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Thread: DanB's Layout Thread - California Rails

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    Default DanB's Layout Thread - California Rails

    I have been a member of this forum since 2012, and for most of the past 6 years have mostly read and learned from everyone (many thanks!). Over the past two years, as I have been more active in building my layout, I have also become more of an active participant, and felt this was as good a time as ever to start a Layout Thread. I will need to learn a bit more about using layout design software to be able to post a decent track plan, so be patient. My layout actually started about 25 years ago, when I built the initial benchwork with my young son (who is now 32). Of course, we had to imprint our names in a location that is still visible from beneath (see Photo 1). We laid track but then the layout sat dormant until a friend suggested that we attend the Seattle NMRA convention in 2004 and with that, I transitioned from an armchair modeler to an active one. Still, not much work done until about 2015, when things started taking shape.

    Background:
    The layout is 12 x 6 feet and located in my Northern California "basement" (aka the garage). Fortunately, no one actually parks a car in garages here, and the heat/cold differences are not so extreme, so track expansion has not been too much of an issue. The design was based on a layout that I found in John Armstrong's wonderful book, Track Planning for Realistic Operation. Reducing it for N scale gave me about the size I needed, although I soon realized that you can't just reduce an HO scale plan in half, and so had to make many adjustments. I decided to go with a double track mainline, as I really like watching trains, especially the wonderful passenger trains that ran along the coast (e.g. Morning Daylight), and wanted to be able to "just let them run" if I so chose. The track plan is essentially a modified dogbone but with one of the ends folded back above the other, so that both return loops are on top of each other. As well, both are hidden beneath a mountain, so the unrealistic loops are not visible. Minimum radius is 15". There are also two passing sidings hidden underneath the mountain, which I had planned to use for hidden staging, so that a train could enter the hidden loop, park, and then another train could exit from the other end of the tunnel. I hope to control this automatically using either an Arduino or Digitrax occupancy detectors.

    At the NMRA convention in 2004, I picked up the original Digitrax Chief set and, although I had initially wired the layout for multiple blocks, have used DCC ever since. When I started, I had no idea about modeling a specific prototype or era, so you will find totally incompatible locos on the layout. As I have developed as a modeler, I have focused more on the transition era, so I can model large late-era steamers as well as Alcos and early E and F units. I am still far from being true to any specific year. The location is also not specific - generally somewhere in California, and I have decided to model some of our favorite locations for family vacations, from the old Miramar hotel in Montecito (Southern CA), to central coast towns such as San Luis Obispo, to the Donner Pass area in the Sierras. Again, nothing is actually true to prototype (at least not yet) but my idea was to give a general sense of place.

    Building a backdrop:
    For today's first post, I will describe the experience I have had with adding a backdrop to my layout. It seems that most N scale backdrops tend to be shorter in height (like 12-18") but since my snow-covered mountain (covering the return loops) was fairly tall, I realized that I needed a backdrop that was at least 27" tall. I built a frame from pine 1 x2's (see Photos 2-3) and then glued on masonite (Photo 4). I searched through several websites and discovered that the best image for what I was trying to model was by Backdrop Warehouse. Their website is a bit cluttered and not easy to navigate at first, but once you get the hang of it, it is fairly easy to find what you want. It took about 3 weeks from order to delivery.

    The backdrop image is absolutely awesome and they pay a lot of attention to scale, making sure that there are no unrealistically tall items in the foreground (e.g. 400' trees or 20' automobiles). I then spent way too long trying to figure out the best way of adhering it to the masonite. Their website didn't help because there is a lot of information on it about not using water-based wall paper paste. I called them directly, and it turns out that their newer media doesn't have a problem with water based pastes. They also suggest rubber cement, but for some reason I couldn't get it to stick well with rubber cement (perhaps a bad batch?). I used a clay based paste, rolled it on carefully, and clamped the backdrop firmly. It worked pretty well, although there are a few small bubbles where the backdrop didn't completely adhere, however, they are barely visible, and I am debating whether to even try to repair them (and potentially make things a lot worse). Also: if you order from them, be aware that the backdrop is more fragile than their website would suggest. If you get any liquid on the front, DO NOT RUB at all, as you will rub the ink right off. Otherwise, it looks really great.

    The backdrop has a lake as a major part of the foreground in the scene, and it looked strange to have the tracks running so close to the water without a shoreline, so I added a 2 inch strip of foamboard to the back edge of the layout and carved a small part of the lake and shoreline into the foam at the back edge of the layout. I filled this in with Sculptamold, then painted blue-to-green (trying to match the color of the lake in the adjacent section of the backdrop) and poured multiple layers of WS Realistic Water, the last one tinted with just a drop of white paint to duplicate the haze on the surface of the lake in the backdrop. This worked really well. You can barely see the line where the horizontal part of the layout meets the backdrop unless you are standing right over it (Photos 6-9). I have now planted a few foreground trees, but realize that their color is slightly greener than the backdrop trees, so have ordered some sage green flocking from Scenic Express and will coat those trees to better match the backdrop.

    I was initially worried that such a tall backdrop would overwhelm the rest of the layout, but am pleased with the results. It really helps when taking photos of the layout not to have a garage door, tool chest or a bunch of bicycles in the background.

    More on the track plan and the rest of the construction to follow.
    Attached Images Attached Images


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    I really like the backdrop and I had to do a double take to make sure I was seeing it correctly. The blending of the backdrop and layout is amazing you can’t tell the difference had me fooled. But great job and keep inspiring us all
    Life is Fragile. Live Everyday as if YOU Know Its Your Last.

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    That backdrop is simply amazing . It makes me think about using one on my up coming layout . Pat yourself on the back , thats some great work there

    Steve

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    Wonderful story Dan and thanks for sharing. You are talented.
    "Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn." -- Benjamin Franklin

    Mario

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    Outstanding work Dan!
    This picture made me stop and stare it for several minutes. Thanks for sharing...


    The Little Rock Line blog


    “Never argue with an idiot. They will only bring you down to their level and beat you with experience." George Carlin

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    Ditto to everything already said, amazing work and breath taking backdrop!!
    Cheers Tony

    "Knowing what to do is one thing ... being able to do it is another"
    "It is easy to criticize ... a lot harder when you have to justify it"

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    Thanks for the nice words. It is great to have the support and encouragement of the Nscale.net community. Especially since I have admired many of your own awesome layouts over the net. This great on-line community pushes us all to try to achieve the next level of modeling, whether we are beginner or expert.

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    Quote Originally Posted by danb View Post
    This great on-line community pushes us all to try to achieve the next level of modeling, whether we are beginner or expert.
    Absolutely!!
    Cheers Tony

    "Knowing what to do is one thing ... being able to do it is another"
    "It is easy to criticize ... a lot harder when you have to justify it"

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    Fantastic. I can only dream of achieving this. Nice work!!!

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    Wow. Just wow. You just convinced me to invest in a backdrop for my next layout. I was all set to just paint it light blue and call it good. But wow, what a difference it makes.
    Serdar

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    Looks amazing!

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    The past two weeks I have been working on assembling a steam donkey for my logging camp. I decided to go with the KMP Models Willamette Yarder, a beautiful craftsman kit that is one of the more complex that I have put together so far and initially was a bit intimidating. The instructions are quite detailed, and I found that reading them over twice before starting was helpful. I also emailed KMP and they sent me some additional photos which were very helpful. A pair of OptiVisors, a new XActo blade and a bottle of gel control Super Glue and I went to work. The space available was tight so I kitbashed the kit a little, cutting down the overall length by about an inch.
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    Wonderful work

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    Great job. Curious if the literature that came with says what the ski jump thingy on the roof is for.

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    Default Ski jump, of course!

    My assumption is that it is either a smoke deflector or heat deflector, but ski jump works.
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    Default Sierra Snow Shed

    I spent this weekend working on a wooden snow shed for the Western Sierras portion of my layout. This was inspired by an article in MR by Peter Hersted Davidsen from Denmark (Feb., 2013) with details of his build of an HO scale snow shed, modeled after a Great Northern prototype. After some careful measurements, I constructed a template on which to construct each of the timber sections, weathered them with a combination of India Ink and 91% isopropyl alcohol (I used to use Weather-It but apparently it is no longer being made - and the India Ink/Alcohol mixture did an equally good job). I still plan to add some dry brushed gray and brown highlights and some darker black stains from years of smoke and exhaust.

    One major difference between the published plans and what I wound up doing is the center posts. Originally, I constructed each section with a center post between the rails, as per the prototype, but realized that since this shed was on a curved section of track, I didn't have quite enough clearance. Even though the tracks were on NMRA approved centers, those rules didn't account for a 4x4 stuck right in the middle of the two tracks! This was tested multiple times with the rolling stock I knew had the most inner "overhang" - Kato's City of Los Angeles passenger cars, on the outer track, and an Intermountain SP cab forward, which has the most outer "overhang" on curves. I thought that if I could position each of the center posts just exactly right I might get away with it, but after fiddling for an entire day, I came to the conclusion that this arrangement would just lead to derailments in the future, and once the she'd roof was in place, would be impossible to deal with, so it wasn't worth it. Thus, in a trade-off of a bit of realism for operational integrity, I just removed the center posts altogether. Once the roof is installed, I think it will be less noticeable.

    The vertical posts are now all installed, and there are a few places where the sill extends beyond the edge of my scenery, so a little Sculpt-a-Mold will be needed. Now I have to order some more wood strips for the roof, do some more weathering, add some bolt details (will try some cast bolts but may opt to just paint these on - aaah, the challenges of n scale) and then add some snow.

    Hope all have had a good weekend.

    Dan
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    That looks good. Would it be possible to add the center post to the outermost support only, since the track looks straight leading up to that? Like you said, with the roof on it will be a lot less noticeable.

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    OTFan: I though of that, but when I tried it, it looked strange to have it on the first supports and not others. However, that was without the roof installed. I suspect that once the roof is on, it might look better to have a center post for the entrance. I'll give it a try!

    Thanks, Dan

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