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As a kid in Chicago in the 1960's, one of my favorite memories at Christmastime was going to get our Christmas tree at one of the many tree lots that popped up seemingly overnight in early December on empty lots, street corners or unused spaces between buildings. These were all small, compact affairs run by a couple of guys, with trees crammed in tight and a few strings of lights hung to give the place some holiday ambiance. The tree lot scene from the movie "A Christmas Story" is a perfect example of what I recall them looking like way back then. So several weeks ago I decided to make a portable Christmas tree lot diorama for my layout based on my memories of these places that can be put on the layout in December then removed later on.

With no "kit" existing for this idea, I searched for what I could use to create this lot. While looking for some kind of small shanty or shed, I found these Lionel barrel shed models. The shed portion is the perfect size for what I wanted and discarded the base and platform parts.



To make it portable I used a 6"x12" sheet of 3-ply, 1/32" thick birch plywood from Midwest Products. This would make the lot size 24 feet x 48 feet, perfect for an inner-city size space. For poles to hold the string of lights around the lot, I used 1/8" dowel rod. And for the tree racks, picked up some 1/8" square bass wood strips.


The lots always had old barrels or 55 gallon drums burning the tree scraps and trimmings. I found these drums by Tichy Train Group that were perfect for what I was looking for.


For the Christmas trees, I hunted around for a while to find a good amount of bulk trees that were the right height and look / shape. I found an online site that sells 50 pieces of 5cm pine trees that would be a tree just under 8 feet tall. These trees are easily shaped and flexible, which I could bind up with basic thin string to make the stored version.



The base being thin 1/32" plywood, I didn't want it to warp of flex with changing humidity, so I applied several coats of polyurethane sealer on both sides. After that dried, I painted it with several coats of flat white paint to give it a base coat of "snow".


The barrel shed does not come with interior lighting, which I planned to do using an Evan Designs mega chip led. To prevent the glowing building effect, I sprayed the interior walls with several coats of a tan colored spray paint I already had. For the roof, I sprayed that with Rustoleum's textured paint, which gives a great tarred roof appearance.


Started to make the tree racks using the 1/8" square basswood strips. Didn't have a template or guide, so I just winged it where the horizontal support beam is about 4 scale feet off the ground, and the length is about 16 scale feet long. For the light poles, I cut the 1/8" dowel rod into 13 scale foot lengths, or 3.25" long pieces.


More to come.



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Last edited by NYC2UP
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Thanks RickO.

prrhorseshoecurve thanks for the lighting suggestion. I'm already squared away with the led lighting from Evan Designs.

Finished making the tree racks. Had room for just two of them on the small lot space I'm limiting this to. Painted them a flat brown. Will "frost" them later with some white airbrushing to mimic snow. Here they are placed on the now white painted base. Also, found a larger 3" size pine tree I already had, which will make a good 12 scale foot advertising tree to put by the lot entrance. Fitted it with a 12-light led string from Evan Designs.


Started on the steel drums that'll be used to burn the tree scraps, the shovels and the figure that came with the barrel shed kit. The shovels are painted with Testors flat steel, with flat brown handles. The barrel shed figure came with a typical railroader hat, so I filed that down to look more like a generic cloth hat, then painted him. Since the barrels are going to be lit from the inside with flickering leds, I had to give them several coats of flat black paint to prevent the light bleeding through the barrels. Started dry-brushing some black, rust and soot paints on the barrels to weather them.



Picked up some of these red flickering leds from Evan Designs. These are to create the red fire glow inside the barrels. Here they are by themselves.

Drilled small holes in the base of the barrels and fitted these leds into them. Here they are in operation. I have some leftover Halloween spider web wool that I'll airbrush red and insert into the barrels to mask the direct view of the leds somewhat.

Still more to come.



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Bill, very nice tree lot there. That's what I'm aiming for. I also have some electrical wiring I need to hide and got started on that.

Sean, that's the goal.

Started on the workers shed, painting the walls and base and then weathering it with some light dust / dirt around the bottom of the walls. I already had on hand some Com-Art dark rust airbrush paint that I'd try out. Here's the as-molded part color and a painted test piece. It looks fairly red in this picture, but it was just sprayed and the booth led lighting really enhances the color.


Here are all the walls after airbrushing with the dark rust, and then hitting them with Dullcoat to seal in the paint and take off any sheen.


Airbrushed the shed base with Com-Art smoke color as I'm going to place one of the burning trash barrels on the deck and ash and soot would be tracked all over that area by the workers. I realize anybody with two brain cells would not likely put a hot, burning trash barrel on a wooden deck, but... I need to hide the wiring.

Detailed the window trim with flat white paint. Also painted the window frames with Testors drab olive. The Lionel kit does not come with window glazing so I glued on to the frames some scrap window glazing I had leftover from another kit. Since I'm going to light the interior of the shed, all the wiring I'm going to cram in there would be visible. So to obscure the wiring I rubbed the glazed windows with 220 grit sandpaper to make them opaque and give them a cold, frosted look as well.


Lightly airbrushed the lower portions of the walls with Com-Art soft dirt color, as this shed is in an unpaved empty lot.


Assembled the shed. Hit it again in some spots with the soft dirt paint to blend in the walls and base better. Left the area around the trash drum colored with smoke. Just visible in this photo, I've lightly touched up the roof with white for snow and frost.


Getting to the electrical stage now.

All these led lights are from Evan Designs. Epoxyed a warm white Mega chip to the shed's ceiling. Inserted the flickering red led mentioned previously through a hole I drilled in the shed's base and placed one of the 55 gallon drums over it. To get all the wiring into the shed, I needed to cut a hole in the base inside the shed. This Lionel kit has a non-functioning light for the shed, so I replaced that with a gooseneck led light, painting the shade a flat forest green color. The gooseneck light mounting tube is fairly long and would have hit the sloped roof of the shed. So before installing it, I very gently bent it downward to avoid hitting the roof. Once I had clearance, I epoxyed it in place.


So here's where I'm at. Testing the led gooseneck light.


Now with the burning tree trimming drum. Placed an Arttista figure a bought, #1398, Man Ice Fishing, next to that burning drum to get warm. It comes already painted and works perfect there in that setting. That figure comes with a thin wire fishing pole that I did not use for obvious reasons. Placed one of the bound trees and the other worker by the shed to see if this collection of stuff comes together scale wise. Looks appropriate I think.


Next, on to the tree lot base.



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Dave, Bill & Peter, thank you.

Started on the tree lot base, which I had already painted flat white for a general snow cover. Since this space is supposed to be an empty lot, covered by dirt, grass, gravel, etc., it'll get pretty slushy and muddy where all the people are walking in and around the tree racks to buy their tree. Positioned on the base where I wanted the two tree racks, the shed and a small tree display stand I made up that the sellers commonly do so the frozen, bound trees can be opened up and the buyers can see what they look like.

Started airbrushing with soft dirt color a general path around these items where people would be walking. Concentrated a little more where I plan to make the entrance to the lot. Hit this path again in several spots with a darker fertile soil color where the foot traffic will be especially heavy, like the lot entrance, by the shed door and onto the shed's platform leading to the door.


Added in the other burning tree scrap drum with the red flickering led to the base. Positioned this one near the lot's entrance where the workers would trim off the tree trunks for the buyers, and toss the scraps into the drum. Drilled a hole in the base where I wanted it and fed the led up from the bottom.


Placed the drum over the led, after drilling a hole in the bottom. Painted a small amount of spider web wool with dark rust color that will obscure the the bright led somewhat when lit. Did this for both barrels.


For that entrance area by the burning drum, needed to make a tree trimming platform where they'd cut the trunks. Used some 1/4" wide balsawood strip that made a platform about the right height. Painted it flat dark brown and then glued on one of the bound trees using basic Elmer's white glue.


Will move on to adding the lot's string light poles and coloring the base more with soot around the burning barrels and tree needles everywhere.



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Rich, John, richabr and NeophyteMRR, thanks for your replies and really glad you guys like following along this project.

Worked more on the lot base, mostly airbrushing on various layers of colors, soot, tree needles, snow and Dullcoat trying to make it look what an open Christmas tree lot in December in a northern city would look like. I've watched / read how great modelers on this forum (SIRT/Steve, Rich Battista, Neal Schorr, Norm Charbonneau and many, many others) do a seamless job of blending in colors and shades on their projects. I'm still on the airbrushing learning curve and had to re-do a few spots when it just didn't look right when the structures were put back on the base temporarily. Like snow / frost would not be near the hot burning drums.

First needed to locate where the light poles, the large, front display tree and the bound tree storage area by the shed would be to refine the foot traffic paths. As mentioned above, the light poles were made from 1/8" dowel rod cut to 3.25" inches to make a 13 scale foot pole. Painted them flat dark brown. Since I'm going to use the 26 led light string from Evan Designs for the lot, I had to move around the pole locations a few times so a light on the string did not line up on top of a pole (measure twice-cut once). Once that was settled, drilled 1/8" holes in the base for the poles. Also drilled a hole to feed through the 12 led light string that'll be for the front display tree - shown below on the right.


As a tree lot would have pine needles all over the place, especially under the tree racks and by the trunk trimming platform, I poured out of the tree bag some of the residue that flaked off the trees. This will be sprinkled on the base where appropriate and sealed on with Dullcoat.


Here are a couple photos of the progress painting soot around the burning drums, light and dark soil colors where walking would be concentrated, and began sprinkling some tree needles around the lot. On top of all that, started hitting some areas with white where snow would not be disturbed very much.



Realized I needed to frost up the worker's shed some too, which would have snow and slush on it around the base to blend into the ground surface. Also, as the workers would be walking into the shed from the snow covered lot, snowy boot tracks were needed leading to the door. Did this by dry-brushing some flat white on the wood deck.



Wrapping up the shed, I glued the burning drum into place (the red flickering led is inside it), one of the two shovels, some of the tree needles around the drum and added a few pieces of real wood trimmings from an outside bush, cut to look like tree scraps and branches. Added some more snow foot prints over to the drum and glued on the Arttista figure mentioned above, who's warming up by the burning trash drum.



Next steps are to finish painting the lot base and then start adding on all the other parts; light poles, tree racks, other burning drum, etc.



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NeophyteMRR "Maybe you need a hand painted sign with prices on it?", way ahead of ya on that. Finishing that up tonight.

Mark, thanks for the compliment and that it's looking like what you recall too.

TedW, cool idea on the fire smoke. I'll have to check into that.

BradFish1, the legs are 1.5" long, glued with the "crotch" of the V, where the cross beam fits into, about 1" above the ground. The cross beams are 4.5" long.

Dave, I've kind of thought of fencing, which in the city would be fairly typical. But have not tried any ideas yet.


Dad would get our trees from a lot on the edge of the small town (population 1200) that was 2 or 3 miles away.  What I recall from my younger years isn't so far different than one that I passed on the main road on my way to work everyday until I retired a year ago.  The 21st century version looks like they use those electric torpedo heaters and bigger trucks haul the trees in from 2 counties away.  The lighting has been better in recent years too.  You are doing an excellent job, Tom!!!

Mark, yeah the current era tree lots have modernized their equipment for sure. I'm going for a much older time frame for this project, where about the only modern convenience is electricity for lighting.

Wild Mary, I'm not familiar with the bags of dyed green sawdust. What's that for?

So last night I pretty much finished coloring the lot base with the underlying shades of dirt and soot, with the tree needles sprinkled on in select areas. Sealed it all in with some Dullcoat. Will hit some areas later on with a white overspray for a snow / frost effect. With that part done, I filed a thin, shallow notch on the tops of all the string light poles to seat the string light wire into when that's added later. Then glued in the string light poles to the lot base with Gorilla wood glue. That glue dries to a yellowy color, so needed to touch up the pole bases with flat white paint to blend it in. Here's the point at that stage.


Before adding on all the other parts to the base, I lightly airbrushed some flat white onto the light poles, tree racks, the small group of unbound trees and some areas of the base where foot traffic would be light.



Now onto the glue-a-thon stage adding to the base all the pieces and components made earlier.

First, epoxyed in place to the underside of the base, the led wires for the corner burning drum and the large display tree. These wires feed into a hole under the shed, where all the wiring and led bridge rectifier packs are to be hidden inside.


Next, placed heavy pieces of steel bars and scrap bar stock I have onto the thin plywood base to ensure it's glass flat while I glue in place all the parts. Used Elmer's white glue for the two tree racks and the small tree display stand. Used epoxy for the large display tree and the corner burning drum. The worker's shed is not glued in place yet as I'll need to temporarily remove it later on to heavily airbrush some white around that area and don't want to screw up the shed.


Finally began adding on the trees, both the bound up versions I made and several opened ones that the workers cut off the shipping twine. Just used Elmer's glue to mount them. A small dot on the tree base and a bit on the tree rack where the tree contacts it. Began making a small pile of bound trees next to the shed where the workers would store their tree stockpile. Did this with Elmer's glue as well. Having to do all this gluing in several steps as it takes a while for the trees to set up and firmly lock in place.



Next steps are to add on the remaining trees, paint on some snow and begin hanging the string lights on the poles.



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Getting close to the finish line.

Finished adding on all the trees I wanted to use, 35 in all, to the lot. Left some open spaces on the racks where a tree has been pulled and placed in a few unbound trees that the workers have cut off the twine.

Also glued on the tree trunk cutting platform by the shed entrance near the other burning scrap drum. Sprinkled on more tree needles around that drum and glued on some real wood twigs cut from one of our outside bushes.

Experimenting with some ideas on where to place on the tree lot some more Arttista figures I bought, kids sledding, #1386 and #1387, shown below. This is a winter scene and I want figures dressed for cold weather; coats, hats, boots... Can't find many that fit exactly what I want. Still looking for adults that'd be shopping for a tree.




Removed the shed and loose figures to airbrush the trees, racks, light poles and lot with white in select areas where snow would accumulate. Varied which trees would have snow on them as some have been in place for a while and others are being moved around, restocking the racks from the storage pile. May hit a few areas a bit more later on with white after it's all put together to blend in some of the areas better. This is where I'm at now.





Happy with the "snow" painting, moved onto the final stretch, adding the lot's string lights.

This is a 4-color 26 led light string from Evan Designs. Before attaching it to the poles, I gently twisted the wire so all the leds pointed in the same direction and when installed, the lights will shine downward onto the lot. The wire, while very pliable and easy to bend, tended to re-curl and annoyingly move around as I tried to glue it to the top of the poles. I ended up using some CA gel and applying it on one pole at a time, holding the wire in place until the gel hardened. Got the first few done before calling it quits for the day. It's a bit blurry, but you can see the progression.


Next, finishing up the wiring and then the light up.



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Tom, You have done a great job of thinking of everything.  Whether from memory, observing modern lots and backdating them, or photographs, your observation to detail has been great on this project.  Yes, finding people dressed for winter can be a challenge.  My wife has picked up a lot of them along with ceramic or resin buildings sold for Christmas displays at thrift stores.  All are out of scale for your purposes.  The ceramic people are always too large, and the resin or plastic ones are too small.  Of course it doesn't matter for the more whimsical Christmas display, but not right for a well done scale model.

Tom, you're not going to try and make one of those tree stuffers are you? That's those crazy looking things that "net" the tree tightly up so it can be tied. I think those came out later on in the 20th century whereas I think you're modeling closer to beginning to mid, right? If you did try to make one, I think model basketball net or maybe some sort of chicken wire or the like would do.

Your attention to detail reminds me of model builders for motion pictures.  I have a lot of respect for people who can summon up the patience that these projects require.  I am working on that aspect of myself.  I am learning that it is a requirement to make something truly wonderful and unique.  Thanks again for sharing.

Mark, thank you for your kind words. How I came up with this concept and design is an amalgamation of all the things you mentioned; memories, observations, pictures, movies, the works. Driving by a good number of tree lots on the way to work over the years I do look at them closely and take in their details. But I'm modeling a lot from many years ago (1930's/1940's) and obviously do not include modern features like a port-a-john, propane heaters, tree baler, etc. Besides childhood memories, I have found pictures on Shorpy of tree lots from even earlier, like the couple shown below. The first is New York City, 1903, and the second is Providence, RI, 1940. Pretty basic affairs - trees bound up, in piles or standing up on racks.



Bill, glad you're enjoying this project's progress. Yeah, getting your tree in the city was/is a different affair. You parked on the street near the lot if you were lucky, or in an alley somewhere if you weren't. One year some guys put up a tree lot in an empty corner house lot down the street from our house. You could just carry the tree home.

Dave, no plastic netting tree balers here. Interesting historical tidbit about them though, thanks. As mentioned above, I'm creating a scene roughly from the 1930's/1940's where the trees are all bound up by hand by stout men from Wisconsin and Michigan with names like Johnson, Krueger and Vander Vleet that have hands like a catchers mitt!

NeophyteMRR, thanks for your comments. I just pay attention to real life details and then try to figure out how to recreate them on a model. Earlier attempts were pretty crappy, but I just keep plugging away. Also, look up an Aussie guy on YouTube called Luke Towan, who's produced dozens of videos of him making absolutely astounding detailed dioramas of everything. I've watched many of them and learned quite a bit, plus I like seeing the tools, fixtures, etc., he uses to make his creations. I've seen many items he uses that I didn't know existed, saying dang, I need that!

Finally, the finish line.

Completed the installation of the string lights on top of the light poles. This led string has a fairly large bridge rectifier pack that powers it and needs to be tucked away somewhere. I positioned the lights so that pack is inside the shed, with the wiring coming out of the shed and up to the poles, which I've seen done many times in real life. Just cut a thin notch on the roof's bottom to allow the wire through. Molded all the wiring by hand to give it a real life looking sag between the poles.


All the led wiring crammed inside the shed is a real noodle factory. Had to use some double-sided tape to secure the large led power packs out of the way of the translucent windows so they don't appear when looking at the windows as the interior is now lighted.


Decided to place the other worker by the tree trunk cutting platform, moving a tree into place to trim off the trunk. He seemed to fit that location best.


Finished making the tree lot sign and attaching it to one of the light poles. Since I'm modeling the 30's/40's I wanted to know what a typical Christmas tree sold for back then. After numerous internet searches I learned that they generally cost only a few bucks, lower in the 30's of course during the Depression. Wanting a fairly basic operation, I decided on $2 for a small tree, and $3 for a large one. I didn't want to hand paint one (too much of a PITA in my opinion), so tried to find a font style that looked as close to a hand painted sign as possible. Ended up using 10pt font size Segoe Print that seemed to work. Printed it on plain white paper and glued it onto a small basswood strip painted flat white, using 3M's #77 spray on adhesive.

Also purposefully used the word "Xmas" instead of Christmas as I clearly remember the year when some guys set up a tree lot down the street from our house in Chicago, on the corner of 59th Street and Wood Street. They had a string of lights over the entrance that said Merry Xmas. I asked my older brothers what did that mean and they told me it was just a shortened version of the word Christmas. I'm like 5 years old, so OK.









Hope everyone enjoyed seeing this project's progress and the end result. Thanks for all the comments, suggestions and replies. Now onto the next project...



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Last edited by NYC2UP

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