Modelling Andre Norton’s “baldie” starship

The “baldie” starship trapped in Arctic ice from Andre Norton’s The Time Traders. (Robin Rowland)
The “baldie starship” at an alien base from Andre Norton’s Galactic Derelict. (Robin Rowland)

Almost all the model starships on the market today come from either Star Wars or Star Trek, with a few from the Battlestar Galactica reboot. Some speciality hobby stores both brick and mortar and online do offer some “vintage” kits. Even on Shapeways, the online marketplace for 3-D printed models,  the offerings are almost all Star Trek or Star Wars.

Yes as you can see from this site, I do model Star Wars and I have some Star Trek models on my to-do list.   A few months ago I decided it was time that my favourite science fiction author as a kid, Andre Norton, received some modelling tributes.

I decided that my first Andre Norton project should be from the first Norton science fiction novel I read when I was 13, The Time Traders.   (which became a series of novels )

The Time Traders, first in the series,  was written in the fifties at the height of the cold war.  The basic premise  is that the Soviet Union finds an alien starship preserved in the Arctic ice cap and starts using that technology (at the time of the so-called, later proved to be non-existent “missile gap”) and the United States must counter the Soviets.

Both sides some how, it’s never explained,  develop time travel and in a time travel arms race send agents back in time to various ages when the aliens later dubbed the “Baldies” were active on Earth. The “Baldies are alien pale, white, hairless, alien humanoids.

Norton only described the starship as spherical.  And various cover artists had their own interpretations of the ship trapped in ice. Every cover is different,  unlike movies or television where the design is fixed, so that gave me a little flexibility.


Time Traders paperback cover.
Time Traders hardcover cover.

So I decided to start  with an N scale propane tank model from my  model railway days ( I may try other approaches to baldie ships in the future)

I then added a bridge similar to the first cover, using a manufacturers container for contact lens (which didn’t work out as well as I had hoped) and stand/main engine from a bottle top.

 Once the model was complete,  I took it out into the snow of my front yard.

Perhaps this is how a 1950s helicopter might have spotted the Baldie ship in the thinning Arctic Ice.
And this is what the helicopter crew might have seen as they go down for a closer look. (Robin Rowland)

Of course I couldn’t leave the model out in the snow. So I created a base using another cover, from the novel Galactic Derelict.

Landing on an alien base.
Another view of the starship

There are a couple of differences here.  In Galactic Derelict the spherical ship is a scout, capable of holding perhaps up to five humans/humanoids.

It is discovered in the American west during the Palaeolithic when there is still volcanism in the Rockies (at least in the novel) and during an attempt to bring it forward to twentieth century time, instead it sends the crew on a journey across the galaxy and back.  In the several thousand years the “Baldie” civilization has collapsed and one of the bases the Terrans visit is a refueling station that, luckily still operates.

So in this case the model remains the full size starship. not the scout. The landing zone is a container for frozen meat pies.  The “tower”  really should be further away. Once again I used two toothbrush containers glued together,  then add details from scrap.

To match the cover, I photographed the base in available light late on the afternoon of April 1.   Also there are images of the model in full light to show more details.

The Baldie ship at the refueling base (Robin Rowland)
The “tower” at the alien base. (Robin Rowland)
A closer shot of the “Baldie” ship after landing at the base (Robin Rowland)
The base in full light. (Robin Rowland)
The tower in full light (Robin Rowland)

What is a tier trestle?

The term tier trestle is fairly recent, given by historians to the bridges built along the route of the Burma Thailand Railway (the River Kwai). See, for example, this Australian government report.

The term could, of course, refer to what are called the levels or stories on a standard trestle. (The Oxford Dictionary defines tier as one of several units of a structure placed one above the other.)


There are key differences with the tier trestle and the engineering standard. The river bridges built by the Imperial Japanese Army engineers using prisoner of war and indigenous slave labour did
follow engineering standards and were solid enough to survive repeated attacks by British and American bombers.

On the other hand, the bridges over the hundreds of ravines were not-so-solid, built hastily and by engineering units that were not as experienced or competent as those building the actual river bridges.

Recent scholarship seems to indicate that the long-term Japanese plans called for these bridges to be filled and covered with earth. a method described in the Merriman Wiggin American Civil Engineer’s Handbook, an indication that the similar methods were used in North America.

Steam era modelers may want to use the tier trestle bridge or some variant for what the
Handbook calls “construction trestles” on temporary lines, or on narrow gauge railways. The handbook recommended removing the bracing during the fill process when it is reached by the fill to prevent the pull in the bracing under the load of the fill from distorting the posts and even breaking them.

In muddy conditions, common in the rain
forest, it warned that “if piles were driven into the mud,
sudden movements of the mud and newly made fill frequently not only
break the braces but snap off the piles and demolish the entire
structure. Such trestles should be built of piles of large diameter,
driven to hardpan and heavily sway braced and the sway bracing
removed when reached by fill.”

Due to war time pressures, in many cases, this step was never completed and so the tier trestle bridges were used until the line was abandoned, often requiring frequent repairs.

Characteristics of a
“tier trestle.”


  • Longer caps
    and sills, and a longer horizontal bent brace at one level reaching
    out beyond the normal exterior bent posts.

  • Additional
    vertical bent posts along the outer edge with horizontal girts that
    reinforce the bridge between the caps, sills and horizontal bent

  • Additional
    bracing from raw logs that are attached to the ends of the caps,
    sills and bent brace.

  • Additional diagonal bracing between the
    platform and the cap. These braces were found on all the bridges
    built on the Burma Thailand Railway, not just the ones over ravines.
    In some cases, there sometimes occasional longer bridge ties visible
    in old photographs, indicating that there may have been bracing on
    there as well.



The Merriman Wiggin handbook makes no mention of this type of construction, so it may be that the Japanese engineers improvised at first and then adopted the method along the entire railway.


The Japanese engineers used local hardwood, mostly teak, to build all the bridges. In my preliminary research experienced bridge modelers told me that dowels that are true to N scale are not available.

Finished logs



  • bamboo
    skewers available in any supermarket

  • round

  • parts of bamboo place mats. (I was able
    get them very cheap from a Japanese shop in Toronto. They had been
    used for window display and so came in various shades even on the
    same mat due to fading in the sun.



Squared wood.


  • Kit bashed from the Hunterline
    N Scale 81 foot trestle bridge.



Support logs


  • At first I couldn’t figure out how to do the logs that support the bridge. The solution came from another technique, while I was using the blender to turn old leaves to dust for ground cover, as a number of modelers have recommended. Those instructions say discard the stems. But as I was cutting the stems off, I realized they were prefect for the tree trunks that were used to support the bridge.





  • Micro
    Engineering bridge flex track

  • Centre planks
    (HO size) 2×2 lumber

  • Tie supports (HO size) 1×3 lumber



Staining the wood
The tropical hardwoods, like teak, used in the building of the bridge are usually insect and rot resistant without use of preservatives such as creosote. And creosote was not available during the war. So I stained one third of the bamboo skewers, toothpicks and Hunterline stringers and sway braces with teak stain. Another third was stained with teak stain mixed with neutral for a lighter shade. The final third was left natural. The bamboo place mats were left natural.

Building the bents
Construction methods on the ravine bridges were hurried and often slipshod. One called “The Pack of Cards Bridge,” built by conscripted Burmese forced labour under Japanese supervision collapsed three times. So the building of the model also reflects this. The caps, sills, exterior bent posts, abutment posts and retaining walls were made from bamboo skewers. So were the extra
horizontal exterior girts. Bent posts were made from round toothpicks. The horizontal bent braces from the bamboo mats. Other bent braces, girts and stringers were from the Hunterline kit. I
followed the instructions from Hunterline and from various articles in hobby magazines, building the bents first.


I found that Micro Engineering instructions can be awkward and it is best to add the guard track
first, using CA adhesive and small clamps to make sure it is well stuck. I used only one guard track, rather the regular two. One guard rail or shorter ones are common in old photographs, probably due to shortage of materiel. Planks were glued in the centre of the bridge. The railway was the only route through the jungle and many people used it as a roadway, which meant there had to be places to walk between the ties. You still see the same kind of planks on railways in parts of Thailand today. The stringers were glued to the bottom of the track. Completing the bridge The standard bridge was built first by adding the girts and sway braces. I then added the additional girts


To weather this bridge, I had to keep in mind that it will be in a model rain forest. The track was painted a grayish color and then given a teak wash as I describe in the Apalon bridge post. The first step was to use a variety of green chalks brushed onto the bridge. The second step was to use black and gray chalks along the track and on the bents, since this was a heavily traveled steam railway. I had tested the standard weathering mix of heavily diluted shoe dye and alcohol on stir sticks but the result was far too dark for my purposes, based on some of the bridges I saw on my trips to Thailand and in the first colour photographs from the 1950s (WWII photographs are in black and white). Then I remembered that this was rain forest. So I tried a new, two-fisted, approach, black weathering spray, followed immediately by a heavy spray of wet water. The result was a soaked newspaper and a very light grey with occasional patches of black. The two sprays also took away most of the chalks, so after all was dry, I added more green, brown and black chalks.

Support tree trunks
The leaf stems were soaked in dilute matte medium as a preservative. There were two levels of support logs, smaller ones attached to the lower tier and the second tree trunk logs to the upper tier. The stem/logs look good in the photograph but are quite delicate. Once all the bridges are ready and the track laid and glued, the stem/logs will be cut to a proper length and anchored.

The spider webs.
A glue called Liquisilk was distributed as free samples at the Toronto
Christmas Train Show
so I tried it out when adding the tie supports where I wanted to test the company’s claim that the glue could be strong in small amounts. It wasn’t until I took macro
photographs of the bridge that I noticed that there was excess glue, that it did look like spider webs, especially when fragments of chalk adhered to the dried glue. Liguisilk


At this point, before final installation on the layout, I sprayed the bridge with Krylon matte, then cleaned the track and temporarily installed it on the layout and successfully ran tests with my trains.

Coming up in the next few months
A river bridge A viaduct Smaller river and ravine bridges



A prototype bible



While I was doing
research for The Sonkrai Tribunal, I came across a couple of references to the fact that the Japanese engineers used the Merriman Wiggin method of building railways. (Many sources misspelled it as
Merriam like the American dictionary, which is why I initially had trouble tracking it down).

During the research for the book, it was just a passing reference. Now that I am building my own model railway and working on the bridges I wanted to find out more about that manual. A Google check came up with little (especially when I used Merriam instead of Merriman). But a handful of copies of the book showed up on Abebooksas the American Civil Engineers Handbook
by Thaddeus Merriman and Thos. H. Wiggin. First published in 1911, it was issued by John Wiley up until (as far as I can tell from the editions on Abebooks, the middle 1950s).

The average price for the book was $15 and one of the dealers was in Canada, so I placed the order.

When the handbook arrived, it was immediately clear why it was the key document for the Imperial Japanese Army engineers. It is the hardcover equivalent of a trade paperback, thick, with 2,263 pages, but shaped so that it could fit into a large pocket (such as a military fatigue pocket), pouch or small shoulder bag.

It was obviously written not only for an civil engineer working in North America but anywhere in the world (it has conversion tables for local currencies and local measuring methods, for example, in Japan and China).

For the model railroader, the book is often far too detailed, but on the other hand it goes beyond the railway reference books. The main reason I bought it is because the Japanese engineers used it as the manual for building trestle bridges. And I found that it gives some hints that are not found in many of the trestle books aimed at modelers. One example that I haven’t seen elsewhere.

n high railway trestles on curves over the centrifugal
forces of the moving train should be further guarded against by
additional braces on the convex side of the trestle.

There are several railroad related chapters. How about water tanks? We buy them, build kits or
scratch build and usually pluck them beside the tracks. It goes into great detail about the problems in those water tanks, like hard water and even mud and the damage that could do a steam locomotive. It says, for example, in 1873, the use of hard or muddy water cost $750 per locomotive per year.â€

And this, again from the late nineteenth century, made me change my layout plans by moving
my water tanks closer to the river bank.


The El Paso and Southern
Railway found that even after chemical treatment of hard water supply
on a division 128 miles long, the engine tonnage was reduced 25% and
the cost of the locomotive was maintenance was increased $1000 per
year per engine over the normal amount. To avoid this, a waterworks
system from a supply of pure mountain water 130 miles distant was
constructed at a cost of $1,300,000. Even this expenditure was proven
to be amply justified.”

to know the wind resistance of a locomotive and total train resistance and the problem of oscillation? It’s there. So is the cost of building a rail line in the 1920s.

There are plans for dams, aqueducts, canals, shafts, tunnels, harbour and river works (including docks, wharves and retaining walls). Steel bridges and concrete bridges each merit their own chapter along with trestles. And if you want a breakwater on your layout, you’ll find it there as well. The book has a lot a rivet counter would love, but if you can get a cheap copy, any modeler would find it useful.