You Are Here.
Jump to other pages.
Easily convert a Nestles' Quick container into a tinplate-style roadside diner. - Click for bigger photo.Visit Big Indoor Trains™ primer pageOn30 Display Trains
O Scale Accessories
O Gauge Christmas TrainsOn30 Christmas Trains

Written by Howard Lamey and Paul Race
for Big Indoor Trains™ and™

Nestles' Quik Diner Project

More Tribute to Tinplate!

Click for bigger photo. This is a followup on a project that Howard Lamey and Paul Race came up with a few years ago when Howard came across an old glasses case and realized it would make a good roof for a diner about the size and shape of the Marx tinplate passenger cars.

Although several model roadside diners have been made to go with O gauge trains, most of them have been plastic. These projects were made to go with earlier trains, such as the early 20th century trains that were mostly made out of tinplated steel, and given "detail" by a lithography process that is all but lost to us today.

Nestles 16oz container works great as a tinplate-style diner.  Click to see bigger photo.The original project's size was dictated by the size of the glasses case. By sheer coincidence, the 16 oz. Nestles Quik container shown to the right is almost exactly the same width and length. So Howard recycled an empty container into another diner. This example uses our Christmas-themed graphics, but the year-round or Halloween graphics will work just as well. The rest is pretty much in Howard's words.

What You Will Need

  • For the diner's building form you will use the lower 2 1/4” portion of Nesquik 16oz plastic container. The bottom of container becomes the roof,
  • These are made for places where you don't want the screw heads exposed to the weather. For the roof vents, I used plastic screw caps from a hardware store held on with sheet metal screws. I also used thin plywood squares to drive screws into. I could have used nuts and bolts instead.
  • Washers that are just slightly larger on the outside edge than the screw caps you will be using for roof vents. This will give a little extra texture to the things when you mount them (see below)
  • Corrugated cardboard for the base and foundation
  • A sharp mat knife or Xacto knife
  • Elmer's white Glue-All. A glue stick would also come in handy.
  • Several sheets of acid-free white bond paper
  • Access to the Internet and a color printer.
  • Paint for the roof
  • Clear indoor-outdoor acrylic spray to add a metallic appearance to the final product.
For a more comprehensive list of tools and supplies that come in handy on any cardboard house project, please refer to our article What You Need to Build Glitterhouses.

A Note about Scale

Because my Marx tinplate trains are smaller than they would be if they were actually built to scale, Paul has calculated the door heights, etc. for this project as closer to S scale. This size looks good, not only with old toy trains, but also with Christmas villages, so it will be the favorite size with folks who try this project. The plans are also in S scale.

Choose the size you need from the list belowPrinting the Graphics - We've provided three versions to help you print the "lithograph" graphics you want.

Each sheet should be printed on acid-free high-grade paper or card stock.

Note: Consider printing this sheet in black and white first to double-check the size against your shell.

"Year-Round" - For the "Year-Round" version (above), colored to harmonize with popular Lionel, AF, and Marx color schemes, download the Shorty's Diner Ends and Sides graphic.

Click to download this graphic.

Halloween Graphics - To make a seasonally creepy version of this project for your Halloween-themed village or railroad, download the Halloween Diner graphics. If you like this project, check out our Spook Hill Halloween-themed building projects for your seasonal railroad or village. Our Halloween-themed storefront projects even use the same tinplate-inspired graphic style as this project.

Christmas Graphics - Click to download the free graphic.As an extra holiday gift to our readers, we're including a set of S Scale Christmas Diner graphics you may use to produce an especially "festive" version of this project for your holiday decorating. Our Christmas-themed storefront projects use the same tinplate-inspired graphic style as this project.

Also, if you don't have Adobe Acrobat Reader on your computer or for some reason that doesn't work, contact Paul and ask him for help - that's his department. :-) A note about Copyright - However you use these plans and graphics for your personal use, please keep in mind that the lithograph graphic is copyright 2009 by Paul Race and is not to be copied, re-used, republished, or repurposed without prior permission and appropriate credit. Commercial use without prior permission is illegal and expressly forbidden.
Big Indoor Trains(tm) is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Paul likes making resources like this available to hobbyists, but they are expensive and time-consuming to produce and publish, and it's frustrating to see other folks profiteering off his hard work. In other words, if you like having this kind of resource available and you'd like to see more, please respect the creator's rights.

Cut the Shell

Carefully measure 2 1/4 inches above the metal bottom of the container. Draw a line all the way around and cut the container evenly on the line. If you want, you may continue working on the shell using the instructions below the base building and painting instructions, but you need to have at least this step done so you can test the fit of the foundation before painting the base.

Building the Base

Click for bigger photo.The base is a rectangular "box" built up from corrugated cardboard.

  1. Make the base from three or four layers of corrugated cardboard glued together in a sandwich. I made mine 6 1/2" x 4 5/8" x 1/2" thick.

  2. Wrap and glue a strip of cereal-box cardboard all around it to camouflage the rough edges of the corrugated cardboard.

  3. When the base is built, cover it with white bond paper just like you would wrap a gift, except that all surfaces of the paper cover must be glued down to the box. A glue stick works great for this.

  4. The diner base ready to paint.  Click for bigger photo.For this project I added a little "lip" out of posterboard just about 3/16" larger than the base all the way around. That's optional, depending on the kind of tinplate structure you're trying to mimic.

    Note: For more information about building bases for vintage-style cardboard houses, please see our Glitterhouse Bases article.

The foundation will be covered once the building is fastened together, so it may be a single piece of thick corrugated cardboard or a piece of foam core board. To get the dimensions for this, trace around the Nesquik container (the end with the metal on it which will become the roof), then cut about 1/16" inside your trace line all the way around. The final fit should be snug, but not forced.

Painting the Base

The diner's base painted industrial gray with sidewalk lines drawn on.  Click for bigger photo.When you're certain that the diner will fit on the base properly, prime the base and paint it with several coats of glossy paint in the color of your choice. Industrial gray was the color most often chosen for this kind of structure in the tinplate days.

For this project, I also "graphed out" squares to represent sidewalk lines and drew them in with a fine black ball-point pen.

Test Fitting and Prepping the Shell

This is a test fit of the shell on the base.  The shell has already been The photo to the right shows the shell being test-fitted on the base. In addition, I have drilled three holes for the screw caps that will represent the roof vents and sanded the sides to make them less slick.

I then wrapped masking tape all around the body and made certain each edge and seam was completely down. I did this to help the craft glue take hold.

When I built this, I fastened the screw covers that would represent the roof caps down before I primed and painted the shell. In retrospect, I should have left them off until after I painted, because the black would have made a nice contrast.

Prime and Paint the Shell

The shell has been primed and the roof painted.  You can also see the masking tape. Click for bigger photo.In the photo to the right, the shell has been primed and the roof painted. You can also see the masking tape. (No, this isn't a really big Duplo.)

You don't have to have vice grips to paint the shell. In fact, if you wait to put the screw caps on until after you paint, you won't be able to. :-) In the meantime, I find having a few clamps on hand makes painting small parts much easier.

Attach Screw Caps

This is the hardware I used to give the vents a solid footing. Click for bigger photo.The photo to the right shows the way I attached the vents to the roof. I used oversized washers to go under each "vent," then used bits of thin plywood to hold the sheet metal screws from the inside. I could have used nuts, bolts, and washers instead.

Maybe as you look at the following photos, you could squint and pretend that the "roof vents" are black instead of green. :-)

Try a "Mockup"

A  practice sheet is taped onto the shell. Click for bigger photo.Before you start gluing the graphics on, do one more "mockup," using scotch tape to put the graphics where you think they should go. This is your final chance to check the fit.

Note about Height: While you're doing your mockups, think about the height of the structure. On the graphics, Paul gave me extra "steps" and extra rows of bricks on the bottom so I could wrap the graphic around the bottom without any white showing. On my first attempt at this project, I forgot that was what the extra rows and steps were for and incorporated them into the structure. (So you can see five steps, not three on the photos of my "Shorty's Diner.")

On this version I recommend having the graphic go down to 3 steps. But before you put the "real" graphic on, try setting this around the structures you think it will be near and make certain it doesn't seem too tall. Remember, this is YOUR structure, and the person you have to satisfy with this project is you.

Apply the Graphic

Once you are satisfied with the appearance that the mockup suggests:

  1. See how the structure comes to life as you work your way around?  Click for bigger photo.Apply the printed graphics. Only do a section at a time. I like to start with the ends. As you can see, there aren't exactly any corners, so you have to get the doors on the end as well as you can, and work your way around. Then when you place the walls, use the "fluting" pattern on the end to get the walls as centered as possible.

  2. After the graphic sheets have dried in place, you will see white edges where the paper cut runs through the red strips. With a matching felt-tip pen or marker, or with acrylic paint and a very tiny brush, carefully coat just the edge of the paper or card stock to camouflage the edges.

Final Assembly

Once the glue is dry on all of the graphics, it is relatively simple to glue the structure solidly together. Click for bigger photo.That said, you may want to check on it every so often to make certain that something doesn't shift out of place while it is drying.


Wait until all of the glue is thoroughly dry (usually at least overnight), then spray the building with several light coats of a clear glossy indoor/outdoor acrylic finish. This protects it somewhat from moisture and dust. It also helps reduce fading and makes the lithography pattern "pop." Do not such a heavy coat in one pass that you cause any streaks, runs, or drips, though, or you'll have to start over.

This usually looks good near a depot, somewhere where people waiting for or coming off a train might nip in for a cup of hot coffee.


If you like this project, stay in touch - more are on the way. In the meantime, you might like to take a look at the following bonus graphic, as well as a long list of projects that would look good next to this one.

Similar Projects

  • Click to go to articleMore "Tribute to Tinplate" Articles Here's a series of projects that pay "Tribute to Tinplate," based on the tinplated-steel trains and towns of a century ago. Free downloadable commercial-grade graphics and instructions will help you inexpensively add an authentic vintage look to any indoor railroad. Most projects have multiple pre-scaled plans and graphics, plus scalable graphics for the smaller scales, so you can easily add a vintage look to ANY railroad or holiday village, no matter what size your trains and towns are. We have more on the drawing board, so be sure and check back.

    • Building a Vintage Tin-Style CottageClick to go to articleThis project is inspired by a popular pre-war tinplate house that was made to go with standard gauge trains, like the early 1900s-era Ives and Lionel. Our own commercial-quality graphics and instructions, as well as Howard Lamey's plans and assembly details are all free, to give your railroad a vintage tinplate look with a few cents' worth of materials. Many options are available, and most graphics and plans can be downloaded directly from the article. New, July, 2009!

    • Click to go to articleBuilding TinPlate-Syle Store Fronts - Not one, but three buildings! The West Brothers tinpated candy boxes saved money by using one plan with multiple sets of graphics to get maximum use out of their pattern expense. We've followed their example with projects inspired by three of their most popular buildings. Use our free downloadable patterns and plans to add a vintage-style business district on your railroad or display village.

    • Click to go to articleNew Feature - Building a Tinplate-Inspired Lamp Post The ideal accessory for the Lewis Park Station, or any station or city hall on your railroad or holiday village. No, they don't actually light, but they are cheap and easy to build and add a great deal of vintage interest to any setting. Free downloadable plans are available in several scales.

    • Click to go to articleNew Feature - Building a Tinplate-Inspired Watchman's Shanty Back in the day before automated crossings, these were common sites alongside busy rail crossings. Howard's exclusive design pays tribute to a series of tinplate structures that go back a hundred years and include three different scales. His free plans and instructions will help you dress up any indoor railroad or holiday village.

    • Click to go to articleNew Feature - Building a Tinplate-Inspired Railroad Crossing Sign This is the ideal accessory for the Watchman's Shanty project. Based on a series of products that are now available only as expensive collector's items, this easy and almost-free project will add texture, interest, and period to any model railroad or holiday village.

  • Easy Street Scene - This new Click to go to articlebuilding project uses downloadable building graphics and a little cardboard or foam board to build up a convincing downtown scene that is only a few inches deep - perfect for shelf layouts, tight spots, and dioramas. We also provide links to high-resolution graphics that will work for any scale.

  • Click to go to article Click to go to article Build a Vintage-Style Cardboard Stone Cottage - This building project is made like the vintage cardboard houses folks used to set around their Christmas tree in the early 1900s (before glitterhouses became common), but its design was inspired by a building that shows up on the "Isle of Sodor." The building uses free downloadable graphic paper to put a realistic stone veneer on an old-world cottage and fence. It works with Christmas villages, or with a little customization, would dress up any indoor railroad. A "brick cottage" option is also shown.

  • Click to go to articleLog Cabin Building Flat - This "building flat" uses downloadable graphics and foam board or cardboard to dress up a narrow corner of your railroad or village. The techniques in this project can be used for almost any kind of building you want to represent in a tiny space. December, 2007

  • Build a Vintage-Style Barn and Silo - This Click to see article.building project uses downloadable graphics to put realistic shingles and siding on an old barn and silo. Like the stone cottage above, it works with Christmas villages, or with a few changes, it would dress up an indoor railroad.

  • Click to go to this project.Building the Union Station - This original project by designer Howard Lamey is inspired by two traditions - the cardboard Christmas houses that were popular in US homes between 1928 and 1965 and the Lionel station that was popular for most of the 20th century.

Other Articles about cardboard houses include:

To Return to the BIG Indoor Trains(tm) Primer Page, click here.Return to Big Indoor Trains(tm) primer page

Click to sign up for the 'Trains-N-Towns™' newsletter, with articles about display villages, indoor railroading, and much more

Click to see new and reissued Lionel trains

Visit our BIG Train Store™ Buyer's Guide Pages

Add realism and interest to your O scale railroad or village display.

Home Pages
Reading Index Pages
Buyer's Guide Pages
Return to Big Indoor Trains Home page Return to Family Garden Trains Home page Big Indoor Trains Primer Articles: All about setting up and displaying indoor display trains and towns. Garden Railroading Primer Articles: All about getting a Garden Railroad up and running well Garden Train Store: Index to train, track, and other products for Garden Railroading Big Christmas Trains: Directory of Large Scale and O Scale trains and towns with holiday themes
On30 and O Gauge trains to go with indoor display villages and railroads

Note: Big Indoor Trains(tm), Big Train Store(tm) Family Garden Trains(tm), Big Christmas Trains(tm), and Garden Train Store(tm) are trademarks of Breakthrough Communications(tm) ( All information, data, text, and illustrations on this web site are Copyright (c) 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014 by Paul D. Race. Reuse or republication without prior written permission is specifically forbidden.
Big Indoor Trains(tm) is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to

For more information, contact us.

Click to see exclusive, licensed train collections in your favorite NFL colors!

Click to see exclusive, licensed Disney(r) train and village collections!