Skip to Main Content
Search This Site:

Google Custom Search.

Want to search all TCA sites?
Go here



Join TCA.










Psycho for HO

By Alfred James Dill, TCA# 12-67056                     Spring 2017   

My 15 year old daughter Darien loves to build things for her HO layout. When she's not in the basement arranging track or running wires for lights and accessories, she can be found up in her room, watching black and white movies and scratch building at her desk. She enjoys constructing plastic airplanes, boats, houses, restaurants, stores, and banks from old kits, but her true love, is to create something out of nothing.

Darien and I were out and about one day checking into a local model train store that we had never been to before. We had read about the place on the internet, and were very interested in the fact that it had a used section. We love vintage stuff, so we were eager to see what old gems we could find.

The store was great! Packed floor to ceiling with everything a model railroader needs to build an HO empire. We made our way to the back wall where we could see rows and rows of old pre-assembled model buildings. Darien, like her dad, enjoys incorporating pre-built, dusty old structures in with her scratch builds. The aged models definitely do add a certain charm.

Kids Club Logo.

Darien is a member of TCA's Kids Club, member # 16-7473. Her brother Jesse is also a member. They were featured in a previous e*Train article as seen below.

Jessee and Darien.

The Kids Club lets young people learn the fun of the train collecting hobby under the guidance of TCA members who share their knowledge and enthusiasm.

Darien is already displaying advanced skills and patience in constructing thoughtful layouts, which requires considerable planning and focus.

For further information on the Kids Club, please go here.

As we scanned the shelves, something caught my eye. Up on one of the higher shelves was a model that stood apart from the rest. "I can't believe it!" I said aloud, as I nudged my daughter, (she hates that and I should know better by now) and brought her attention to my amazing find. Her annoyed expression quickly turned to glee when she spotted it, the "Bates Mansion" from the horror film classic "Psycho." The model was beautifully built, (from a kit manufactured by Polar Lights) and hand painted. It sat on a patch of land covered with grass, trees, and shrubbery. It was evident that the modeler put much care and effort into the project.

You could tell it had been hastily cut out of his layout. There was chipped plaster around the edge of the base, wires hanging, and benchwork remnants. It was awesome, but it needed work.

Being a big fan of the film PSYCHO, the "Bates Mansion" was something that Darien (believe it or not) had planned to scratch build in the future. We were surprised to see it there, as we had no idea that a model kit even existed.  We were most interested in purchasing this unique item. The shopkeeper gave us a great deal. We were more than pleased with our new acquisition.

Now that we had the Bates Mansion, all that was needed was the iconic "Bates Motel". There are no "Bates Motel" model kits on the market, but upon searching the web, I found that other modelers used Plasticville motels to accompany their Bates mansions. I mentioned this option to my daughter and she laughed. "No dad", she said dismissively, "I'm going to build this one."

Before she started the Motel, she set to re-building the tattered base of the "Bates Mansion". She used one inch strips of hand cut cardboard to make a basket weave structure, and incorporated thin plywood and foam for stability. She used a level throughout this project to ensure the mansions even perch upon the hill. When the structure was sound, she covered the hill with torn newspaper dipped in her own home made plaster mix. When the hill was smooth and dry, she painted it green. She then sculpted a precarious flight of stairs that would serve well enough to lead Norman home. After that, she peppered the hill with moss, sand (sawdust), and a blend of faux and real trees.  She created a beautiful fall landscape that she then decorated with tiny pumpkins that she sculpted and painted herself. I must say, it was positively stunning!


With the mansion "layout ready", my daughter prepared for the motel build. Being a model railroader, and being named after the legendary Hitchcock, I wanted in on this project. I gladly offered to lend my daughter a hand. Unfortunately, Darien finds me to be a bit impossible (annoying) to work with sometimes, but she reluctantly obliged.

Much of the needed supplies were already in our basement. Plywood, cardboard, glue, and paint stood at the ready. We purchased tiny strips of molding and coffee stirrers from a craft store for good measure.  Browsing pictures of other Bates Motel attempts, I noticed that most modelers kept the structure a solid "L" shape, making the motel one piece. The actual prototype is split, with a breezeway between the buildings. The two buildings are slightly staggered to create space for a back patio. The buildings are connected by the roof, porch, and foundation. The roof in turn, shades the patio, (which is a great place to relax and dry off after a shower). The breezeway is very important, without it, you can't have the accurate amount of rooms, which are twelve "cabins" and an office.  Another detail overlooked by other builders is the way the roof and porch are designed. The original motel is built on a slight incline, so to make it truly PSYCHO; you have to have the tri-level roof with a gradually descending porch.


Though Darien and I were confident we could build an accurate Bates Motel just by studying the film, I was fortunate to find the motel's floor plan on the internet. The floor plan served as an invaluable tool.  I started by making a template using my computers archaic "paint" program. I outlined where all of the doors and windows should be, and the height and width of the front and back walls. After I printed out the template, Darien traced it using a pencil and parchment paper. She then taped the parchment paper to a thin sheet of plywood, and transferred the design by rubbing it with a nickel. The bare wood accepted the pencil lines perfectly. After that, I assisted her in cutting out the walls, doors, and windows with a utility knife. I am a bit more cautious using a knife than Norman Bates, so no blood was shed on this project.



Over the next few days, the build progressed nicely. We measured and cut four side gable walls from plywood, then glued all 8 of the walls together corner to corner. We glued vertical beams into each corner for support. Throughout the structure, we added floor beams and joists made from pine and bamboo, keeping it code. When we were done with basic construction, Darien primed the wood, and painted it a cheerful yellow. Mother loves yellow. It was with great patience that Darien trimmed out and painted all of the windows and doors. After that, she weathered everything with a crude brushing of Minwax stain, she then cut out clear plastic for the windows, and added curtains. I'm so glad that my daughter has the perseverance to sew up those tiny details, I sure as heck don't. That's the beauty of being a "helper" on a project like this, you can kind of pick and choose your jobs.  My interests lie in tackling the motel's distinctive roof and front porch.

Article Concludes Next Page

Second Decade.
Visit the other members of the TCA Family of Web Sites:
TCA Sites Gateway | TCAmembers | Toy Train Museum & Library | TCA x-change 
Toy Trains Mailing ListTCA National Convention
 Privacy & Legal Notices   © Train Collectors Association   Site Design   Contact TCA