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Up Deer Creek #1: Deer Lake Charlie's

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Whistle Beek

Joined: 27 Oct 2004
Posts: 34

PostPosted: Wed Oct 28, 2009 3:34 pm    Post subject: Up Deer Creek #1: Deer Lake Charlie's Reply with quote

Up Deer Creek: Part One
Deer Lake Charlie’s

I've always wanted to write an article for a magazine. I like the Zen Master's rules, studied the other articles on this forum, and thought I'd share my most recent project.

Have you ever wanted to make a model of a building that you really love? This is one of them for me. My family has a log cabin in Northern Minnesota, and I have more fond memories of the times at the local “family tavern,” Deer Lake Charlie’s, than I could recount. As I create my logging layout, this building just has to be on it! I have organized my Deer Lake Charlie’s odyssey into the following sections:

• The History of Deer Lake Charlie’s
• Creating the shape
• Preparing the ends
• Creating the storeroom
• Modeling the log bar
• Miles of roll roofing
• Revenge of the Zenmaster
• Painting, weathering, and a few needed details

As you can see, it’s an odd building, with a lot of history. The original bar was the log cabin – it was built in the 1930s at a resort on the north west side of Deer Lake and was called the "Liar's Den." It was purchased in 1941 by Myron Carlson, an old friend of mine who had came to northern Itasca County with the Civilian Conservation Corps, and stayed. The building was moved the 7 or so miles during the winter, part of the way across the frozen ice of Deer Lake. His in-laws, Charlie and Vega Blackmer, managed the place until 1956. That’s when the name was born: Deer Lake Charlie’s. Myron, Lawrence and Harley Carlson built the barn-like local landmark in 1947. In the late 1950s, the log cabin was moved about 100 yards and a passage way connected the two structures. The passage was expanded into a store room, and then the front half of that was later removed after snow collapsed the roof.

Things rotted; buildings have been moved around. The tale of the building is quite complex. In the photo above, the log cabin has been moved away. In 2009, the store room was removed. You can also see that the original green roll tarpaper roofing has been renovated with 3-tab shingles, and skylights were added at that time. Deer Lake Charlie’s is now brown, but some architectural archeology showed that the original color was, not surprisingly, a deep barn red. I wanted a model that reflects the structure as I remembered it in my early childhood, and really don’t mind using a little artistic license. Let’s face it – it just kept changing!


Having experience using styrene plastic to model ‘typical’ rectangular buildings, I thought long and hard to figure how to model the 66’ x 35’ barn. Something had to hold up the roof, and I wasn’t inspired by a board-by-board approach. Forms were cut of .040” black styrene, using a template of the shape I drew on the computer.

A floor was cut out and the pointy forms were glued perpendicularly with large reinforcing blocks of Evergreen styrene braces to add rigidity. If I had it to do over again, I’d have notched the apex of each brace, and added a strip of plastic to support the peak of the roof. My model has plenty of ‘character’ with a sagging roof: more sag than the 52 year old building now has!


The ends and sides below the roofline were fabricated from Evergreen N scale clapboard siding. It is a pretty good match for the building’s siding. Using the same computer outlines, I cut 2 ends the same shape as the five black forms.

One of the things I love about the front of Deer Lake Charlie’s is that the doors and windows were located for convenience of construction, rather than symmetry. The door into the second floor abuts the centerline framing, rather than being centered on the building. Same thing is true of the windows: they were scabbed in between studs from the inside, regardless of what it looked like outside! After determining the roofline of the entry foyer, I mounted a Grandt Line doorframe as shown above.

If you’ve never modified Grandt Line doors and windows, try it! Their beautiful offerings can be turned into lots of smaller windows easily with a single-edged razorblade and some solvent. Several of the horizontal 4-over-4 windows were reduced to 2-over-2 windows by carefully slicing through the entire window, first removing the right hand edge trim, and then removing the center mullion and ½ the windows. The trim edge is then cemented back onto the shorter window.

The screen door was duplicated by modifying one of the Grandt Line doors. I wanted to remove the wooden panels at the bottom, so I began by drilling .020” holes in the corners, as shown below.

I then carefully scribed and cut the panels out, by “connecting the dots.” The center divider in the upper panels was also removed to more accurately duplicate the shape of the screen door.

Once the door was mounted, I used that as the point of reference to scale out the locations of the other windows, using the photos and dimensions I had taken of the prototype. Some Grant Line windows were used “as is,” and others were modified.

The side walls were cut from the clapboard .4” tall and the length of the floor (4.88”). The ends were mitered 45 degrees, and notches .4” tall were mitered into the lower corners of the front and back panels for assembly. I test fit them onto the floor-brace sub-assembly, and it became obvious that the braces had to be notched to allow the side pieces to fit over the floor! Each brace was therefore notched .4” up and the thickness of the clapboard (.040”). When all was in alignment, I cemented the ends and sides onto the floor.

The roof was formed using .010” Evergreen styrene sheet. Again, in hindsight .020 might have been better. Two sheets were cut. Each sheet was pre-rolled using a ¾” dowel as a form so it took on a gentle curve before assembly. Liquid styrene glue was applied and the roof looked great, if with a bit more character than it really needed!

The rest of the doors and windows were then cut into the roof. Sheet styrene and more Grant Line castings were used to fabricate the front door foyer. As you can see, the original model was modified into a smaller foyer: oral history and examination of historical photos proved that the larger foyer, with the larger window, was added in the 1990s. More on that later!

I’m thinking of putting the finished model in a mold to make copies (lots of my friends in the north woods have expressed interest in having a copy!) so I backed the windows with styrene.


Again, the computer printout of the shape of the building came in handy here, since the wall of the storeroom needed to conform to the shape of the wall of the “dome.” A strip of .020” thick Evergreen HO scribed car side was scavenged from an obsolete model and cut out using the template. More of the black styrene would be the deck.

The prototype deck is mounted on a series of joists. I used Evergreen strip styrene (.1” x .030”). To conserve the strips, shorter pieces were glued at the ends of the platform, with small spacers of the same strip to maintain uniformity.

More of the scribed HO car side was applied to the flooring to simulate boards, and a roof was cut out of .020” sheet. For more detail, one of the scrap window mullions from the shortened windows mentioned above was trimmed down and glued to the front wall of the store room.


Examination of what’s left of the original 1941 log bar showed that it was built with square upright timbers in the corners, and walls made of mercifully uniform straight logs, each about 5” in diameter, placed one-above-the-other between the timbers. So I used .030” Evergreen styrene rod for the logs, and .030” x .030” strip for the timbers. The front panel was constructed first. Using a North West Short Line Chopper, about a dozen rod “logs” were cut, placed abutting one another with the ends carefully lined up, and liquid styrene glue flowed over the plastic. I worked from the bottom up, adding the shorter logs around the sides of the openings for the horizontal Grandt Line window and then over the door. For the peak, logs were cut in ever shorter lengths, but with enough excess so that, after the wall had dried, a single-edged razorblade could trim the ends to the appropriate angle for mounting the roof. The two halves were mated, back-to-back, for this trimming, so the roof could fit on squarely. (Not that it would really matter. If these buildings were square when they were built, they certainly aren’t now!)

The sides of the building were fabricated using the same methods. To save on rods, a slab of the black plastic was used where the store room would connect to the log bar.

The store room/deck was cemented to the wall, and two half roofs were cut. One eve was notched to fit over the store room roof, and the roof was glued in place.


How many times have we all read that roof details are very important, since we are all taller than our models? In the era that I am modeling, most of northern Minnesota used roll tarpaper roofing material. I consulted with Charlie Blackmer, who replaced the older roof with the current shingles. He said that the previous roof was applied vertically, which though a bit unusual, was a whole lot easier than if it had been mounted horizontally. I used 3M brand industrial masking tape for my roll tarpaper. Since the original roofing is gone, I estimated that the original tarpaper came in 24” widths. Hundreds of strips were used, with each one very slightly overlapping the previous strip.

For added detail, occasionally a strip of the tape was applied from the bottom up, but not reaching the peak of the roof. Another strip would then overlap about a scale foot, and then complete the run to the peak. Maybe I could have added roofing nails, but decided that they would be so small as to look toy-like, so I skipped that detail. After the west roof was applied, the ends were trimmed using a sharp #11 hobby knife. I then repeated the process on the east roof, adding a drip-strip over the door and a line of roofing to cap the peak.


At this point, I took a trip “up north” and toted the project along to show the folks who populate Deer Lake Charlie’s today. They were extremely interested, and offered many opinions on my work – mostly quite favorable, if I may say so myself! But Charlie (grand son of the bar’s namesake) had some critical comments, and took me out to the derelict wreck of the original log building for some “local history.”

A model of Deer Lake Charlie's, on the bar inside Deer Lake Charlie's

Originally the building had two annexes, one on the side and one in the back. The one in the back (approx. 20’ x 35’) got cut off in about 1951 and moved to Mackinaw, Michigan! Originally, there were 2 swinging doors between the main building and that annex. When the annex was trucked away, the doorway was plated over with a sheet of plywood. So the back door (a Gloor Craft pewter casting) had to go. That was easy: I used a scrap of the black plastic and added some strips for side frames.

The side annex, one that had a peaked roof and which projected to the east, had rotted out and been removed in the ‘60s. The annex’ roof had been retained above the main building. I needed to add that dormer to the model. Styrene plastic triangles were created, 2 for the roof, and one as the temporary wall supporting the dormer.

The other information was more disconcerting. When first built as the Liar's Den, the rear half of the west side was a covered porch. I hadn’t seen any old photos of that side of the building, and what’s left of the structure doesn’t give up that detail simply. Apparently, once the structure was moved in 1941, that porch was boarded in and used as a storage space. At any rate, it wasn't a log wall as I had modeled it. My initial thought was to leave well enough alone. Then that gnawing little voice of the Zen Master just wouldn’t leave me alone! “You know you have to change it. It never was a log wall. You could plate it over with boards, or create a porch as originally built. Think of the scene on the porch, with a bench and a couple of lumberjacks tipping a cold one…………….” So I got out the single-edged razor blade and, after taking a deep breath, bisected the west wall, sliced through the rear wall, and cut the corner apart. I then added a few more .030” x .030” vertical corner timbers, a bit of flooring, and glued all the parts back together in their new places. A support log now braces the roof corner from sagging. I’m glad I made the conversions.

The front door had an arched roof, with sweeping log supports. Also, while Charlie and I were walking around the original structure, I noted that the roof was held up by horizontal logs which protruded to the eves. Those were added, too.


An airbrush was used to apply the red to the walls all around. Then hand brushes were used apply the green to the tarpaper, off-white to the window frames and doors, and grays to unpainted wood. I used acrylic paints.

She looked sterile – too clean. So I applied a thin black-wash overall and then followed Hayden & Frary’s advice from Kalmbach’s Realistic Model Railroad Scenery and mixed up a very thin airbrush “dust” of my overall dirt color and dusted the entire model. Finally it looked right!

I then pulled out a photo of the building and realized that I needed steps in front of the cabin. The tip of a piece of Plastruct N scale stairway worked well. More essential, however, were the signs on the “dome.” I made a frame from styrene, and spent a few hours preparing a decal which was printed on an Alps MD5000 printer.

None of the logging railroads in the area traveled right past this unique place, but one of them probably will on my layout. Minnesota Highway #1 does drive past the front, and by the 1940s most logging in the area had converted to using trucks, anyway.

I hope that this project heightens your interest in stepping out of the box and modeling any building that holds a special place in your heart. I plan to keep writing “Up Deer Creek”* articles as I work my way through modeling the bygone days of that beautiful, rugged and all-too-often neglected part of America.

* My latter-day homage to Harry Brunk’s classic articles in Narrow Gauge and Short Line Gazette.
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Joined: 16 Jun 2009
Posts: 9
Location: San Diego CA

PostPosted: Wed Nov 18, 2009 4:30 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Amazing work! I think you've done great in writing this article, and you should post more!
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Whistle Beek

Joined: 27 Oct 2004
Posts: 34

PostPosted: Tue Dec 01, 2009 10:35 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Thanks, Josh.

I'm working on another article - and hope you will enjoy it, too. If the holidays don't get too in the way, it will be up soon!
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