The Wrecking Crew Builds a Harry Potter / Hogwarts Model Railroad for McWane Science Center in Birmingham, AL                                             s


The Wrecking Crew Model Railroad Club started a partnership with The McWane Science Center in Birmingham, AL in 2005. McWane provides The Wrecking Crew with space for weekly club meetings, space for railroad modeling and a venue for model railroad shows; and The Wrecking Crew provides McWane with volunteer time to put on model railroad shows, clinics for the public and to build special model railroad exhibits.

On January 22, 2007, Tim Ritchie, the CEO of McWane, informed The Wrecking Crew that McWane planned to show the fourth Harry Potter movie in their IMAX Theater starting in July, 2007. Ritchie thought it would be interesting to the public to have a small Harry Potter / Hogwarts Castle model railroad on display in the Science Center Lobby adjacent to the IMAX entrance. We all realized that the time frame was very short and we would have to scale the project to fit the time frame, and The Wrecking Crew prides itself in building only high quality, highly detailed modeling which takes longer to build.  

To make the task more complex, most of the Wrecking Crew members knew very little about Harry Potter and the Hogwarts Castle, so the process would have to start with research. And at the same time, the Wrecking Crew had committed to building a museum Layout of Downtown Bessemer, AL depicting the 1950’s in a Boxcar; and the Club had committed to reworking the electrical wiring for their primary club layout, the LG&W, before the next Holiday Show at McWane. So the Club’s plate suddenly became very full. 

At the time, the Club had 22 members and 4 men who were showing an interest in joining the club. The Bessemer Boxcar Project was underway and about 50% complete and the LG&W Rewiring Project was in planning stages. It was decided that both of those projects would continue with skeleton crews and the primary thrust would be on the Harry Potter Layout. 

Fortunately, there is a large amount of information, drawings and photos about Harry Potter on the Internet. The process started in February, 2007 and within one month, the Club had completed the research and had developed design drawings of a Track Plan and elevations of The Hogwarts Castle for presentation to McWane. The design was for a 5’ x 9’ HO scale layout with the Hogsmeade Village, Hogsmeade Station, the Shrieking Shack, the Lake, the Glenfinnan Viaduct for the track to pass over a valley, a large Mountain with Cliffs and on top was the Hogwarts Castle, Hagrid’s Cabin, the Womping Willow, 3 Greenhouses and The Forbidden Forest. The track made a once around loop going under the mountain and a siding track at the Station. The Design was well received by McWane and they pledged their help and financing in getting the project done on time. 

It was decided that McWane would build the benchwork in their carpentry shop, they would build a protection barrier that would go around the layout using an aluminum frame and lexan panels with signage, a fabric skirt, and they would build a push button device to activate the electrical components of the layout. McWane also provided the Club with additional space to build the Hogwarts Layout since the Club Room was full and crowded. 

Building the layout: 

The Harry Potter setting is all Old English and we found plenty of Old English kits in catalogues for the Hogsmeade Village and Station, but in the essence of time, Larry Smith, the Club President, decided to purchase Hornby Skaledale buildings which were already assembled and painted. The viaduct over the valley was built by Jack McCraw using foam insulation to form the Roman Arches. Jack was also in charge of laying the roadbed and track. Frank Smith was in charge of building the scenery and with a crew of about 5 people, they did a great job using foam insulation, hydrocal, sculptimould, ground foam, dirt, ballast, and rock moulds. Bob Beaty and a crew of helpers built the mountain cliffs using rubber moulds and Bragdon’s Geodesic Foam system which worked great. The Lake was engineered by Larry Smith and helpers using Magic Water in several layers. Many people who see it think the Lake is real water. Heinz Skould built a subframe for the benchwork which sets the layout at a proper height for viewing and the subframe has wheels allowing us to roll the layout around during construction and storage between building sessions. Heinz and Paul Dawkins built a fascia around the layout using ¼” tempered hardboard and placing doors in the fascia for access to hidden track and the powerpack. Winston Greaves and Jack McCraw was in charge of the electrical. The layout is wired for DC operation with a MRC Power Pack. All buildings are wired for lights using LEDs. The LEDs are too bright so the light is diffused using amber pill containers. 

We first thought we could purchase several kits to build the Hogwarts Castle, but after our research, we could not find kits that closely resembled the Castle that was used in the movie. So Bob Beaty and Malcolm Sokol took on the task of scratch building the mammoth castle. The castle design was so big it had to be reduced to 1:120 scale to fit on the 5’ x 9’ layout in the space allotted (approximately 3’ x 3’ on top of the cliffs). The scale reduction actually helps the visual effect because it makes the castle look further away from the viewer’s eye. The castle is built using sheet styrene, cardboard tubes, wood dowels, styrene and basswood trim, cardstock, and resin castings. Windows are made using fiberglass mesh and gold tinted mylar. The interior is lighted with LED miniature lamps and pill containers for color and light baffle. 

The project was built on an accelerated pace and took approximately 1,200 hours in four months for the Wrecking Crew’s portion of the work. The McWane Science Center spent additional hours on the benchwork, skirt, electrical activator, and the protective barrier. It was a great experience for the Club and the project was finished one week ahead of the scheduled start of the movie. McWane has received numerous positive comments from the public. Approximately 25,000 visitors per month come into McWane and the Harry Potter / Hogwarts Layout is located in the main Lobby during the showing of the fourth Harry Potter movie on IMAX.


About half of the Castle in place, installing lights and testing the track.


Hogsmeade Village with figures and scenery in place.
The finished model sitting in the McWane Lobby before the barrier is set in place.


Business as usual in Hogsmeade with the Hogwarts Castle in the background.
Looking across the Lake towards Hogsmeade. The Clock Tower is the main entrance to the Castle (the clock works). Hagrid's Cabin, the pumpkin patch and the Whomping Willow are at the lower left
The Harry Potter Train stops at the Hogsmeade Station. The Hogwarts Castle sits on top of the cliffs. The completed Castle with the Greenhouses in the foreground.

The Hogsmeade Station.


The Castle with the Great Hall in the foreground.
The Finished Layout sitting in the Lobby at The Mcwane Science Center
The proud Wrecking Crew standing with the finished model.
Installing a foam base over the benchwork.
Placing the Hornby Skaledale buildings for the Hogsmeade Village.
Working with sculptimould over painted foam to form a mountainside.
Installing ground foam scenery to simulate grass and bushes.
Track passing over the Glenfinnan Viaduct before placing scenery on the mountain and valley.
First pieces of the scratch built Hogwarts Castle on top of the mountain.
Track siding leading into the Hogsmeade Station and the Boathouse at the base of the cliffs.
The Shrieking Shack near Hogsmeade Village.
Hogsmeade Village with scenery in place.
The Glenfinnan Viaduct with scenery in place, Hogsmeade village and a white horse and carrage in the background.
Installing the stair from the boathouse up the cliffs to the Hogwarts Castle, the finished Lake in the foreground.