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Roll Your Own

June 1, 2002, by Bill Cawthon

The 1/87 Vehicle Club has one of the best collections of model photos on the Internet. Modelers from around the world send pictures of their work and Webmaster Bob Johnson posts a new collection almost weekly. There are hundreds of photos in (currently) 62 galleries at the Clubís website and I strongly urge you to visit.

In Gallery 62, I saw picture shown here. Claude Villemure of Shawinigan, Quebec, sent it in. As you can see, his fleet of Redi-Mix trucks is outstanding and the scene is incredibly realistic. Each truck has received the companyís colors and markings and the crowded parking lot shows the enterprise is thriving.

Photo of Claude Villemure's beautiful Redi-Mix scene. Models from the collection of Claude Villemure of Shawinigan, Quebec.

Used by permission of Claude Villemure and the 1/87 Vehicle Club

Another person who realistically creates his own world is Todd Terpstra, a very skillful modeler from the Chicago area. Todd has produced one of the best 1/87 scale municipal fleets I have ever seen. A number of people enjoy models of fire trucks and police cars, and Todd has them, but he adds the public works trucks, mowers and all the other vehicles that keep his fictitious city of Effingham, Michigan clean and neat.

Todd Terpstra used a Herpa-Promotex International truck as the basis for his Effingham Public Works snowplow.

Photo courtesy of Todd Terpstra.

I have created a few fleets in the past. In my early days in model railroading, I produced a small fleet of trucks for an electrical contracting company on a friendís layout. Later, when Loren Neufeld and I built our Grimy Gulch Ntrak layout, I built a number of passenger vans and SUVs decorated with ďGrimy Gulch ToursĒ logos. We used the same logos, in a larger size, for some custom-decorated railroad passenger cars.

The vehicles need not all be in the parking lot. In fact, itís better to scatter a few around your layout. After all, those vehicles arenít producing revenue if all the drivers are in the office drinking coffee.

To be sure, there are a large number of tractor-trailer rig models on the market, decorated for a number of businesses. But it is both easy and enjoyable to create a fleet of your own. This gives you the freedom to be truly creative, selecting the models and creating the graphics.

Promotex Online is a great place to start. Promotex carries a number of undecorated trucks, including a wide variety of over-the-road rigs. If your railroad has hoppers carrying grain to a brewery, there is even a nice beverage truck to deliver the finished product. Not far from my home in northwest Houston, there is a beer distributor. At the beginning and end of the day, the lot is full of trucks and there is traffic in and out all day long. Itís the same at the Anheuser-Busch plant in east Houston. Lots of rail traffic and lots of trucks. And there are all kinds of trucks, from 18-wheelers to panel vans. Some businesses even have passenger cars with their company markings.

Real trucks often have simple markings, like "Jim Bob's Trucking." The model is Promotex' new 006305 Kenworth T-600 with a 48', 3-axle dropdeck trailer.

Creating vehicle graphics is no longer the challenge it once was, thanks to the personal computer. Several simple drawing programs allow the combination of art and text. Even the Microsoft Works software that comes with most home PCs can be used (although AppleWorks and a Macintosh are much, much better). While having an advanced program such as Adobe PhotoShop or CorelDraw is great, you can make good designs with Microsoft Word or Publisher (Publisher is easier to use).

The best way to get the design from the computer to the model is still to make decals.

In the not-so-good old days, I used to paste up masters for decal sheets, take them to a shop that made high-quality photo negatives for the printing trade and get veloxes. For those of you who are unfamiliar with this process, it is (a) time-consuming and (b) expensive. It involves making a photographic negative of the work, checking and retouching the negative and then making a positive print from the negative. I then sent the veloxes to a custom decal maker. The whole process could last a couple of weeks and easily run over a hundred dollars. On the other hand, I got some really great decals whose details stood up even in 1/160 scale.

Today, making decals can be simple as sliding a sheet of decal paper into your computer printer. Todd Terpstra makes his decals this way. Of course, as Todd mentions on his website, there are drawbacks to this process, so I am going to suggest a couple of alternatives that will get better results with only a little bit more effort.

Computer-generated logos. Rocket Parcel and Blue Star Truck Lines were created in Microsoft Publisher. I used Adobe PhotoShop to turn a picture of a tree frog into the Tree Frog Beer logo.

There are custom decal services like Brad Libbyís Pen-Bay Equipment Company. Brad uses an Alps printer to produce quality decals from your supplied artwork. The Alps printer produces a much better decal than the homemade versions and the cost is quite reasonable, especially if you want multicolor decals.

My personal preference is still the traditional printed decal. I have had very good luck with these. For one thing, the quality is outstanding, even with small type. For another, they stand up to handling better and the print doesnít flake off. I have been very happy with the decals I have gotten from Rail Graphics. Ron Roberts has been in the decal business for over twenty years and has lots of satisfied customers. Of course, you donít need to make a velox anymore: output from your laser or ink-jet printer will work just fine. The downside is that it takes a bit of planning to get the most bang for your buck as Rail Graphics charges by the size of the printed sheet. There is also a 25-sheet minimum, but the decals will last for quite a while, so you can save the extras for future fleet additions. Rail Graphics offers a lot of helpful information on their web site.

So, check out the unpainted models available at Promotex Online. And donít think of them as undecorated: think of them as blank canvases, ready for a bit of the artistry that will make them uniquely yours.

See you next time!

- Bill Cawthon

Bill Cawthon is an award-winning modeller and collector. His primary modeling interests are model railroading and vehicle models in 1:87 and 1:160 scales. He has written numerous articles for regional and division NMRA publications and is a contributor to the newsletter of the 1-87 Vehicle Club. He follows both the automobile industry and the European scale vehicle industry.

In real life, Bill is a full-time marketing and public relations consultant for the high-tech industry. He lives in Houston, Texas with his wife and four children.

Bill writes bi-weekly for Promotex Online. To learn more about him, click here.


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published by Cadabra Corp. This page was lasted updated: October 12, 2005