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Written by Paul D. Race for Family Garden Trains

2006 Family Garden Trains Bargain of the Year Award

Most garden railroad and "Big Christmas Train" products are very good values. Considering that, when I was little, many Lionel or American Flyer "starter sets" cost about as much as a new refrigerator, we really do get a pretty good return on most of our model train investments. Still, every once in a while, I get to report on a spectacular value for fellow hobbyists. I would love to be able to sell these myself, but the truth is, the manufacturer selling them to the general public at a price that is far less than what hobby shops usually pay for this sort of thing WHOLESALE. In other words, I can't get them for you, and I have no commercial relationship to the manufacturer.

If you want to jump right to the web site and skip my descriptions, I'm talking about the Colorado Model Structures buildings.

I first became acquainted with these folks last spring when some of my readers showed me photos of railroads that used Colorado Model Structures buildings. When I checked out their web site, I couldn't believe the values.

Turns out that the owner's real job is making "machine tools," and he has the technology to make certain kinds of injection molds in his shop. He also enjoys garden railroading and has occasionally been called upon to consult on various model projects for other companies. So going from that experience to making his own buildings that other hobbyists could easily afford seemed to be a reasonable step, although I know the process well enough to know that each new project is a "labor of love" that requires countless hours of "donated" time.

I do admit that you don't get a fancy box, a store-bought paint job that will fade in a few seasons, or signage that will give your businesses the same names as everyone else's businesses. But my experience is that prepainted models age more quickly and look worse in a few years than models you paint yourself anyway. (See my article on Painting Plastic Structures for more details on that topic.) And our site give you free Business and Station Signs that you can use on any of these buildings. (If you need something specific, please email me and I'll see what I can do.)

One other concern is that the models have "mitered corners," which means that the fit is a little "touchy." These kits do not "snap together." You may need to file or sand an edge slightly to get the best fit. There is some flash (places where excess material got in between the "plates" of the mold and formed a sort of plastic halo around the main part). On a few pieces, the "texture" detail (such as the shingles) protrudes a tad beyond the edge of the structure. I know enough about the owner's machinery to know that this is a result of trying to make a mold for a few thousand dollars instead of a few hundred thousand dollars. And most models have "flash lines" of some sort that you have to trim off, so I don't consider the trimming a problem. You are allowed to handle sharp objects, aren't you?

Once properly assembled, the structures are very nice and sturdy. I have one of their towers, which I hope to use as a supplement to my Painting Plastic Structures article. Unfortunately, it is still "in the bag." But I've seen examples on other people's railroads, and they have a lot of possibility for a kit that costs a third of what many similar kits cost. In addition, hints for painting and examples of customer painting and kitbashing projects are provided on the Colorado Model Structures web site.

Here are some example products. Remember, they are dark gray and brown when they come in the mail, and your parents have to help you put them together. :-)

Virginia Mills Graining Co. - $44.95
Fitzwell Inn. - $39.95
Virginia Falls Station - $22.95
Virginia Crossing Tower - $19.95
Grandpa's House in "G" - $29.95
Public School - $39.95
Fire House - $39.95
Windows and Doors only
(for your own projects) - $5.95
As you can see, these are priced to make great "stocking stuffers" (if you have really big stockings). And they are inexpensive enough that you could buy enough to keep busy all winter without stressing the budget.

Enjoy your trains, and especially enjoy any time you have with your family in the coming weeks.

Best of luck,

Paul Race

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