North Pole Square of The Polar Express

Started by carl b, September 18, 2021, 12:56:56 PM

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carl b

Welcome to a build of a HO scale diorama, depicting a scene from the 2004 movie "Polar Express". It's one of the first ever completely motion captured-computer animated major features. Actor/producer Tom Hanks plays several roles. The original children's story and book was written and illustrated by Chris Van Allsburg in 1985.

The film has been both widely praised and criticized. Praise for the storyline, characters and pacing, and criticism from the cold (some say creepy) animation of the humans, especially their "dead eyes".

I personally like the movie for its artistry and wonderful rendering of the 1950's American Christmas, Santa Claus and train themes.
One scene, near the end of the film, is the focus of this project. It's at the top of the world, called "North Pole Square". It is a circular city of factory buildings, populated with small elves in a huge toy making complex.

Due to copyright infringement issues, I will not post screenshots of the movie on this forum.  I will post links to other web sites where you can view the movie stills that depict the look I am trying to achieve..

A general overview of the visuals of the movie are here from Google Images-

The diorama will contain 4 main elements, a scratched large 4 story brick administration building where Santa has his "office", and a multitude of workers.. . a scratched section of curved brick archways, a coach car arriving at the square (a Labelle kit), & a monstrous Christmas tree... on a 12" x 24" base.

I'll begin in the next post....

Rail and Tie

This looks like it will be a very interesting build!  Looking forward to your usual fantastic antics!
Darryl Jacobs
Inter-Action Enterprises

carl b

The 4 story Santas'  administration building at North Pole square is modeled after the Pullman Car Factory Office building in Chicago.

See a still of the building from the movie here:

I have drawn my interpretation on large paper, only the left side, (the right side is mirrored) and the center clock tower. Even with some condensing  its approx. 20" wide and 13" high. This thing is BIG for HO scale. It will be built as a 3 wall background flat.

It needs over 90 windows! The main office type units are Tichy 40 pane #2523 N-scale masonry versions, where I removed the bottom sash and replaced it with a single vertical muntin. The half moons I made of 2 x 4 styrene strip, that I formed and kept the shape inside this circle template, while the glue dried. Will trim the side legs flush later.

The small rectangular units in the upper left were made by cutting the same Tichy units down and trimming them out.

I created these templates out of .03" sheet styrene. The left side unit contains all the window openings needed. The right side is the shape I need for the arch trim build out of the top floors of each section.

I'll be using Monster Model Works 1/32" brick sheet for all the main walls, due to the ease of cutting. Unfortunately, it's fragile and too light to support itself. Therefore, I'll have to build sub-walls for everything, which is .05 chipboard. Here I have begun the task, which requires about 50 wall sections.

This 6" x 12" basswood brick sheet is very expensive, so I set out to use them in the most efficient way I could, to use as few sheets as possible. I cut paper templates of every wall and moved them around until I could fit in as many as possible. I started at 5 and 1/2 sheets needed, but a few hours of "puzzle" work reduced it to four sheets.

I could then cut the actual brick sheet pieces away, and I have begun working on window and door cutouts.

I need 4 very large arched windows. I chose Tichy 3521 "S" scale masonry units, and sliced and diced them to fill out the necessary shapes. One continuous 2 x12 styrene strip for the head and jambs, and 2 x 2 strips were used for stops to frame out the perimeter casings.

A coat of paint on every wall, just two colors used, randomly mixed together. Americana Burnt Sienna and Heritage Brick.

Till next some walls....



Outstanding Carl !!
And really looking forward to you progress on this wonderful and unusual diorama.   Based on your prior work this should be spectacular.
Thanks for sharing it with us all here on this forum !!
All the best,
Modeling the Atlantic & White Mtn Railway

Mark Dalrymple

Very cool, Carl.

Its a cracker of a building, and a pretty challenging scratchbuild - especially with all those arches.  I've never thought of using N-scale (or S-scale) windows for fabrication in HO-scale before.  Are the details (muntin, sills, frames etc.) not significantly different in size between the scales?  I do often find Tichy HO-scale windows too big for what I want, so it would make a lot of sense to check out the N-scale catalogue.  The trouble being they generally take between four weeks and three months to get to my doorstep!  What unit would follow the 0.05 chipboard thickness?  It just sounded very thin.  1.27mm?  Also never thought of using a circle template for making arched window tops!  I've banked that one for the future.

Watching, as always, with a lot of interest.

Cheers, Mark.


Nice!  I love seeing builds of large masonry structures.

Modeling the Northeast in the 1890s - because the little voices told me to

carl b

Darryl, Paul, Mark and Dave, thank you for your interest and following along.

Mark- The N scale Tichy window I'm using is not much thinner than HO scale. I was more interested in overall dimensions than anything else. The building HAD to be condensed. And the .05" chipboard does indeed translate to about 1.25mm. Plenty thick (and difficult to cut) for this application.

Opa George

A very exciting project, Carl.  I will certainly be following along.  Great looking effort so far.

--Opa George
George Nagle
Twin Mountain Barge & Navigation Co.
Harrisburg, PA


Great project Carl.....can't wait to see it complete and under the tree.  8)
Gregory P. DeMayo
General Construction Superintendent Emeritus
St. Louis & Denver Railroad
Longwood, FL

Dennis Bourey

Dennis Bourey

Lake's Region RR
(Happy Modeling)

carl b

Thanks for following along George, Greg and Dennis!

Great to have you on board...




Very interesting build - you are off to a great start. I will be following along.
John Siekirk
Superior & Seattle Railroad


Bob Dye
Livin large on a pond



I'm definitely in on this one as well. Love the scratch building and your techniques, explanation on the build.

Most impressive.

Tom  ;D
"If we are to guard against ignorance and remain free, it is the responsibility of every American to be informed."
Thomas Jefferson

Tom Langford

carl b

Thank you John, Bob and Tom for following along! Nice to hear from all of you.

I try to make my narrative as short possible, but if I don't explain something you see, please ask!

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