Moonshiner’s Shack

This project will be a stick built structure with full interior. This is by far the largest project of this type I have attempted. It will include the building, furnishings and figures.

The Back Story

The shack’s construction tells it’s story: Shortly after the end of the civil war Joe Smuckatelly the miner came to New Mexico Territory to prospect for silver. He staked his claim in the wilds of the Zuni Mountains and built himself a one room shack (the rectangular part of the building with the front door).

As time went by he struck a few pockets and veins of silver ore. Not enough to get rich but it was encouraging. He decided to keep on and waited for the big strike, expanding the shack (the front porch and adjacent addition). He also upgraded the tar paper roof to corrugated metal and gave it the first and only coat of paint it would ever see. The back porch was added at some point later using whatever materials could be scrounged.

Despite his optimism the mine played out and Joe finally packed up and moved on leaving the shack to the elements and the mountains. Fast forward 30 years to 1935. Prohibition has been repealed but moonshine is still profitable due to the excise tax on liquor. The Garcia family is a small time operation that has grown to the point where they have attracted the attention of the local crime boss. Having hidden their still in the old mine shack far from town Papa Miguel and his crew are surprised early one  morning when Shawn “The Viper” Vigliano and his shooters kick in the doors. The bootleggers are informed they are now part of the outfit and the boss will be expecting his 25% from now on. Or they can choose to retire….permanently. It is an “offer they can’t refuse”.

Construction Concept

The house will be a post and beam frame using rough hew lumber. Half lap joints will be used on the framing beams with mock mortise and tenon joints on the knee braces. I chose this style because it would have been something that  the average lay person in the late 1800s could build with basic tools such as an axe, awl and mallet.


The exterior will be board and batten.

The roof will be corrugated metal with the back porch done in metal sheets made from blasting powder tins. I saw this in an article in Narrow Gauge Gazette on a building in Bodie California and thought it would make an interesting detail.

The front door will be a five panel finished wood frame but I want the back door to look like it was added later using a crude wood slat design.

I have not made up my mind on windows but they will be one of these three designs from the time period.

A couple of examples for the style of structure I am building.

Enough planning. Time to start building.

Construction of the house:

I began by cutting up a bunch of lumber from scraps in the shop. I have pine, cedar, birch and some bass wood.

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The floor of the house will be elevated on stones so I need to represent a framed foundation. With my bottle of TB3 at the ready I started by gluing the outside joists into place at 90 degree angles using a pair of picture framing clamps. Once the outside supports were dry I marked the location of the rest of the joists and put them in. Since I have no other use for the floor from the skid shack project I am recycling it into the supports for the front and back porch. A half section will be used for the front and two quarter sections for the back. It is thinner than the house frame so I attached the front piece flush with the top of the house frame but left the rear porch as a step down. The top of the main floor needs to be flat so I am assembling it upside down on a piece of plexiglass to keep the TB3 from permanently attaching the frame to my work bench.

The rear of the house is the correct size to make use of the skid shack frame with an extension added for the front. I cut a section out and then made more beams and posts.

Cutting half lap joints.

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Once the frame was done I cut recesses for the center-line support. I thought about doing this with a razor saw but decided to risk total destruction on the table saw. I was able to cut four sides leaving only the two cuts next to the porch for hand work.

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A tense moment but it took all of thirty seconds and saved me from having to invent new curse words. I glued in the supports all the way around and sanded the ends and edges smooth. Hard to argue with the results.

Now it is time for door frames. I made the front door a 36″ (scale) wide opening and the back door a 30″ opening. These are made just like the real ones. A threshold and header are installed. Next I put in the top and side frames stopping to sand everything flush. To finish I glued in jams along with interior and exterior trim.

Back Door.

Front Door

Here is how things are coming along. The figure is a properly proportioned 1/20.3 sculpt for a 6′ tall man I made. I call him “green man”. He is used for checking scale and appearance. The beginnings of a window are sitting on the front porch.

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I had planned on having eight windows in the house. Enough so that most of the interior and detail could be easily seen through them. Once I got down to planning the walls that quickly became to many and after building the first two I did not want to make any more. I decided on four windows and that I would make a master and try casting them in resin.

I did a four pane fixed window and two pane sliding window. Both would have been common for the time period. I chose the two pane design because it was less difficult to remove from the mold. The mullions on the four pane kept tearing. I am sure I can make this work but I do not have time for it now. For now I got my four windows and am moving on.


All of the wood in the house (except the frame) will be painted separately so that the wood grain and weathering is not transferred across parallel boards. Something that would not occur in 1 to 1 construction. Only exterior paint and weathering will be done after assembly.

To complete the flooring I glued in supports for the rock footings and painted everything black. Because I am using so many different types of wood I am having to paint it to match. All of the flooring was measured cut and primed. To help give the impression that the house was built over a long period of time I made different types of flooring in a variety of widths and lengths.

Once primed the tops were painted to look like weathered wood grain while the back side (which will face the ground) was painted to look dirty and weathered. The floor joists reflect this same treatment by being cleaner at the top and graying out at the bottom as thatedge would be more exposed to the elements.

The flooring is glued in to reflect the shacks construction. The section on the right is the original shack, it is staggered ripped cedar planks. The section on the left is the expansion, full length tongue and groove flooring purchased when Joe had some money to spend. The back porch is a double layer of pine planks.

Here is the floor with all of the planks painted on both sides except for the front porch which will be done in white. The under-view shows the weathering difference of the joists and the sub-floor.

Time to fit the frame. I painted and aged it on the inside only, because the siding will hide the outer edge. It is aged to match the floor but neither are weathered to reflect their protection inside the shack.

The door frames and front porch are painted before assembly so there would be no bare spots or puddles where they meet. Finally the frame gets glued on.

Like the flooring the siding has to be painted two different ways. The interior is wood grained and aged while the exterior is aged and painted with the exterior white. I did this wet without letting each color dry so they would blend together.

To recreate the pealing and weathering of paint I gave each board a heavy coat of vintage white. Once it dried I coarse sanded it followed by a fine sanding to get some fading and bring out the wood whorls and texture. I found that sanding in one direction only from top to bottom worked best creating a pealing paint effect that is very realistic.

I used the windows to set the right spacing on the boards and to insure that the surface made a smooth fit. They will be glued in later.

I used the pre-painted / sanded boards on the walls where the porch sections met the walls. This way I did not get paint on the parts that were added after Joe’s paint job and allowed the peeling paint effect to extend to the very end of each plank. On the other walls there was nothing in the way of the sanding or in danger of getting painted so I was able to glue them all on and finish them later. This was much faster.

I did a little white mildew on the interior and then sealed it with Treehouse brand Matte Finish.

The floor and walls are now done except for the battens. I need to make the roof removable so the top trim piece holds and aligns the roof in place. In order to install the battens I have to have the trim in place first….so I have to build most of the roof.

The roof is not attached to the top of the wall so it needs something to rest on. This would not exist in a real house so I made it as thin as I could and still have it able to support the joists and rafters. It has to be flat so the corners are butted together using bond paper for added support. The rear porch cover will be glued in place.

I decided the roof line would follow the original shack with the addition hipping in at the middle. I had really wanted a sloping front porch roof but it just did not make sense or look right. Nobody would build like that if they could help it.

The ridgepole goes in and then the rafters, joists will follow. In the last picture the pieces for the rear porch can be seen. I will also put a ceiling over the front porch.

With the roof framed I could paint it and then add the board and batten siding along with that long awaited trim piece. Now all of the batts and remaining trim could be attached. The wall construction was complete.

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Time to get the roof to the same point of completion. Purlins are added to support the sheets of tin. Some short soffits were added to close in the roof and finally the tar-paper was attached. I used dull black coarse construction paper. With a coat of gloss black paint it stands in well for tar-paper.

The rear porch cover is also added. I used some bamboo skewers as dowels to help index the posts and give them strength. A solid wood deck is glued in to support the smaller pieces of the tin can roof covering.

While waiting for the roof to dry I finished the interior walls. In the depression and dust-bowl areas it was common practice to line the interior walls with newspaper to keep out the dust and stop drafts. Joe followed the same practice.

First I went on line and found about thirty pages of historic newspapers dating from 1900 to 1935. I used mostly  front page headlines but a fair number of advertising, sports and personals were included. I scaled these to the average size of a single page of newsprint in the 1930’s. No more than three copies of the same page were used. Set up on three separate sheets I used the picture editor to tint them in three shades to represent fading and yellowing caused by heat and age.

These were all printed out and cut into separate pieces. Using a thin glue mixture I pasted them on the walls in a random mix with the darkest near the stove. Lighter copies are on top of darker.

This worked pretty well but next time I will try sealing the pages first as the water washed out most of the lettering and pictures which had been recognizable. I went to the trouble of putting Prohibition Enacted in dark sheets and Repeal Of the 18th Amendment in light. Shame nobody can read it.

While the printer was warmed up I decided to try an idea I had for the back porch. I wanted it shingled in tin sheets made from blasting powder cans. This was done in real life to a house in Bodie California and written about in Narrow Gauge Gazette.

I thought this would look best printed on foil so I made up my graphics for five different products that I figured Joe would have used over the years in excavating the mine. To keep the foil from tearing and jamming in the printer I stuck it to the back of a sheet of Papilio printable vinyl. I spray painted the foil in blocks to provide the background colors of the various manufactures. After a day of drying I ran the sheets through the HP and to my delight it printed up perfectly. Before cutting them apart I clear coated the labels and then coated them with a rust ink. It held way to well and should have been thinned out more. Lesson learned.

Once the cans were cut apart I glued them to the back porch roof using Elmer’s glue and then gave the whole thing a light coat of black wash to help blend it all together. Looking at real tin can roofs they are always corroded with deep dark rust in patches. I brushed some dark gray paint on in various areas. A thin glue mixture followed which was then coated with baking soda. I chose that because it is so finely ground. Once dry I brushed off the excess and colored it with burnt umber and terra-cotta.

A little more rust wash blended it together. The effect was pretty good but like the newspaper a little practice will improve it.

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Time to do the other metal roof. The corrugated metal on the main roof was much more straight forward. I borrowed a roller crimper from a fellow club member and ran strips of 4″ galvanized flashing through it. These were painted with flat black and oxide red spray paint before being cut into 3′ scale wide panels and glued into place using clear E6K. To hold them in place while the glue dried I used a combination of weight and clamps.

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Once the roof was complete I taped off around the eaves and sprayed the entire roof with clear high-gloss Treehouse brand sealer. It is thick and sticky. I sprinkled baking soda over the entire roof in an uneven pattern waited a few minutes for the sealer to soak in and then blew the excess off. The process was repeated three times and then the whole thing was left to dry. After a couple of hours I resprayed the entire roof with a dusting uneven coat of black followed by oxide red. Highlights of burnt orange were mixed in. A little back and forth was required to get a good blended look across the entire roof. moon 63

The last parts needed are the doors, inner windows and pilings. I wanted the windows to be part of the shack’s story so they are in various degrees of damage. The one in back is dirty but complete as it was protected by the back porch cover. For the front porch it is cracked with a couple of holes (probably made by some kids).  The one on the front of the house has one panel completely broken out and the the other shattered with some pieces missing. The last one on the side is cracked but mostly complete. They are made from acetate cut with scissors or an Exacto knife and then washed with grime and coated with matte sealer. This gives them a dirty caked on look that accumulated over many years.

The pilings are rocks from my drive-way with the exception of the bricks. They are dollhouse items and represent the moonshiners effort to shore up the floor under the still.

Construction of the details:

Well you cannot have a moonshine shack without a still so here is mine. This is a “submarine” or black pot still. They were popular because they could be constructed from oak planks and a single sheet of copper. Neither of which aroused much attention when purchased. In use the still would be filled with the fermented mash and then brought to a temperature just below the boiling point of water. This would turn the alcohol into steam while leaving the water behind. It was not an exact science as several factors could effect the process. The steam would then travel to the thump keg where impurities could fall out and then to the cooling barrel to be turned back into liquid. The liquor was captured in a container before being transferred to jugs or mason jars for shipment. After a run the mash would be allowed to cool and sugar added to it to make another load. A good moonshiner might get four or five runs out of a single kettle of mash.

My still is made from a pine block cut into an oval shape. Birch coffee stirs are glued to the sides and cut off flush. A little sanding and it is ready for the metal. This is a strip of aluminum cut from a cookie sheet. I glued it around the outside using E6K. The top is made from a small funnel. The stove is dollhouse bricks and pink foam insulation covered in Milliput and sanded to shape. To keep the guys from burning the house down I built a base to represent a brick bottom on top of a layer of sand on top of a metal sheet.

The thump keg is made from a piece of plastic tube while the barrel is a hollow resin casting. The pipes are made from model sprue and copper wire. All of the valves and drains are made from bits of styrene rod. The jug is an original sculpt and cast in resin. I used Woodland Scenics Water to fill the barrel. Thinking I did not need much material I melted it in a spoon over a candle and carefully poured it in. Turns out I needed about six such spoonfuls to fill the barrel. This made the process a lot harder than was required. I should have done it in a cutoff soda can or metal measuring cup. Another lesson learned so I could pour it all at once.

When you are doing crime somebody has to guard the hooch and tend the still. Regular hours are not in the job description of bootlegger so I made a ratty old bed for one of the guys to sleep on. It is typical of the painted steel frames with batted mattress of the era. Of course it is not new. A few stains and lumps are present.

The frame was made from wood dowel, brass tube and floral wire glued together.  It is painted with high gloss brandy wine red and then washed with grime before being sealed with matte.

The mattress is pink insulation foam cut to size and sanded smooth. I scribed the seams and hem along the edge with a mechanical pencil and then painted it with several coats of off white. The staining is a combination of tea and sand colored paint.

The pillow is a piece of paper towel folded over and glued together. For bulk it is filled with sand. The blanket is also paper towel cut to size and draped over a wood block. It was painted with OD green paint until it became soft and limp. More paint than was required to color it. It took two days to dry and had to be pealed off with a butter-knife. Next time I will use a plastic block or cover the wood with plastic wrap. Once again…lesson learned.

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The boys are smuggling there hooch out in produce crates so I needed a few. Fortunately I had made the masters for three different sizes two years ago. Resin casting ensued and a mighty pile was soon ready. I made graphics from 1930s era labels indigenous to the southwest and printed them up. I also made a matching  empty crate out of styrene to have on the table inside being filled with Mason jars.

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All of which means the guys need Mason jars. I made graphics for a box scaled to hold one dozen quart sized jars in 1/20.3. These were done in both singles and in a stack. This was printed on tan card-stock I found at Hobby Lobby. It is a dead on match to cardboard in G scale. For the stack I cut a pink foam block filler and then glued it all together. The individual boxes were glued together one at a time and are empty except for the one on the table. It has a divider (the single hardest thing to make of the entire build) and a few jars inside it. All of the other boxes in the house are made the same way. The barrels and other duplicate items are cast resin copies of my own designs.

The jars themselves are resin casts from an original master. I made the older round shaped ones but I would like to make the newer square sided ones later. Both were around in the 1930s with the square side having been introduced only ten years earlier.

There are three jars on the table waiting to be filled. These are all made from styrene tube one at a time.

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In the depression people learned to reuse and recycle everything. Sugar and flour bags were an easy choice as they were made from dense cotton and pretty durable. The mills realized that printing their bags with patterns for dolls or clothing would be a cheap incentive for buyers to choose their brand. Looks like the poor old printer is going to get abused again….

To start with I invented a local sugar company. In this case Lone Star brand located near the New Mexico / Texas state line in Hereford TX. This part of Texas actually produced sugar from beets but what the heck. 100 lbs sugar bags measure 18″ by 3′. When the seams were cutout they made one square yard of cloth. With a little research I found cloth patterns from the 1930s and several doll and toy cut outs. Graphics were created and plain white un-embossed paper towel acquired. It is way to soft and shapeless to tractor through the printer so I taped it at the top edge to a sheet of photograph stock. This worked okay but I think would be better if glued at the edge. The cellophane tape was too slick for the printer to get a hold of and I had to help it get started which messed up part of the print. Sigh…another lesson learned.. I am starting to feel that the printer is purposely trying to make me feel stupid.

Once printed I cut out the bags and carefully glued the bottom and side together. Sand was poured in to fill the bags and give them a little sag. The top was glued shut and the item left to dry. All I had to do after that was glue them together in a pile. Some of the bags I left open and used as curtain over the windows… Bootleggers need their privacy you know.

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I actually made these figures about two years ago. I have saved them for a scene like this but I had thought it would be a simple still in a covered shed. Oh well. Here are the pics from that project. The guns are all from 21st Century Toys. They are supposed to be 1/18th scale but are a little small, so perfect for 1/20.3

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That is the end and here are the pics to prove it!

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