Tanks Fer Nuttin’

I’ll let you in on a secret. The best hobby shop on the planet is Home Depot.

The Atlanta-based home improvement warehouse has just about everything you need to completely build a model railroad… minus track, locomotives, and freight cars. That limitation nonwithstanding, I’ve found that if you wander the aisles with a prototype-modeler mindset you’ll find countless items that will work for your layout. Take tanks for instance.


Just north of the IAIS bridge across the Iowa River and alongside The Hills Line is the University of Iowa’s potable water tank. Not served by rail, or even vaguely modelgenic, its location along The Hills Line and next to the IAIS main made it a required inclusion, if nothing else to set era and locale.

My original plan was to include an image of the tank on the backdrop next to the girder bridge and be content. However, when laying track I unintentionally left enough space between The Hills Line track and the backdrop to squeeze a narrowed-version of the tank, as well as the surrounding chain link fence.

Since 3D elements are always preferred to 2D images, I started researching what could use to approximate the prototype. There are several options for water and oil tanks that come close to matching the prototype, but all at a cost that I couldn’t justify at this time. I filed this scene into the “not at this time” pile and moved on.

Then I went to Home Depot.


Turns out that PVC caps make excellent water tanks, especially when you don’t want to spend an arm and a leg on something that’s a glorified backdrop structure. A six-inch diameter cap gave the correct height and bulk of the prototype that I wanted to model.


Total investment: $11.67

I cut the cap to fit using my miter saw, sanded off the lettering, added some stand-off piping and vents using parts from my scrap pile, and painted the entire structure with Rustoleum Bright Coat Aluminum (also picked up at Home Depot). An India ink and rubbing alcohol weathering wash later and I’ve got a more than adequate background building that provides another place-setting piece for The Hills Line.



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