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Up Deer Creek 2: Introducing Craigville, Minnesota

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Whistle Beek

Joined: 27 Oct 2004
Posts: 34

PostPosted: Thu Jan 14, 2010 5:58 pm    Post subject: Up Deer Creek 2: Introducing Craigville, Minnesota Reply with quote

Craigville, Minnesota - 1922

Craigville, Minnesota - Fall 2009

By all accounts, Craigville was a wild place. Maybe it was just a typical terminus for a wilderness logging railroad, but it lives on in Northern Minnesota legend. Since I was a small boy I have heard tales about the place. While research will certainly continue, the photos that I have been able to find have gotten the project of modeling this place moving. (Officially “Craigville” was on the south side of the Bigfork, and “Craig” on the north bank, but folks from cartographers to local residents had trouble keeping them straight!)

Minnesota & Rainy River Railroad - 1930

Craigville was born when the rails of the Minneapolis and Rainy River Railroad reached the southern banks of the Bigfork River in 1910. It was about 40 miles south of International Falls, Minnesota. At the northern terminus of the logging road which left the Great Northern Railway main at Deer River a town began to spring up around a pre-existing logging camp. The foreman of the Itasca Lumber Company camp was John "Smoking Jesus" Craig.

"...Craig was nicknamed "Smoking Jesus" because of his reverent abstinence from the use of traditional swear words. He preferred instead to make up his own choice phrases, such as "Holy balls of Ireland!" when the occasion warrented it. The stern Irishman also abstained from the use of alcohol and tobacco. His unfortunate death from brain cancer shortly after the M&R reached his camp on the Bigfork River was possibly the reason the camp took the name Craig...."(from Timber Connections. Susan Hawkinson & Warren Jewett, p. 121)

The lead photo above shows the ‘industrial’ part of town, with little saw mills dotting the river bank, a small rail yard, and supplies piled about.

Main Street - 1938

Businesses to supply off-duty lumberjacks what they most wanted sprang up quickly. While one building is clearly marked as a “General Store,’ the vast majority of the buildings were either bars, or brothels. OK, most of the latter were officially labeled ‘boarding houses,’ but local lore makes it pretty clear that more than just rent was collected in these buildings! I’ve heard one old timer tell me that the floor of one establishment had a trap door through which unwelcome rowdies could be summarily dropped into the Bigfork River!

A drive past the townsite today shows no traces of the bustling place from earlier in the 20th century. It’s gone. The virgin timber ran out in the mid-1920s, the rails were pulled out in 1932, and the temporary nature of Craigville’s buildings began to show with time. By my youth, in the 1960s, I can recall some tilting derelict structures. Today, it’s a bona fide ghost town, suitable merely for archaeological investigation.

To begin modeling this ghost town, I’ve picked 3 adjacent buildings on “Main Street.”


After studying photos of the town, I became fascinated by a pair of structures that were probably owned by the same proprietor, or at least which were working together. The boardwalk in front of the two buildings extends precisely the width of those structures! One’s a bar, and the other a boarding house.

Both of these models were created using commercial door and window castings, and styrene plastic. The first step on the bar (which I’ve named Bob’s Lounge, since I couldn’t read the sign) was to cut sides, rear and roof pieces. The window is a plastic Grandt Line casting, and the rear door made of metal by Gloor Craft.

This building appears more ‘permanent’ than many in Craigville: it’s covered with clapboard. Here is the false front, created using Evergreen N-scale clapboard. You’ll note that the door is raised to allow for the boardwalk. These pieces are all from Grandt Line.

The false front is framed in with Evergreen strips, which were also used to create the cornice. Another piece of styrene was measured out a scale 4’ x 8’ and applied at the top for the sign. This too is framed with styrene strips.

Upon test fitting of the body of the lounge to the front, I discovered that it wasn’t quite square! A bit of white styrene was ‘scabbed’ onto the south edge of the sub-roofing to amend the problem.

When developing a styrene structure, I try to estimate what additions might be made in the future. Like many among us, I dream of one day adding interior lighting to my layout, when I get around to making one! Having seen some marvelous interior shots of the bars in Craigville –

I decided to place the reinforcing wall that holds the front part of the building back about 1” so that an interior can be added in the future.

I could have assembled the building and THEN added the tar-paper roofing, but that would have made getting the interior corners where the roof met the false front tight difficult, so I added the masking tape strips first.

Among other future additions, the 3 patrons of the bar shown in the prototype photo just beg to be modeled! For that, I needed to create the benches. After fabrication with strip styrene, they too were glued in place, leaving enough clearance for the sidewalk. The clapboard was used as a guide to keep them parallel to the base of the building.

For finishing, an overall coat of off-white acrylic paint was applied with an airbrush. The prototype photo shows that the trim was quite dark, and as red appears black-like in black-&-white photographs, that’s the color I chose. The roof was painted gray and then the entire model was given an acrylic blackwash. Then the windows were glazed with clear plastic sheet.

The most glaring detail, the beer sign, needed to be created. Some web research for Fitger’s Beer logos was a bit frustrating, as the 1930’s version, seen at least on four different bars in Craigville, doesn’t seem to be on the web! I did manage to find the correct lettering and imported that into Adobe Illustrator and then used the standard techniques to create the sign for printing on an Alps MD5000 printer.
Once the decal was ready, I created a base of .020 Evergreen styrene sheeting, both for the main Fitger's sign and the name bar that hung below. Holes were drilled for a .015” brass wire that had been turned into chain as shown in another Zenmaster article, and the sign was created. For a mounting bar, I used a common sewing straight pin. After test fitting the sign in a hole drilled through the storefront, it seemed logical that more support was needed – I glued a scrap of .125” square plastic strip to the interior of the front, behind the hole. After that had cured, I continued the hole through the reinforcing bar and mounted the sign.

At “Bob’s,” patrons could wet their whistle: next door they could take a load off their feet! Without a Sanborn map or other reference, I have named the next odd little building the “Tar-Paper Hotel.”


At first glance, this thing looks like a two-story box, covered with tar-paper! Again, I started with sheets of styrene plastic to create the basic shape. The recesses for the windows and doors were cut out prior to assembly.

After gluing the walls and roof together, I realized that my building was too short! So I sawed it apart and added about 3/8” between the floors! Maybe one of these days I’ll master the old line “Measure Twice: Cut Once!” For this building, I used Grant Line doors, and Gloor Craft pewter windows.

There is a ledge across the back of the building which, in hindsight, was applied to allow the rain run-off to drip OFF the building, rather than simply run down the back wall. I used a strip of Evergreen styrene for this.

More strips of masking tape were applied, first to the sides, and then the roof.

The photo taken in 1937 shows these two buildings “connected” by a boardwalk. I made this out of a piece of scribed siding, with some styrene strips as sills.

What color to paint the hotel? Today you can get roll tar-paper roofing in several colors, and by the 1940s green was available, as was red, in addition to the traditional black. Since all of the photos I have of Craigville are black and white images, I asked some friends who live in the area. Dennis Carlson has lived there all his life, and he assured me that black was the only color he recalls.
I airbrushed the building with a deep gray, and then drybrushed a lighter gray all over to give the appearance I wanted. The windows and doors were painted an off white, and then the windows were glazed with acetate. Brass wires were bent for the window protectors.

Wagon-top “Inn”

About 50 yards north of the other two buildings is another tar-paper covered building that I originally figured was an inn. The unusual roof just begged to be modeled!

To create the wagon top, I cut several interior formers and the walls out of styrene. As on “Bob’s” above, the windows were mounted prior to assembly.

While the close-up photo doesn’t show the rear of the building, the overall shot up ‘Main Street’ above shows that there was a long sloping addition back there.

Several buildings in Craigville have furring strips covering the joints in the tar-paper. The smallest commercially available strip styrene is just too big for use here, so I modified some .100” x .25” Evergreen styrene by “pulling” it. If you’ve never tried this, it’s fun and quite effective. Light a candle, and twist a short section of the large plastic over the flame until it gets quite flexible. Then pull the two ends away from each. The resulting pieces will still be in the ratio dimensionally, just a whole lot smaller! Short strips of this ‘pulled sprue’ were used to model those furring strips.

I should buy stock in a masking tape company! Here’s the model with the roofing applied.

The walls were painted with the usual deep gray for sun-faded tar-paper, and then the furring strips were painted a light tan,. A light gray dry-brush did the basic weathering.

This is another building that needed benches outside: two short ones on the north end, a longer model on front, and a single seater on the south side of the front door. One wonder’s if that one was for a bouncer, or maybe the waiting customer that was “on-deck” for entering the inn!

While looking for more photos of this fascinating place, I think my next project will be “Big Charlie’s” Bar.
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