No. 50: Modeling the Marshall Canning Company of Ackley, Iowa

Over the last ten days I completed the tedious task of completing assembly of the large Marshall Canning structure.

When we last saw the cannery, it looked like this:


A little background might explain the madness below.  My model of the Marshall Canning Co. on my previous layout, shown below, was built cheaply without much supporting structure behind the building façade. It was flimsy and I couldn’t move it without breaking a seam or two.  The roof had no support and had numerous “waves”.


On the new model I wanted to built interior support using a product called GatorFoam to make the whole building one super-solid structure that I could pick up and move around without any damage. I had a handful of GatorFoam that I bought from Dave Meyers at  Dave is a great guy and he has some neat displays showing what can be built with GatroFoam.  At MARPM in 2015 Dave had a small layout built entirely GatroFoam–including all the benchwork.  It is cool stuff.

I had already built the front and sides of the building using Walthers HO scale brick sheet and a few leftover components from an old Walthers Modulars set.  That Walthers Modulars stuff, by the way, is great. It’s a real shame they discontinued it, because the detail is excellent and the line is a giant leap forward in appearance over the old DPM modular components.

The plan was to build a box around the inside of the main building, and a box around the inside of the annex–made of GatorFoam–to make one large super-sturdy structure.  I used my daughter’s hot glue gun for all this work.  Hot glue is really inexpensive, simple, and the glue gives you a little bit of time for set up.  The glue can be pried apart if you screw up something.  It works great for fixing unlike materials together such as plastic and GatorFoam.  The biggest drawback is the hot glue is difficult to apply and can be a little sloppy so you have to be careful during application.


I built a GatorFoam shell for the annex portion of the building first.  The annex is the smaller portion of the building without any windows.  This process went very quickly.  First I measured and then fixed a piece of Gatrofoam to the interior of the side, then I added a roof, and then a back wall to create a GatorFoam box.  The hot glue worked great on the GatroFoam-to-plastic joint, and didn’t distort the plastic. The structure was very firm and I was able to pick up the whole thing without any trouble.  Above, I’m applying some very hot glue.  Below, I have fixed the GatorFoam to the back of the sides.


Below, the GatorFoam roof has been added.


One of the features I wanted to model was the fire wall between the original cannery building and the annex.  I laminated two sheets of Walthers brick back-to-back to make a thicker wall and also to get brick detail on both sides.  I built it with “steps” and TLAR’ed (That Looks About Right) it until it looked right. Then I fixed it to the extreme end of the annex roof using ACC.  Below is a photo of the simple components I cut.  The part on the bottom is the completed stepped fire wall.



Above.  After I installed the fire wall and the GatorFoam interior, I placed the building on the layout for a test fit.  Not bad.

Here’s the real annex building below.  The original building is out of the picture to the left.  There are actually multiple annexes here–maybe someday I can expand the layout and add the second annex as well.  Thanks to Doug Harding for the photo.  I did not model the rounded roof, but left room on my model so I can do it later.


So far everything was going great.  The annex portion of the cannery was essentially complete except for paint and details.

Then it was time to handle the biggest part of the job, which was fixing GatorFoam to the back of the main building. First I glued a piece of GatorFoam against the front wall of the building, then glued that front wall to the long side wall.  See below.

It was here I immediately recognized a problem. I cut the window openings on the long side wall very close to the top of the building, per the prototype photo, but that didn’t leave enough room to fix a GatorFoam roof to the top of the sides.


the photo above shows the main building with the top of the building towards the camera.  I’ve added the front of the building (seen standing up at left) and have put some GatorFoam supports along the bottom of the structure.  I was unable to glue a large piece of GatroFoam to the side because it would obstruct the windows.

Instead of using GatorFoam for the roof, I used a piece of foam core board that I had on hand.  It was about 1/3 of the thickness and I thought I might be able to wedge that between the top of the window opening and the roof.  So I hot glued that on the side and…


…the result is seen above.  The roof fit right at the top of the side, and the glue got all over everything.  Luckily I could pick the excess glue off with my fingers but the roof being at the top edge of the sides is a big problem.


Above.  I added GatorFoam backing to the main structure and then test-fit the buildings on the layout again.  I discovered that I did not build the sides long enough to match the foundation I installed months before.

Since I had already added GatorFoam in the annex I didn’t want to add any extra length to that part of the building.  Instead I cut another piece of Walthers brick material and added it to the side of the main part of the building to bring the structure to it’s correct length.  Then I added an extension to the roof to cover the new side.   See below.





Above.  More problems.  The roof was above the sides here at the annex, and there was a gap between the roof and the annex.  Plus it appears I installed the fire wall in the wrong place.


Above.  A close-up of the poorly fixed roof.

Because the roof was so close to the top of the building–and overlapping in one spot–I decided the best way to cover the problem was to raise the sides of the building slightly.

I used the Walthers brick sheet and cut off long rows–the height of four bricks or about 20 scale inches, to bring up the sides and cover the roof overhang problem.  I fixed the brick rows to the top of the building using liquid cement.


After reviewing the prototype photo I realized that the front of the building has a much larger façade than I modeled, so I added some height there as well using a course of six bricks on each step. Cutting a four-course and six-course row of bricks was easy using a sharp #11 x-acto blade and sanding down the edges slightly.


Adding the additional roof was just what I needed to solve the roofing issues.

Below.  While I was at it, I cut the roof of the main building to fit snugly against the annex, and repositioned the fire wall, so that everything fit as I had planned.  No more unsightly gaps.


Finally I put the whole structure back on the layout for one last fit-test.  The main building and the annex fit together, and fit on the foundation perfectly, and the roof problem was fixed, and the fire wall looked right, and the front façade was fixed, and everything lined up vertically and horizontally all the way around.


Who ever said scratchbuilding is easy!  This was an agonizing two-week effort and I’m glad it’s over.

Next: Paint.  I’m going to paint the whole structure, then build loading dock doors, then paint and install and the doors and windows, then install a black paper roof.   In preparation for the next step I went over to Rodenbach yesterday to get some paint at the local military hobby shop, Panzerfux.  I bought a nice Tamiya Brown paint which I will use for both structures.  More to follow on that later.

Panzerfux, by the way, has a mountain of different 1-87 scale vehicles and many of them are suitable for a US-based model railroad layout.  They have a good website which you can check out at


One thought on “No. 50: Modeling the Marshall Canning Company of Ackley, Iowa

  1. John looks like it is coming along very nicely. I used photos of your previous version in a clinic on Western Grocer, last weekend. I look forward to further updates on this project. Then I will probably copy photos of the finished project to update my clinic.


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