Phil Pace, owner of Vac-U-Boats, sent me one of
his Vac-u-Tow kits to try out and detail to my liking. It produces a
single screw boat in 1:48 scale of a vessel 85' x 26'. I did every thing
according to the instructions with the kit except for what I mention on
this page. For those of you who have bought this kit, or considering a
purchase, I will show some easy and simple tips to building a more
realistic model from the Vac-u-Tow. All measurements are used using a
1:48 scale rule.
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Starting out I cut out each section as shown in the instructions. I
masked off the cabins one scale foot from the deck. This will produce
the "mop line" whenever I spray paint the deck. I chose to use gray for
my decks for it is a commonly used color on vessels. Red is the second
most used color. Be sure to mask off the entire cabin so overspray
doesn't get on the white cabin.
used regular Krylon paint. I've had some trouble with their new "fusion"
nozzles. After it dries good it's time to decide how to place your doors
and windows. I opted for experience here. With my general knowledge of
how towboats are laid out, I drew my cabin designs to figure where to
place things. Instead of putting the stairs on the forward deck I opted
to put a sliding door for deck storage and have a ladder to the 2nd
deck. I wish I had thought of it before painting the deck and I would
have put in a blank piece of plastic to fill the stair well void. Oh
well, I'll fix it later.
Here's a drawing I did to decide where I was going to place my doors and
painting the hull, I decided to put some skin coolers on the hull for
more realism. All you need is some half round tubing, cut each end at a
45, then glue a piece of plastic on each end. Now glue a few rows on the
hull sides and that's it. Refer to the photos above to see how they
turned out. I also added two skids to the bottom to act as built in
stand to avoid scratching up the bottom.
After you get the doors and windows in place now's
the time to do something interesting. The kit comes with a clear pilot
house so why not put it to use. Paint the console and wall area light
tan or light green. You can paint the top any color you'd like, but I
opted for black.
you can see the radar added since last photos. You can make out the
steering levers fairly well also. Radar was made from a block of balsa
wood and a piece of 3/8" dowel rod for the screen.
What's the minimum we need for
detailing? I could have went
to the max on the interior, but decided to go with the minimum to help
those just starting out. In the back part I put a small fridge with a
clipboard on top and a settee. These were easy to make from a small
block of balsa wood. Just use a tiny piece of plastic for the fridge
handle. The clipboard is a piece of plastic with a tiny sliver in a
general shape of one of those big clips painted silver.
The console is molded in. All I did
to enhance it was to bring the black paint down to a point to bring out
the angle. Take a piece of wire or brass rod about .020, no bigger than
1/32", dip it in silver paint and dab onto the console where ever you
want to put a switch. Put one bigger round mark in the upper middle of
the console for the rpm gauge. Next we need a single throttle control.
It's just a small half round piece of wood or plastic with an upside
down "L" shape glued to the right side with the "L" pointed over top of
the half round base.
This vessel has backing (or flanking)
rudders. There are four steering levers, two on each side of the pilot.
The long. lower levers steer the main rudder and the shorter, upper
levers steer the backing rudders. To make these use plastic about .032.
You'll need one about 6 scale inches as the vertical post. You'll need
one 24 scale inches and one 18 scale inches. These are the steering
levers. Glue the 18" piece to the 6" piece to male an "L" After it dries
glue the 24' piece just below the 18". Leave a space about the thickness
of the levers themselves. Once dry, paint silver, drill a small hole on
each side of gauge console and glue the 6" piece down in the hole.
(refer to P. H. photos)
Many vessels of this size have pilot
chairs that look like captain chairs in vans with a higher pedestal.
They usually have a heavy base to keep the chair from tilting over. I
made mine with a few plastic rods, a plastic base, and two pieces of
bass wood for the seat and back.
The other basics is a radio (with
microphone), radar unit, depth sounder unit, spot light controls, and
horn lanyard. I went ahead and added a Boatracs unit. Radio and Boatracs
unit was made from scrap bass wood. The microphone cable was made with
raveling from thread.
is a satellite tracking system towing companies use. It is connected to
a computer with a keyboard and the boat gets orders and updates from the
Here's what the antenna looks like for the
Boatracs system. It's a small dome usually mounted on the front of the
pilot house roof. When you see this small dome you know they have the
Light controls made from brass rod, and lanyard made from thread with a
little glue dried on the end as a hand pull. Notice one of the controls
is turned toward the middle. When I mount the spot light on the roof, it
will be aimed a little to starboard. The handle is in line with the
light. Also notice I marked off the ceiling in 2' squares to mimic a 2x2
lay in ceiling tile.
If I want to add more, what
else would I find? A standard
boat would have two radios, river charts, ash trays, fire extinguisher,
a stereo like you would have at home (usually with the speakers mounted
in each front corner of the windshield), binoculars, two radars (don't
forget to add two radar antennae on the roof), and deck winch control
buttons on the console. New additions are Siris and XM satellite music,
and the new Boatracs system. A lot of boats have a toilet inside a
cabinet for the pilot. The front opens and top tilts back to expose the
Lettering & name boards...
There are a couple of ways of
going about this. Rub on lettering, decals (manufactured or home made on
computer), or plain paper printing. For this application I decided to
use the cheaper paper route just to show how it's done and how it looks.
First you need to think long
and hard what company name you want to use and what you want to name the
vessel. Seems like every time you make up a company name and apply it to
the model, you always think of one you like better. You may want to
mimic a real company that you see often.
Printers don't always print exactly the colors
you see on your screen, so when you think you've matched the color of
the background, make some copies one and two shades darker and a shade
lighter. Most of the time you'll find the shade darker than you had
picked matched best.
the diagram you'll notice I've made my stack logo and chose different
shades to match to the stack. I used the same logo in different sizes
for a logo to go on the front of the pilot house. You'll need to make
name boards, tow knee name board (small), and transom name board with
port of call. Do these in different sizes so you'll have the size you
need for the application.
CorelDraw in my designing, so
I can scale every thing to the scale of the model without having to make
several different sizes. If you have scaling capabilities, you can take
measurements from the model to design your graphics. If not, do what I
have shown here.
you have printed your design cut them out. Don't trim close to lettering
you'll need some freeboard. Determined which size suits the model and
set them aside. Dispose of the other pieces so you won't get them
confused. Carefully laminate both sides of the letters since this model
will be run in water. After both sides are laminated good you can cut
On the lettering paint
the edge to keep any water from seeping into the paper. Use black
paint with lettering with black background so a white line won't appear
once it is glued to a black surface. Also uhen used as name boards on
hand railing paint the back black.
is the stack with the stack logo and the
trimmed logo beside it. I put the logo on with CA glue. If you're
wondering which font I used for the logo, it was
I made the small exhaust
pipe for the generators by bending a piece of brass rod. The
main stack is brass tubing that I cut a
small notch in, bent together, then soldered into place. I drilled holes
and used epoxy to glue into place.
usually have a galley and we need an exhaust vent for the range. My
galley is on the stern, port side, so I added a vent where the range
would be. How to build tip is on the
On Deck page.
I just had to make a modification to the 2nd deck.
I brought the deck back to cut off the stair well.
You'll see why I wanted to do this later in the build. Another change
made is a pin in the center of the overhang
that will go into the lower cabin to hold the deck in place. I opted to
do this instead of using the Velcro tabs provided in the kit.
need an access hatch to be able to remove
engines and transmissions. To make this, cut a sheet of plastic a scale
10 1/2' long by 7' wide. place bolt patterns around the edge to make it
appear to be bolted down (I made white bolts so
you can see them) Bolts are painted the
same color as the deck. Glue the stack onto the "hatch" then glue onto
Here's how it looks so far. The
logo is on the front of the pilot house
tow knees and H bitt in place. You can see
the pin glued into the center of the
modified 2nd deck that holds it to the main cabin. You can just see the
two skids on the bottom of the hull used as built in stand to
avoid scratching up bottom.
chocks and buttons are needed for the wires to run from the
winches to the barge. I used a 1/4" sheave and a piece of balsa wood
sanded at an angle as in the photo. I'm placing two on each side.
Normally, on larger vessels, there would be three or more. To provide
more strength, glue a block of wood below deck and drill a small hole in
the middle of the sheave and through deck to drive a straight pin into
the block or you can use a servo mounting screw.
Here's a button and roller
chock on the mv/ Tristan B. The cables used on a winch and for
making tow are called wires. The wire runs from the winch through the
roller chock, out over the cavil, bitt, or button on a barge, then back
to the button. Usually an "eye" is made on the end of the wire and made
tight to the button so that it doesn't slip off. When pushing a large
tow a "double wire" will be made which
means the wire will go from winch, around roller chock, then around,
cavil, bitt, or button on barge, back around another roller chock (or
the button in this case) and the eye of the wire makes up to the barge.
the main engine air intake made from a
scale 5'6"x3'x3' piece of balsa wood with thin bass wood a scale 1' wide
glued at a slight angle for a drip eave on three sides and a 1/2" dowel
rod cut to go between the intake and stack. The intake mounts just
behind the deck plate with the stack.
made a deck latch to keep the 2nd deck in
place and to make it easy to access the interior components. It's just
simply a brass rod sliding inside a plastic tube glued to the bottom of
the 2nd deck. By drilling a small hole in the bottom of the intake it
will be hidden and the intake will keep it from sliding forward.
Remember on the front of the deck I glued a pin to slide in a hole in
the top of the main cabin.
yawl was carved from a block of balsa wood
and .020 plastic strip glued on. it will lay upside down on the stern
and will be used as a knob to open the steering
gear access. You can paint it white or aluminum. usually the name
of the vessel is placed on each side of the yawl toward the bow. A
drawing for a yawl can be found on the
If you're an experienced scratch builder maybe
you'll want to go all out and build a detailed yawl from the drawings. A
finished yawl can be viewed on the
G L FURR page.
Here's the finished yawl painted aluminum with an
outboard motor on a stand. It also helps me
to know which way to turn the boat to open the hatch. The motor stand is
made from strip bass wood. You can use strip plastic if you want. The
motor is carved from a small block of balsa with a tapered piece of bass
wood glued on for the shaft. The prop was cut from a thin piece of
Here is the latch system I made to hold the steering gear access
hatch in place. I used a couple pieces of plastic tube, two pieces of
wire for the latches, and a servo arm screwed into the bottom of the jon
boat. After you have put your screw hole into the boat, take the screw
back out and put a little epoxy in so the screw won't work loose. It
also wouldn't hurt to put a little epoxy on the screw head and arm to
keep it from slipping. Make sure the hole in the access hatch is bigger
than the screw so it won't foul.
To put hand railing
on the boat I purchased 3 pieces
Plastruct hand railing (HRS-8) and 1 piece of
Plastruct stair railing (SRS-8).
I masked off the bottom rail and painted the railing. When dry, I
proceeded to cut off the bottom rail vertically with the stanchion
portion of the railing (see photo, bottom railing is uncut). I used the
railing to make where to drill the holes in the deck for the stanchions
to glue into.
The other item in the photo is how I make fake
guard lights. It's 1/8" dowel rod cut in scale 10" lengths,
painted white, then I paint about 2/3rds of it yellow to represent the
light globe with a yellow bulb glowing in it.
Here's a simple and easy
winch to build. Using some sheet plastic, 1/4" dowel rod. 1/8"
dowel rod, a piece of 1/8" bass or balsa wood, and a 3/8"x 1/2" mini
spool from a crafts store. A good looking wire is Charcoal Gray
#942-1220 rayon thread made by Sulky.
a drawing for a simple winch.
You'll need to build two winches.
Here's a view of a finished winch mounted on the
Here's a simple way to make
halogen flood lights. Use 1/8" plastic angle and cut to 10 scale
inch lengths. Glue thin styrene on the ends. The photo shows the way I
do it. I glue them all on one piece, let dry, then trim. Then I repeat
the process for the other side.
When everything is trimmed paint the outside
black and the inside silver.
Here's what the finished floods look like. You'll
need 7 floods. Two facing forward, two
facing port (one fwd., one aft), two facing starboard (one fwd., one
aft), and one on the stern light pole/flag staff facing the stern.
Getting close to finished. In this view you can
see the roller chocks, winches, H bitt, cavils, spot lights, nav.
lights, floods, bell, and anchor lights. Notice the ladder added where
once was a cut out for a stair well. I wanted to do this to add a
"doghouse" (where deckhands rest, barge lights, and other miscl. deck
equipment is stored) door that opens onto the bow deck. I cut the ladder
off just below the 2nd deck so the deck will be easy to remove. I glued
two little pieces of remnant hand railing as brackets to hold the ladder
off the cabin wall.
I affixed the bell by filing the top flat,
drilling a 1/32" hole in it and gluing in an "L" shaped piece of brass
rod. I then drilled a hole in the pilot house and glued the bell. Make
the brass rod long enough so the bell can be kept away from the wall.
A canopy will be
mounted to the top railing and extend down to the 2nd deck. Notice the
notch cut out for ladder access. It's hard to see, but if you look close
you'll notice the bottom of the canopy sides are a 90 degree angles at
the bottom, but angle to the top of the canopy angle. In other words the
bottom sitting on the mat is a "C" shape. The sheet for the front was
cut at a scale 20' x 17 3/4' x 6'. Most are painted green, but I have
seen a few blue, and red ones.
The engine room get very hot so we need an
exhaust vent for there. There are many
different types. An easy one is a 1/2" dowel rod with a piece of balsa
block cut half round 4' x 2 1/4' You can paint it white or gray (if you
have gray decks)
I made a quick T V antenna out of strip plastic.
Most boats now-a-days have DISH network on board. You can build a large
dome on a three leg mast in place of a antenna. Refer to
G L FURR model to
see a DISH antenna.
Here's a view of the pilot house looking in from
Here are photos of the finished model. Life rings
and fire stations really add the the over all look. You can see the
engine room exhaust vent beside the stack in this photo.
In this photo you can see how the canopy fits and
the ladder access looks now.
Here you can see the 1/8" hose valve beside the
hose rack. A simple touch that adds to the looks. I just drill a 1/32"
hole and glued to valve into place.
You can see the winches, bell and H bitt good in
this bow view.
Here's how it all looks from the stern. I make my
own flags on the computer. Just make a
reversed copy and mate them back to back so your flag will be on both
sides. Then use some rayon thread and fold the paper over and match the
two sides together. Use a good metal edge, like the back of a razor
blade, to rub the flag against the thread. I have always had good luck
using regular Testor's plastic glue to glue the flag back to back. After
it dries, hold the flag at the thread end wit needle nosed pliers and
fold and manipulate the flag until it looks like its flying in the wind.
Closer view of the flagstaff and flag.
A good view of the outboard
motor on stand and the gasoline tank.
You can also see the galley vent and the
port fire station. Take note of the larger
cavil on the stern.
Every thing is scratch built except for a few
purchased items from Bluejacket
Shipcrafters. Here's a list of items. I also purchased a set of
diesel air horns at a local model train hobby shop.
6 item# F0062 5/8" CLEATS
1 item# F0160 7/8" CLEAT
4 item# F0208 11/16" LIFE RINGS
2 item# F0796.3 1/4" HOSE ON
2 item# F0863.4 1/8" HOSE VALVE
1 item# F0113 3/4" RUNNING
1 item# FO489 3/16" BELL
I used two spotlights I already
had. A good spotlight choice would be item# F0122. You can use it as the
carbon arc design it is, or for a modern Zeon spotlight, file off the
cooling fins on the top and bottom of the light. Remember to buy two
I hope I
have given you some ideas for detailing your vac-u-tow. I'd like to see
photos of your creations so email them to me at XXXXXX.
Remember when it goes to scratch building, all you need is some photos
of the object and think, "How can I reproduce that?" You'll find that if
you just sleep on it and roll it over in your mind for a few days, all
at once it'll hit you and you'll realize it's not as hard to do as you
once thought. Before you know it you'll start to throw an item away and
think "I can make such and such out of that!"
termology... You have noticed I have mentioned cabins, walls,
toilets, etc. instead of superstructure, bulkheads, or head. A lot of
people working on the boats, even today, are plain simple country folk,
(that's why they have such good cooking on these boats). Even back 150
years ago some boats were built in fields. You'll find a lot of terms
come over from steamboat days, such as wheel.
Novices call it a prop, seamen call it a screw. River men still call it
a wheel from the old paddle wheel days. When an ole' river rat talked in
river slang, if you listened carefully, you could figure out what he was
talking about for many things were named in relation to what they did.
For instance a "monkey rudder" was named
such because it hooked to the steering rudders and moved with them. The
old saying was popular back then, "monkey see, monkey do", and so they
decided that would be a good name for the rudders cause they copied the
UPDATE ! ! !
commemorated Phil Pace of Vac-u-boat by renaming the vac-u-tow in his
Click on thumbnails for larger image.