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Written by Paul D. Race for Family Garden Trains

It Makes a City - Another Great Buy from Colorado Model Structures!

Longtime readers know that we've spent many hours trying to help garden railroaders achieve great results without huge investments. For example, a few (relative) dollars' worth of lumber, properly assembled, will help even the cheapest train run smoothly.

One unforseen expense for many families is the high cost of "store-bought" model buildings. Most families want their trains to serve communities and industries. But the "name brand" building companies seem to be charging more every year for, what is frankly, a fairly limited set of US-inspired buildings.

We've also experimented with the "store bought" garden railroad buildings enough to know that - despite the manufacturer's claims - they're not all that weather-resistant out of the box. The so-called UV-resistant plastic fades and turns brittle eventually, especially if the buildings are in "full sun." The windowpanes crystalize and yellow. The graphics fade (well I don't have a cure for that, per se, but we do offer many free downloadable graphics you can use to detail or restore buildings).

As a result of my experiments, I've come up with recommendations for painting and glazing plastic buildings that will double or triple the useful life of any building you buy in a box.

Here's the good news for the budget-conscious: A properly prepped $40 building from Colorado Model Structures will last longer than the average un-prepped out-of-the-box $200 building. And it can look better as well, assuming you have a good sense of color and aren't afraid to add appropriate details.

Colorado Model Structures' owner seems even more determined than we are to help ordinary families have nice garden railroads without spending the kids' college funds. Yes, his building take a Click to go to an article on prepping this $20 building to look good and last long on your railroadlittle more work to assemble than the expensive kits. And some of them take a little longer to paint, because more of the trim is molded in and needs masked for the best effect. But they can be pretty impressive if you prep them right.

As an example of a bargain, check out our article on a ~$20 building that looks great anywhere. I painted and glazed it the same way I would any model building and I have been very pleased with the result. (It did blow across the yard during a windstorm once, and "explode" when it hit something hard, but I have it reassembled to set out for our next open railroad.)

For several years, the same company has provided a number of relatively small buildings in the $20-30 range, several larger buildings in the $40 range, and one very impressive mine structure for about $70. But I don't have room for many more buildings, really, so I haven't been paying attention.

New And Even Better Values

Well, while I was off writing articles about other things, Colorado Model Structures has been offering even better values. Now you can get 3 different kits, each of which make a whole city block for under $45 apiece (as of May, 2013). There are townhouse, storefront, and industrial versions.

Again, I warn you, prepping these and putting them together take a tad more effort than properly prepping the equivalent Euro structures. But when you realize you'd pay $200 or more for the Euro equivalent of ONE section, and still have almost as much time into proper preparation, the value starts to become even more obvious.

The assembled townhouse and storefront kits are shown below. Please ignore the bright colors - CMS uses them so you can see the details in photographs. But you'll be painting these yourself anyway. Click to go to our article on detail painting these buildings.

Update, August, 2013 - I have been experimenting with one of the store fronts and have written an article on how to prime, mask, and paint these so they'll have maximum UV and weather protection, while looking their best. Check out our Detail Painting Storefronts article for many tips and step-by-step instructions.

Colorado Model Structurer offers this row of townhouses as a single, inexpensive kit.  Click for bigger photo.
Colorado Model Structures offers this row of storefronts as a single, inexpensive kit.  Click for bigger photo.
Residential City Block - CMS3022abc
Commercial City Block - CMS3022wxyz

Colorado Model Structures Marketstreet townhouse row with a commercial corner added.  Click for bigger photo.For about $10 more (as of May, 2013), CMS also offers the townhouse row with two sides of a commercial building on one end (Product #CMS3022abcyz). This is an ideal location for the kind of furniture or appliance stores that used to have the prime location in many small cities.

Depending on how you will be using these structures, you may buy extra "side walls" and "back walls" for a few dollars. You can also download lots of signage from our Resource Page for free.

The Market Street Industrial block. Click for bigger photo.If you want a manufacturing or warehouse district for your town, the Market Street Freight Center (#CMS3022uuvv), complete with loading dock, is available for less than $45.

The Freight Center just came out, so I haven't had much time to think about how to finish them yet. But one thing that occurs is that businesses didn't usually spend a lot of money on expensive signage when the only people seeing it were shippers and wholesalers. I'd think strongly about using stencils to paint business names directly on the storefronts, right over the "bricks."

Sample Business Name Stencil File. Click to download the zip file.Sorry, I don't have a lot of business names ready for stenciling right now. I have a few that I'm putting together for another project in this zip file The zip file includes pdf versions so you can see what you get or cut them out by hand, as well as .svg versions you can use to cut out stencils on most craftcutters (not counting Cricut - see our Introduction to Craftcutters article for an explanation).

What About Windows?

If you don't want to go to the trouble of glazing the windows with Lucite, you can order clear plastic sheeting when you order the buildings. To me, this seems to hold up better than the injection-molded windows that come with expensive kits, but I haven't had any of it installed long enough to be sure. Nor will I, probably - I much prefer the look of Plexiglass/acrylic/Lucite.

Rolling Your Own

If you would like a slightly different configuration, or you want to make any of the units freestanding, you can buy any component of these buildings for a few dollars. This is ideal if you have a shelf railroad or other space limitations.

Being able to buy individual components like the building fronts below will also give you almost unlimited kitbashing options. Extra roofs, backs, and sides are also available.

CMS Marketstreet's center-stair townhouse CMS Marketstreet's 2-door storefront CMS Marketstreet's 1-door storefront


The owner of Colorado Model Structures had built-up versions of these buildings on display at the 2013 National Garden Railroading Convention, June 5-10, near Cincinnati, Ohio. Click to go to our article on detail painting these buildings.I got several of the storefronts so I could demonstrate the steps of prepping and painting one of these buildings. One clinic attendee on the last day was so impressed, she left the clinic early to make certain she could get some of these before they were packed away.

Since then I have put together an article on the ways I detailed the storefront I used in the clinics. Click here for details.

To get a jump start on your projects and order your kits directly, please visit the Colorado Model Structures web page.

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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