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!

Took a break last week and spent Spring Break with the family in warmer climates. Came back to the Chicago area still in the grips of crappy winter weather. Oh well, back to the basement…

Masonite is going up on the scenic sub for the backdrop. I have two areas that require a little more thought to work out. One is the Gaynor Trestle/Nason Creek area where the backdrop needs to drop down to the creek level and the other is the fairly sharp curve the masonite backdrop needs to make where trains enter the Cascade Tunnel (light blue line on the right side):


The first thing is to sort out where to maximize the use of the 8 foot long sheets. The obvious part is that I wanted a full sheet on the right-hand side where I needed it to curve at an angle behind the Cascade Tunnel. First though I needed to figure out how much material I needed for the curved section. I also wanted to try and visualize what amount of bend would look right (and how far I can push the material!). I was also looking to ideally anchor this to the ceiling joist as well since bending masonite puts a fair amount of pressure on the supports. So I clamped up some material to take a look:

Once I was satisfied with how things looked, I measured the amount of material that hangs past the last vertical supports and marked off the 8 foot mark at the end of the sheet. Next, I knew I also needed a full 8 foot length for the backdrop behind the bridge/creek scene. I was trying to avoid having seams in this location in case of any cracking due to expansion or contraction. I marked out eight feet for the bridge scene and started taking measurements to cut that board. Measure twice, cut once is the old saying. That has come back to bite me a few times in the past, so I measured three times for this piece and started cutting:

Space around the basement is taking on a hoarder-like appearance as I’m keeping a lot of scraps of foam and wood around for landforms and miscellaneous use down the road. While its driving me a little crazy, things should improve quite a bit over time – we’ll see!

So the first piece to go up is the curved section behind the Cascade Tunnel portal. I clamped up a piece of masonite to get an idea of where the front valance would curve and the angles I’d need.

Since this will be a tunnel access point under the layout, I also needed to think about the ability to reach up into the tunnel to grab anything that might derail. Now that I have the backdrop curve sorted out I can finish the framing underneath just to brace things up a little more. Here is the reverse angle:

And an overall shot of this area:

I countersunk the screws and then went over everything with lightweight spackle. This particular spackle goes on pink in color and dries white which helps give you an idea of when it is dry. Plus this is a “low dust” spackle (ha!) but I have to say, this was less messy than most compounds. I still sand it with a shop vac in one hand and a sanding block in the other. Spackle compound just gets into everything.

And here is the overall view of the backdrop in place:

In the end I had a roughly 10 inch section in the middle that I needed to cut in. This works out nicely as it is the area right behind the Gaynor Tunnel which will mostly be covered by a mountain anyway.

The next step is paint colors. If you remember from the last update, I did some testing of the temperature adjustable white LED lights I plan to use with a variety of paint samples:

I had a feeling that choosing a blue shade was going to be a headache for me. The two main purposes of this scenic part of the layout is to take photos and some video. I also want it to look like a sky in the background for operators as well.  Most of the long-time model railroad stalwarts in this hobby will tell you to just pick something relatively light and don’t overthink it. If you have some talent, you can paint clouds and other things on the backdrop as well, but my plan is to use photo backdrops for background details and I’ll leave the clouds out of the equation. For photos I can always add the backgrounds I want or need. Lance Mindheim has done a great job with this, especially when you consider quite a bit of his layout has no backdrops or very minimal backdrops. So back to the discussion about a base color…

Standing in the paint isle at your local paint store/big box store and looking at all the shades of blue can be a bit overwhelming. In my mind I was thinking I would try and avoid blues with too much red (making them lean purple). In my mind I’m thinking that more “neutral” blues would be better overall. So I picked five different color cards that looked like they had potential. I was also leaning more towards the lightest colors at the top of the cards. In Home Depot’s lighting things looked pretty good. Once I got them under the LED lights though things looked different as you can see above. I am leaning more towards lighting that is closer to incandescent/warm light. That means the blue starts to turn a bit more grey or neutral. Plus you can see shades of purple creeping in above.

Good news is that this narrowed down my choices quite a bit and I ended up rolling the dice on a card labeled Behr M520A with the following colors on it: Vaporize (lightest), After Rain (middle tone) and Charismatic Sky (darkest). I decided to buy three samples of the paint in each shade. After painting a few test areas, I ended up going with the darker Charismatic Sky. The lighter colors were going grey (or even yellow) on me in the warmer LED lights and just didn’t look blue anymore. To drive this point home, here is a photo that shows what the exact same color looks like under different warm and cool shades of white:

Yes, that is the exact same base shade of blue in each panel. The base color can be seen in the second “Neutral +1 Warm” panel at the bottom. It is the lightest of the colors. I won’t likely use the full “warm” or full “cool” settings of the white LED’s so that brings us to the middle two. I need the color of the blue to look right, but also need the scenery colors to look right too. If you look at the lumber framing at the bottom you can see that the +1 Warm brings out a richer more natural looking color of the wood. Neutral isn’t bad either, but it has a bit more blue in it which washes the wood color out a bit. Either way, I wanted something closer to the middle panels. So I ended up painting samples of all three colors and surprisingly ended up with the darkest blue to bring more contrast in and ensure that it stays more in the blue sky spectrum under the layout lights. This is all admittedly crazy detail work, but it was also educational and fun to sort out. Here is a quick and dirty look at the backdrop painted under the white LED lights in a neutral +1 warm shade. I just taped a section of LED lights to a board and held it up to get this photo, so the final lighting should be more even.


Next update as you can see above will be putting down cork, laying track and test tunnel portals. Thanks for reading.


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Scenic Sub Project Part 5 Scenic Sub Project Part 7 (coming soon)