This page is one in a series on the buildout of an N scale model railroad depicting the BNSF Scenic Subdivision in Washington state in the Cascade Mountain Range. You can find the main table of contents for all the articles in the series HERE.

Welcome to Model 160 and we hope you enjoy the project!


Long back story sorta short – I sold my company a couple years back and had 13 years of stuff at my office that needed to be moved out in a very short amount of time. This coincided with a new house purchase where we were closing in just 5 weeks. Since I was planning on keeping a number of things from the office, I needed a place to put them at the new house. There was an unfinished part of the basement that looked good to turn into a workshop area. It needed a lot of work as this house was built in 1920, has radiator heat and an addition put on it at some point. That means lots of radiator piping crossing the ceiling. Lots of new and old electric and plumbing also crossing the ceiling. A retrofit forced air-conditioning system was installed over the years and that duct work *also* crosses the ceiling around the existing piping. The workshop needed new electrical outlets and more than just two pull-type light bulbs and a LOT of TLC. Here is a panoramic shot of what it looked like mid-clean at about 2am:

So I cleaned it all up, put in electric around the room, installed new LED lights in the ceiling and framed out the upper half and a few walls to put up a fake shiplap of sorts. These were 4×8 sheets of 3/8 sanded plywood ripped into roughly 6″ boards and nailed up to the framing to look like shiplap panels (for about 1/4 the cost). I painted it all ceiling white to make things brighter (and to make repaints of damaged areas easier and cheap). The plywood is much more robust than drywall and if one board gets damaged, I can easily replace it with another. More importantly I planned to use shelf brackets to cantilever the layout, so I wanted to be able to remove everything down the road if necessary. In the end, after moving everything out of my office and taking a fair bit home with me (cabinets, desks, chairs, storage cabinets, tools and lots more) this is where it ended up:

And finally, here is another panoramic (which makes the space look bigger than it is) where I had begun to frame in the pillars:

As you can see above, I clamped some lumber up temporarily to see what the grade would look like on the Scenic Sub portion. The air-conditioning duct work unfortunately could not be easily moved from that location on the left so I’m going to work around it (should be fine with the valance in place actually). I like the idea of having everything in one room. The beer fridge is here, tools are here, project desks and more and the ability to work on something at the desk and pick it up and move it to the layout quickly is great. The circular saw will move to the garage with the car tools and table saw and that should keep that mess out of this space long-term. Overall it makes a great escape/work space and gives me areas for photography, projects and lots more.

So with the space ready, the first thing to tackle is staging. Staging will be underneath the Scenic Sub portion of the layout. The height of staging is dictated by the height of the roll-around storage cabinets and the roll around tool chest (ideally) fitting underneath it. So out comes the laser level to spot a line that gives me 2 inches of clearance across all portions of the basement (as the floor slopes quite a bit to the drain):

After marking up the level lines, framing went up for the staging level:

The pillars are framed in with screws which gives me the flexibility to take it all down with no harm or structural damage to deal with. Likewise the cantilevered parts of the layout are up in sections that are also screwed in. If you look closely, I added intentional gaps in the staging level, roughly mid-pillar which divides staging into three modules. Each module could easily be raised up or removed entirely down the road if I decide to change things up. I’m just trying to leave myself the most flexibility. Meanwhile it is quite stout and doesn’t weigh a ton and kept simple.

After the framing was done, I ran bus wire and then covered staging with masonite panels. I used flexible sealant caulk so that the panels could be removed if absolutely necessary. To maximize space I used a compound ladder configuration for the staging yard using Atlas Code 55 turnouts.

As you can see above, using a compound ladder allows for larger #7 turnouts (which look better) to fit in roughly the same space as a straight ladder built with #5 turnouts. So after drawing out lines on the masonite for track locations, construction began on the ladders:

I’m adding an additional turnout at the top to give me flexibility for additional track. And at the opposite end:

All track feeders were soldiered to the bottom of the turnouts and track and I went ahead and connected them up to the main feeders underneath after gluing the track down with clear adhesive. I decided to use suitcase connectors under the layout as they are quick and easy to install versus other methods I’ve used in the past. There may be other parts of the layout where I’ll install a wire connection block, but for staging, this is pretty straight forward other than the turnouts which come later. The downside to suitcase connectors being that if I need to pull a wire or add one, I’ll need to cut and add another suitcase, but that should be fairly rare in this case.

As I was doing the wiring as I was installing track I couldn’t help but run a sound-equipped loco down the track while glue was still drying (!).

Once the ladders were in, next came the Atlas Code 55 flex track straight sections. This went fairly quickly as I soldiered feeders and installed one after the other until it was complete:

I gave the track a quick wipe down and ran a slow switcher back and forth through each ladder to make sure everything was working checking for misalignments, raised track, rough crossings, etc., etc.

Time to let the adhesive set up for the night. I’ve decided to ballast the staging area because I figure any part of the layout can be a spot to take pictures, plus it looks better. More on that coming up…


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Scenic Sub Project Intro Scenic Sub Project Part 2 (coming soon)