Towards the end of 2013, NOCH added this Gravel Plant (Schotterwerk)
model to their selection of HO Scale industrial buildings. This building could easily stand on its own, being quite big and detailed, as we shall see, but in combination with some of the other buildings in this range, such as the “Victoria” Small Mine and its Loading Facility, the Iron Shed and Office Barrack, and so on, quite a sizeable and complex industrial site could be built up.
Considering the size of the finished model, the kit comes in a quite compact box, due, of course, to the contents being made entirely of flat sheets of cardboard, with the exception of a sheet of clear plastic, the instruction booklet, and a tube of high quality PVA glue.
Browsing through the contents one cannot help but be impressed by the card materials used to create the kit. The photos of the component sheets give a good idea of the variety, including thick gauges for smaller structural elements, medium sheets for the main plant walls, very thin cladding sheets, and sheets embossed with corrugations. The parts are all laser cut in an extremely precise way but held within the sheets by a few tiny attachment points. Most impressive is the laser texturing, for example on the cladding sheets, which are etched to represent the texture and colour of wooden planks, and particularly on the gravel chute parts, where the combination of cutting, colouring and texturing produce an intricate set of components of quite an amazing appearance, considering they are just made of cardboard.
The supplied instruction booklet is in black and white, but it is possible to download a colour PDF version from NOCH’s website here
A few preliminary observations on build techniques for this kit may help some modellers. Each of the parts is attached to the card sprue at three or four very small points of only about 1mm thick, each point requiring just a tiny cut with a sharp modelling knife in order to free the component. I found that if the edge of the piece was not visible after construction then that was all that was necessary, but in many cases, I chose to use a piece of wet or dry emery paper to sand off the remnant of the attachment point so that the edge was uniform. The white glue sets surprisingly quickly, and to avoid it drying on the brush, after each application I put the brush in a jar of water, then just dried it a little on a paper towel before the next application; the thinning effect of the dampness on the brush was often useful to make the glue spread a little more easily and dry more slowly.
Construction really is straightforward, if quite lengthy, with the main modelling virtues required being neatness and patience. Things start with the cutting and attachment of the clear window panes into the inside of the plant walls, with no real need for accuracy here – the panes just have to be big enough to cover the openings, and be fixed with enough glue to hold them in place. The subsequent building up of the main box-like structure of the plant requires some time to allow the glue to set, since the size of the parts means they are relatively heavy, so to keep things true, go in stages and allow sub-assemblies to set fully before moving to the next stage.
With all the internal bracing in place, and the floors and ceilings, there is some fairly repetitive work to be done building up the columns to support the entire building above ground level. Each of the ten columns is made of six parts for the structure, with another four pieces of cladding. These are then glued to the base of the main building, and as can be imagined, some precision is needed here in order to avoid any wobbles in the finished model. Fortunately, the fit of parts is extremely good with location points accurately cut. Cladding over the main walls of the plant also needs to be done carefully in order to maintain an even appearance.
The roofed wooden structure that sits on top of the plant starts to look particularly good once the wooden planking is added, and then the wooden roof supports; these numerous supports do need to be glued in precisely if they are all to line up perfectly and make contact with the roofing sheets. I used a generous blob of glue on the inside of the wall which increased setting time and allowed adjustment. Final alignment was made by turning the building over on to a flat surface to make sure the supports would make contact with the roof once it was in place.
Gravel textured card makes a floor for the open area outside this roofed structure, and the addition of gable ends, railing surrounds, door and window makes this a fairly well detailed part of the building, which could no doubt be embellished with other accessories or figures. The addition of the eight gravel loading chutes requires some careful work in order to get the parts neatly shaped and aligned. Further intricate details are added in the form of a steel hoist assembly at one end of the building, an inspection platform that overlooks the gravel chutes, and a wooden control room suspended on steel supports out over the staircase. The external staircase itself, despite its complexity, fits together perfectly. Having built up the step sides and banisters, the steps fit precisely into place, located with some decent tweezers and a blob of glue on each side. When attaching the stairs to the building, the gluing points need to be carefully worked out, as there is no guidance on any of the parts themselves.
A separate small building, presumably housing machinery for the covered conveyors, is supported on braced columns, for which the card has been textured to represent riveted steel beams. The upper part is then clad in wooden planking and topped with a metal roof (all in card of course). Perhaps the trickiest part of the whole kit is the construction of the conveyors, those metal-clad, roofed-over structures that protrude from the side of the plant and pass through the machinery room. There are some folds that need to be made along the length of the long and thin components, and it can be a problem keeping the fold precisely down the centre line. The cladding that is then applied is of thin card and the lower, crenelated surface extends beyond the superstructure, so it is quite easy to accidentally fold over a corner piece, and once a crease is introduced it is not easy to erase. These conveyors then need to be glued to the walls of the machinery room, and to keep the configuration flexible in terms of how this whole model might be installed into a scene, no location points are given on either the machinery room or on the walls of the main plant. This means accurately working out exactly where the glue is needed, in order to get the conveyors attached at the correct angles and so achieve contact with both the plant wall and the ground. The underside of the conveyor, where it meets the machinery room wall, is the place where you can get a fair amount of glue in place, out of sight, sufficient to make a good bond. Something to note is that while the set glue is quite transparent and matt, it does tend to darken down the wood textured parts.
With the conveyor assembly completed and with its glue thoroughly set, construction is virtually complete. Final attachment of the conveyors to the plant would probably be left until the model is installed on to whatever scenic base is being used.
I think most would agree that for an unpainted cardboard model, the result is impressive. The model is quite large, measuring 27cm long x 20cm high, and I think it is intended that a rail track could be installed beneath the chutes to allow wagons to be filled with whatever aggregate the plant is dispensing. I especially like the wood and corrugated steel textured panels, although I think that the plain grey sides of the plant do look somewhat flat. These parts could perhaps be improved by painted weathering effects, and I also thought it might look quite cool with a big mining company name or logo applied; perhaps a decal of that sort could have been provided, although simply printing and cutting one out would be easy enough.
The build was problem free, with just some areas where the final positioning of parts needed to be worked out before applying glue, as the instructions are occasionally a little vague, for example, there is no drawing actually showing the staircase attached to the building. The only error I noted was the omission of any instruction to fit glazing into the windows at the ends of the upper storey.
As I have noted in a previous review, the appearance of these card models tends to fit in with a railway or wargaming layout type of aesthetic, rather than with the more “hyperreal” aesthetic of some other schools of model making, although with this model I believe that with further detailing and finishing it could be brought up to a very realistic standard. In combination with other buildings I can imagine a pretty amazing scene of heavy industry.
One final thing that struck me with this model is the price.