Lionel 113 Station AF 4689 Lionel Trolley Ives 1764

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Creating A Standard Gauge Billboard

by Michael Isenberg

I have long wanted a period billboard for my standard gauge operating layout. As original prewar Lionel billboards are prohibitively expensive, I ruled them out. I'm not reluctant to try making a substitute, so I thought up an alternative.

I have many of the postwar Lionel billboards, but most of the designs would look out of place, and they would look tiny with standard gauge trains and accessories. It occurred to me that the 1953 postwar Lionel "Coke" billboard is a timeless design, a steam engineer, the familiar Coke shield & that great Coke-shaped bottle. Baby Ruth was another longtime advertiser in Lionel City and later Lionelville, so I included that one as well. I decided to have double sized (200%) color copies made on card stock. That takes them up to a size very close to Lionel's SG billboard size at 6" x 10". I was pleased with the results, so I went ahead.

How they come from the copier.

I trimmed off the excess white trim, and mounted the billboards to ¼" foam core. This can be bought at art/craft supply stores. As I am a graphics professional, I had some on hand with strong adhesive already applied. I always work with an oversized piece of board, then trim it to a finished size.

Mounted to board.

You could use many different backings, corrugated cardboard, art board or others. Carefully applied double face tape, rubber cement, or 3M-spray adhesive would all work well to adhere the copy to the board. Mounting is much like wallpapering or applying contact paper, you start at one end & carefully work your way to the other, forcing the air out, otherwise ugly bubbles will be a problem. At this point I carefully trimmed all four sides using an Exacto knife with a #11 blade.


The billboards looked pretty good at that point, but I decided a wood frame would give them more of a three-dimensional look. I painted the 1/8" x 3/8" trim a complimentary green & set it aside to dry. I used an Exacto razor saw & miniature miter box to cut the trim precisely to size. Later, I used a small amount of Elmer's glue & a few spots of Heatmelt glue to hold it all together. After the trim glue was set, I cut a triangle of foam core to be an easel for the back, then glued it on the same way.

Nothing exotic is need here, simple hobby tools, a few postwar billboards, a trip to your local "Print 'N Copy", or Blueprinter, and you too can fill in some of those empty spots on your layout with colorful billboards! It seems to me that the "Lipton's Iced Tea", "Campbell's Soup" & the "Breck" 1954 billboards would all look appropriate, as well. As I was finishing these up, an idea for phase two came to me. I intend to create a few more using the green border & latticework from a postwar billboard & incorporate color advertising graphics & text from vintage magazines! That opens limitless possibilities!! Stay tuned!

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