How To Kit-Bash an N-Scale Coaling Tower


Gary Wolfe
As an n-scale railroad modeler for fifty years, I have been very pleased by the enormous variety of kit buildings available to suit my layout needs. My current layout represents a fictional Boston & Maine branch-line of the transition era (early 40’s to early 50’s),

Among the buildings I wanted to include was a small coaling tower for my steam locomotive servicing facility. I always liked Heljan’s coaling tower kit and for many years included one on my previous layouts.

Unfortunately, I found that this kit and most other mainstream coaling tower kits are not made or widely stocked anymore. (The various kit makers seem to have stopped producing small, affordable plastic model coaling towers!)

After some research, I decided to kit-bash a coaling tower model based on the Heljan design, with some modifications to better suit my layout.

For example, instead of building a large, separate machinery house, I attached a small utility room to the coal hoist enclosure, using this room’s roof as the lower landing for the staircase.

Also I researched different kinds of coal chute mechanisms to find a more acceptable design than the oversimplified chute used in the Heljan kit.

My starting point was Grandt Line Products’ Reese Street Row Houses (n-scale kit #8023). I had this unbuilt kit in my stash since it first came out and realized that one of the houses would serve well as the top story of my coaling tower with no modification.

The footprint of the house is 1.85″ x 1.24″. This is the same dimension I used as the footprint for my tower (not including the base and attached utility room).

Besides the Grandt Line house, I needed the following materials:

Evergreen Sheet Styrene
(2060 V-Groove); 0.060″ (1.5 mm spacing; 0.020″ thick (0.5 mm)
(9010 Plain); 0.010″ thick (0.25 mm)
(175 Strip); 0.100″ x 0.100″ (2.5 x 2.5 mm)
(145 Strip); 0.040″ x 0.100″ (1.0 x 2.5 mm)
(210 Rod); 0.030″ (0.75 mm)
(217 Rod and Tube Assortment)

(90471) Hand Rails, 3-5/8″, 1 pair
(90481) Stair Rails, 3-5/8″, 1 pair
(90441) Stairs, 3″, 1 pair


Xacto knife with #11 blades
Xacto small file set
Xacto steel square
Pin vise and micro-size drill bits
Steel rule
Xuron flush cutter
Cutting surface
Testors glues (liquid and gel)
Walthers Goo rubber adhesive
Micro Crystal Clear
Assorted Tamiya, Citadel, and Testors acrylic modeling paints (brush and spray)
Assorted size paint brushes

For this build I did not use detailed plans. I researched the Internet for many images of the Heljan n-scale coaling tower and the equivalent Life-Like HO tower. (The site was especially helpful when I searched on “Life-Like HO Scale Coaling Tower”.)

Based on the different views I found, I then built a series of sub-assemblies. These were “best-guess” versions of what I saw on the Web. Test fitting at every step was important to ensure correct alignments.

The sub-assemblies were:

1   Top story (unmodified Grandt Line house)
2   Coal hoist enclosure (with small entry alcove made from Grandt Line outhouse)
3   Coal bin and supporting framework (Time consuming as it is built up in several layers)
4   Coal chute, pulley and axle assembly
5   Utility room/lower staircase landing (with small side entry door from Grandt Line)
6   Catwalk/upper staircase landing
7   Base for coaling tower
8   Staircases and railings
9   Spray painted tower light earth color overall
10 Detail-painted assembled tower
     – Windows, doors, stairs, and railings (all medium green)
     – Coal chute (red brown)
     – Coal chute pulleys and connecting axles (dark gray)
     – Coal chute counterweights (red)
     – Base and staircase landings (black green)
11 Rigged coal chute and pulley assembly with gray sewing thread
12 Glazed windows with Micro Crystal Clear

 Unpainted coaling tower, front elevation 

Unpainted coaling tower, right elevation

Unpainted coaling tower, rear elevation

Unpainted coaling tower, left elevation

Painted coaling tower, front elevation

Painted coaling tower, right elevation

 Painted coaling tower, rear elevation

Painted coaling tower, left elevation

Painted coaling tower on layout