Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Quick Backdrop Fix

Long time readers will recall my trials & tribulations with the Wethersfield backdrop (lesson: don't mount your backdrop too high). Well, Wethersfield - specifically the area "north of the Rt. 15 overpass" - still needed some attention. Here's what it looked like:

The Hartford skyline should be on the backdrop at this point (provided I can ever find a suitable photo) and it goes back WAY too deep for any sort of convincing background. I'd done that initially for access, but discovered that I could access this track from underneath. So, I wanted to "flatten" this sky out a bit. (incidentally, you can see on the left where I'd extended the Wethersfield backdrop down).

So I did the first step - tacking up some vinyl. It's much easier to handle, easy to curve, light enough to literally tack up with tacks, you can glue it, and it's easy to trim.

And there's where things sat. For months. In fact, during my open house, Bill was operating a local and couldn't figure out why it'd stopped. It had hit the "sky."(!) So it was high time to fix that (at least before the next ops session).

First though, I needed to finish the track in the area since it'd be much more difficult to do that after the vinyl was installed.

First - mark where the track goes to cut it out later.
Then, before removing the vinyl, mark where you had it so you can put it back exactly.

Once the vinyl is out of the way, I finished the start of the Berlin Branch: Flex trak, Tacky Glue, and "weights"

While the track was setting up & drying, I decided to remove some more of the plywood for better "from underneath" access later. This was just here to support the south abutment/pier for the Rt. 15 overpass - but I didn't need this much.
Using my marks as reference, I applied vinyl baseboard adhesive.

Then, I replaced the vinyl on its marks - clamping/tacking to hold it in place while the adhesive dried (I'd cut out the holes for the track while the vinyl was removed). I also glued some "backer blocks" of wood behind the bottom of the vinyl to stiffen things up for painting later.

One of the best things about vinyl for this type of job is that it's VERY easy to blend in. Just stick fiberglass mesh tape over the joints....

And apply vinyl spackle over it all. Coat, sand, repeat.

After letting the spackle dry and doing the final sanding, I was able to do the fun part - painting! Be sure to cover the track!

It came out a little more "shadowy" than I would have liked, but it looks worse in the photo than in-person. But the BIG difference is that the backdrop in this area is MUCH flatter and more suitable for a photo of the Hartford skyline (just compare to the "before" photo). Even more important, trains can now make it back to staging.

I hope you find this little project helpful and that it'll encourage you to give vinyl a try. As you can see, it's ideal for making modifications to your backdrop if you ever discover you need to.


  1. Looks good. If you haven't seen it, Lance Mindheim's post on a vintage backdrop might give you ideas for Hartford


  2. So how high is too high? I'm working on backdrops for an N scale layout, that has ground level at 52 inches. The backdrop I have in place now is 14 inches tall, and is generally 12 - 18 inches from the front of the layout. It seems to tower over the layout, but then it's still unpainted. The scenery on the backdrop will be rolling hills of Vermont. Thoughts?

    1. Hey Geof and thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment! I don't know that there's a height limit - but I know now that I'd want to be sure that the backdrop comes all the way down to the benchwork, even if I'm planning rolling hills or mountains. I've found it's just easier to do scenery and you have more options this way. Check out the "Backdrop" topic link for more of the process I went through. Hope this helps - and good luck with your layout!