A couple of years ago, I spied a couple of lonely galvanized village houses in the seasonal section at Kmart. My wife told me that galvanized Christmas village buildings were popular and laughed at the irony that I was buying them, not her.
Of course, I wanted them for my train layout, where I use metal buildings. In model railroading, I try to be the opposite of trendy.
Galvanized Christmas village buildings
Galvanized Christmas village buildings take a cue from traditional Scandinavian lanterns, which frequently take the shape of miniature buildings. Home decor stores like Pottery Barn and Bed Bath and Beyond sell them, as do craft stores like Michael’s, and even discount stores. As you move downscale, the selection tends to drop and the designs tend to get more generic. Sometimes the buildings are painted, but more frequently you find bare galvanized metal, which gives a rustic look.
Galvanizing is the process of adding a protective zinc coating to steel or iron to help it resist rust. For this reason, sometimes you’ll see them called zinc buildings.
Prices vary. The discount store variety tend to sell for $10. The more upmarket varieties sell for up to $40. The cheapest varieties are simple designs with cutouts for windows, while costlier varieties will have stamped details in addition to cutouts.
Most of them have a hole where you can insert a tea candle to light the interior. Some people set them up on a mantle or on a table. I suppose nothing stops you from using them the way you would Dept 56 or Lemax and making a more elaborate display of them, if you wanted.
Using galvanized village houses with trains
It wasn’t long after these became popular that vintage train enthusiasts took notice. The buildings are generic enough that they can pass with a variety of scales. Certain early Standard Gauge and 2-inch-gauge trains, such as a Lionel #7, were made of unpainted brass and other plated metals. So it was natural for someone fortunate enough to have trains like a Lionel #7 (whether original or reproduction) to be interested in galvanized village houses that were large enough that the trains wouldn’t dwarf them.
Scale-wise, most galvanized village houses look like they’re trying to be about 1:24 scale. They wouldn’t represent big buildings at that scale, but they work.
For people who like slightly less big metal trains, these buildings can still work. Many of them don’t have doors, so without a door to betray the size of a floor, what looks like a 2-floor building next to a Standard Gauge train can look like a 4-floor building next to an O gauge train.
When the buildings come bare, most train hobbyists choose to paint them. Disassembling the building gives best results, but some of them are difficult or impossible to disassemble non-destructively. When disassembly isn’t very practical, masking and spraying works. It’s best to scuff the surface, at the very least, since many of them have a clearcoat on them. Some hobbyists strip off the clearcoat with aircraft-grade paint remover before priming and painting.
Once painted, these buildings fit right in with the look of vintage Lionel 189 and 191 villas, but the size is a better match. And even paying the full $40 retail value and factoring in the cost of supplies, they cost a fraction of the price of a reproduction Lionel villa.
Someday, someone’s going to hate guys like me for buying these buildings and painting them. Or maybe not.
If you like the lithographed look, these buildings would be interesting candidates for transfering images from paper.