St. Charles Model Works, Museum Installation


submitted by Sue Wellman                                                                


Our recent installation of an intermodal port scene in the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago completes what we are calling “the project of a lifetime”.

The assignment: Build a 1:48 scale diorama of the back third of a modern container ship in port at dusk. Include a tugboat, ship-to-shore crane, wharf, vehicles and container yard. Scatter about 20 figures throughout the scene. Use lighting to convey the time of day.


Design drawing submitted to client

In the shop prior to packing and shipping. We were relieved it made the 2 hour trip by truck, equipped
with air-ride shocks, without any damage! Having a rigger on hand to help with affixing the model to the
truck was one of our best ideas yet.

The overall dimensions were 74” wide x 54” deep x 48.25” high. A beautifully done backdrop was provided by another contractor.

We chose to use fiber optics for the lighting, utilizing about 80 points of light, most of which were on the ship. The biggest challenge was bringing the lights to the container racks on the ship. Each rack had two levels, both of which were lit. We designed the ship so that there was a channel down the middle, below the ship wells, where the optics could be fed. Similarly, the base under the whole diorama had a narrow trough starting at the back that allowed us to feed the 4 fibers that went to the tugboat. The crane lighting was fed through the back side of the vertical support closest to the ship.


One of 12 pieces that made up the hull of the ship.

Everything was made using one or more technologies including: basic woodworking, CNC Milling, CNC Turning, 3D printing, laser cutting, old fashioned hand/ruler/knife cutting, resin casting and air brushing. We utilized four other APMM model shops to help out with various technologies in producing parts and sub assemblies.


Materials used in the making of the diorama included: Plywood, 125 board feet of CNC’d 5/4 poplar, .125” ABS plastic sheet, Acrylic sheet, 6061 Aluminum, Modulan 1200, Sintra, Enviro Tex Lite, and polyurethane resin. Other elements included painted bootlaces for ropes and jewelry chain for the tug chains.


Lots of body work using Bondo Glazing Putty went into smoothing and fitting the parts
that made up the ship’s hull.

Modulan 1200, 75 lb. density, was the perfect material for the hull of the tugboat.
Our CAD guy, as we call him, did an incredible job of designing the ship superstructure, or bridge. It was 
milled from a large sheet of 1/8” ABS plastic.


Dry fitting the walls and racks of the ship wells.



Sue Wellman, 
St. Charles Model Works

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 Association of Professional Model Makers Fall 2017 Newsletter

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