Our local Michaels craft store sells an unfinished wooden birdhouse you can buy for just $4.99 (or less if you use a coupon). I’ve found it useful for kitbashing small buildings for your railroad. I will share three examples I made for my own railroad. [Note: All unfinished wood should be painted/stained before leaving outdoors to protect it from the elements. —Ed.]
I raised Tweedell Twins Construction Office off of the ground with short log sections I cut from a tree branch. I added wood planks to the porch floor using wood coffee stirrers. I stained the cabin with MinWax wood stain. The porch is roofed with corrugated roofing made from soda cans and a paper crimper (available from craft stores). I printed the signage on my computer. The Coca Cola machine is a refrigerator magnet I bought from eBay. The bench was a child’s project from an early Garden Railways magazine (March 1992 issue, available in our digital archive). The cat figure was removed from another refrigerator magnet.
I added a shed to the rear of the office. I framed it up using wood coffee stirrers, sheathed with more corrugated soda can material. Circus signage from an old Revell HO kit was copied and enlarged before gluing it to the siding. I left the main roof as is, because it looked like the galvanized roofing I have on my home. The bird (on the roof) is from Michael’s wedding accessory section. I removed the chimney from the building and used a saw and screwdriver to add a brick look. I used clear plastic garden trays to make the two windows in the office. Using the “ten-foot viewing rule” (if it looks good from 10 feet away, it’s acceptable), they look realistic enough.
For Nick’s Towing and Salvage Service, I turned the structure sideways and cut in a front door, made from a vinyl siding sample from Lowe’s. A small brad nail makes a nice door handle. The window in this building is also made from a plastic garden tray. I covered the original birdhouse hole with another shed made from coffee stirrers and corrugated roofing. I also stained this building. Again, I made the signage on my computer and added some advertising graphics I found on the internet.
The building is raised on concrete block pillars I made from ¾” stock material cut with my saw and scribed with a screwdriver. I mounted the building on a plywood base, and enclosed the rear yard with a coffee stirrer/corrugated siding fence. I took one of my cheap die-cast cars apart and baked the metal parts on my outdoor grill to remove the paint. I then applied a rust coating I ordered from Micro-Mark (https://www.micromark.com/Vallejo-Pigments-Rust-Corrosion-Set-of-4-Colors). I replaced some of the details and weathered the whole car. The doors, windshield, and other car parts are from a broken Danbury Mints model I found at an estate sale.
The last structure I made from a birdhouse is Woo’s Corner Market. It is patterned after a small store my grandmother ran in the 1950s for her neighbors. I remember that children could get a bottled drink and a pack of crackers on a hot summer day for just 15 cents.
I combined two of the birdhouses to make a slightly larger structure. I cut off the original roof and made a new one from some plastic panels I had in my junk box. (The panels were originally used under my couch cushions to stiffen the sagging foam rubber). I extended the roof to create a small front porch for the Coke machine. The door and window were made from another Michael’s wood craft item. I cut off the ends of the logs because I didn’t want a log cabin look. I then painted the building with Krylon white spray paint. I added a shed extension on the rear to further enlarge the building. The building will be mounted on another plywood base, so that I can add a driveway and a gas pump in front. I am adding shelving and a service counter with period details to the interior, even though I will have to lift off the roof to see them.
I hope you will try to customize one of these birdhouses for your railroad. If you check Michael’s, Hobby Lobby, and JoAnn’s websites you will find other unfinished wood products. For example, I combined two barn birdhouses to make a Burger Barn roadside restaurant. Another birdhouse will be used as the office for a G scale copy of the Atlas HO Hillside Lumberyard I am building. The possibilities are endless!