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The Oahu Railway

Like many model railroaders, I’m trapped in the basement for the duration. I don’t feel old, but they tell me that I’m part of the at-risk population for COVID-19.

Recently, I’ve been working on LED lighting for photo backdrops; I wanted to have lots of light washing down evenly. I ordered LED strips on Amazon: 5-meter rolls of the latest generation SMD 5630 LEDs, both Daylight and Warm White; also SMD 5050 RGB color-shifting strips. With all three kinds of strips, I’ll be able to dim and fade from day to night. Also ordered some 12v, 20A power supplies to drive it all, remarkably cheap.

To support the LEDs, I ripped up and planed a bunch of cheap but pretty clear 2"x 6”x 10’ red cedar boards from Home Depot with one 45-degree face, see photos. I kerfed the portions that needed to curve around corners and soaked them overnight in a hot water/detergent solution to make it easier to bend them to fit. I used ¾” plywood sweeps to support the cedar around the curves and nailed the wet wood to the plywood. Trial and error is good. If they snap, you need shallower kerfs or more soaking. But if they do crack in a spot or two you can glue them with a thin reinforcing wood scrap. I’ve painted the 45-degree face and the narrow strip that faces straight down with white high-gloss alkalyd enamel (water-clean-up, low odor) so that the double-stick tape for LED mounting will really stick even when they get hot. No tapes stick well to raw wood.

I’ve done a variation of this before on other parts of the layout and have learned some tough lessons, e.g. DON’T get waterproof LED rolls with a clear plastic coating; they yellow badly over time. Also, the tape that comes on the back of the strips has often turned out to be insufficiently sticky when hot and they start to fall off: BAD. However, I now mount the LED strips over gray 3M VHB foam tape ordered by the roll from U-Line online; it never fails. I’m using 1” wide VHB tape on the bevel and ½” on the flat.

Once the LED’s are mounted and wired to the power supplies, I add 8” wide, ⅛” thick, Luan plywood valences, painted blue to match the sky on the backdrops. I’ll use 2-pin Molex crimp-pin plugs so that I can easily replace strips in the future if needed and #18 x 2 thermostat wire from the supplies to the strips. Photos attached. The pre-existing track lights will be redirected away from the backdrops to highlight things on the layout. They are uneven and create hot spots on the backdrop.

Anyway, a somewhat time-consuming project, but I got nothing but time.

~Jim Chiddix