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Usable Structure Kits

Massimo DiGiulio's N Scale Station Buildings

Having adapted to the relative scarcity of Italian prototype rolling stock (particularly in N scale), we now turn our attention to the challenges of creating a realistic stage upon which to dispatch our 'actors'. As is usually the case, there is a bit more available in H0 scale, and in fact a few structure kits have been made in the larger scale specifically for the Italian market. But the serious modeler, whatever the chosen scale, will eventually have to adopt and adapt items to give them more of an Italian look.

To be sure, a variety of architectural styles exist side by side in Italy as they do in other parts of the continent. But in all but the most northerly reaches of the country, stucco and terra cotta are the building materials of choice for small and medium-sized structures. As is the case in most countries, traditional architecture develops in response to the climate and to the available materials at hand (among other factors). Hot summer sun is countered by thick earthen walls, light exterior colors, small shuttered windows, and broad roof overhangs. Infrequent snowfall allows for gently-pitched roof lines. These are the typical characteristics of Italian buildings and to develop a layout with a truly Italian feel, they must be maximized.

The major European structure kit manufacturers are Pola, Kibri, Vollmer, and Faller. I've listed them in my own order of preference. I generally rank Pola as my #1 because of the relatively simple assembly (a modelling plus and a characteristic that lends itself to the simple Italian architecture) and their suitability to my specific needs; this company was purchased by Faller a few years ago, and we're already seeing some changes in kit design. Kibri bridges the gap from relatively simple kits to more complex ones. Vollmer and Faller kits can be quite complicated because of the many pieces of ornate trim that are often included. These kits build into impressive models and all pieces are molded in their final colors, but the architecture styles portrayed are usually more common in Germany and other northern countries.

What follows then is a list of some of the kits that can be easily adapted to the Italian scene. Click on any 'thumbnail' for a larger photo.

Note that since Faller's acquisition of Pola, some of the former Pola product is now found in Faller-branded boxes, and vice-versa.

You may recall that over the years many Pola kits were marketed through Atlas, A.H.M., and most recently by Model Power. Consequently, if your favorite shopping place is the railroad swap meet or eBay, you may see some of the kits mentioned here in other boxes.

The kits produced in those 'early days' under the Pola, Atlas, or A.H.M. label were almost always in an orange box and the box art is usually the same from version to version. Note too that many of the box art illustrations are obviously photographs of a 1:1 structure. In the photo you can see actual photos of the portals for both the north and south ends of the Simplon Tunnel.

Pola's #205 Station Platforms are usable for Italian modeling, though many FS installations tend towards canopy construction that is mostly concrete. Typically, Italian platforms are raised only a few inches above the rail head, necessitating the use of all the steps on the passenger car entry. In contrast, German platforms are usually raised almost a foot above the rails, making it less of a climb. Given the generally oversize height of commercial N scale track, the Pola platforms will work quite well as stand-ins for Italian construction. This kit is also available from Model Power (#1508) at a significant savings!

A word on footbridges: Where necessary, the Italian Railway is more likely to make use of underground pedestrian tunnels to connect the station proper with the isolated platforms. Overhead passageways are almost never seen. Crossing at track level used to be allowed at some stations, but higher speeds and more through trains (especially at smaller stations) have made this a dangerous practice. Though station personnel still use the cross-track walkways for movement of baggage carts, each is plainly marked Vietato attraversare i binari - Servirsi del sottopassaggio (It is forbidden to cross the tracks - use the pedestrian underpass).

Pola's #206 Glass Train Shed is a tempting kit (and it too used to be available from Model Power at a more reasonable price). However, be advised that station canopies such as this are fairly rare in Italy, even in the north.

There was a time when over-track protection was a common sight, even at smaller Italian stations, but most were destroyed in wartime air attacks or removed when the line was upgraded for electric locomotive operation. Since the post-WWII rebuilding, such structures are now to be found only at the larger terminals (like Milan Central) and in these cases, the canopy is many times larger than this model. But hey! It's your railroad!!

Kitbasher's Note: I am building a large station canopy for a stub-end terminal using six of these Pola/Model Power kits. This entails cutting half of the arch assemblies precisely down the middle and lengthening the legs on the other half. I then glue the cut assemblies to either side of the uncut assemblies to create the 'bones' for a massive double-tiered structure.

To aid in getting all of the pieces uniformly assembled, I built a simple construction jig on a sheet of wood. The terminal and its approach tracks cover an entire 2-by-6-foot door, and the station and its flanking postal terminal is built out of two Kibri 'Osterburken Station' kits.

One little-known fact regarding the European kit makers is that most of their structures are based on actual buildings. In the early days, the box art often showed a photograph (sometimes stylized) of the 1:1 structure rather than a photo of the completed model. If you have any doubt, just compare this model with the photo of the actual Simplon Tunnel south portal. Italian N-scalers have the distinction of having a kit of a tunnel that is actually found in Italy.

Swiss N scalers take note that the North Portal of the tunnel is also to be had in kit form.

Moving on to actual station structures, Pola has a couple of offerings that fit nicely into the Italian scene with little modification.

Pola's Modern Station kit is a good usable example of a small passenger facility that might have been built in the 1960s or later. The gently pitched terra cotta roof and white stucco walls fit right into the Mediterranean look. The upstairs bar/restaurant is perhaps a bit of a stretch, but not totally implausible. One nice feature is the add-on look of the Capo Stazione's shelter, reminiscent of similar additions to many FS stations. As of summer 2002 this kit is evidently out of production; look for it at swap meets and in dusty old hobby shops!

Out of the box, the kit walls are almost too white; I'd recommend an overspray of a slightly warmer white followed by a bit of weathering. The small structure at the far left end of the station (when viewed from track side) might be best used as a news stand. These edicole are to be found in every busy Italian station. Also, this kit and the Station Platforms both have stairways molded into their bases. To make a more accurate model following Italian practice, replace the protective stairwell fencing with solid walls made from plastic sheet.

Here is a Pola product that has been produced off and on throughout the years and marketed in the U.S. under the Atlas and later A.H.M. labels as "Large Passenger Station" or "Burgstadt Station." This kit will make a reasonable model of a medium-sized Italian station even if you don't change the slate roof for terra cotta tiles.

The kit's design is somewhat reminiscent of the Domodossola station and the 'street' side includes several small storefronts. There's also a small news stand at one end. Watch for it at train swap meets and on ebay. As of early summer 2002, this kit is once again available as Pola catalog number 320204! Click the thumbnail for a view of the new box art.

Pola's #237 Apartment Building has a nice, neutral look and will fit in an Italian scene quite well. The origins of this kit appear to be 'Faller' and it best represents a small apartment block built since the 1960s. A valid argument could be made that this kit (and others) has perhaps too many windows; in colder northern climes, folks have more windows to let the winter sun in. Further south, windows are reduced to keep things cool in the summer. For a bit more realism, replace most of the flower beds with some laundry hanging out to dry!

Shutters are an everpresent feature on Italian homes. In the past, these typically took the familiar form of the outside-hinged variety that can be swung shut and latched. The use of shutters is more related to defense against heat and sunlight than against stormy weather. The slats in traditional shutters allow ventilation (with the windows open) while guarding against sun and rain.

Over the last 50 years, new and reconstructed buildings are usually built with roll-up wood or metal persiani on each window. Similar to a roll-up garage door, these are guided and held in place by a slot in the sides of the window casement. Persiani are often quite innovative; some are equipped with a hinging device that allows them to be swung out from the middle like an awning. Most can be locked down at the lower edge to provide an effective deterrent against burglary yet a little tension on the roll-up mechanism will open slots between the individual slats, allowing fresh air into the home.

Pola has marketed several kits using the component pieces found in these two structures (and even provided them to Model Power). The building on the left has a plain-looking facade while the corner building on the right has ornamental stonework around each window. Stores on the ground level are a typical feature of European apartment buildings, but there's almost always a front or side entrance that leads to the stairwell (if you're lucky, to the elevator) and up to the apartments. Again, there are perhaps too many windows on the apartment levels, but this can be overlooked.


Kibri's #7414 station and its slightly larger #7416 cousin feature stucco construction, tile roof, and separate shutters. The larger kit uses this one as a base, adding a single storey addition to the right end and a detached building at the other.

The skylights and small roof dormer windows are not typical Italian features and might best be removed. You could also argue that four chimneys are too many, and you'd probably be right (unless your layout is set in the alpine foothills). Otherwise, this kit is quite similar to small stations found in a variety of places in Italy, particularly along the northern lines leading to France and Switzerland.

Modeler's Note: Small and medium stations built before the 1960s often did not include restrooms for the traveling public inside the main building. Toilet facilities were located in a separate structure adjacent to the station. Since the names of many types of stores end in ...eria (pizzeria, lavanderia, latteria), I usually refer to these small structures as whizz-erias!

For those with plenty of room looking to model a major city terminal, Kibri's #7701 Holzkirchen Station is a fine example of the massive faux stone construction of the inter-war years. Under Mussolini many similar civic works projects were completed, including the colossal main station of Milano Centrale which necessitated an extensive re-routing of the railway in and around Milan. You could also use this Kibri model with several glass train shed kits to create a truly remarkable stub end terminal with a dozen or more tracks (I'm doing this on a separate section of my layout).

Previously, this structure was molded in a realistic sandstone color (and the kit was named Osterburken Station). I understand that the blue tinge in this photo accurately represents the kit color; I'm not sure why this was done; it will surely need a coat of paint!

Kibri's #7438 two stall engine shed is a structure that, were it not for the red brick construction, would fit quite well in a typical Italian scene (and I'm sure you could find a brick engine shed somewhere in Italy). The window and door size and placement are compatible with Italian practice. It may be feasible to 'stucco' this kit with spot putty or acrylic paste.

Another option is to use the walls as patterns for cutting new pieces of plain plastic. Many Italian loco sheds do not have the large hinged doors, so you might want to consider leaving them off.

Kibri's #7446 Goods Shed is another brick structure that could pass for Italian if the surface were stucco covered. Not all roofs are terra cotta, in fact, in the Domodossola area many building have grey slate roofs, so this one could be left as is (though you certainly could cut a new roof from Kibri's tile roof panels - the sheets marketed as "Z-scale" look more to scale than the N scale product).

If you redo the roof, consider adding an open-frame extension on one end of the structure, doubling its length. Continue the roof line over this 'patio' to form a covered outdoor transshipment area.

Kibri's #7304 Branzoll Castle is another kit based on an actual structure.

In this case, I was surprised to discover that Branzoll is in Italy and so is the castle (or castello)! Turns out Branzoll is in the ethnically-Austrian region of Sud-Tirol in the northeast part of the country.


Vollmer's #7702 House is a very usable kit and represents the dream of most apartment-dwelling Italians; the single-family Villa. One caution here for those who are attempting to model in a tight space: given that the Villa is a much desired but expensive housing option, you may not find one too close to a 'noisy' railroad track - unless the owner is a rail enthusiast!

Once again, the quantity of balcony-mounted flower pots is a bit much, but be sure and site your Villa on a large lot (six to nine times larger than the house itself) and surround it with trees and vegetable gardens all enclosed within a wrought iron or stucco fence. My only complaint with this kit is that a longer roof overhang at the eaves would make it look even more Italian.

Vollmer's #7720 Apartment House is another example of a small Palazzo that one might find in a town or small city.

Again, notice that the ground floor is replete with small store spaces; Italians are never far from a paneficio (bakery), a latteria (dairy store), or a pasticceria (pastry store)! Other options include a Bar (less of a dive than image conjures up), a pizzeria, a frutivendolo (green grocer), or a lavanderia (laundry - though the apartments do look modern enough to have been built with home laundry facilities in mind).

Vollmer's #7609 Three Track Engine Shed is a bit less of an obvious candidate. Nevertheless, it is of stucco construction and has a roof that is not pitched too steeply. In fact, beating beneath the modest amount of Nordic bric-a-brack is the heart of an Italian.

Just fill the attic windows (but leave the round opening at the very top), remove the loco doors, and cancel some of the trim to make this into a simple italianate structure. Leave the single-storey office off, too (or stick it on the back). Painting the roof to resemble terra cotta tile and applying pale yellow with white trim to the walls completes the Mediterranean transformation.

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