Creating Lighting on the Florida East Coast Key West Extension

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Cal Winter and Railserve’s Ross and Gail Allen actually built a third deck over the top deck of the Florida East Coast Key West Extension model railroad. They had to figure out backdrop lighting versus three dimensional foreground lighting. They chose to light the backdrop separately with a row of fluorescent tubes. They used ordinary white fluorescent tubes available at any building supply dealer, the cheapest tubes on the shelf. They then mounted them in strip fixtures all along the layout to separately light the backdrop.

One issue that arose was that the light source was at the top, so the backdrop would be brightly lit at the top rather than the bottom. To solve this, they took a piece of aluminum flashing and cut teeth in a four inch wide strip of flashing and formed it around a broom handle for the correct shape to fit over the tube. With this attachment, the light at the top comes from the narrow part of the slit and light at bottom comes out of the wide part. This way the layout has a more even distribution of light across the backdrop.

To light the three dimensional foreground, they used ordinary incandescent bulbs. These were simple soft white 60 watt incandescents with a low color temperature, which meant they were much too warm. To fix this, they painted all the reflective surfaces with blue to amplify the blue portions of the light for a more neutral color balance on the foreground. Janet Keller goes on to ask about the optimum space between the decks on the layout. For more on model railway scenery techniques and model railroad structures, visit our archives.