Friday, November 20, 2020

Update on Layout & Life: Boxing in New London Staging

What a crazy bunch of weeks it's been! It may seem like I've fallen off the planet since my last blog post was waaaaay back on October 30, and I've even missed not one, not two, but three Wordless Wednesday posts. That has to be a new record - and not a good one.  So if you've been wondering what I've been up to, or if I owe you an email, etc. this post will let you know what's going on & will bring you up to date.

Long story short: You may have heard there was an election recently. I was pretty heavily involved in the days leading up to it, and then very heavily involved in recounts (all at the state level, btw). After all that was said and done, I got a significant promotion and as a result - and I guess as I should have expected - my life went from being just very busy to hyper overdrive. But I know I'm in the right place since I find that I have to pull myself away from work rather than dread doing it. So that's been filling just about all my time lately. Fortunately for the layout, 1) it won't (hopefully shouldn't) always be this way. This is the inevitable ramping up and steep learning curve time. 2) I've actually been able to get to the basement for a few hours each Sunday.

So Beware! This post is super heavy on photos, but it should be a quick read with just captions. And when you get to the end - whether all in one sitting, or viewed over a couple of days - you (and I!) will be all caught up with where the layout is Right Now . . .

I decided to try and get the last of the layout "heavy construction" finally done. I'd been wanting to "box in" New London staging since it's the only part of the layout that's in an unfinished part of the basement and subject to dust. And I figured this would be a LOT easier than dismantling staging to finish this corner with studs, sheetrock & dropped ceiling. This photo and the next shows the first stick of "roof & valence support" going up.

I spaced the supports around the perimeter and put one in the middle to support the "roof girders" that would come later.

Basement time is usually Sunday afternoon, but if I'm able to get some hobby time on a weekday evening, I'm trying to dial-in the decoder on K-1 #359. It has a Tsunami2, so no chuff cam. Jury's out on whether the new "digital cam" can be made to be as good. I'll letcha know...

Back to the basement! Clamps are your friend when working alone (an unfortunate reality these days). Since this is "only" staging, I decided not to bother painting the backdrop or do any real "finishing" (taping/topping seams, hiding screws, etc). But I did want a little bit of a finished look. So instead of buying regular masonite - and to keep the area nice and bright - I got white finished masonite that's typically used for kitchen/bathroom backsplashes and such. In this photo and the one below, I'm positioning the backdrop and holding it up with clamps.

One annoying reality of doing this after the track is all in, is that you have to have to put up the masonite twice - once to mock it up for marking, then for final installation.

But the backdrop is only the "sides" of the box(ing in). I wanted a lighting valence, and I figured that would support the "roof" as well. Here's the first piece going in over the east end of Saybrook (the only portion of finished layout that's located in the unfinished part of the basement).

See what I mean about clamps? Here, I've already screwed in & secured the far end of the backdrop, and I'm gluing one side of the splice between the two sections of backdrop.

One of the challenges of gluing backdrop sections together is how to clamp them while the glue sets. Here I've used a long piece of wood to "extend" the clamps along the seam.

Once the backdrop was in place, the next step was to add "roof girders." These were made from two 1x3s screwed together to make an L-girder 1) to make it more rigid across the span, and 2) to provide a wider base of support for the foam board roof.

For additional rigidity and support, I added a cross piece and a diagonal brace.

And here's the first piece of valence going up! At first, I lined up the top of it with the top of the backdrop - but then I realized that wouldn't cover the edge of the foam board roof that would be sitting on top of the backdrop. Since the foam board is 1.5" thick, I raised the valence an additional 1.5" above the top edge of the backdrop.

Here's a better view of the "raised" valence. The foam board roof will rest on top of the backdrop & girders and nest in behind the valence.

Here's my trick for making sure the top of the girder lines up perfectly with the top of the backdrop and holds it there while I screw everything together.

Valence finished! Next comes lighting . . .

For the lighting, I decided to try out some LED tubes. I got a 6 pack of 4 footers from Amazon for $35.

They're very easy to install - basically just install the clips & clip them in. But I did run into a problem with the very first one . . . Apparently, the east end of Saybrook is exactly four feet wide. Problem was - the tube - with the plug - was too long & wouldn't fit!

One of the lessons I'm learning over and over again while building this layout is that you can never anticipate every single problem. And trying to is an invitation to Analysis Paralysis. It's often better to Just Get Started and deal with problems as they come up. The problem with the light length was a perfect case in point. I ended up just routing out enough material to accommodate the plug. Turned out to be a fine solution to what I feared would be an impossible problem!

Lighting done!

And now the roof goes in . . . This was a relatively simple matter of laying the foam board on top, snugging it against the wall and corner, and tracing the outline of the valance so I could cut it to fit.

The roof used up two 4x8 pieces of foam board, cut into three sections to cover the whole staging yard.

But hopefully you'll agree, it came out pretty nice!

That last pic there shows the state of things as of November 20. The idea will be to cover the "slot" between the fascia and valence with some sort of curtain whenever I'm doing any cutting in the shop (that's the area I'm standing in in the photo above). There's really nothing left to do with the boxing in, but I will need to do more on the "east end of Saybrook" area: Vinyl backdrop & paint - and of course structures and scenery.

But it looks like Major Construction on the layout is finally done! The only thing left to do is decide whether to add any valence to the rest of the layout. I'm still mulling that over. I really like the shadow box effect here (and I have it in the Saybrook Scene as well), but I don't know yet if I want/need to replicate that effect across the whole layout (see Mike Confalone's Allagash Rwy for an example of not using valences).

So all that's left to do here is to install the 2nd/last shop light over the bench (I moved the two shop lights from above staging), and do a massive cleanup of this whole area. Those who know me well know that I'm pretty OCD when it comes to keeping my work areas clean and tidy - so the state of things here is a HUGE departure from my norm!

And hopefully soon there will be at least a small departure from what's become the "norm" in my life lately and I'm able to post more frequent layout updates. Thanks for being patient and for continuing to follow my progress. As always, I appreciate any feedback & hope you'll stay tuned!


  1. If there arises a situation on the tracks farthest from the front do you have a plan the fix it by accessing that part without crawling on the floor to get there?

    1. Hi Colin! Yes, there is a pop up access in the back left corner. I just have to duck under the yard to get back there, but there's plenty of room to stand and access everything.

  2. Looks great, and give it a nice clean appearance.

    1. Thanks! And you'll see from today's post that it looks even cleaner now that the fascia curtain is up and the all the clutter is gone :^)

  3. Looking good Chris. Know the feeling with balancing job and modeling activities. Started the Illinois Terminal 4 years before I retired and was lucky to get 2-3 hours a week on it.

    1. Yeah, I know I'm not alone and certainly not complaining. It is a bit frustrating though... and I must confess that I sometimes wish I'd kept things much smaller and more manageable %^)

  4. Whiskey plank! You deserve a libation!

  5. Chris. The backdrop and lighting make a great improvement to the overall layout appearance (even though it is just staging). I was wondering about the lighting control. As they are on individual power chords is the pug-in socket on a light switch?

    1. Hey Ken and thanks for the questions. Short answer is that these tubes plug into one another (daisy chain) either directly or via a connector wire. So I have all four of them daisy chained together and there's just one plug into the wall. For these, there is an on/off switch inline on that plug wire. LMK if you'd like a detail photo.

  6. You've given me some great ideas on how to light my layout... thanks!

    1. My pleasure Steve! Though ultimate credit for discovering these LED tubes goes to my buddy Randy (