The Background: I started scratch building structures for two main reasons:
  1. I could achieve exactly what I would envision for a particular site, and...
  2. Simply because I could! I have a fine arts degree plus years of graduate study in architecture and design. I owned an industrial design firm for years and I cut my teeth on building literally hundreds of architectural models over  more than a dozen years.

Being a life long model railroader, I have found not only that building structures from my own designs is richly satisfying, but also that the hobby in general is the most challenging and rewarding form of art that I have ever practiced. Consequently, when I build a model, I view it, and I treat it, as art. Thus any work I do for you will be much the same as commissioning a portrait or a sculpture. Skill, design, media, technique and most always a "story."

But what about good kits? There are many wonderful kits on the market and many talented modelers have assembled them. But when I visit model railroads, I see many of the same kits on the layouts, to the point that I can identify the manufacturer and even the name ("Joe's Cigars") given to them. They are usually well constructed, but they still appear to look almost the same. Basically, they are copies of an idealized original. Some utilitarian items or types of equipment should look much the same wherever they may be seen in real life. Certain styles of bridges, for example, should look basically the same wherever they may be found, likewise John Deere tractors or Caterpillar dozers. But architecture very often takes on a unique appearance.

Albeit that certain residential or habitational styles, such as Second Empire, Italianate, Art Deco, Ranch, Craftsman, Split Level and others may share certain features which classify them, the actual execution of each sample will often be unique, reflecting the owner's or builder's preferences or a peculiar adaptation to a neighborhood or urban environment.

Industrial architecture may draw from a smaller deck of technical applications and materials, yet each structure is conformed to local conditions. There are probably no identical covered conveyors in the mining industry, certainly no identical factories. It is in such cases (which I think is most cases) that unique structures really bring a scene to life, and project a special character. This is something kits simply can't provide. How many Walther's Northern Lights power plants can there be, really?

Scratch built custom structures create a unique look whether you build it or have it built. I love to scratch build on my own layout from my own designs as I feel that this is my art, not someone else's. In structure building, I will work with your ideas and help create this unique look for your pike. Even if you purchase one of my own designs, I will never build two structures exactly alike, further guaranteeing the one-of-a-kind appeal.  Art does imitate life, but real life is infinitely variable and our representations of it should be likewise.

Materials: I now work with a variety of materials. I will select from various woods, styrene and other materials (even paper) as will be most suitable to build a convincing model. And I am as concerned with durability as I am with facial appearance. All structures are super braced, and otherwise built to last.

Details, details, details: Structures are lightly weathered to appear realistic. Most of those I have on hand (follow catalog link below) include lighting. Those I build to order can include interior and/or exterior lighting, and most any kind of interior and added details as you desire.

My first love is Appalachian architecture from the 1880's to 1920's, but I'm comfortable working with designs from most periods and locales and within most themes. And I do so love a challenge, so please let me know the vision you have which I can make a reality.

Pricing: I can design and build for most budgets. What I would need from you, the client is the following: Realistic budget, footprint size, and due date. We can proceed from there. I will not copy anything not of my design, but I can come close to a structure you may like, especially if you have decent photos. If I feel subject is of a poor design, or I can't do the work within your budget, I'll let you know promptly.


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Howard Zane
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Our Band:
The New Southern Cowtippers
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Zanes Trains
"World's Best": The Great Scale
Model Train Show
Brass Trains:
Zane's House of Brass