A Thicker Backdrop


On the IAIS Grimes Line I was able to make significantly-sized photo backdrops work for non rail-served buildings, notably Reams Foods in Clive. For The Hills Line, I’m finding better success with building flats or partial structures. I’m chalking up the change to the difference in industries between the two locales.


I used Pikestuff building parts for the Johnson County Sheriff’s Office and MidAmerican Substation warehouses in Iowa City. Both were designed as one inch-thick flats, and were relatively simple and straightforward builds. Neither will ever win awards, but as backdrop structures that will ultimately be blocked by the City Carton Recycling complex they more than meet my needs.


I was fortunate to be able to model both structures to their scale length, again reinforcing the prototype mass that is missed far to often on model railroads, especially ones representing the modern era. Wall segments were spliced together with styrene plates and the seams were filled with modeler’s putty.


Painting was done with rattle spray cans. The selection of colors available meets and in some cases exceeds what’s available from model paint suppliers at a significant cost savings.


The MidAmerican warehouse also received a concrete foundation. Both warehouses will be ultimately attached on the layout base and surrounded by a gravel lot to hide any gaps.


I’m waiting for some additional detail parts to arrive before I complete the weathering and surrounding areas. Then I’ll be able to put the finishing touches on this scene.

13 thoughts on “A Thicker Backdrop

  1. James, the background buildings look very good. I am a big believer in flats especially on shelf type layouts. The downspouts are often missed by modelers, what did you use to create them.

    Rattle cans. While I have used them and have a few cans I still prefer an airbrush. But, that is why Model Railroading is such a great hobby. So many options to chose from and none of them wrong. Thank you for continuing to share.


    Liked by 1 person

  2. James, I “resemble” your flats! I worked through a number of flats in my Eugene scene this past Spring. Those used a lot of simple scratch-built sides, often using printed paper siding from Clever Models. Right now, I have that same PikeStuff warehouse on my workbench, but am building it full 3-D. It is part of one of my wood chemicals plants. That soft styrene used by PikeStuff sure is tough to cut!

    –Bill Decker, McMinnville, Oregon

    Liked by 1 person

  3. James,

    I’m always afraid of using rattle cans because of the risk of splatter.

    Do you ever have a problem with this?

    Also do you prime the plastic first to prevent damage and if so what do you use?

    Thanks Daryl


    1. Splatter happens, but can be limited with masking. I don’t recommend rattle cans for precision painting.

      No priming of the parts ahead of time, but I do ensure that the spray paint is plastic compatible before using.


      1. Thanks kindly James.

        Your modelling is of great inspiration to me. I want to achieve a similar visual feel to my under construction double deck O scale layout.

        It’s a regional shortline set in the 1984 in the mid west.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Because I don’t own an airbrush I’ve been using Rustoleum Painter’s Touch rattle cans on all the structures on my layout – both wood and plastic. Primer is included in the paint formulation. The only time I worry about spatter is when the paint in the can gets low but, otherwise, it works great. Lots of color choices in matte/satin colors and they have a matte clear. One bonus with this brand is cleanup is simply wiping the nozzle tip with a rag or paper towel and by doing that, I’ve never had a clog. So no need to turn the can upside down and spray until clear.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Hi, just wondering what Pikestuff parts you used? I thought their standard heights (eg The Shops) are not high enough to convey the bulk of a building. They scale about 23′ but I think about 30′ might be better.


    1. They’re from a variety of kits, mostly The Shops. As you mentioned, the height is a scale 23 feet. However in relation to the rest of the structures in the scene, along with the fact that they’re background flats, the height works.


      1. Thank you James. Many steel clad industrial buildings where I am have a partial concrete wall about 8 feet high below the cladding so a strip of styrene can give me the that additional height. I am looking to represent a fairly sizeable rail served industry.

        Liked by 1 person

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