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  1. I've wanted to write this since last summer, when I picked out a model as a "demonstrator". I don't expect that all the material will fit in one post. This post covers part of my process for building scale models. I previously presented some of this material in a talk at Bricks By the Bay 2016, titled "How Do I Train?". Introduction I built Lego trains prior to heading off to college, but didn't take my bricks with me when I started school. I started building again when I returned. Seeing the high-quality work of the early train builders inspired me. In particular, Ben's works served as inspiration both before I left for college and after I returned. Like many builders, I base my models on real trains. I got started with my current building process when I wondered why my models didn't really look like the things they were baed on. Clearly, building a model while looking at references helps. But continually checking against known dimensions of the real thing will yield even better results. Scale Models The models I build now are scale models of real trains. A scale model is "a proportional replica of a physical object" (Wikipedia) The original object the model is based on is called the "prototype". The model reproduces the features of the prototype at a smaller size and also maintains the correct positioning of those features relative to each other. The amount of reduction is called the scale of the model. For example, a 1/6 scale model of a 6-foot tall person would be 1 foot tall. Here are two images from a pamphlet that illustrate the idea of "scale". This image shows the same plane modeled at different scales: The planes have the same proportions as each other and the original plane, even though they are all different sizes. This second photo shows models of different planes built at the same scale. As the planes are all scaled down from their prototypes by the same amount, the models accurately depict the difference in sizes between the real aircraft. Widths Are a Distraction Many train builders describe their models as 6-wide, 8-wide, etc, corresponding roughly to the width of the primary portion of the model. These are not scales. They are *sizes*. Widths are NOT scales! The width of a model is useful for explaining roughly how big it is, but the same width may reflect different scales depending on the size of the prototype. A Big Boy built at the same width as Stephenson's Rocket would be built at a smaller scale, because it is wider to begin with and has to fit in the same amount of space. Conversely, building at a fixed scale can result in models of different widths, reflecting the difference in sizes of the prototypes. Picking a Scale The first instinct when deciding to build at a fixed scale is to try to build at "minifig" scale. That approach is doomed to failure, or at least inconsistency. Minifigs have very different proportions than humans: A minifig is about twice as wide as a human the same height would be. Because of this fact, a minifig will seem either short or wide relative to a model of a real vehicle designed for real humans. The scale I choose to build at is 15 inches per stud (381mm / stud). This works out to about 1:48 scale. At this scale a minifig represents someone about 6 feet (183cm) tall. American and most continental European rolling stock is about 8 studs wide; British rolling stock clocks in at 7 or 8, depending on the size of the prototype. Constraints Generally, I avoid modifying parts or using third-party parts in my models. I make an exception for wheels from Big Ben Bricks. Ben offers a variety of wheel sizes which are helpful when building steam locomotives. His small wheels are slightly thinner than the official Lego ones and have no webbing between the spokes. On the other hand, the official Lego wheels feature grooves traction bands, which is important for making powered locomotives (more on this later). I also try to make sure that my models are able to run smoothly on standard Lego track. This means all arrangements of R40 curves and switches, or at least the ones I am likely to encounter at shows. Ideally the models can also handle some unevenness in the track. Planning Process Generally the first thing I do is pick a prototype to base my model on. Once I've done so, I locate references using search engines, Wikipedia, and more dedicated sites like RailPictures.net. If I find an interesting image I'll look at the site it comes from, which often turns up relevant information. Searching in other languages can yield additional information on foreign prototypes. I try to get photos of the prototype from a variety of angles, or at least pictures of other models of the prototype. Both of these can be tricky if the prototype is rare, exotic, or unique. The most important thing is to find an engineering drawing or blueprint. These images show the prototype from a few different angles, with critical dimensions labeled. They are helpful for constructing accurate models. Scaling The next thing I do is scale the technical drawing. To do so, I choose a labeled length, convert it to inches, then scale by the chosen scale. For example: The scaling equation yields the size of the chosen length in studs. I then overlay the drawing on Lego graph paper. The paper has vertical lines separated by the width of a brick and horizontal lines separated by the height of a plate. It's useful for building models that are primarily studs-up. The paper was previously available on Lego's website but has since disappeared. I've uploaded a pdf here. Here's what the drawing looks like overlaid: I usually colorize the drawing to make it stand out against the grid. Adjusting Numbers and Selective Compression From the earlier equation, you might remember that the distance between wheels scaled to 4.72 studs, which is not a whole number. In cases like this, I round to the nearest whole number (in this case 5). This process introduces some distortion in the model, but it's usually small and hard to detect. Here's another example where the dimensions didn't quite work out: Here, the distance between the center wheels and the two outside ones is ~5.5 studs. It would be inconvenient to place the middle wheel in that position if I wanted to implement working drive rods. For this model, I used a technique called selective compression. Selective compression is a modeling technique where certain features of the prototype may be reduced or omitted to reduce the size of the model. For example, a model-maker might omit some windows on a building while retaining their size and spacing, resulting in a smaller model. For the above model, I shortened the distance between the first and last driving axle by 1 stud: This yielded a more usable spacing of 5 studs between axles. Conclusion I hope you've enjoyed this look into my planning process for train models. Let me know your thoughts. If there's interest, I'll continue this series with some posts on building and motorizing models. Cheers!