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!



So benchwork now begins on the scenic sub part of the layout and we start to see if what we drew on the computer translates well in real life. Dimensionally I have no doubt that curves will fit and such, but I always wonder whether the exact shape of the curve looks right. So lets look at the plan:


We are starting at the right where the eastern portal to the Cascade Tunnel is. We want the curve leading into the tunnel to ease in nicely as well as provide photo opportunities to capture trains entering and leaving the tunnel. We also want to be able to shoot trains leaving the tunnel headed east (to the left) and rounding the bend with a scenery divider.  So I started with a few pieces of lumber to see how the grades translate and if the heights look about right.

Trains will be at about 54″ give or take when they enter the tunnel. We have about a 2 inch drop every 72 inches so a little bit more than 2% grade. So I mark off the track height locations, get out the laser and start cutting lumber:

The pillars in the basement create nature divisions in the benchwork that function largely as individual modules. Since most of the Scenic Sub is a straight section that isn’t particularly deep, I’m leaving the door open to be able to potentially divide it up if it ever needs to be moved. Likewise, if I want to change this up completely, I can reuse the benchwork and have the flexibility to raise or lower it. I’m also trying to be realistic that the likelihood of my next basement having dimensions and supports in similar locations is fairly slim. That said, these will be straight sections that could be carefully separated and moved similar to what we recently saw with Pelle Soeborg’s layout that Trainlife/ExactRail saved. For me personally, I’m not sweating everything I can’t control and I’m having fun with this house as long as I’m here.  I just try to keep in mind what might happen and try and plan ahead where I can. We’ll see how that goes! Anyway…

So the main benchwork went up quickly. It is just pieces of  “select” lumber I bought at the local big box store and I just made sure that I picked out the straightest pieces I could find. It is mostly attached with counter sunk screws that could be removed if need be later, but there are a few box sections that I used a nail gun on. The curved section made of miscellaneous pieces can be removed as well and at this stage I wanted to see how this all looked first before committing fully:

I’m saving the Gaynor bridge section to the left above for later as I want to make sure of the location based on how the tracks approach this location after leaving Gaynor Tunnel.  I also started to tack up some masonite spline to help finalize the curves:

The track plan gives me rough ideas of where track will go, but I find that using masonite splines (about 2 inches high) are a great way to visualize things. Temporarily tacked/clamped in place, I can look at the shapes of curves and actually eyeball them a bit. The masonite spline also creates natural easements in and out of curves that make things flow really nicely. Likewise, with this in place I can rough-in some foam bits I have laying around to see how things might look. Here is a very rough look heading east out of the tunnel where the track will round the bend headed for Gaynor Tunnel. This will create a visual block that will make things seem a bit more spread out, plus it will give more photo locations and scenery variation. It was interesting when the kids saw the above photo and then came back down and saw the below photo. Even though they saw the drawn out plan, they had no idea how this would look or the actual size of it.

Here is another look heading west towards the Cascade Tunnel from the other side:

With the backdrop in place and largely covered by mountain scenery, this section will have a nice canyon effect on the left side above and Nason Creek running next to it on the right side. This low to high viewpoint will also provide yet more photographic opportunities.

Just above the Cascade Tunnel eastern portal is US Route 2 which will be modeled as a curve disappearing around the bend:

In the photo above you can see the backside of the tunnel portal support buildings on the left. To the right the scenery goes straight up a large mountain side that includes trees and talus/rock slide. The backdrop will curve in a similar way to run parallel to the road and I clamped up some masonite to try and get an idea of how far out it would come and how it would mesh with this scene:

This will also provide a scenery block that hides other parts of the basement from this section of the layout.

There were a lot of discussions online about layout expansion and contract this past winter with some photos people posted showing some pretty drastically bent track. Plywood is usually constructed of layers of different pieces of wood that are glued together. These layers can expand and contract in differing amounts and because they are glued on only one or two surface levels, they tend to shear as well. Now, people have been using plywood in model railroad layouts forever and many have little to no problems. Some basic expansion or contraction can be controlled with small gaps left in tracks. However if you live where humidity levels can fluctuate quite a bit between summer and winter months, you could have more issues. The old house I live in gets very dry in the winter thanks to the radiator heat in the house. Yet in the summer, the humidity level can change more than 50% versus winter. So I wanted to explore different materials for the roadbed portion of the layout.

For this section, I’m using the 250 grade of pink foam which is a denser version of the poly foam that is quite a bit more rigid than the typical 150 version. N scale equipment and track doesn’t weigh much and most of the small track goes down with adhesives. I’ve used Liquid Nails For Projects in a clear form on N scale portable modules for more than 10 years and it holds great. It also stays slightly flexible, so on the rare occasion some track had to be repaired or pulled up, a razor blade can easily cut through the adhesive.   I’m using Atlas Code 55 flex track and turnouts for this layout as I already had a large stash of it from previous projects (case and half of flex actually!). The foam roadbed sections are supported by cabinet grade plywood platforms and I’ll shore it up further with foam base underneath. This setup is different and a little bit of an experiment. Worst case, if I drop a hammer on the foam sections then I may be looking at patching some foam whereas a plywood underlayer wouldn’t deform. On the flip side I can carve the edges of the roadbed to my hearts content once cork and track are down. We’ll see how it goes.

I laid a piece of foam over my masonite spline and traced the curve once I was happy with it. This created my center line and a basis to cut the foam sections. While in the past I used everything from hot wire foam cutters to steak knives to cut foam, most methods either created a lot of bad fumes that smell terrible or a huge mess of static foam bits everywhere (or both!).  Then I came across this special jig saw blade by Festool made to cut foam with your jig saw:

This 6″ blade fits most modern jig saw units and the serrated blade cuts through foam like butter so long as you don’t go too fast and you don’t bind the material up (either way, producing heat makes the poly foam sticky). It makes very short work of cutting sections of foam and produces a very smooth edge. In addition, there is little to no mess either. You can find it HERE on Amazon if you looking for it. So I set up the laser for the grade level and started getting the platforms in place:

Then I glued the foam in place careful to make adjustments to the platforms to make sure things were nice and level:

Then out came the heavier train library books collected over the years to weigh everything down to dry overnight:


While thats going on it is time to start building the Gaynor Trestle bridge (Joel Hawthorn Photo):

Our next installment will talk about the history of this bridge, the story behind the Great Northern Nason Creek Realignment Project that created it (black and white photo above) and how I plan to go about building it. Micro Engineering makes a viaduct kit that I can use to piece this one together but it will require some bashing and some custom bits as well. In N scale this will be about 30″ long, so it should make a nice signature piece on the layout. For now though, here is part of the pile of parts I’m looking at…

Till next time, thanks for reading!



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Scenic Sub Project Part 2 Scenic Sub Project Part 4