Google has been working hard in the last few days to provide an answer to the question: 'What shall I lay on my board first?'
If you're a little bit confused by this question, let me explain...
Before any track can be nailed down, we'll need to consider what is going underneath. There are probably going to be two main colours on your board depending on what 'scene' you are trying to depict: Grey - for track ballast. Green - for grass and scenery. However, you may also be considering Black - for tarmac/pavement/road, Blue for coast/sea/dockyards and maybe Browns and Oranges for industrial plants/quarries/mud etc.
As I'm not trying to complicate things too much, I'm just going to go with Grey for ballast, and Green for general scenery. I will intend at a future date to probably add a road or a street or two, but let's worry first about Grey and Green.
Before I make my final decision on what material to use let's consider some of the options open to us. Remember - we have to get this stage right as we'll be committing to nailing down track after this, which is sort of a point of no return. Once we've done this it's going to be exceptionally difficult for us to change the base material. So choose wisely, and do which method you feel most confident with!
Paint: Literally go straight onto the wood with a coat of Dulux, or Cuprinol. Whatever floats your boat.
Pros: Very easy. The most basic option open to us is to paint the entire board green or grey. Then once the track is nailed down we can add ballast or grass over the top depending on what colour we went with first. Alternatively we could mark out the green and grey areas first and paint those two colours accordingly. It's going to be quick to achieve and isn't going to be as messy as any of the alternative glue based options (bellow). I'm not sure how much paint costs, it could be expensive but I imagine if you shop around and just get as much as you need it'll actually be pretty cheap.
Cons: It's probably going to look pretty basic, however if you think it looks crap before you lay the track you could in theory change to one of the options further down. (Just let the paint dry first!).
Track Mat: Kind of like fuzzy wallpaper, you buy this stuff in roles and glue it straight to the board. Comes in a variety of sizes, colours and indeed fuzzyness.
Pros: It's cheap and very easy to add one base colour. Glue board and lay like wall paper. Done. It's going to look much better than paint, and just like paint we could glue down one colour, and add others over the top at a later date.
Cons: Two colours will be slightly harder to achieve. Firstly it'll be more expensive, and you'll probably end up with loads of off cuts from both colours. You'll also have to cut the mat to the shape of the track and at some point we're going to have to join the colours together which could look rubbish if we don't do it absolutely accurately. Again if the boards you have are bigger than the roles you buy, you'll need to have an unsightly join line. Finally this method involves glue, and glue is always messy.
Scatter: Glue goes down first, and then you sprinkle on a topping. These come in a variety of different flavours ranging from authentic looking gravel for ballast to fluffy looking shrubbery for green scenics.
Pros: Get it right, and it's going to look brilliant and the best of all the options! Laying two colours will be far easier to pull off as you'll be able to hide the join lines with varying degrees of scatter.
Cons: Expensive. Very expensive. I'd recommend getting on ebay to see if you can buy bulk rather than going to model shops. Time consuming and difficult especially the ballast part.
Conclusion: Naturally I'm going to sit on the fence and go for the middle-of-the-road option - The Track Mat. It's going to look better than paint, but it's not going to be as hard and expensive as scatter. To avoid unsightly join lines and make the process even easier, I'm going to lay only ONE colour. I'll then add the other by using scatter. (OK so I sort of chose two options from above!).
So what is the most dominant colour? I've gone back to my layout plan file (above) and drawn on (using that most professional of tools - Microsoft Paint) what I think is going where.
White - track ballast. So in these areas we'll need some form of Grey preferably that looks like, well, ballast.
Green - grass/fields/assorted shrubbery. Basically stuff that isn't 'railway.' This may include roads and buildings and in the future.
Yellow - basically the areas that could be either. These could quite easily be green or scenic, but on the flip side there might be line side buildings, depots, signals, stations and miscellaneous railway furniture than in real life would still be within the confines of the 'track bed' area (which in our case is the colour 'Grey').
My vision of this layout includes the addition of lots of line side furniture more so than a 'country scene' so let us assume all the yellow areas are Grey as well.
So coming up next time - we lay us some Grey Track Mat. Join me then!