What I Did Last Weekend

What I did last weekend

So last week we inherited a bunch of old electric trains. No one died, they’d just passed on the trains to us when they moved.

When I say “old” I mean it. There are currently several standards for train sizes. Non-train collectors have probably heard of “O-Scale” and “HO-Scale”. These trains are just “standard guage”. Okay so there was actually a set of standards established when these trains were made, but for some reason Lionel didn’t follow them. These are Lionel’s standard guage.

That means they’re big.

They were built, as far as I can discern, seventy to eighty years ago, before World War II. Did I mention old? Yes, they all have their original boxes – well all but one or two. No they weren’t all sealed in their boxes. These were played with by a teenage boy who would later become my wife’s grandfather.

Last Thursday my wife asked me to build a display case for the trains. I then proceeded to develop a precise model for a set of six shelves. They would be built almost entirely from 2x4s and the case would have a 10 Degree lean against the wall side. I spent four hours drawing up the plans. I use 2x4s because they’re strong and they are the cheapest piece of wood at Home Depot. I’m not an artisan so any nice wood would be wasted under my saw.

So I had designed a sleek, unobtrusive display case. It would have been a foot from the wall at the base and 3.5 inches at the top and had a pair of plexiglass doors–if I had built it.

When I got home from work on Friday, my wife asked for one slight modification. I had to have space for this model tunnel that her mother has fond memories of. The tunnel is fifteen inches deep, twelve inches wide and twelve inches high. It simply would not fit in the design I had worked so hard on.

Still, I had planned on buying the lumber Friday night. I don’t like to deviate from my plans and I was already forced to change my design plans. And by change I mean throw the old ones out the window, run them over with a car then wash them down the storm drain. (Of course this scenerio involves environmentally friendly paper and ink…)

So lumber shopping I went. This time with a rough design in my head and a hastily scribbled list of things I’d need. The new design was not just display shelves, but a display pedastal with shelves lining the stem. It would be square.

A long time ago I talked about my car. It’s a Nissan Cube. It’s a little car that’s very roomy inside. When talking about hauling lumber, it’s the “little” adjective that best describes it. I am limited to two options, beg a friend with a pick-up to help, or limit the size of lumber to 4′ lengths. Having recently had the friend fix an electrical issue at our house, I opted for the shorter wood.

Luckily, Home Depot will cut lumber in half if you ask them to. They’ll even cut it in half again if you ask really nice. They will not cut it to precision lengths. Not one to ask really nice, I had them simply cut the lumber in half. This was four 2x2s and five 1x4s. So I left Home Depot with eight 4′ long 2x2s and ten 4′ long 1x4s, some screws, some brackets, two pieces of 2 foot by 2 foot plywood and a can of stain. (I wanted Cherry, my wife didn’t think it was dark enough so we went with Red Mahogany.)

This is what I built:

The middle is actually hollow with some fleece curtains hiding it. It’s a surprisingly minimalist design, especially surprising given my penchant for over-engineering stuff. I have a light table (tool that artists use to trace stuff) I made of 2x4s.

We wanted to add a plexiglass outer shell to keep the cats and Kitty from messing with our antiques. Plexiglass is not cheap, it’s a pain to work with, and it’s really a pain to work with. So we added a heavy PVC sheet to the outside. Access is through the fleece curtains.

This is what it looks like now:


Note: Stain takes a really long time to dry – much longer than paint. It also, as the name implies, stains things, like clothes, skin and the concrete five feet away from where I was applying the stain. It also has a large splatter zone.

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