The Keys to Grand Central Terminal – 3D Printing a railroad key fit for the centennial

Just five days before the opening of Grand Central Terminal, Miles Bronson was appointed the General Manager of the New York Central’s greatest station. Born in India to missionary parents, Bronson returned to the United States for education and got his first railroad job at the tender age of fifteen. Appointed to the job of Grand Central’s General Manager at the 37, Bronson had worked for the New York Central for thirteen years, and he served as Grand Central’s general manager for 21 more years before retiring due to illness (he passed away a short time after).

As festivities kicked off celebrating the opening of the new Terminal, meals were served, music was played, and Mr. Bronson was presented with the keys to the Terminal in a ceremony next to the information booth. While we’ll probably never know exactly what those keys looked like, I’d like to think that they were embellished with the logo of Grand Central Terminal. Maybe something a little like this…

Key in polished brass

In my most recent endeavor with 3D printing (if you’ve been around a while, you may recall that my first 3D model ever was of Brewster station), I set about the task of making a Grand Central key as a gift for a friend who is a Metro-North conductor. 3D printing keys isn’t a unique concept – in fact Shapeways and KeyMe have joined up to print house keys. But what if you’re looking for a key for something different… like say, a train? Maybe a Metro-North train?

From sketchbook to reality
From sketchbook to reality…

The key was modeled in 3D using Tinkercad
The key was modeled in 3D using Tinkercad, and then 3D printed using Shapeways.

Metro-North’s trains usually have two different keys – one for operations, and the other for opening panels and doors, which all conductors have. I sketched and measured a panel key, and built it in 3D using Tinkercad. Instead of the standard key end, this key is customized with the Grand Central logo – a stylized version of the letters GCT. For testing purposes I made a few versions of the key in plastic (or as Shapeways would call it, Strong and Flexible – a laser sintered nylon)…

Key in Black Strong and Flexible

And then made a gift version in polished brass…

Key in polished brass

These days railroad keys aren’t made in brass, but historically they were made in that material, and I figured it would be perfect to create this key. Polished brass is still a trial material at Shapeways, but considering how awesome this key looks, you’d probably never know. With a red velvet ribbon and pouch, the key is ready for gifting. Though the key does work on trains, most likely it will only be used for decorative purposes so it doesn’t get lost.

Three keys - WSF, Polished Brass, Black SF

Because of the somewhat sensitive nature of this key, I’m not making this item available for sale (yes, I know, plenty of people that don’t work for Metro-North have these keys, but I’m not going to make it easy. An exception could potentially be made if you’re a railroad employee, or if you’d like a key that doesn’t actually work for decorative purposes only). However, a few of my other Grand Central themed 3D prints are available if you’re interested…

Grand Central Constellation Pegasus:
Constellation Pegasus
3D Printed in Colored Sandstone, this little item can be used as a pendant, keychain, or decoration. I’ve used it in the past as a fancy tag for a gift. It features the constellation Pegasus from Grand Central’s sky ceiling.
See it in 3D.

Grand Central Snowflake:
Grand Central snowflake
This snowflake ornament is modeled after the acorn motif found throughout Grand Central Terminal. Acorns are found throughout the Terminal as they were the adopted “crest” of the Vanderbilt family. This specific design can be found embellishing the ticket windows.
See it in 3D.

While 3D printing is already changing model railroading – Shapeways has a category devoted to it, and companies like Flexiscale are producing kits using parts fabricated on 3D printers – it is always fun to create something railroad related for the “real world.” Though 3D printing has immense promise in allowing the masses to fabricate things they could previously only imagine, and creating things that were previously impossible, it is also interesting to take an already functional object and make it more attractive. Suffice it to say, nobody was thinking about how pretty a railroad key would be when they were first designed. Now we can have both – a working key fit for Grand Central Terminal’s centennial.

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Brewster station – my first 3D model


Brewster station model in Tinkercad

Perhaps you remember back in April I posted about how I was attempting to learn a little bit of 3D by modeling Brewster station. I did finally finish the model, and got it 3D printed using Shapeways a few weeks ago. The folks at Tinkercad (a simple web-based 3D app where I made the model) asked me to do a guest post for their blog, which was posted today. If you’re interested in reading the whole thing, you can check it out here.

On the other hand, if you’re not really interested in reading, some photos might just speak for themselves. There are definitely places where I can improve, but I really love this little model that I created on the computer and now hold in my hand. Though I’ve been rather busy with other things recently, I certainly can’t rule out modeling another station at some time in the future.


What Brewster station looked like in the 1930’s, and the main photo I based my model off of. Postcard from the collection of Steve Swirsky.

Edit: Thanks for all the attention in regards to my first modeling adventure, everyone! We’ve since been blogged about by:
Shapeways: 3D Printed Brewster Station : Pushing the Limits of Browser Based 3D Modeling
Adafruit: Gorgeous 3D Train Station is Railfan’s First Model
and Wired: Tiny Train Station Models the Past With the Tools of the Future

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I swear I am not ignoring you…

I swear I am not ignoring you, I’m just trying to learn 3D. Not bad for a first attempt, eh? The badass part is going to be when I get this thing all finished and 3D printed.

Now here is a silly question… does anyone have any decent photos of the door at Brewster back in the day? It is some glass thing now, but I am assuming it wasn’t always. And since I am kinda going for the historical look on this one, I need some help!

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Friday’s From the Historical Archive: 1800’s Animated Stereoviews of Old Grand Central Depot

When it comes to 3D, most people are familiar with the type that requires you to wear a pair of glasses and things are tinted in reds and blues. This type of 3D is called Anaglyph. An alternate means of viewing 3D are stereographs, where two slightly different photographs were printed on a card side by side. You were meant to look at the two images and cross your eyes, and supposedly you could see the image in 3D.


An example of a stereographic card

I say “supposedly” because I can’t see these 3D things, so really I am not sure. All these new movies coming out in 3D? Yeah, I’m deprived. I am an amblyope, and am essentially blind in my left eye. I can see small bits of color in large blurs, but not very much. Since you need two good, working eyes to see most types of 3D, I’m out of luck.

Historically, stereographic cards seemed to be pretty popular. The New York Public Library has a collection of quite a few of them, and many were taken of the old Grand Central Depot in the 1800’s. However, in order to simulate the 3D illusion, you can quickly animate the left and right sides of a stereograph together. So I figured I’d try it out with a bunch of the old railroad stereographs I had found. And on some it works pretty well. The technique seems to work best when there is something somewhat close in the foreground of the photo, which you can focus on. That is why the indoor images look better than the exterior images, where everything is rather far away and there isn’t a lot of depth. If you focus on the part of the image that doesn’t move much, you should be able to see it better. If it doesn’t work for you… well, I guess you get to see some jumpy old photos of a long-demolished train station of New York City. Click on each image to see the effect.

Quick Info: Grand Central Depot was built in 1871. It was replaced in 1913 by Grand Central Terminal, which is what we’re familiar with today.
Animated Stereoview Page in the Historical Archives

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