Large Scale Central

Mik 2022 - Hale o Waihona Lanahu

Team Mueller officially enters its FIFTH Mik! Time flies…There was a brief secessionist movement amongst its teenaged and near-teenaged member, but, after seeing the topic, they elected to stay with the boys and I again this year. Too bad…

As mentioned elsewhere, this was due in part to the fact that “Right of Way” meant about as much to the crew as “chimney” did a couple years ago. After a couple evenings explaining the concept of “Right of Way” and brainstorming topics, we came up with the following:

We are running out of space on the railroad for buildings so we winnowed it to things that would stand out as unique, would fill an obvious void, and / or improve the actual operations of the trains. The boys also universally nixed anything that would make setting up “Little People on the Railroad Day” more difficult, which eliminated real estate along the periphery. I was leaning towards our really makeshift bridge approaches, but this is our rainy season, and these would need to be done in situ. When I mentioned we had no fueling statins for our trains, this prompted a little collecting and individual internet sleuthing.

The real OR&L and, from what I can tell, the plantations switched to bunker fuel as early as they could. The Triple O is, however, a coal-fired railroad (largely because that is what I have!), and it will remain so. The crew took vastly different approaches to solving the coaling issue:

Oldest Daughter (O.D.) and Oldest Son (O.S.) took their inspiration from continental U.S. coaling towers, as seen on the left. Youngest Daughter and (Y.D.) and Kid-zilla took their inspiration from European and especially British narrow gauge examples, as seen on the left.

The location is the busy interchange area and yard near the M&K Sugar Mill, and the facility will serve both the Triple O and the plantation. Real estate is at a premium, which will drive the ultimate design, though the final product will include elements of all four sketches, if possible. We have one hopper car to deliver coal, and the coaling facility could use waste steam from the mill to power a conveyor or crane. Kid-zilla insist that the final product be able to host his PLAYMOBIL railway and construction men. We’ve lots of foam left, so I anticipate this will be a foam core. We’ll see, and, as ever, we will adjust!

Happy Building to All!


P.S. There was no Hawaiian word for “coaling tower.” I chose to use House (Hale) of (o) the Coalbin (Waihona Lanahu). Somewhere, a long past local railroad man groaned in his grave…


Kid-zilla gave a chuckle this morning. :sunglasses:

I love, as I think many do, seeing how Team Mueller does things. I love the mama makes it a family affair and I am glad you have taken it so much to heart. And taking the time to make it a learning experience is all the more better. I look forward to seeing what a Hawaiian Coaling tower looks like.

I am sure your coaling tower will be fun and unique like all of your prior entries have been.
I built a coaling tower several challenges ago and I was floored when over 200 or was it 300 pieces of wood went into it. It will be interesting to see how your foam core build comes together.

AND, I take my inspiration from Fine Scale Miniatures! (YMMV :innocent:)

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Oh gee thanks Bruce. And here I had plans for.a simple sand house. Then you show that picture. That is far more elaborate than inhad planned. But man I like it. But I want to make one for the outdoor layout as well and that would be better out there than up on the ceiling. I will be copying that picture.

O.S. and I took stock of the location for our build yesterday. The real estate near Pu’u’oma’o is pretty tight:

Komaka Iki, a plantation loco, sits on the plantation’s service track. An LGB mogul tender, (management has decided to let this second-hand loco go with wood power and convert to straight to oil at a later date), sits on the Triple O’s passing siding. The coaling facility will be a shared facility between the plantation and the common carrier (Historical aside…OR&L founder Benjamin Dillingham served his plantations with his own railroad. I am not sure if they shared facilities, but at least we are in the spirit of the OR&L!). Other design limits beyond the dogs are the LGB mogul Nuernberg, B’mann 10-wheeler North Star, and cabooses on the OR&L side. The LGB m2075s are the limiting locos on the plantation side. If they pass, so will allow any rolling stock, such as box cars of plantation supplies, if need be.

A vertical shot, with my foot, a US 10.5 wide for reference, gives another perspective:

We plan to use a foam base as we did for the bakery, as that has held up very well. It will also allow us to easily make the coaling tower and any ancillary projects such as pipes to water locos fast to the base, whether for the MIK or for some future need. O.S. and I figured we’d cut a rectangular hole in the base, the plug the bottom, to serve as the coal receiving pit.

O.D. and I have already discussed roughing the core of the tower this weekend. The plan, as for all MIKs, is to get the structure and anything that may need my help completed early so that the crew can detail it out if work takes me away from the project (Shock! I already know it will!). How we clad the core - craft sticks, carved “stones,” stucco - is TBD. In actuality, it’ll probably be a budget-driven combination.


Tight space! Maybe the one siding - the one the toes are resting on - could be moved towards the edge a few inches, enlarging the triangular space to the right?

@Tim1 , alas, no. We are restricted by the size of the retaining walls. The “Mainline” is already almost hard up against the wall! But, your suggestion did factor into our discussions today!

No cutting today. We had to gather our materials - foam, egg crate, campaign poster - and our desing cars (LGB caboose for height of structure; hopper for width of coal pit) and begin to really figure out how we were going to make this come to pass:

We pencil whipped some ideas, considered removing the loco shed, and even considered moving the project. This still seemed like the best place to make it happen, so O.D., who has the steadiest hand, traced out the size of the base and coal pit:

You can sort of get a sense of things from the overhead shot:

With the footprint determined, we all had to figure out how high this thing needs to be to make it look like it holds coal without becoming an instant magnet for destructive forces. The relatively skinny base and lack of any viable place to put vertical supports also stumped us. It has to be at least 12" tall for the caboose to clear any overhangs. We figure 18" should be about right to make this thing big enough to imply a good storage volume, if not necessarily big enough to be true to scale. The building will go higher, with a sloped roof pointing away from the mill (enter the campaign poster!).

The next discussion centered on what the building will be made of. We discussed “stone,” but Y.D. had no desire to cut up and glue meat packing foam again! We have not had much luck carving stone with a hot knife, and a quick test of spray paint on foam did not inspire much enthusiasm. Looks like our budget will be going to craft sticks!

We now had a plan to get coal from a hopper to the coaling tower (the tower will straddle the pit, simulating the entrance to an elevator) and how to build the tower, but we had no clear way to get coal to the trains! We discussed chutes, but no one thought they would survive long, and a chute to the engine service track would have been shallow and gangly. We discussed going to simple crane on a platform that would scoop coal from the pit to trains on either side, but everyone was keen on building the tower. Someone remembered we had some decorative “HO” scale tracks like you see for Christmas displays, and we hit upon the idea of a mining-cart type system that could run from the building out over the tracks! Kid-zill, standing in for a coaling tower, demonstrates below:

The egg crate will server as “iron” platforms, and we can cantilever the tracks from the top of the tower to make it look less like they are defying gravity. The tracks will run into doors in the tower (doors that we will model closed). In the future, we may have the opportunity to buy / make the carts to carry the coal.

O.D. mentioned this looked nothing like any of the pictures we studied. True, I said, but this is a valid engineering process. We had to use available materials to fit a need in a given time and within a given budget. The constraints and trade-offs are real, even if the benefits of working in a miniature world that doesn’t actually have to make a profit allow us to create fanciful solutions.

Tomorrow, the Hot Wire comes out, and we start converting foam to structures!

Happy Building!



Today was pretty buys, with the crew helping in shifts. The goal was to validate our dimension and cut the core.

Around lunch time, Kid-zilla helped me validate the markings for the base…

…before helping me trim it to size and shape.

At this time, my in-laws showed up and focus fell to freeing a flange nut from a busted power steering line. After my father-in-law and I took care of that, he settled in for the game, and O.S. and I started making and gauging cardboard templates for the walls.

We’ve learned from our mill project that you cannot be too careful with clearance and that it is better to make things “too big” to allow for train passage than to find out later that they are too small to allow the same!

O.D. came home in the late afternoon, and we did a final check on the proposed heights and widths, then I held the metal ruler while she carved the walls for the front and back of this tower. Our original markings showed we had left insufficient horizontal clearance…

… so we decided to make the world’s skinniest coaling tower!

Too bad this won’t be a flat!

Tomorrow, I will cut the end walls, then we can rough the roofline (roughly a 30-60-90 triangle) and install the sub-roof. The plan is to have this core ready for cladding by week’s end if not sooner. To that end, we discussed an alternative tonight, namely cladding the building with scribed styrene or with scribed basswood. The former is on hand. The latter would go against our budget. Both will allow us to advance to what I foresee will be the difficult part of making the coaling tracks, doors, windows, etc. that will bring this to life.

More to come!

Happy Building and Have a Great Week!


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Quick update…

I did some solo modeling today as the 1:1 crew were otherwise engaged. The main effort was to cut the side walls for core. I managed relatively straight cuts even without O.D.'s help! Remembering issues we had with the mill, I really wanted to ensure the walls all came together square. I suddenly remembered I’d bought a clamp for corners during last summer’s building repair campaign, and I applied that. The 1:24 gang came out to help push some scrap foam into the joint to help stiffen things:

At the bottom of the scrap bag I found an errant artillery officer (probably a West Point graduate! :crazy_face:). The Triple O’s foreman had to fend him off for a while as the crew levered those blocks into position.

In past foam builds, I’ve used scrap shiskabob skewers to hold the parts together. I may yet drive some through the walls, but forgoing this step for now helped me get the corner square. Also, you’ll note I am forgoing my typical practice of rushing to assemble the core. I’ll let this corner dry, then affix the opposite side wall, then affix the back wall. While this will take an extra two evenings, I am hoping a firmer, squarer core will make final shaping and cladding easier.


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Your team is off to a fast start. Have you thought of building over the caboose in the photo? Instead of making the coal tower really skinny you could build it over and actually off the edge of the retaining wall.
Just a thought.

Just curious what you use to “glue” your foam? I have settled on hot glue as it kinda welds the foam pieces by melting itself into the two pieces.

I am curious what you are doing as I am not 100% sold on my method and would love to hear your experience with whatever means you are using.

@capecodtodd : Todd, thanks. We have time to adjust the width once the core is done. We did consider a large “T” as you suggested. There is very little room for any vertical support posts on the engine shed side, though, which could lead to future clearance issues. If we swing the “T” out over the edge of the retaining wall, I am not sure how we would make the support pillars “stick” to the retaining wall in a way that didn’t look like they were dangling. it would interfere with the all-important hibachi support and beverage delivery service the Triple O supplies during grill sessions. I am hoping the coal delivery tracks and perhaps and elevated, wrap-around walkway will add the illusion of mass.

@Devon_Sinsley : Devon, we have found that TiteBond III is our “go to” glue for foam. It holds foam-to-foam and foam-to-wood. For foam-to-plastic, construction cement seems to work OK. We have found to cut this stuff, it is imperative to use a metal guide, such a ruler. O.D. actually uses a small flange on the hot-knife as a guide, sliding it along the ruler to ensure a perpendicular cut. We usually drive some sort of wood “peg” into the foam to help hold things together. I am experimenting forgoing that this time; if need be, we can use a hot knife to “drill” a hole and insert a peg after the fact. One thing we have noted, is that that a truly square cut seems to elude us. We usually fill the gaps with scraps of foam, Tite Bond III, and, if necessary, caulking. This pretty much necessitates covering the core, and we’ve found all sorts of things will “stick” and look good, from stucco to, of course, craft sticks!

As for this project, wall #3 is in place and drying!


The best method I have found for getting a square cut on extruded foam , 1 or 2 inches thick, is to use a level and a putty knife. Use a knife with a 3-4 inch blade and sharpen one side of the blade, not the blade it’s self. Use the level as a strait edge because it is about 1- 1/2 inches thick. run the knife along the level holding it tight and vertical to the level.

I also have found that Tightbond III is the best as you stated above. For clamping I use Drywall screws, thay can be left in or removed after the glue dries. Also the round tooth picks work well, especially going in on angles to the surface.

Great build the family has going there.

On those tooth picks, nip the point off one end so they don’t go into your finger instead of the foam. Don’t ask how I learned this trick :grinning:

Noting the knee pads on Kidzilla and thinking he should get tested for Golding disease. That is a pic that will be cherished in 10 yrs or less.


BTW the RR looks freaking great! Hell of a job Eric so pat yourself on the back. Mik challenge this year or not.

@Rick_Marty : Thanks for those tips! The skewers and other bits of scrap we’ve used have always been a bit unwieldly, so toothpicks it will be! And drywall screws…who knew?

@Rooster : Thanks for the kind words. I measure the RR’s profit in the currencies of “memories” and “enjoyment.” Vanderbilt has nothing on me!



If TiteBondIII has one drawback, it dries VERY slowly, especially here in the tropics! Nonetheless, we are on track…

…though as the foreman shows, the wall I “helped” to cut was straight in a non-Euclidean sense. After the glue is dry-ish, to include the glue on the braces the crew is setting in place, I’ll flip this and seal it.

The 1:1 crew and I are no set to cut the roof and clad the building. Stealing a technique from @Devon_Sinsley , I will reintroduce the possibility of a “stone” building by cutting the stones with a knife. Also, a realistic look at my work schedule may make cladding this with individual craft sticks or even scored wood impractical. I will forward to the team we clad this in wood and apply a board-and-batten approach. This would save time and have a side benefit of making the structure stand out a bit from the nearby M&K Sugar Mill.

Updates to Follow!

Have a Great Weekend & Happy Building!


The 1:1 boys and I, occasionally assisted by our 1:24 assistants, kept plugging away at the tower’s core over the course of the day, breaking as required for soccer, nerf gun fights, and glue drying (guess who got to watch the glue dry?).

I actually started the day with a run to the craft store for some basswood sheets and, yes, craftsticks. The amount will put us pretty close to the budget limit, so I hope we have what we need!

Actual building began with addressing that gap in the walls. First, we used some clamps and another broken epee to hold everything in alignment:

Then, we raided the shed for tubes of latex to seal the various joints:
The sealant, we found, helps as an adhesive and keeps things weather tight. I should also mention we used @Rick_Marty 's toothpick trick, with Kid-zilla even carving a few skewer scraps into toothpicks…under close supervision, of course!

We also mounted the tower to the base, using toothpicks and TiteBond III:

Later, when the glue had solidified, O.S. and I would follow up and seal those seams, too.

I was really concerned about our plan to cover this with a wood veneer and then simulate board-and-batten. If we used up all the wood, we would be over budget. I calculated we had enough wood to cover all surfaces, but it would look really hackneyed. With no on else but Kid-zilla to consult, I asked if he wanted the end walls to be “stone,” and he voted yes. The rest of the board being absent, we proceeded to carve “stones.”

He did about 2/3 of a wall, then tottered off to let me finish.

I wasn’t entirely satisfied with the look, as it was too smooth. I believe it was @Devon_Sinsley who mentioned using a knife to carve the “rocks’” texture. That failed for me, and I calculated I don’t have the time to make it work. Instead, I ran a wire brush over the “stone” surface.

We’ll see how that holds up to paint, but it is an improvement!

The 1:24 team posed for a last shot…

…then I took it out to Pu’u’oma’o for another test fit. Once we start gluing stuff to the foam we have no opportunity to correct for errors!

It’ll do! I think with the walls now fixed in place, it looks slightly less ridiculously spindly! Even if it does, I find getting the parts into something that looks like a building is a key step in getting folks energized about the project.

We are letting everything dry right now. O.S. and I discussed the coal receiving pit, and he agreed to serve as lead engineer. We will attach it after we plank over the front and back. Tomorrow, I will try to get O.D. to shape the top. We had a agreed on a nice 30 degree slope form right to left. We also need to get a coat of black latex on the base as well as on the “rocks.” It will seal the base, and it will fill in the seams between the rocks. Once that dries, the boys and I hope to add about a 1" high concrete “foundation” around the perimeter. We have learned the hard way that craftsticks and basswood that come in contact with the wet ground soon become scraps. Hopefully, by Monday evening, the core will be complete and possibly clad in its wood sheathing. If we can get that far, we can lay the battens down over the course of the week.

With that professional obligation looming, next weekend will be the last one where I can help translate ideas into action, so I have to get this project to the "we built it, you paint it " phase.

More to come!