For me, the best way to build is to have an end goal in mind. Putting bricks together is great and all, don’t get me wrong. But if you don’t know where you want to end up, how do you expect to get off on the right foot?
That said, there should be some thought that goes into a model before the building process is begun. I usually start a model with extensive research on the prototype. For the purpose of this article, the example model will be a Pennsylvania Railroad BM70m baggage-mail car.
The first step is to choose a scale to model in. This will set the standard for all scale measurements later on. A very widely accepted scale equates 8 studs to 10 feet, and is used be several LUG’s and individuals, including PennLUG and myself. The equivalence comes from most North American trains are 10 feet wide, and most trains are modelled as 8 studs in width. Using this scale, all measurements on the model will be done in studs, including height, where as many people commonly measure height in bricks. After selecting a scaling standard, find the dimensions of the prototype. There are hundreds of online resources where you can find scale drawings of railroad equipment of all types. Scale drawings are the best way to find dimensions. After all, why wouldn’t you trust the information coming from the original diagrams?
In this diagram, the values for length, width, and height are included. Perfect! Now, to convert those values into the correct stud equivalent. This is accomplished using simple cross-multiplication:
The left fraction is your scaling standard. In our case, 8 studs to 10 feet. The right fraction is the conversion to scale stud length. So, in the case of the BM70m, we have:
Here, 74.7525 feet is the length of the car taken from the diagram. This is the number you would replace to find another length. X studs is the unknown length of your model, which is what you are trying to find. Solving for X yields:
Rounding up, we get X = 60 studs. There you have it! Sticking to the 8 studs to 10 feet standard, the BM70m should be 60 studs long. Using this same method, you would then continue to find the rest of the necessary dimensions: 7.875 studs wide (rounded up to 8 studs) and 11.23 studs high, or roughly 28 plates. Remember to have correct units, or else the final number will be incorrect.
Now you have constrains to operate and build within, and a good starting point for your model. Of course, all of this is relevant. Adding an extra stud or two in length or an extra plate in height will not make or break the model as a whole. My BM70m is 62 studs long. Adding some extra length allowed me to space the windows and doors out properly, so they do not appear to be too close together.
Building to a standard keeps your models scaled well and well-proportioned, and therefore they won’t look awkward when placed next to each other. I hope this article will help shed some new light on LEGO train modeling.
Thanks for reading and happy building!