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1940 Auto Repair Shop Interior by FriedClams - Mini Diorama in 1:87

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Hello fellow modelers.


Several months ago I finished up an eighteen month modeling project of a New England fishing dragger. I am now in the beginning stages of gathering information on yet another fishing vessel that I will begin later this year. But it seems I must always have some project on the work bench, so in the meantime I have begun working on a small 1:87 diorama to fill the void. This is actually the third in a series of dioramas and like the two before it, it will fit into a wall mountable shadow box.


In example of what I'm going to be building, here are a few photos of the first two dioramas that I made.


In the first one, a Fordson tractor is poking out of a barn door.







As you can see, it is not large. The diorama itself is 4-7/8” wide (124mm) by 2-1/4” high (57mm) and 2-1/2” deep (64mm).


The second diorama shows the interior of a small boat building shop and is more detailed and ambitious than the first. It has the same physical dimensions.








This next diorama will be wider at 7-3/8” (187mm) but the same height and depth as the others. The added width is needed to accommodate the subject matter and will make for a more interesting display when placed together with the first two. I envision a wall display arrangement something like shown below. Other dioramas will eventually be added as time and impulse allow.




This diorama will depict the interior of an auto repair garage circa 1940. Clearly, the time period is dependent on the vehicles and at this point I haven't nailed that down. So it could end up being as early as the 1920s. Two vehicles (maybe three) will be in the shop along with repair shop stuff. In the first few posts I will fast forward through the work that has already been done (about 10%) and bring it to its current state. I expect this project to take several months to complete.


These little dioramas have been enjoyable short term projects and a change of pace from subjects that float. They're perfect for when I feel like modeling in an offhand sort of way, which is to say - making it up as I go.


Thanks for stopping by to take a look.



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You could probably include vehicles of different ages as 1940 was towards the end of the Depression and someone would be trying to keep an old “junker” (Ohio), or “beater” (Minnesota)  running.  You will also need another car “up on blocks” for parts.   And if you include an outside view, don’t forget the Aluminum painted tractor tire used as a flower bed.  


Oh, and the Mail Pouch Chewing Tobacco sign.  Their slogan was “Treat Yourself to the Best.”


All parts of American backwoods culture!  



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Thanks to all for looking in and for the likes.


On 4/12/2021 at 11:56 AM, Keith Black said:

Are you doing a American auto repair shop, have you considered a British auto repair shop?


Hello Keith.  It feels good to be starting a new project and I'm happy that you'll be looking in.  Yes it will be an American shop because – it's home.  We need to have one of our good cousins on the far side of the pond build a U.K. version.



23 hours ago, Roger Pellett said:

You could probably include vehicles of different ages as 1940 was towards the end of the Depression and someone would be trying to keep an old “junker” (Ohio), or “beater” (Minnesota)  running.


You're right Roger, there were many old jalopies held together with bubble gum and baling wire decades after their manufacture, even into the fifties.  Heck, I'm still running an old sun-faded Chevy PU that I bought nearly thirty years ago (teenage boys seem to love it and come up and tell me so – funny.)


A silver-painted tractor tire as a flower planter – now that would look great on anyone's front lawn.


20 hours ago, yvesvidal said:

I absolutely love it and hope you will take some time to describe some of your techniques to create such beautiful and realistic renderings.


Thank you Yves.  I really don't have a lot of special techniques, but yes I will explain whatever I do.  And of course I'll be happy to answer any questions you have.


17 hours ago, mtaylor said:

Count me in for a seat.


Good to have you following Mark.


4 hours ago, PAPA said:

Those dioramas are great.


Thank you for the kind words PAPA.



The Shadow Box Case


The diorama is built as a separate module and simply fits into a rabbeted cutout in the face frame of the shadow box. The shadow box and how the diorama module fits into it looks like this.




The shadow box is built first instead of last. I know that may seem backwards, but in the inverted logic of my world I find it easier to adjust the diorama module to fit the box rather than fitting the box to the module. This is because the module needs to fit into the box face-frame rabbet quite precisely – preferably to within a 32nd of an inch all around. I'm not that good with a table saw and my mitered corners are - rarely perfect. So I'll make the module fit the as-built shadow box.


The box is made of 1/2” poplar and is simply glued and clamped together. A couple of small beech wood biscuits were also involved. The box was then sanded something like forever and then a coating of pre-stain wood conditioner was applied to help promote uniform stain absorption. Poplar is an easy wood to work with because it's soft and yet holds rather clean, crisp edges. But it sometimes has a greenish grain and it will absorb stain in an uneven splotchy way, so the wood conditioner is a must. The piece is then stained with Minwax Jacobean and finished with a couple of coats of semi-gloss poly.







The diorama perimeter is next.


Thanks for swinging by. Stay well.





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Thanks to everyone for the "likes" and for taking a look.


Diorama Walls


Now that the case is finished, I have the horizontal and vertical dimensions I need to fit the diorama precisely into the face frame rabbet. So the drawing was adjusted and the wall sections defined as shown below. The windows and door are also located and a storage mezzanine is added.




The walls are made of brick that I cut from blank Hydrocal slabs. I purchased the material from New England Brownstone Co. and the stuff is unfinished, about 5/32” thick and in HO (1:87) scale.


All the wall sections were cut to size – height and width. The material is cast in the American bond pattern and has a header row horizontally laid every 6 courses, so care was taken in how the wall sections were cut from the slabs so that these courses align with adjacent wall sections. The total height of the walls was also reduced to accommodate the combined thickness of the floor and ceiling. The rear wall had to be pieced together horizontally because I ran out of full slabs of brick. The seam will be covered by the mezzanine support plate.





One of the convenient things about modeling in 1:87 is the availability of scratch building materials and detailing parts. I'm using this 39” x 92” masonry door w/transom from Grandt Line Products for the rear entrance.





And for the three windows - 60” x 104” 20 pane tilt-out units from Tichy Train Group. These windows even come with laser cut glazing.




Because masonry windows have no outer frame casing and must fit into the wall, the cutout openings have to be perfectly square and exact. One misstep which leaves the openings too large or off kilter, and the piece becomes scrap. I began the process by drawing templates for each wall section to assist in locating the cutouts. Carefully placing the wall sections over the templates, I used the outer tick marks and a straight edge to pencil the cutout intersections. The template cutouts are a tad small which allowed me to make adjustments with needle files and achieve a final precise fit. Once I was satisfied, I then cut grout lines around the inside perimeter of the openings. Creating these cutouts was time consuming and tedious beyond measure – razor saw and needle files – filing and test fitting – over and over . . .







There are basically two camps when it comes to coloring raw plaster/Hydrocal – those who seal the plaster first and those that don't. There are pros and cons to each method, but here I didn't seal it. I used thinned gouache (not acrylic gouache) and pre-wet the plaster with plain water as I went. I like using gouache because it's dead flat and can be re-activated with water after it has already dried. This is great when I want to do more blending but makes a wash layer impossible.


On this model I applied straight burnt sienna over the entire surface of the brick. I later went back and blended in tiny amounts of raw umber to random areas to provide some variation. For the grout I used very watery white and gray. I pre-wet the area where I wanted the grout color to run with “wet-water” and then I just touched a sharp pointed brush (soupy with grout color) to a grout line. In a flash the color raced to wherever the wet-water is/was. The dark areas of brick and grout are where I applied alcohol mixed with a little India ink.


The window frames were air brushed a dark iron color (enamel) and dry brushed with silver. The window headers are basswood and simply glued to the face of the brick and painted with acrylics.






Then glued together with PVA.





Thanks for stopping by.



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Thank you all for the wonderful comments and support - I really appreciate it.  And thanks for the likes.



5 hours ago, thibaultron said:

How did you blend the brick at the inside corner, by the back door? Did you cut the plaster walls at 45 degrees, or use another method?


Hello Ron - thanks for stopping by.  Yes, as @Egilman has correctly stated they are 45 degree cuts.  The short door wall is actually slid back a tiny bit at the joint so it won't be visible from the front.  The drawing below is exaggerated but shows what I mean.  Also, there is now a conduit hiding the joint.







The back wall was pieced together from two chunks of brick material because I ran out of full slabs. But I was able to place the horizontal seam high enough up the wall to where I could place a mezzanine/loft there to cover it. I drew a tick mark strip to locate the platform joists and ledger board bolt heads. The basswood that makes up the frame is scale 2” x 10”.  It was stained brown with a chalk/alcohol mix then over painted with white acrylic. After drying for about a half hour, I pulled some of the paint off with regular cellophane tape – stick the tape down, then pull it off like an old bandage.





The ledger board was then glued to the wall with CA. The washer/nuts are injection molded from Grandt Line Products.





This little chopper gadget makes quick work of producing 17 uniform joists.





Using the tick mark strip as a guide, I glued all the joists into place along the rim joist and then glued everything to the ledger board and side walls.







The platform surface grate is a blackened brass mesh from Clover House. The mesh size is scale 1.45” made from .0065” wire.





The railing is plastic from Tichy Train Group. It's painted black enamel and dry brushed with Testors “steel” and then some pigment powders.





Electrical conduit and boxes were added. The “conduit” is .014" brass rod and the boxes are bits of styrene. Holes were drilled into the boxes to land the rod. Boxes with a conduit out each side were drilled through and slipped onto the rod like beads.







The next post will bring the project to its present state.


Thanks for your interest in this model.  Be well.



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Posted (edited)

Thanks for visiting and for the the "likes".



Space heater


I wanted to show some method of heating the shop and there is a spot in the upper left corner of the diorama where I could place a hydronic space heater. Many old photos of repair garages show radiators hung on the walls as in this cropped 1929 image from the National Photo Co. Collection – Library of Congress.




These radiators would be difficult to scratch in this scale and I didn't want to use up too much wall space, so I made up the unit below. It is entirely styrene except for the steam/water pipes coming out the side, which is blackened brass. It was brush painted in enamels and roughed up a bit.




I glued it to the wall and ran conduit down to a switch for the fan. The roundish blob on the back of the unit is the fan motor and it connects to a junction box via a piece of solder.







This post brings the log up to date with the model in real time.


Thanks for stopping by.  Stay well.



Edited by FriedClams
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Posted (edited)

My daughter had a gas fired heater just like that hanging in her garage when she bought the house. Some previous owner had installed it. 


I remember seeing old auto garages like the one in photo when I was a kid.


Great work on your diorama. 

Edited by Jack12477
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1 hour ago, Keith Black said:

 Gary, so real, such beautiful detail. 


41 minutes ago, Jack12477 said:

My daughter had a gas fired heater just like that hanging in her garage when she bought the house. Some previous owner had installed it. 


I remember seeing old auto garages like the one in photo when I was a kid.


Great work on your diorama. 

I remember when I was a young man working in several shops that had exactly that type of gas heater, some worked, some didn't, but when they worked they worked well....


Nice job duplicating it......

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we had waste oil heaters where I once worked.   the original one they used looked like a small stove.......had to be stoked every morning.  the new one they bought had a big register / blower that hung over the bench,  pointed out over the bays.  it would heat that part and the adjoining bays,  even being separated by a partition wall.  darn thing would drive you out,  if you were in the center bay.  are you gonna have air for pneumatic tools?


very nice diorama......really good detail :) 

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Hello and thanks to all for the nice comments and for your past experiences with space heaters.  When I was a young man I worked for a year as an electrician in a welding fabrication shop that was located in an old run-down mill building.  That winter was freezing cold and it seemed colder inside that cavernous old structure than it did outside.  But I can still remember how good it felt when those darned heaters would kick on and wash you in warmth - if only temporarily.


On 4/22/2021 at 3:56 PM, popeye the sailor said:

are you gonna have air for pneumatic tools?

Hello Popeye - thanks for the interest and fine comment.  It will have a small compressor for tires but no air tools.  In this time period (1920s to 40s) pneumatic tools were not yet widely used by mechanics - as far as I can tell.  I just haven't seen them in historic photos, so I'll play it safe and keep them out. 


And thanks to everyone for the likes and for stopping in to take a look.


A Floor and a Workbench.


A small update.


There will be more than one workbench in this shop, but here is the first one. The bench is put together from a number of materials. The top is a section off an old resin casting I had in my junk box that I cut down and then modified further. The frame and bottom is basswood and the items on the lower shelf are nondescript chunks of white-metal and styrene. It is brush painted in enamels and oil paint. There is nothing like black oil paint to make a thing look good and greasy.







A wall mount book case of basswood is 5/8” wide by 1/2” tall. The books and papers/pamphlets are bits of styrene colored with permanent markers.





The 35 gallon trash barrel is a solid white-metal piece.  I drilled a hollow into the top and placed debris in it. Someone needs to dump the thing.





All glued into position.





The floor is 3/32” basswood. To simulate concrete, it is painted with gray craft acrylic and allowed to dry. PVA is then mixed with a couple drops of paint and brushed on all over – rather thick.  Before it completely dried I jabbed at it with a cosmetic sponge to give it some texture and unevenness. The surface was then lightly sanded and a few concrete relief cuts were added. Oil drips are replicated with India ink mixed with water and the walking patterns and other general smudging is added with pigment powders.  Scale tires with an aggressive tread were rolled through brown acrylic and transferred to the floor.


Finally, a scale 6” base shoe is added to all walls.









Thanks and stay well.



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1 hour ago, FriedClams said:

Someone needs to dump the thing.

 Dump the trash? When's the last time that bench was cleaned! That thing's got so much motor oil and 90 WT soaked into it, it's a wonder everything doesn't slide off........ spot on realism. 



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Wonderful work! But I agree with mark's observation, old concrete especially in an old automotive shop is definitely darker, and given the dark condition of the bench considerably darker...


My experience is a dark sand brown with dark greyish walk patterns around the bays outside where the vehicles sit...


Another thing, that large bevel gear on the bench, (probably an input gear to a large differential) shows this to be an old shop in farm country, something that handled trucks and tractors as well.....

A cars differential input gear would be smaller and hypoid cut as well....


Old shops tell a story, each is individual, I can see the story coming out of this one....

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The only thing that I see as missing at this point in the construction is the wooden covered trench in the floor where you would drive the auto over to work underneath and/or change the oil. Every repair shop I ever saw and most home garages when I was young had at least one. In later years many of them were replaced and covered over with the advent of hydraulic lifts, but back in the 20s I think they would have been very much the thing and used almost daily.

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