Friday, October 10, 2014

The Water Tank at Big Thunder Creek

Modifying a Banta Modelworks Water Tank With a New Roof & Other Details


Engine #6, Ollie Johnston, pauses to take on water at the Thunder Mesa tank. The tank draws its water from the same spring that feeds nearby Big Thunder Creek. It looks like there's still some scenery work to do in this area.


I often work on several projects at the same time. Some get finished in a week or two, while others get dabbled on over the course of months. This water tank project was started last spring but I wanted to complete it as part of the larger Big Thunder Creek project that's been occupying my modeling time for the last month or so. The tank stands just next to the creek, west of the depot in front of Thunder Mesa Mill.

I started with a Branch Line Water Tank kit from Banta Modelworks. This is a nice laser cut wood kit that builds into an attractive model. The smaller dimensions of the tank are a good visual fit with other structures on the TMMC, but I wanted a little more character in my tank so I added a peaked roof and some other details.

Here's what comes in the package: some strip-wood, scribed siding for the tank, laser cut plywood pieces, a couple of handy jigs, laser cut adhesive paper bands, and white metal castings for the spout and other hardware. The kit uses a clever laser cut plywood form to build the tank. Following the directions, I stained all of the wood prior to assembly. I used Minwax wood stain pens on this one, mostly Dark Walnut and Early American.

All the wooden pieces assembled. With the included cardboard jigs, this only took a couple hours. Rubber bands were used to clamp the tank wrapper in place on the plywood form while the glue dried.

I followed the instruction up to about this point on the assembly, then I went off on my own. The tank bands are laser cut, adhesive backed paper that was airbrushed a dark reddish-brown before assembly. The rust is colored chalk mixed with rubbing alcohol and applied with a brush.

I laid out the pieces for a hexagon shaped roof in Adobe Illustrator. These were printed out and then laminated to 1/16" illustration board using a spray adhesive. When cut out and assembled I had the basic shape of my roof. Triangular roof panels were then cut from 100 lb bristol board and glued into place. I chose a hexagon shaped roof due to the small size of the tank. The panels on an 8 sided roof would have been too narrow to allow for an access hatch.

A hatch was built up from strip-wood and bits from the scrap-box before being shingled with Bar Mills laser cut paper shingles. The finial ball is the head of a large dress-pin.

The Bar Mills shingles looked much too garish on their own so I dulled them down with a heavy dose of powdered chalks. The finial ball was painted metallic copper and then given a patina with dry-brushed dark green paint and chalks.

To make it easier to center the roof on the tank, a hole was drilled in the center of each and a small metal pin was inserted to align the two.

Some wooden channel is provided with the kit to make a water gauge, but no markings or hardware come with it. I created gauge markings on my computer to fit in the channel, and a pointer from the head of a rail spike. The spike fits into a hole drilled in the tank and keeps the black thread taut as it runs up the length of the channel to disappear under the roof.

The spout, pulleys and hanger assembly were put together more-or-less as the instructions indicated. One nice detail from the kit I had to omit was the plug pull since that would be hidden by the roof. The white metal castings were painted dull silver and weathered with paint and chalks. Elastic thread, painted a metallic gray, was used for the cables. I added a short length of blackened brass chain with a wooden handle to allow crews to pull down the spout.

The ladder was aligned to access the roof hatch and then glued in place using some leftover strip-wood as supports.

Some of the last details added were these "concrete" footings made from strips of painted illustration board.

Final weathering was done with more powdered chalks mixed with 70% isopropyl alcohol and painted on with a brush. The white mineral stains were brushed upwards from the bottom and rust was stippled onto the tank bands and other metal hardware. Once the alcohol evaporates the chalk colors can be quite strong but they are easily blended in and made more subtle by scrubbing with a stiff brush.


Building the water tank was a fun project and I'm very pleased with the way it all came together. Bill Banta makes a fine kit that lends itself well to all sorts of kit-bashing possibilities. I look forward to planting the tank on the layout and working in the ground cover and other details to complete the scene. As always, thanks for following along, questions or comments are welcome below. Adios for now!

Thunder Mesa tank, ready to service locomotives on the TMMC.

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