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Building a Vintage Lithographed Station - Click for bigger photo.Return to Big Indoor Trains(tm) primer pageOn30 Display Trains
O Scale Accessories
O Gauge Christmas TrainsOn30 Christmas Trains

Written by Howard Lamey and Paul Race
for Big Indoor Trains™

Is it tin?  Or just a great tribute? Read on for more informationNote from Editor - Introducing Tribute to Tinplate: Florida hobby and craft designer Howard Lamey has created many projects reminiscent of the illuminated pasteboard houses that brightened many North American households during Christmas seasons between 1928 and 1965 (often called "putz" houses from the German word for "puttering around.") This project, however, is a first step in a new direction: It's a tribute to an even older tradition - the tinplate villages and trains that surrounded so many Christmas trees in the early 1900s. Big Indoor Trains ramping up to create and contribute some of our own lithograph-inspired downloadable graphics for projects in this series, so look out for some big, nostalgic fun.

Click to see the article about building this structure.Alert readers will note that this is not Howard's first Lionel-inspired building project - in 2008, he designed a Union Station project inspired by one of Lionel's most beloved tin stations.

Although one could build our "Tribute to Tinplate" structures from sheet tin, we are making them from cardboard. Ironically, this reflects yet another tradition - when tinplate trains and towns were in vogue, Japanese companies manufactured heavily-shellacked cardboard houses and stations that you could use to supplement your empire. Today putz house collectors call these old Lionel and Ives-inspired cardboard houses "Lackies," because of the lacquer that made them almost as shiny as the metal structures that inspired them.

If you're an O-gauge collector, you'll recognize a lot of influence from the American Flyer Hyde Park Station, a lithographed, stamped metal station made in the early 20th century. - Paul

Lewis Park Station

This is an easy project that was designed to look good with vintage trains. When Paul sent me the original graphic, he let me decide what size roof and platform to include, so I printed out a copy in black and white (saving my inkjet's cartridges) and made a mock-up before I began the final structure.

Because this doesn't require a lot of window-frame cutting, the mockup went together pretty fast. When I went back and did the "final structure," I was more careful, but it still went together faster than most of our cardboard house projects.

What You Will Need

  • Clean solid cardboard, such as from cereal boxes or the backs of writing tablet. I doubled the thickness of the roof to get a more solid appearance, so you might keep that in mind.
  • Corrugated cardboard for the station platform and building foundation
  • A sharp mat knife or Xacto knife
  • Elmer's white Glue-All. A glue stick would also come in handy.
  • Several sheets of acid-free white bond paper
  • Acrylic paint for the roof and platform. Following the example of American Flyer's Hyde Park Station, I used dark green for the roof and dark gray for the station platform. If you wanted to use dark red for the roof, that would also provide a vintage look, since several similar structures had dark red roofs.
  • Access to the Internet and a color printer.
For a more comprehensive list of tools and supplies that come in handy on any cardboard house project, please refer to our article What You Need to Build Glitterhouses.

A Note about Scale

Many early O-gauge and O27 trains are more like toys than models, so the "scale" of the trains and accessories are all over the map. A few pieces even are closer to HO (1:87) in scale than they are to O (usually 1:48). On the other hand, some accessories made to go with O27 trains are half again as large as they should be, since they're holdovers from earlier Standard Gauge products. So if you want your tinplate-inspired projects to look right with your existing equipment, you probably want to do a "mockup" first, as I did. As you can see, the station looks a tad small next to a Lionel "Docksider"-style engine (which is a fairly small locomotive). However it looks plenty big next to the Marx passenger car I plan to use with it.

Click for bigger photo.Click for bigger photo.

This project's appearance is based on an existing American Flyer model that was made to go with Standard gauge trains, but its size has been adapted to look good with my Marx tinplate trains. The mockup verified that. On the other hand, if you want the station to look good with the bigger Lionel O gauge trains, you might want to bump up the size a little when you print. If you want to go "way up," start with the Standard Gauge plans and shrink them as you print. Or you may have the "chops" to manipulate the JPG version.

Print the Patterns

This project has a structure pattern that you will need to cut out and transfer to cardboard, as well as a station wall graphic sheet that you will use to finish your station's appearance. Graphic sheets are also available to go with Standard or Large Scale trains - these are about 1.6 times the size of the "O" version, so you'll have to adjust the measurements of the other pieces accordingly. Again, doing a mock-up to make certain the finished structure will look right with your existing equipment is very important.

You may print the structure pattern on any sort of paper, since you're simply using this to transfer the plan to your cardboard medium. However the "lithograph" graphic should be printed on acid-free heavy paper or card stock.

Double-click on this image to see a higher resolution pattern.Double-click on this image to see a higher resolution pattern.
Double-click on this image to see a higher resolution pattern.Double-click on this image to see a higher resolution pattern.

Printing the Plans - We've provided two versions to help you print the plans at the size you need.

  • If you have Adobe Acrobat Reader on your computer:
    • Click here to open the pdf version of the first sheet. Select the print option, tell it to "auto rotate and center" or whatever else you need to make it go to Landscape mode. Don't select the "scale to page" or "shrink to fit" option. Print.
    • Click here to open the pdf version of the second sheet. Print as you did the first sheet.
    • Click here to open the pdf version of the third sheet. Print as you did the first sheet.
    • We've provided the "lithograph" pattern for both O/O27 gauge trains and for Standard Gauge/Large Scale trains.
      • For O/O27 Click here to open the pdf version of the fourth sheet. This sheet should be printed on acid-free high-grade paper or card stock. Note: Consider printing this sheet in black and white first to double-check the size against your existing equipment.
      • For use with Standard Gauge/Large Scale trains, print two of each of the following sheets.

        Note: If after you've done the mockup, you decide you need the patterns and graphic sheet to be a different size, simply adjust the % value up or down in the print setup screen the next time you print them.

    • If you don't have Adobe Acrobat Reader on your computer or for some reason that doesn't work, click on the pattern illustrations above to open a big .jpg version of each pattern. Choose the "file, page setup" from your browser. When the page setup menu comes up, select "landscape mode." You should also disable the "print to fit" option if you have one.

    If neither of those work, contact Paul and ask him for help - that's his department. :-)

A note about Copyright - However you use these plans and graphics for your personal use, please keep in mind that the lithograph graphic is copyright by Paul Race and is not to be copied, re-used, republished, or repurposed without prior permission and appropriate credit. Commercial use without prior permission is illegal and expressly forbidden. Paul likes making resources like this available to hobbyists, but they are expensive and time-consuming to produce and publish, and it's frustrating to see other folks profiteering off his hard work. In other words, if you like having this kind of resource available and you'd like to see more, please respect the creator's rights.

Building the Station Backing

I cut out the backing pieces for the side and end walls before I mounted the graphics to them. Note that you should adjust the lateral measurements of the backing pieces so that they are slightly less than the size of the lithograph sheet. (If a backing piece is a tiny bit narrower than it should be, you can nip an extra bit off of the lithograph sheet to make it fit, and camouflage the cut with a fine-tip marker. If a backing piece is a tiny bit wider than it should be, it's pretty hard to stretch the graphic paper to cover it.)

I scored the folds and glued the walls together in a rectangle. Then I cut out a piece of scrap cardboard to test the size of the roof.

Click for bigger photo.Note: Construction of the base is actually described in the next paragraph.  Click for bigger photo.

Building the Base

The base is a rectangular "box" built up from corrugated cardboard. It should be about 6" x 4 5/8" x 1/2" if you want to retain the relative proportions of the original structure. [Editor's note: I'd probably go a little more realistic here, and have an extra couple of inches in both directions so the little people and their imaginary baggage carts can walk or roll around all four walls of the station. But that's not the way the original tinplate building was made - Paul]

  1. Make the base from three or four layers of corrugated cardboard glued together in a sandwich.

  2. Wrap and glue a strip of cereal-box cardboard all around it to camouflage the rough edges of the corrugated cardboard.

  3. When the base is built, cover it with white bond paper just like you would wrap a gift, except that all surfaces of the paper cover must be glued down to the box. A glue stick works great for this.

    Note: For more information about building bases for vintage-style cardboard houses, please see our Glitterhouse Bases article.

Click for bigger photo.After you have built the base, cut the foundation piece out of corrugated cardboard and set it loosely on the base. Position your station over it (as shown above) to make certain it is a secure, but not overly tight fit.

Painting the Base

Once you're certain of the fit, prime the base and paint it with several coats of glossy paint in the color of your choice. Industrial gray was the color most often chosen for this kind of structure in the tinplate days.

Building the Roof

Once you are satisfied with the dimensions of the roof, build it up from layers. I used two layers of thick cardboard from the back of writing tablets, then the top surface was cereal box cardboard, chosen because it is relatively smooth and takes a crease nicely.

Make certain that as the glue dries, the roof stays bent at the correct angle to fit over the structure properly.

There is no printing on the original, so I finished the roof by priming, then painting it with several colors of glossy deep green paint.

Apply the Graphics

  1. Apply the printed graphics. Only do a section at a time. Measure carefully, make crisp folds, apply glue and press in place.

  2. Trim the edges of the graphic paper, if necessary. The easy part of building this structure is that you don't have to do anything with the window and door frames. The hard part is getting the corners to line up exactly.

  3. After the graphic sheets have dried in place, you will see white edges at the corner. With a black felt-tip pen, marker, or acrylic paint and a very tiny brush, carefully coat just the edge of the paper or card stock, trying not to make the printed lines any wider than they already are.
Click for bigger photo.Click for bigger photo.


Click for bigger photo.Wait until the glued-on graphics are thoroughly dry, then spray the station body with spray it with several light coats of a clear glossy indoor/outdoor acrylic finish. This protects it somewhat from moisture and dust and also helps reduce fading. In addition, it makes thelithography pattern "pop." Do not such a heavy coat in one pass that you cause any streaks, runs, or drips, though, or you'll have to start over.

When that is dry, glue the whole building together. I would add another coating or two of acrylic spray for good measure. However it won't soak in anywhere on the structure by now, so be careful to keep your coats light.

Click for bigger photo.Of course the station will really come to life when you add figures, accessories, and trains. The photo to the right shows a Bachmann-manufactured On30 streetcar at the platform level, and several Marx-style O27 pieces on the raised track. This station would serve any O gauge/O27 Lionel or On30 Hawthorne Village train equally well. (For American Flyer S gauge consider reducing the size by to about 75%, but you'll want to try a mockup first to be sure anyway.)


If you like this project, stay in touch - more are on the way. In the meantime, you might like to take a look at the following projects.

  • Easy Street Scene - This new Click to go to articlebuilding project uses downloadable building graphics and a little cardboard or foam board to build up a convincing downtown scene that is only a few inches deep - perfect for shelf layouts, tight spots, and dioramas. We also provide links to high-resolution graphics that will work for any scale.

  • Click to go to article Click to go to article Build a Vintage-Style Cardboard Stone Cottage - This building project is made like the vintage cardboard houses folks used to set around their Christmas tree in the early 1900s (before glitterhouses became common), but its design was inspired by a building that shows up on the "Isle of Sodor." The building uses free downloadable graphic paper to put a realistic stone veneer on an old-world cottage and fence. It works with Christmas villages, or with a little customization, would dress up any indoor railroad. A "brick cottage" option is also shown.

  • Click to go to articleLog Cabin Building Flat - This "building flat" uses downloadable graphics and foam board or cardboard to dress up a narrow corner of your railroad or village. The techniques in this project can be used for almost any kind of building you want to represent in a tiny space. December, 2007

  • Build a Vintage-Style Barn and Silo - This Click to see article.building project uses downloadable graphics to put realistic shingles and siding on an old barn and silo. Like the stone cottage above, it works with Christmas villages, or with a few changes, it would dress up an indoor railroad.

  • Click to go to this project.Building the Union Station - This original project by designer Howard Lamey is inspired by two traditions - the cardboard Christmas houses that were popular in US homes between 1928 and 1965 and the Lionel station that was popular for most of the 20th century.

Other Articles about cardboard houses include:

To Return to the BIG Indoor Trains(tm) Primer Page, click here.Return to Big Indoor Trains(tm) primer page

Click to sign up for the 'Trains-N-Towns™' newsletter, with articles about display villages, indoor railroading, and much more

Click to see new and reissued Lionel trains

Click to visit Big Indoor Trains, with free articles about O gauge and On30 railroading.

Click to see exclusive, licensed train collections in your favorite NFL colors!

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