The Laurel Coaling Tower

In mid-April, 2007, we got a whopper of a rainstorm in central New Jersey. Our basement is very dry normally, with a bit of water showing up at the bottom of the sump on rare occasions. This time, water filled the lower floor section of the basement, up to the level of the top of the 2" step. Water also seeped up though cracks in the higher level of the floor. The layout wasn't damaged, but it took several weeks for the water to dry out (the water table had to drop back down), and another week or so to get the floor cleaned (Denise did most of that - what a wonderful woman!).

Since I didn't want all that time to go to waste, I decided to build a structure (finally! The last one I built was probably well over ten years ago - other things to do all the time). I've collected most of the structures for the Laurel engine terminal. I thought about doing the roundhouse or sandhouse / tower, but since I can't run additional tracks to the turntable until the coaling tower and ashpit are finished, I picked the Coaling Tower.

Since a lot of the folks on seemed interested, I decided to go though the project here on the site.

The first thing I did, of course, was unpack the kit. Pretty basic, so I didn't get a picture of that.

Actually, I didn't get any pictures until I ran into some lack of clarity in the instructions and posted that on a forum.

Construction of the Tower started with the basics - scan through the instructions to get an idea of how the thing goes together, then start the assembly with step 1.

All throughout construction, I cut parts from the sprues as the were needed for assembly, not before. I shaved and filed away the sprue tags on the parts. Like I said, the basics. I'm not fanatical in cleaning up parts - I make sure there are no threads attached and the sprue tags are flush, but that's about it.

I started by painting the base a concrete color - it's molded in a dark grey, along with all the parts that are supposed to be metal on the structure. I let the base dry while I washed the main tower walls with a very diluted grimy black. This is the first time I've used Polly S paints, and I'm really pleased with them.

After weathering the main walls of the tower and of the coal loading bay, I assembled them to the base. I also added the first of the four lights I decided to add to the structure. It looked like this at that point:

At about this point, I ran into my two problems with the kit - while assembling the coal chutes the illustrations turned out to be unclear in details of their assembly, and while installing them after figuring it out, I discovered the thread supplied with the kit for rope is too big for the parts through which it's supposed to be threaded! Now, maybe the first was because I was a bit thick-headed that day (after all, I'm only an aerospace engineer!), but the second is really inexcusable in a production kit.

My wife found a spool of black sewing thread which is much thinner than the thread supplied with the kit, so I used that instead. Here's how the kit looked after I installed the two inner coal chutes. The light in the third photo is a 12v Miniatronics bulb. It's supposed to be the same size as their 1.5v bulbs, which fit the shades (also Miniatronics) perfectly, but you can see how out-sized this bulb is.


After solving the thread problem, I moved ahead with the installation of the exterior parts, including the individual battens, the pulleys and the coal chutes. I continued with the addition of the lighting as well.

All the metal parts received a wash of dilute rust-colored paint. The paint for the most part settles into the corners of the parts, giving a very realistic joint between "metal" parts that have seen years of use. In these progress photos you can see the wires for the lights sticking out the top of the structure.

At the man door at the hoist room at the very top of the structure you can see the fourth light I installed. That one, and the one in the unloading bay, are 1.5v bulbs. The other two are 12v bulbs, so are much brighter.

The rest of the tower went together easily. I weathered the base using the same wash of very dilute grimy black, and did the same on the entire structure. The stairs were a bit tricky, but with a little care they went together without a hitch.
Before I attached the roof over the hoist room I soldered the leads to the wires for the lights. I used good old telephone wire, since I have a lot of it laying around. I also made sure to use heat-shrink tubing over the soldered connections to prevent shorts. I have four leads running down through the hoist tower and out the base of the unit - two for the 1.5v bulbs, and two for the 12v bulbs. I also labeled these leads so I wouldn't make a mistake while hooking them up and blow the 1.5v bulbs by putting 12v to them! After soldering the leads, I glued the roof in place.

Gluing the roof in place was probably a mistake. I won't be able to get into the tower to change a bulb if one ever burns out!

These photos show the unit in it's final place on the layout. All in all, I think it came out OK! Installation of additional track awaits completion of the ashpit. Final scenery awaits that, the sandhouse, the backdrop, the roundhouse, the... you get the idea.


Construction Progress

Construction Methods