Saturday, March 20, 2021

Installing LED layout lighting

After considering several options for layout lighting I decided to go with LED tape lighting.  LEDs have several advantages over the traditional fluorescent tubes, including more flexible installation and the ability to adjust the color, depending on which type you use.  While LED tape is available for under $20 for a 16 foot length, these cheaper ones are much too dim to light a layout.  Adequate lighting requires at least 300 lumens per foot, which typically costs closer to $3 per foot.

To mimic daylight, it's important to have a high color temperature (around 5000K) and CRI (color rendering index) above 90.  After shopping around for a while I found a 600 LED, 16 ft "daylight white" LED tape that met these criteria.  Coincidentally, right after I found it, I also found a YouTube video showing the same LED tape lights used on a larger layout, so I figured I was on the right track.

I also bought a remote-controlled color-changing 16ft RGB tape from the same manufacturer to install in parallel. The color-changing strip is too weak to light anything on its own but will be useful for color-balancing the white LEDs, and I can also use it for evening/night effects.  In retrospect I wish the RGB LEDs were stronger but they will be adequate for my purposes. 

I could have simply stuck the LEDs to the underside of the shelf above the layout, but I wanted them to be closer to the layout to give a slightly lower angle for foreground lighting.  Since I had two 10' L-girders that were salvaged from a previous layout, I cut them to fit the front edge of the shelving and screwed them to the shelves with the 1x2 flange of the L-girder pointing toward the backdrop.  The high-intensity white LED tape was then attached to the lower edge of the L-girder, while the lower-intensity RGB tape was stuck to the underside of the 1x2 flange. In the first photo below the tape that's hanging down is the end of the RGB tape, which hasn't yet been stuck in place.

A masonite valence was then attached to the L-girder to mask the lighting. 

I applied metal insulation tape to the back of both the L-girder and the edge of the valence to reflect light back onto the layout, both to increase the amount of light and to fill in the foreground.  The shelves overhang the layout by 1.5", which also helps ensure that the front edge of the layout is well lit.


The "daylight white" LEDs appeared a little too harsh to my eye, so I set one of the customizable settings on the RGB strip to a yellowish white to provide a slightly warmer look, as shown below. Other custom settings will be used for dawn, evening, and night effects.

The combination of the high-intensity white LEDs and the RGB LED strip works well and the fascia and valence give a nice "shadow box" effect.  The high-intensity LEDs are definitely strong enough to light this 14"-wide shelf layout on their own, but if the layout were any deeper I would want a second strip about halfway back to light the full depth evenly.  

Saturday, March 13, 2021

Putting it all together

Here's a photo that includes several updates all at once. First, some initial scenery is now in place, including dirt, grass, and ballast in the transfer yard area. Second, in the distance is the freight station, which is now finished and installed. It will be shown more clearly in a future post. Third, I starting making some granite loads that could have been plausibly carried on two-foot flat cars. And fourth, I've been experimenting with LED strip lights for layout lighting, which will also be the subject of a future post.

While Maine granite was popular for buildings, columns, and monuments, other common products included paving blocks and curbstones. These latter products seem more suited to a two-foot gauge railroad and will be the primary cargo on my layout. 

The curbstones shown above were made from basswood and scale out at roughly 9" x 16" x 5'.  Nine inches is too thick for curbstones so in the future I will use thinner stripwood.  I rounded the edges with sandpaper and then dunked the pieces in diluted white primer followed by a dark gray stain to give them the final coloring, and then assembled them into stacks with scale 3X3 blocking underneath.  

The loads shown here would have weighed between 8 and 10 tons by my calculations, which is right around the capacity of a two-foot flatcar. The standard gauge flatcar on the adjacent track is a 50-ton car so several narrow-gauge loads could be transferred to a single standard gauge car.

I plan to make paving blocks the same way.  An HO scale paver would be around 1/16" x 1/16" x 1/8", so for flatcar loads it may be easier to carve a larger basswood block to represent layers of pavers, instead of making each load from dozens of individual stones.  I'll still need a lot of individual pavers though, since I want to have piles of them lying here and there.  

Sunday, February 14, 2021

Finishing the backdrop, part two: the town scene

I wanted to include some town buildings on the backdrop behind the Thomaston station, freight house, and transfer tracks, so I chose a backdrop from LARC Products called "Steeple" that had several wood-framed houses and a church in the mid-distance, with a meadow in the foreground.  There were two complications to deal with on this section.  First, the tall foreground trees meant for a lot of finicky knife work to remove the sky portion. It took nearly seven hours just for this 9' section, spread out over several evenings.

Second, the sky in the "Steeple" image is very pale, almost white in fact. Even though I'm removing the sky portion, the hints of sky visible through the tree branches were too much of a contrast with the blue that was used to paint the sky, so I decided to repaint the sky to be much paler toward the horizon.

This time I used three colors: the same Benjamin Moore "aqua marina" and "jet stream" plus a 1:1 mix of "jet stream" and white for the lowest band. The bands were brushed on and then blended while still wet.  Here's how the bands looked before and after blending; the colors look different because the "before" photo was taken at night under room lighting while the "after" photo was taken with daylight coming in the windows.


After the new sky dried the background image was applied. LARC offers three choices of material: a 4 mil vinyl, a 7 mil polyester they call "Fab-Tex", and a more rigid 10.5 mil "anti-curl" material. The first two are self-sticking.  I chose the 7 mil polyester and was glad to find that it was very forgiving. It practically smooths itself during application, and it's even re-positionable so that you can take it up and reapply it if you do it wrong the first time (which I certainly did!). Here's the result:


Most of the buildings look appropriate for the late-twenties to my eye, with the exception of a couple of houses behind the station that have a more modern swing set and pool that will need to be hidden by foliage. Also, the beige building between the transfer crane and freight house is reasonably period-appropriate but somewhat distracting, so I will use small trees to partially hide it.

I'm really pleased with how the backdrop turned out. While I would hesitate to use the sky-removal technique on a larger layout, for a small shelf layout like this one it was manageable.  

Saturday, February 13, 2021

Finishing the backdrop

Before starting the scenery I wanted to add some landscape features to the backdrop. I like the look of photo backdrops, so I bought two backdrops from LARC Products: one for the town and another for the more rural scene with the trestle and crossing. I had LARC re-size their stock images based on some digital mock-ups, and also asked them to flip the rural backdrop because it looked better that way.  They were great to deal with and turned around revised proofs very quickly. I would definitely use them again in the future, particularly since they have such an extensive collection of stock images.

The two backdrops had very different sky colors, so I cut off the sky from each of them and pasted the landscape onto the existing painted sky backdrop. The LARC material is self-adhesive so installation was very easy. Removing the sky from the rural section went relatively quickly, but the town scene was more complicated - that will be the subject of another post.  I had the best luck using curved cuticle scissors to cut along the sky line and then a brand-new #11 blade to do the detail work, especially around the large tree on the left. 


The standard gauge track running into the backdrop will be at least partially masked by trees and tall grasses.  For the area behind the trestle, I plan to add a photo of a stream, using foliage to mask the edges of the photo. The next photo shows a mock-up of that scene using a black-and-white copy of the creek photo. I wasn't thrilled with how the original backdrop looked in this area so I'm also testing an unused scrap of backdrop to see if it would look better, which I think it does.



Saturday, February 6, 2021

Two new boxcars (or is it three?)

Needing a couple more boxcars, I ordered two Kennebec Central boxcar kits from Mt. Blue Model Co.  Why KC and not an SR&RL prototype like the boxcar already on the roster (#35)?  The shorter length and more basic look of the KC cars is more in keeping with the idea of a less-developed railroad like the Kennebec Central or Monson RR, compared to the boxcars used in the later decades of the SR&RL.  A side benefit is that the KC cars are quicker to build since they only had a couple of grab irons, no stirrups, and handbrakes instead of air brakes.

The new cars were numbered 23 and 24.  For variety, I weathered #23 heavily but left #24 pristine, as if it was recently repainted.  To reinforce that idea I used a smaller font on #24:

The idea to use smaller lettering on the "repainted" car didn't occur to me until after I had already lettered one side.  After debating which side I liked better, I had another idea: since the layout is a shelf layout and only one side will be seen during an operating session, why not number the two sides differently, so that the car can be flipped around occasionally to represent a different car?  So the number on the reverse side was changed to 25, giving me three cars for the price of two!

As with all of my freight cars, the trucks are from Marsh Creek Miniatures and were 3D printed by Shapeways.  Some two-foot freight cars only had brakes on one truck, so to replicate that look I removed the brakes and frame extensions from one truck on each car.  

The Marsh Creek trucks are designed for Fox Valley Models 36" N scale wheelsets (20" in HO) with .540" axles. The FVM wheelsets are hard to find at the moment, but I learned from another modeler that Eastern Seaboard Models is now producing wheelsets of the same dimensions.  I ordered some to try on these cars and they look good and roll well, so it's great to have an alternative to the FVM wheels.


Monday, January 25, 2021

Adding a staging yard

My original track plan included additional sections for the harbor town of Tennant's Harbor (now spelled Tenants Harbor) and a quarry.  Since I won't get around to building those sections for a while (if ever!), I added a four-track staging yard to allow me to run trains in and out of Thomaston. One track will represent the quarry, two will be reserved for Tennant's Harbor, and the fourth will be an escape track to allow locomotives to run around their trains.  The railbus gets its own cassette so that I don't have to dedicate an entire track to it.

I used Kato N scale unitrack so the tracks can be easily reconfigured in the future.  The unitrack is code 80 which matches the Peco track used on the rest of the layout, so I simply soldered a short piece of unitrack to the adjoining flextrack and then connected the staging yard to that piece.  All of my locos and rolling stock handle the #6 turnouts without problems, and the turnouts are power-routing so electricity is only fed to one track at a time.  At some point I may add an electrical control panel but for now I just operate the turnouts manually.

The staging yard runs in front of a window well so there is a fence on both sides to prevent accidents.  At the far end there is a unitrack plate girder bridge that serves as a cassette to turn locomotives.  The unitrack joiners make it easy to align it with the staging tracks.  

The tracks are laid on 1/8" cork that ends just short of the cassette.  There is a sheet of white styrene under the cassette that shims it to match the staging tracks and also makes it easier to see what you're doing as you move the cassette between tracks.  

Sunday, January 10, 2021

Lighting for the freight house

The freight house will have both exterior and interior lighting: an exterior light over the entry door and two overhead lamps inside.  For the exterior light, I used a gooseneck lamp from Woodland Scenics' "Just Plug" series of lighting fixtures. The "Just Plug" system includes a base station that controls the current to each light, and the fixtures have plugs that plug directly into the base station.  Since I don't actually use the "Just Plug" system, I cut off the plug and wired in a 1000 ohm resistor to adapt it to my variable-voltage lighting bus. Here it is hooked up to a 9V battery:

For the interior lighting I used a couple of HO scale spotlights purchased from a Chinese company, also with 1K resistors. Since these lights gave a cool white light, I colored the lenses with a yellow sharpie to warm them up.  When I added lighting to my station I used theatrical lighting filters to adjust the color temperature, but the sharpie is a lot easier!  

In both photos you can see that I'm using yellow/black for the lighting wiring to distinguish it from the track wiring (black/red for the blocks and blue and white for the two cab busses).