by Russell Norris/photos by the author
From its junction with the Pennsylvania Railroad in Mount Union, Pennsylvania, the East Broad Top wound its way in a southerly direction for some 30 miles, to the coal fields on the east side of Broad Top Mountain. My version of the EBT is much more modest. It runs from the fictional town of Blacklog, past the narrow gauge yard and shop complex at Rockhill Furnace, climbing steadily until it reaches its southern terminus in the small mining town of Robertsdale. The town was built by the Rockhill Iron & Coal Company (RICC), and the subsidiary EBT Railroad, to serve the coal mines on the Broad Top. Named for one of the principal investors when the EBT was built, it was the epitome of the company town.
Any attempt to model Robertsdale has to confront the challenge of “Company Square.” The town is centered on a cluster of company built and owned structures at the intersection of Main Street (State Route 319) and the railroad tracks. The oldest of these buildings is the Company Store, which dominated the community for more than a century. The others include the stone block depot, completed in 1914; the old Robertsdale Post Office, built the following year; and the imposing RICC office building which has stood on the east side of the tracks since 1916. Three of the structures on Company Square would have to be scratchbuilt. Only the station is available in kit form, and even that would require extensive kitbashing. This is the story of how I recreated Robertsdale’s Company Square as it appeared in 1950, when the EBT was still a busy commercial carrier for “king coal.”
The Company Store
One of the first buildings to be erected in Robertsdale was the Company Store, constructed on the west side of the EBT tracks between 1873 and 1874. The store was abandoned after the railroad ceased operations in 1956. Following decades of decay, it was finally razed in 1993. While the miners and townsfolk referred to it as the “Company Store,” in fact it was never operated by the railroad or the coal company, because Pennsylvania law prohibited coal companies from operating their own stores. In order to get around the law, the coal company leased the store to a merchant who then paid the coal company a percentage of the profits. Information on the Company Store is taken from When Coal Was King: The Robertsdale Store (by Ron Morgan © 2011).
Perspective view from the southwest of the front and side of the Company Store – Courtesy Huntingdon County Endangered Historic Building Survey of the Robertsdale Company Store, April 1995, page 7.
Construction of the original sandstone block building was completed in the fall of 1875 following the opening of the EBT main line from Mount Union to Robertsdale the previous year. Besides specializing in the sale of lanterns, tools, black powder and other mining equipment, the store also carried a wide range of general merchandise, including clothing, hardware, food, and even candy and toys for the children.
Another view from the side of the Company Store. – Photo from Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.
No model of Robertsdale would be complete without including this iconic stone structure, which stood at the center of town for more than a century. There exist no commercial kits for the Company Store, so it was clear from the beginning that the building would have to be scratch built. Fortunately, in 1995 the Huntingdon County Heritage Committee had approved an Endangered History Building Study of the store, copies of which were still available from the County Building Commission. In addition, a series of articles based on this study had appeared in the Timber Transfer, a publication of the Friends of the East Broad Top (FEBT) in 1995, so there was ample information available, including a complete set of front and side drawings on which to base a scale model.
Elevations and plans of the Company Store were included in the Endangered Historic Building Survey. These elevations show the front view (with proposed improvements) and the trackside view of the structure. Note that the building had numerous additions over the years. Only the original Company Store was modeled for this project.
My first step was to convert the drawings to HO scale and draw the plans directly on a sheet of 1/16 in styrene that had been taped to a drafting board. After the walls were cut out, the next step was to find windows and doors from Tichy and other sources that closely matched the originals. An exact match wasn’t available in every case, and in those instances the modeler’s rule of “close enough” was invoked. The window and door openings were cut out with an Exacto blade. The unique front steps were built from two sets of resin cast stairs glued back to back with Walther’s Goo, then painted with Floquil Aged Concrete.
The walls were assembled using Plastic Weld solvent. Lengths of 1/8-inch square styrene strips were cemented as braces for the corners, and along the tops and bottoms of the walls. The basic shape of the building went together quickly; then, however, I was confronted with the challenge of duplicating the sandstone block walls. Some modelers, like my friend, MMR Dave Crement, have built outstanding models of the store by carving their own stone blocks. Not being that artistically inclined, I began looking around for an alternative.
It was then I stumbled across a new product from Micro-Mark – innovative, realistic building papers that are printed with a special process that raises the surface of each individual stone above the “mortar lines.” And for quick, easy application, the sheets come with peel-and-stick adhesive on the back! According to Micro-Mark, the sheets even accept weathering powders and air brushed paints for weathering. I ordered several sheets of HO scale brown cut stone that closely resembled the sandstone block walls of the Company Store. I also ordered a couple of sheets of medium gray shingles that looked a lot like the store’s original slate roof.
ABOVE: Seams were carefully planned, so that windows and doors would interrupt an obvious vertical line where two sections abut. BELOW: Can you find the seam? Hint: It’s directly below the cutout top of the wall where the gable will go. The seam is partially hidden by the two small windows, one above the other.
Care has to be exercised when applying the adhesive papers to the model, especially since the scale structure was longer than an entire sheet of stone blocks. It was necessary to line up two sheets as closely as possible, to avoid an artificial vertical seam. I tried to place the seams where they were interrupted by windows and doors, in order to disguise the joint as much as possible.
The Company Store begins to resemble the prototype with the addition of sandstone block paper, slate roofing tiles, windows, doors, and the three window gable on the side. The roof for the west wing has not yet been installed.
The next challenge was to construct the three-window gable on the east side of the building. This window once provided light for an atrium and staircase from the first to the second floors. Fortunately, I was able to find a three-window set from Tichy that was very close to the original. Clapboard styrene sheet was used to construct the peak and sides of the gable, which was then roofed with the gray shingles.
The west wing roof was constructed of Evergreen #4523 standing seam roofing. The seams have not yet been glued in place. The roof was then painted zinc chromate red.
Roofing was complicated by the standing seam metal roof on the west side wing. I used trial and error to work out the shape of the roof, cutting out cardboard to get the precise shape of the various roof panels. Then the cardboard sections were used as templates to cut out corresponding shapes of Evergreen #4523 styrene roofing. After assembly, the roof was spray painted a zinc chromate red, a close approximation of the original metal roof.
The Company Store from the rear. Note the standing seam roof on the west wing.
Final details included the addition of fascia board and soffits, aluminum “flashing” in the valleys of the gable, railings on the steps and signage in the front store windows. To give the impression of a busy market, I cut out pictures of the inside of a turn-of-the-century drugstore, mounted them on styrene, and set them back a quarter inch from the window, giving the appearance of depth to the interior view. Atlantic gas pumps and signage from JL Innovative Design completed the store as it appeared in 1950.
I was pleased with the way my version of the famous Company Store turned out. It makes an impressive anchor for the cluster of buildings in Robertsdale’s “Company Square.”
The Robertsdale Station
The Robertsdale station is perhaps even more photographed than the Company Store. For my recreation of Company Square, it was the only structure available commercially. The FEBT offers a kit for building the stone block, hip roofed station, across Main Street from the Company Store. The one story prototype was constructed from the same poured concrete blocks used in many other EBT buildings, including the Mount Union engine house, the old Robertsdale Post Office, and the RICC offices.
The restored Robertsdale Station as it stands today. The Friends of the East Broad Top purchased the building and refurbished it as a museum. The EBT tracks passed to the left of the structure in this photograph.
The FEBT kit comes with printed paper stone blocks, which the modeler is supposed to glue to cardstock walls. However, the FEBT also offers sheets of resin blocks that are identical to those used on the original. One could use the paper walls as templates to cut out the resin block sheets and use those for the walls. However, Craig Williams, an enterprising member of the FEBT, has used the molded block sheets to make molds for casting a set of resin station walls, complete with all window and door openings. I opted to use the resin castings in constructing my model of the Robertsdale station.
The station before weathering with grimy black powder. Note the distinctive order board on the roof. The stone blocks were a signature feature used on many EBT structures.
The roof provided in the FEBT kit is also paper, that requires folding into the station’s unique hip roof. I opted to replace the paper roof with the same Evergreen standing seam roofing (#4523) that I used on the Company Store. The new roof gave the station a much more realistic appearance. The roof was painted a zinc chromate red.
One of the unique details on this structure is the operating order board on the station roof. The order board, used to signal trains to stop for orders, has paddles that show either red (for stop) or white (for all clear), as well as a lamp on the top of the signal with red and green jewels. For additional realism, I added details to the bay window where the scale operator worked. I reduced a photo of the EBT dispatcher’s office at Orbisonia station, glued it to a small piece of sheet styrene, and inserted it half an inch behind the station windows. A scale figure was added between the windows and the office background, giving the operator an appropriate workplace.
The completed Robertsdale station scene on my layout.
Since the station sits right next to the EBT right-of-way, I weathered the building and roof with grimy black to suggest years of coal smoke and cinders from passing steam locomotives.
The old Post Office building as it appeared in the 1950s. Author’s collection
The Old Post Office
Across the tracks from the station stands a simple stone block building, constructed around 1915, which once held the Robertsdale Post Office. In recent years, the old Post Office has been acquired, along with the depot, by the FEBT, who have converted both buildings into a railroad and mining museum. The Post Office moved across Main Street into the former RICC office building, where it currently occupies part of the first floor.
The old Post Office had a varied and often colorful history. At times the building housed a barber shop, a shoe shop, company offices, and upstairs apartments. The second floor was used at times for meetings by various community organizations, and during at least one coal miners’ strike, the facilities served as an informal “lock-up” for the railroad police. A photo of the building as it appeared in the 1950s shows how the wear and tear of the years has taken its toll of the structure.
Front view of the old Post Office building, currently occupied by the Friends of the East Broad Top. Photo by Adam Watson
Right side view of the old Post Office building. Photo by Adam Watson
As you can see, the building was not in the best shape at the end of EBT operations. Modeling the structure was a challenge. While there are many photos of the Company Store and the depot, very few photographers thought this plain rectangular building was worth the time to preserve on film. Even determining dimensions for a model was problematic. It seemed I would have to estimate the size of the building and the location of doors and windows by counting stone blocks, which I discovered were 8 x 8 x 16 inches in size. In addition, I could not locate any good pictures of the sides or back of the building. How was I to scratch build a structure with only the front to go on?
Left side view of the old Post Office building. Photo by Adam Watson
The problem was resolved when I posted an internet appeal to the FEBT. Adam Watson, a fellow EBT enthusiast, lives in Broad Top City, just the other side of the mountain from Robertsdale. He volunteered to photograph the building the next time he drove through town. A few days later, I received a series of photos by email. Now I had both left and right side views, as well as a full frontal image of the building as it is today. There were no pictures of the rear of the building, but I reasoned that since no one would see the back anyway, I could finesse it. Of course, I still had the challenge of determining the building height and width, as well as window and door sizes. And I noticed that the long plate glass window in the 1950 photo was missing from the 2012 picture.
The mystery of the plate glass window was solved when I learned that after purchasing the Post Office, the FEBT had restored the building to its original appearance. The plate glass window was a later addition. But since I model the EBT as it was in 1950, the plate glass window would be included. By coincidence, I happened to pick up an HO scale barber shop on eBay, along with a pool table and player. The building sits on the edge of the aisle, and I decided it would be fun for folks to peep in the window and see “Bubba’s Barber Shop and Pool Hall” just down the street from the depot.
About this time I had another stroke of luck. FEBT member Dave Crement sent me several pages of field notes made by Gary Hart in May of 1989. The notes included a full set of drawings and dimensions for both the RICC offices and the old Post Office. The drawings of the Post Office included the back! This marked the first time I had any idea what the rear of the building looked like. With photos, notes and drawings in hand, the next step was how to model the stone block walls.
Back side of the resin stone block walls. Note the heavy bracing. The author discovered that resin castings are quite breakable, especially when carving out doors and windows.
The EBT used poured concrete blocks on a number of its buildings. As mentioned above, the FEBT Company Store offers sheets of these stone blocks in HO scale. Based on Gary Hart’s field notes, I decided that two sheets would be sufficient. The only fly in the ointment was that the length of the sheets was about 4½ scale feet short of the 50-foot front and rear walls. That necessitated adding an extension to the long walls, most of which would hopefully be disguised by windows and doors. However, the additional pieces would require a lot of bracing. I used ¼ inch square styrene, glued to the back of the walls with Walther’s Goo®.
Assembled walls on the workbench. Note the fracture lines on the left and right sides of the front panel. Painting, weathering and signage helped to disguise the breaks.
The field notes also revealed that the building had a second floor rear door with a 4 x 6 foot “porch” not visible in the photos. I assumed it was some sort of fire escape, and initially modeled it that way, with a ladder from the porch to the ground. I later learned the door was for apartment dwellers to have an outside entrance to the building. There was an outside stairway to the second floor. The final model was constructed with a metal stairway rather than a ladder.
Interior view of the Post Office model. Note the heavy bracing to support the fragile walls.
Once the walls were assembled, I couldn’t wait to give them an initial coat of gray primer. I used a cheap primer from Home Depot, with a second coat of Model Master FS36118 Gunship Gray. I then mixed small amounts of Cotman Watercolors (Chinese White and Lampblack) and added enough water to make a dark gray color that I brushed over the stonework. The watercolors flowed into the gaps between blocks, leaving a light residue on the face of the stones, suggesting years of smoke and soot. I really liked the way the building came out.
The posit office shell began to take shape after painting. Weathering and signage will hide most of the cracks in the resin walls.
The old Post Office is capped with a hip roof. The 1950 photo of the building suggests that it was roofed with diamond pattern shingles. Gary Hart’s field drawings indicate that there was a three-foot overhang and that the pitch of the roof was 4/12. The hip roof was challenging, as I had to match the triangular end sections with the long trapezoidal front and rear sections. I have done hip roofs before, but only by trial and error. But as I was thumbing through some old magazines, I ran across an article by Jack Burgess entitled, “Hip Tricks: An Easy Way to Build Hip Roofs Without Resorting to Trial and Error” (Railroad Model Craftsman, September 1995). Just what the doctor ordered!
Basically, Burgess uses geometry to extrapolate from known dimensions, like the length and width of the structure and certain lines of the roof when viewed from the front or side, to deduce the actual height of the front and side panels. When you look at a hip roof from the front, the roof slopes away, so you can’t see the actual height of it. But a line from the end of the roof peak to the end of the eave is the true height of the triangular end section. That dimension allows you to calculate the actual height of both front and side sections. It’s easier to see if you draw the roof profile on paper. Once I caught on, it was a snap to produce scale drawings of the roof panels, cut them out, and use them as templates for the styrene roof sections. I assembled the two end pieces and two side pieces with plastic solvent, making for a tight fit. The roof was then cemented to a rectangular base to keep the entire assembly rigid.
Test-fitting the hip roof on the post office model.
Borrowing another construction technique from the same article, I turned the roof assembly upside down, set the building on it, and marked the position of the structure’s walls on the underside of the roof. I then used Plastic Weld to bond 1/8-inch square braces to the underside of the roof, so that the roof would fit tightly into the top of the building. Securing the roof this way allows access to the inside of the structure for lighting.
The underside of the hip roof with 1/8 inch bracing installed to fit snugly into the building shell.
The roof was now ready for shingles. I used two packages of Bollinger Edgerly Scale Trains (B.E.S.T.) HO scale self-adhesive laser cut shingles, item #3011, with a dark gray diamond cut. It took some practice to figure out exactly how to apply the shingles properly. The instructions include a guide for drawing lines on the roof to make sure the shingles are applied in straight rows. As you can see from the photos, it wasn’t easy to get the lines straight; there was some trial and error involved.
Applying B.E.S.T. diamond gray shingles to the old Post Office roof. The lines on the roof are from a template that comes with the self-adhesive shingles. The rear view shows the second floor balcony and entrance. The ladder was later removed and replaced with an outside staircase.
Finishing touches were then added. Angle styrene strips were placed above and below the plate glass window and painted an aged concrete for the sill and lintel. A photo over the entrance to the current post office across the street had a sign indicating: “United States Post Office, Robertsdale Pennsylvania”. I cut the sign from the photo and glued it over the door. A piece of thin styrene was lettered for “Bubba’s Barber Shop and Pool Hall” and glued over the long plate glass window. Lighting was added to illuminate the pool table and barber’s chair.
A view of the old Post Office as it appears on my layout. The Post Office sign was cut from a photo of the current Post Office across the street. The sign over the plate glass window is for Bubba’s Barber Shop and Pool Hall.
The Coal Company Office Building
The Rockhill Iron & Coal Company (RICC) was incorporated in 1872 to develop the coal and mineral resources on the east side of Broad Top Mountain in southern Huntingdon County, Pennsylvania. The company town of Robertsdale was laid out in 1873 and 1874 near several coal seams the RICC was developing. Robertsdale’s “Company Square” served as the economic and social anchor for this coal mining community. So far I have discussed how I scratch built the Company Store and the Robertsdale Post Office, as well as using an upgraded kit for the distinctive stone block station. That left only one remaining structure to complete the four company buildings: the rarely modeled RICC office building – the most unique and challenging structure in company square.
Trackside view of the Rockhill Iron & Coal Co. (RICC) office building, which now houses the Robertsdale post office. Note the double doors opening onto the porch roof. These replaced a double window after the railroad shut down in 1956. Also, the door on the street side of the building was added when the post office moved in. Photo by David Crement
The coal company office building was constructed around 1916 on the north side of Main Street, just east of the EBT tracks. The two and a half story structure features brick corbels at its cornices, as well as decorative brick quoins, sills and door surrounds. The building was originally valued at $2,000 in the Huntingdon County tax records, making it the second most expensive single building in Robertsdale after the Company Store. When the EBT shut down in 1956, the Post Office moved from its location in the old Post Office building, into space on the first floor of the RICC office building. Company records are stored on the second floor.
There is no kit for this impressive structure, and it was clear that scratch building it would be challenging to say the least. The building is constructed of Sears and Roebuck poured concrete blocks, just like the old post office and the depot; however, the decorative brick trim made modeling it much more complicated. How was I going to model such complex brickwork, especially on the corners, where bricks alternate with stone blocks?
Fortunately, the FEBT Company Store sells printed sheets of the stone blocks and brick trim, in several scales. I ordered a set in HO scale, and received a mailing tube with two large paper sheets of stone blocks and brick trim. The material was more than adequate to cover the building. Brickwork for the corners, lintels, sills, cornice and chimney could be cut to size with a straight edge and Exacto knife. I planned to use the same technique as on the Company Store, covering styrene walls with paper stonework. I constructed the walls in the same way as the Company Store.
Gary Hart’s field notes provided the dimensions for door and window openings. Aside from the fancy brickwork, the building is basically a rectangle with two extensions on the rear. After the walls were cut to size, holes for windows and doors were cut out with a hobby knife.
The field notes helped solve a mystery regarding the second floor double doors that today open onto a porch roof facing the tracks. In conversations with long-time residents, no one seemed to know why the doors were there. A notation on the field notes, however, explained that, whatever their purpose, the doors were a recent addition, and that in 1956, when the EBT closed down, there was a double window in the center of the second floor facing the tracks. Since I model the EBT in 1950, I opted to replace the double doors with a double window.
A view of the rear of the RICC office building (ABOVE) and a close-up of the brick trim (BELOW). Photos by David Crement
I also ran across a photo from the late 1940s showing the end of the building facing Main Street. That photograph clearly shows that before the EBT shut down, there was no door on the end of the building; that was added later when the Post Office moved in. As originally built, the two ends of the structure were identical, with two double windows on each floor. Again, this is how I chose to build the model.
Once the basic shell was assembled and openings cut out for doors and windows, the next step was to glue the paper stone and brickwork to the styrene. But the FEBT paper sheets for the exterior walls, unlike those from Micro-Mark, are not self-adhesive. In addition, the decorative trim needs to be cut out and applied over the stone block paper, and the mortar lines need to line up exactly to give the illusion of depth. I fretted over how to do this without smearing or otherwise messing up the beautiful lithography. I was leery about using a water based adhesive like white glue on the paper.
Once again the modeling community came to the rescue. A fellow narrow gauger had discovered that Michael’s craft stores carry sheets of adhesive with paper backing on both sides. Designed for scrapbooking, you simply lift off the paper on one side of the adhesive sheet, press on the image you want to preserve, cut it out and peel off the backing on the other side. You can then press the image onto a page … or in my case, a styrene wall! Michael’s carries two kinds of sheet adhesive. I chose to use an acid free 8½ by 11 sheet called Recollections that come with 2 sheets to a package.
Building shell after cutting out openings for windows and door. The rear extensions have not yet been added.
Using the double-sided adhesive, I simply laid the precut sheets of stone block on one side, cut off the excess, peeled off the back, and presto! Self-adhesive brick trim! The photos show how the building looked with the stone blocks and brickwork applied. Windows were added using Tichy #8159 double and #8161 triple units, which are very close in size to the prototype. I couldn’t find a front door with side lights and transom like the original, so I constructed the entrance from a standard Tichy #8197 five panel door and built up the rest from strip styrene.
The shell after applying paper stone blocks from the FEBT Company Store. The blocks and the brick trim were applied using sheet adhesive from a local craft store.
The biggest challenge was placing the brick trim on the corners of the building. When done properly, the brick trim blends with the stone blocks alternating three courses of brick between each block, and giving the illusion of depth. But it proved tricky to line up the paper brick trim so that brick and stone block fit precisely. To allow some leeway for adjustment, I opted to cement the corner strips in place with Aileene’s Tacky Glue, to allow more time to adjust the trim for an exact fit. With the cornice and corner trim in place, the rest of the brick trim was easily applied. The result was every bit as impressive as I had hoped.
The trackside view after adding paper brick cornices. The windows and door have also been added.
The last phase in modeling the company offices was the hip roof. For the most part, I followed the same process I used to build the old Post Office. But there was one significant difference. The office building has dormers on both ends, each of which also has a hip roof! Fortunately, the building was constructed such that the peak of the dormer roof is on a straight line with the peak of the main roof, allowing me to cut out the two long roofs as single units, including the roof of the dormer. I found two small 6-pane windows in my scrap box, and with a little styrene lap siding, made the front and sides of the two dormers.
The rear, or aisle view showing the decorative brick quoins on the corners. The brickwork was cut out and secured using Aleene’s Tacky Glue on the corners for added adhesion.
By this point, the RICC office building was beginning to look finished. Only a few more details were needed. As on the model of the old Post Office, I again used gray diamond shingles from B.E.S.T. It was tedious work on a roof of this size, and the end dormers required a good deal of trimming and fitting, but the results were worth the effort. The B.E.S.T. shingles are a terrific product, plus they are self-adhesive!
A view of the finished model before applying B.E.S.T. diamond cut shingles to the hip roof. Note the unusual dormers at both ends.
With the roof complete and the windows glazed, the only details left were the front and rear porch roofs. I covered them with a reddish tar paper from Builders in Scale. The final step was to weather the building, which sat only a few feet from the EBT main line for nearly half a century. I applied streaks of pastel chalk with a soft brush on both the roof and the sides of the building. It was painful to deliberately discolor a building that had taken weeks to construct, but the final result was much more realistic, and made the model come alive on the layout.
Shingles in the process of being applied to the hip roof. Note the pencil guidelines taken from a template supplied with the shingles.
The prototype of the RICC office building faced the tracks. Unfortunately, on my layout the building sits between the tracks and the aisle, which means the viewer primarily sees the back of the building; but there was no other place to put it. Fortunately, the rear, though somewhat spartan in detail, remains interesting because of the two rear projections, the small window and door, and the chimney.
ABOVE: The aisle view of the building as it appears on the layout. BELOW: The trackside view of the RICC office building after weathering.
“Company Square” was for many years the heart and soul of this little mining town deep in the mountains of central Pennsylvania. It is now one of the scenic highlights of my East Broad Top layout.