods and turnbuckles will be fitted, and dummy bolts with nut and washer mounted in all joints. The rods are made of thin piano wire/guitar string bent and threaded through small holes drilled in the wood, while the turnbuckles and nut/bolt castings are from Grandt Line.

Producing trusses en mass

Inner dividing walls

Outer side walls

The walls were constructed right on top of the templates included with the kit. The three inner divider walls are a simple frame construction, while the two outer walls in addition were covered with individual boards. The second picture above shows two of the inner walls partly finished, still missing diagonal braces between the posts and stringers on both sides. The stringers will support the roof trusses when the building eventually comes together. The third picture above shows the finished outer walls, with the cut-outs for the windows and openings for the machine shop done after all the boards were fastened. All wood parts are mainly glued with ordinary wood glue, except for a few smaller details that were glued with super glue for instant and solid bonding.

The rear walls are constructed the same way as the side and divider walls, right on top of the template. We chose to build the walls with slight variations; one wall with sliding doors, one wall with a window, and two as plain walls, but any configuration is obviously possible. The picture below shows all the different sub-assemblies temporarily put together for the very first time, to see if and where there is a need for adjustments. On each side of the rear walls there are pretty large gaps, quite deliberately. These gaps will be filled and covered with boards when all the adjustments are made, so that the rear walls help to stiffen up the structure. The sliding door handles are made of piano wire, and above the doors are dummy nut/bolt castings like the ones used on the trusses and divider walls.

Testfitting all the sub-assemblies

After the foundation was put together, the tracks were prepared. Feeder wires were soldered on and threaded through to the underside of the foundation (picture below), and the inspection pits were finished with side walls and floor. Weathering the pits was done before the track was glued in place, and finally the ties were cut for the pit openings.

Track fan

With the track securely in place, the processing of the roundhouse floor could begin. Between and on the outside of the rails were glued 1mm plywood to cover the ties, this was first covered with a thin layer of cement based compound mixed with a little gray paint. The result, however, was not to our satisfaction (first picture below), so we decided to cover the entire floor with a 1mm to 1.5mm thick layer of the same compound, before sanding everything down again (second picture below). We kept the plywood strips between the rails, as it could prove difficult to clean the flangeways afterwards if that entire area was covered. At the same time, we placed small guiding pins for the posts, since the wall assembly will be lifted up and removed if necessary. We also drilled holes in the posts accordingly, and used a countersink for easy centering of the pins when the walls are placed back onto the foundation.

Rejected sample of concrete floor

Floor covered with compound before sanding

After the floor was sanded down, it was treated with a light "wash" in various gray-black shades, this was done before the walls were put temporarily in place. Then she used black weathering powder around the posts and corners, plus some light gray powder around elsewhere on the floor. The result was not bad (picture below), but a little too bright for our taste, so she did the weathering one more time and made the floor a bit darker (main picture at the top of the article).

The floor after first round of weathering powder

With the floor finished, the final wall assembly was next in line. On the ends of each rear wall she glued a small strip, which was sanded into a tapered shape to hold the side and divider walls in the correct vertical position with the rear walls in place. Then the missing boards were glued to the outside, before the entire structure got a final round of weathering powder.

Finally the trusses were permanently fixed in place, and now the structure is more than stiff enough to be lifted up and removed from the foundation without any problems.

The roundhouse as seen from one side

Fitting the rear walls

Wall adjustment using wooden strips

The roundhouse as seen from the other side

As of today, the completion of the roof with clerestory along the ridge remains, as does the side structure with the machine shop. The roundhouse and machine shop will eventually get fixtures from Scale Structures, and we have bought a lighting kit with 20 micro-LEDs from Ngineering put together specifically for this model.