Monday, January 20, 2014

Constructing Santa Rosalia — the backdrop

In my previous post about the new section of my layout, to be called Santa Rosalia, I described the track support structure. That post is at this link: . With that structure in place, I was ready to put up the backdrop. This backdrop segment is the last surviving piece of my layout from Pittsburgh, and in the Pittsburgh layout, it was the transition backdrop between Ballard and the room wall, just as it is going to be here.
     As I got ready to put up the backdrop section, here is what that corner of the layout space looked like (what you see with the strip of blue at the top is the back of the backdrop on the Shumala extension, curving away from the camera). The section to be added will butt against the backdrop piece already in place at the left, and be screwed to the same post.

You can see where the previous backdrop paint surface broke away at the edge of the section that is in place. At front left is the track board for Ballard. At the lower level on the right, just beyond the Ballard board, is the mainline loop and at far right, the staging tracks to be located underneath Santa Rosalia. Track board supports for the upper Santa Rosalia level can also be seen.
     I lifted the backdrop section to be installed, into approximate position, butted against the piece already in place, and shimmed it to be level across the top. As soon as everything looked good, I placed a few screws at the left edge, into the post you see above, and into the wall at right. With a quick fill of gaps with “drywall compound, here is how it looked. The continuity of the painted ridgeline across the joint at left is obvious.

You can see that I spliced on an “extender” piece of Masonite to permit a smooth curve. The distance here from right edge to wall is greater than on my Pittsburgh layout, thus the need for the extension. There is an unfortunate vertical black mark toward the right, created when moving this backdrop piece, but that will be painted over.
     A more distant view to show the entire space from new backdrop at left, to wall at right (the scope of the future town of Santa Rosalia) looked like this:

     The pair of curved backdrop transitions from the main layout section, onto the two extensions, looks like this from above (standing on a ladder — not exactly a view any visitor will get).  Santa Rosalia is in the foreground.

     Once I had the initial gaps filled with drywall compound, I used the fiberglass net material, called “wall repair tape,” to embed within all three areas being smoothed with compound. I have found in the past that this is a very effective means of controlling cracking in backdrops.
     Like all such drywall blending, it takes several attempts, with sanding and critical examination of the surface between applications, to get to a good, smooth transition. I also coved the far corner of the room (at extreme right in the photo just above) up to the height of where the sky will reach — the same height as the backdrop. I did this by simply making a fill of about 1-inch radius in the corner, using drywall compound.
     The next step, once the contours were to my satisfaction, was to prime the surface, both for the fresh drywall and for the unpainted piece of Masonite. I have learned that lesson the hard way, that drywall compound takes paint better after sealing. Here is how the whole thing looked after priming. Note at far right, that the coved corner below the height of the backdrop is much less visible than the corner above it.

     The next step, of course, is the “art part,” painting the sky and hills on the backdrop, and I believe that should be described in a separate post.
Tony Thompson

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