Life is short, break the rules. Forgive quickly, kiss slowly. Love truly, laugh uncontrollably and never regret anything that makes you smile. - Samuel Longhorne Clemens (Mark Twain)

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Inspiration and the buildings of Calamity

This is a book on Architectural theory and the concepts are built around many of the towns made famous in western movies. Town that only exist on film and in our minds. I found it fascinating but probably wouldn't recommend it to the average model builder. But for building Calamity I find it ideal.

Calamity started from a desire to build a detailed, yet transportable, gaming table that would be a real standout game at the local conventions and maybe even farther out than that. I have always appreciated the work that goes into making some of those great display games that we see in the magazines and I really want to see if I can pull off that same level of craftsmanship. My model railroad hobby has helped me really work up plans for not only making it look good but how I can build something that can be transported and survive being transported multiple times. Model railroading has also had a heavy influence on what I want and how I’m going to present things.

I have to admit that when it comes to my western town of Calamity things have moved along a lot slower than I anticipated. Some of my planning approached upwards of 40 buildings spread across three 2’x4’ modular boards. My initial thoughts were to build as much as possible with the wide variety of western MDF kits that are on the market from companies like; Sarissa Precision, 4Ground, Battle Flag and Knuckleduster. All of them make great kits but they are also very cookie cutter in appearance. As I assembled and re-worked them I felt a growing need to make things a lot more individual in appearance. I started Calamity with the concept that the town was as important to the game as the miniatures and the personalities they would someday represent. Scratchbuilt buildings would be the Main Characters and the MDF buildings would be the supporting cast. I still think that concept holds true now, but even supporting cast members have their own costumes and personalities. I think that it become more obvious to me as I started to modify the MDF buildings to make them look at little better that I really wanted to make everything unique.
Scratch built primarily from foamed PVC sheets
MDF buildings, Battle Flag on the left, 4Ground on the right

Its a lot of work and there is the possibility that it will never really be finished too. But it’s a project that I can really pour myself into and be very proud of as it comes together. Still coming up with 40 buildings is tough! I needed inspiration and the best place to get inspiration are books and when that fails the internet can reveal even more amazing things. Model railroading provided me with a source of books and magazines that most wargamers wouldn’t even think about. Do an internet search on western ghost towns and you will find plenty of inspiration for buildings. Bodie California is a particularly good one. Another great resource are movies and the sets they were shot on. There are quite a few that are still active and many more that have been turned into parks and even more than only exist in pictures. Watch your favorite western and pay attention to the buildings and see what really grabs your interest, then stay through the credits and find out where that movie was shot. I have a links to some of the better ones here in the side panel of the blog.
From Carsten Publishing. It was easy to find even a year ago, but I'm not sure if anyone has picked up the line for publication since Carsten shut down. This one is not quite as useful as there are a number of more modern buildings in it than our roughly 1860-1890 time period.

My favorite reference by Joseph Crea. This one is a 2nd edition or 2nd printing and its long since out of print. I was able to locate a couple of 1st editions online over that past weekend though.

A compilation over that past year involving On30 trains and buildings. This is my preferred scale for our western trains.

And my favorite RR magazine, this is the one that features the line drawings for the buildings of Bodie CA.
Something else to keep in mind is that there were cookie cutter buildings out there. You could order whole house right of the Sears and Roebucks catalog and have it delivered to your building site. There were cabin’s for miners and shotgun shacks (so called because you could shot through the whole building with a shotgun). Mining towns in Colorado like Silver Plume, Leadville, and Silverton still have shotgun shacks still standing. Many buildings though were built on site with local materials. Don’t forget stone and brick buildings either, competitions between towns to become county seats or what not were not uncommon at all and stone and brick buildings were the currency used in the competition.

I think I have found some of my best inspiration though from model railroad kits. They are typically the wrong scale but I have scale rulers and I’m perfectly happy to do the conversion work on the measurements. As an example the two houses I build were based on a Grandt Line plastic kit. The Hardware store is based on a kit from Wild West Scale Models. There are a couple of resin kits from Main Street Heritage Models that I’m likely to take a run at as well. For some of these the measurements right off the website work quite nicely. The advantage of basing things off model railroad kits is that they are already compressed. That means that the designer has already shorten and/or narrowed the building to fit into a smaller space and look right. Prototype buildings even for western towns can be quite large at times, larger than we really want to deal with. For example Bodie California has been featured in a long running series of articles in one of my favorite magazines, “The Narrow Gauge & Shortline Gazette”. His measurements are for the full sized building and in some cases those buildings are just going to be massive even when scaled down to 1/56th scale. Selective compression of the building keeps the “look” we want while making it fit into the space we have. Something that we often inadvertently do in miniature gaming as the “ground scale” doesn’t always match the scale or size of our minis (yes, I still refuse to say the 28mm or 32mm is a scale. It’s a measurement not a scale, 1/56th is a scale).
From Main Street Heritage, this one is the next one I tackle.

From Wild West Scale Model Builders, this one should look quite familiar

From Grandt Line's Gold Rush line, again these should look quite familiar too.

So the buildings of Calamity will come from a variety of sources; model railroad kits, plans in books, plans in magazines and even my own imagination. Really all you need to do is sit down and look and some pictures or google some images till you find something you like and then just dive in. Everything will get easier after that!


  1. The Building from Wild West Scale model builders, which is the ideal scale for 28mm figures? S or O

    1. My personal opinion is that the right scale for 28mm figures is 1/56th. I have tried O Scale and its just to big while S scale (1/64th) is a little on the small side it actually looks quite good with our minis, especially the railroad track. I had custom 1/56th scale rulers made to help me with the builds.
      If you are thinking strictly about trains the best compromise is On30 which is O scale trains but running on narrow gauge track, proportionately they are just about perfect.

  2. Over 10 years ago, I been to Bodie Ghost town, and one building amazed me was the one that was covered with Tin can panels. The building was just one rust bucket.

    1. Bodie is a fascinating place. I have been able to visit it yet but its on my list of places to go.

  3. I am from the UK, and was at Lake Tahio for a couple of days and chance to visit a ghost town.
    One of the interesting aspect was a lady of the night who "serviced" so many men that she got her own headstones paid for, but was not permitted to be buried in sacred ground, but outside of it.

    1. That's certainly interesting history! There are a lot of tales like that out of the American West. Living in Colorado I have been able to explore all kinds of interesting locations all within about a 2 hours drive of my house.

  4. Always a font of information Kris. I really enjoy your Calamity series, particularly the way it pulls all your interests together.

    1. I enjoy it too for that same reason. I wish time wasn't quite so short right now, I'm so close to getting the Hardware store finished.