Building a Model Railroad – Part 9: More Baseboards! More Backdrop!

I spent most of this winter working on various models but I did make progress on the layout in a few key areas. First up: the rest of the baseboards.

In my last post about the baseboards I had completed everything along the two walls but had stopped when I reached the peninsula as I needed to figure out how to support the backdrop which would run down the middle of the benchwork. I hadn’t really thought this through when I designed the layout and had ended up making the removable section near the furnace a bit too deep. Try as I might I could not figure out how to get the backdrop installed without having to make some changes and I eventually just shrugged it off, installed some new I-beams to support the backdrop and resigned myself to remaking the removable section.

Once the I-beams were in place I ripped a 2×6 in half and used the resulting 2×3’s to make vertical backdrop supports. These were attached to the top of the I-beams with pocket screws and a couple of longer 2×3’s were used to tie them together at the top. At the end of the peninsula (near the layout entrance) the backdrop curves around to follow the contour of the track and I wanted a stronger attachment point since this vertical piece would stand alone. To achieve this I notched the 2×3 so it could be screwed down from both the top and the side.

With the backdrop support structure in place I cut the plywood for the remaining baseboards to size, notching them around the backdrop verticals. I then laminated 1” foam sheets to each board and used my hot-wire foam cutter to shape the notches into the foam.

At this point I decided I really needed to do something about the beam and forced-air ductwork above the layout. The beam is unpainted wood and the ductwork was painted a horrible beige by some previous homeowner. I neglected to deal with them when I was renovating the basement thinking they weren’t that obtrusive. Turns out though, with the walls painted blue they stand out pretty horrendously. I also needed to relocate a vent in the ductwork so that it blows air into the center of the layout and not right on top of the benchwork.

To fix all this, I removed the old vent registers and bought a new one that was a better size. Then I cut an opening in the new location. Next I cut a flat patch from an old piece of ductwork and screwed that over the old opening. After some quick prep to protect the benchwork and floor and get some wires out of the way I thoroughly cleaned all surfaces and went to town on the ductwork with some DTM white paint and the beam with some high-build primer. The ductwork got two coats of the DTM paint which I also used over the primer on the beam. I left the beam with only primer where it passed over the benchwork since those areas will be painted the same blue as the walls. Once the paint was dry I installed the new register and took a few days to admire how much more pleasant the room felt with those two elephants properly camouflaged.

Once I was able to remove the protective sheeting from the benchwork I returned to the backdrop. I ripped two more sheets of the trusty 6mm PVC that I used for the first backdrop into 2’x8’ sections and starting at the far end of the backdrop (away from the curve) attached the first sheet to the layout side. Next I attached the first curved sheet leaving it long and trimming it away once it was fully secured to the structure. Getting the radius correct at both the top and bottom was a bit tricky and it probably would have been helpful to have an extra vertical in the middle of the curve, but I had nowhere to attach one to the benchwork.

Once the first side of the backdrop was complete I installed some foam inserts between the verticals so as to keep the sheets from bowing in at the bottom. Between the last two verticals on the straight part of the backdrop right before the curve I used a piece of 2×3 instead for added strength. Then I attached the backdrop pieces to the staging side.

Next I went through the same process I used on the other side of the layout to fill gaps and cover up screws. That was about as interesting the second time as it was the first time so I won’t make you suffer through more photos of it.

With the entire backdrop nice and smooth I gave it a coat of my light blue sky color.  I also painted the remaining portions of the beam with my dark blue sky color and gave the wall on the other side of the layout a second coat. Once the light blue paint was dry I applied a coat of dark blue to the top of the backdrop and a 50/50 mix of both blues to the middle feathering them together with a brush.  I changed my process slightly for this backdrop and I think the result is better.  I’ll give more info on that in a later post as I still have a second coat to apply to both backdrops.

The final thing I did was to paint the staging side of the backdrop with some white ceiling paint (just cause it’s what I had available). That’s already kind of a dark space and the white helps lighten it up a lot.

I was pleasantly surprised by how much just painting the beam, the ductwork and adding the second backdrop lightened up and decluttered the layout space.  Everything blends together really nicely now and distractions have been cut to a minimum.  Next post we’ll go over the lighting and valance supports and soon I hope to be actually painting the landscape on the backdrop.

– Chris

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