Category: scenery

Boot Hill Part 2 and the Old Jerome Cemetery

Studio Update - Sep 16, 2017

We're halfway through the month and I'm up to my eyeballs in new projects ahead of the Oct 7th Open Studio & Train Night. Still, I did find a little time to go exploring at the old Jerome Miner's Cemetery, my little town's answer to Boot Hill. And speaking of Boot Hill, that's one of the main project that's been occupying my studio time this week and the primary subject of this week's video log. I'm also deep into construction on the neighboring undertaker's shop, a project that should add some spooky new fun to the layout.

The old Jerome Miner's Cemetery is a little hard to find if you don't know where to look and most visitors to Jerome don’t ever go there.  It's a spooky and somber kind of place, and public records indicate that over 500 burials took place there. The oldest visible markers date to the 1890’s but there are undoubtably some much older graves whose markers have been lost to the ravages of time. Most of the readable markers display Mexican or Italian surnames - indicating this was a graveyard for the poorer immigrant labor-class of old Jerome. A little research reveals many tragic stories of death among the miners and other citizens. There were terrible mine accidents, disease, murders, and some quick frontier justice. Many of the graves are just shallow, unmarked holes in the ground, while others are more elaborate, surrounded by gothic wrought iron fences. I just love having this authentic bit of Old West history right here in my backyard.

The structure mock-up I teased in last week's video log has been revealed to be the undertaking parlor of Messrs. Atencio, Crump and Gracey, three well-known names among Disney Haunted Mansion fans. This is my small tribute to the Haunted Mansion and so far things are moving along at a good pace. Construction uses my preferred method of textured and painted illustration board. I created the façade and signs in Adobe Photoshop and then printed them out on heavy HP premium presentation paper using the photo-quality settings on my home inkjet printer. The printed façade was then laminated to Cresent 300 cold pressed illustration board using 3M 45 General Purpose Spray Adhesive before being cut to shape with a hobby knife. I'll go into more detail on the build in a future post, including the addition of a spooky Pepper's Ghost effect that will animate behind the upstairs window. In the meantime, here's a time lapse video of the structure build so far.

The construction of Boot Hill is well covered in the last two Thunder Mesa video logs (see last week's here), and next week's should see the project through to completion. I'll just add that the grave markers use the exact same printed paper texture technique that I've used on many structures and even on a couple of rolling stock projects. Researching, planning, and building the scene has been a whole mess of fun. Epitaphs on the markers are a mix of some borrowed from Disney's Haunted Mansion, Boot Hill in Tombstone, AZ, Knott's Berry Farm, and a couple originals I came up with that reference favorite movies like Blazing Saddles and the Bob Hope classic, Paleface. I started out with a goal of making 13 grave markers but actually wound up with closer to 20.

Next week I'll finish up Boot Hill by adding some fencing, lighting, and other details, and go more in depth on the Undertaker's place. So far everything is on schedule for the Oct 7th open studio where there will be a few other surprises in store too. Stay tuned! Thanks for checking in, amigos. Adios for now!


Postscript: On a sad note, while I was building the new undertaker's structure and preparing this blog, I learned that legendary Disney animator and Imagineer X Atencio had passed away at the age of 98. Francis Xavier "X" Atencio was a wonderful, multitalented artist who will probably be best remembered by Disney fans as the show writer and lyricist for both the Pirates of the Caribbean and the Haunted Mansion. Without X there would have been no "Yo Ho, Yo Ho," or "Grim Grinning Ghosts." Here's a lovely video tribute to X Atencio from the good folks at Fresh Baked Disney.  

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Boot Hill Part 1 and a New Video Log

Studio Update - Sep 8, 2017

This week I started on a few new projects in preparation for next month's Halloween themed Open Studio & Train Night. Halloween has always been my favorite time of year and I'm looking forward to sharing some new scenes and fun night effects on the TMMC. Chief among these is the new Boot Hill scene that I've chosen to build at the front edge of Thunder Mesa town. This spot was recently home to a dummy spur track, installed as a convenient place for displaying the vertical boiler Marc F. Davis locomotive. That didn't last long though and TMMC #1 has now been relocated a little farther down the line. Check out this week's video log, where I show off some recently acquired vintage Lionel equipment, and to see the new Boot Hill scene begin to take shape. Below,  I'll go into a bit more detail on how Boot Hill is coming together.

The first order of business was taking up the dummy spur and scraping away most of the sanded grout and real dirt that made up the ballast and ground cover. Removing the spur was an easy decision since it had really become a track to nowhere. Once I started building the Thunder Mesa Riverfront it no longer made much sense as a stand alone scene. I popped the track off of the foam base with a putty knife and then scraped away the rest, taking care to preserve and save as many of the weeds, flowers, and clumps of pricey Scenic Express grass as I could.

Then it was off to my big box of scrap foam pieces for a likely sized chunk of pink EPF (extruded polystyrene foam). After cutting the rough shape with a hot-wire cutter, a sanding block was used to shape it into a low hill. Then I traced the outlines of several 1/4" scale graves with a hard lead pencil, and cut one empty grave out completely with a hobby knife. Then the hill was glued into place with Loctite Power Grab construction adhesive.

After that came the fun part, sculpting and blending the hill into the scenery base with Sculptamold. For some of the graves I added raised humps of Sculptamold, and for others I made a shallow depression to simulate older graves that had settled. A large hump of excavated "dirt" next to the open grave adds a touch of realism.

Once the Sculptamold had dried, everything was painted to match the rest of the scenery with my scenic base color. This is a lightened Raw Sienna tone that I have pre-mixed in a flat latex at my local home center. After that dried, I stippled on a thin layer of Polyblend sanded grout to enhance the dirt texture.

I dug the open grave down a bit deeper into the scenery base and then installed a 5mm diffused blue LED. This will be one part of the lighting package for the entire scene and should offer a spooky glow from regions beyond when activated.

The last thing added was a new structure mock-up to replace the Pack Mules building since it no longer made much sense being next to a graveyard. I don't want to say too much about the new structure yet - you can see the mock-up in the video - but I'll be ready to reveal much more about it by next week.

Last but not least, the less-than-fully-operational Marc F. Davis was moved down the line to be part of the scene at Saguaro Siding. This track is almost never used in operations and can be electrically isolated from the rest of the layout. An important consideration since the Marc F. Davis is DC powered and the motor would quickly burn up with exposure to higher DCC voltages. It will probably stay in this spot for quite awhile.

As for me, I gotta keep moving forward. There are many projects in the works and I'm having a lot of fun with all of them. Wait 'till you see the moon over Thunder Mesa! Thanks for checking in, amigos. Adios for now!

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Changes to the Backdrop and This Week’s Video Log

Studio Update - Aug 26, 2017

This past week I did more work on the new Calico section, repainting an area of the backdrop that will be behind the town to look a bit more like the desert hills around the real Calico Ghost Town near Yermo, CA. Many thanks to former Calico resident K.D. Younger for sending me a disc full of photos from her days there. I also found a little time to do some ghost-mine hunting this week and paid a visit to the Audrey Shaft Head-frame at the Little Daisy Mine in Jerome. Click on this week's video log above for a visit to the mine, some backdrop painting, and other assorted antics.

When I originally painted this section of the backdrop a few months ago, I really didn't have a clear idea about what to build in this new section of the layout. Once the decision was reached to relocate Calico town there, I knew that the backdrop would need to be altered to fit the scene. I started by studying photos of the mountains around Calico, and then lightly sketching in a rocky profile with pencil. Fortunately, I still had a lot of paint left over in several shades that were specially mixed for the backdrop and I blocked in the basic shapes with a medium brown tone.

The next step was to start defining the shapes a bit with a slightly darker shadow color. That was then followed by a lighter, more saturated color on the areas where sun would be hitting the rocks. When working with acrylic or, in this case, latex paints, I've found that it's best to start with medium values and then work darker and lighter from there, saving the highlights and darkest shadows for the final steps.

Then it was just a matter of building on these medium tones with lighter and darker shades to give definition to areas of sunlight and shadow. Again, most of the colors used were already pre-mixed from the earlier backdrop painting and I highly recommend this approach. My practice is to experiment and then mix up small amounts of the colors I'll need with artist's acrylics. These colors are then painted on to small, 2x2" pieces of white cardstock, and labeled on the back with names like "medium sandstone," "red sandstone," "dark shadow," etc. Then I take these cards down to my local home center and have the colors matched and mixed up by the quart as interior flat latex. This system ensures that I always have color samples at hand, and that one section of the backdrop will always match (and not clash with) another section, even if they are painted several months apart.

The final step was to bring the entire scene up to the same level of finish as other parts of the backdrop. This is when the final, lightest highlights are added and small details like trees and bushes are painted in. Obviously, I don't go for photo-realism on the backdrop, just a believable scene that will blend with and compliment the 3-d foreground scenery to come. The challenge here at Calico was to convey the rugged, Mojave Desert feel of the mountains there, while still matching the colors and character of earlier sections of the backdrop. I hope I pulled it off.

That's going to wrap it up for this week. Just a quick reminder that next Saturday, September 2, is the next Open Studio & Train Day at Thunder Mesa Studio and I hope to see some of you there. Also, a big thank you to those who have taken advantage of the 15% off coupon and free shipping going on now through August 31 at the Thunder Mesa Spreadshirt shop. The coupon code is: EAAIZSF9

Thanks for checking in, amigos. Adios for now!

Lone Rock Moves to the Thunder Mesa Riverfront

TMMC Update - August 5, 2017

The 12x24" Lone Rock Diorama was built in January of 2015 to demonstrate scenery techniques and to act as a platform for photographing rolling stock models outdoors. It appeared in Joey Ricard's Trackside Scenery video on how to realistically model rocks, and in Verne Niner's cover shot for the April, 2015 issue of Model Railroader Hobbyist Magazine. That's a fairly illustrious history, but since moving the TMMC to its new home in Jerome, the old diorama has been sitting in a corner just gathering dust. After exploring several different scenarios for working it into the larger layout, I finally decided to remove its short stretch of On30 track and add the remainder of the diorama to the new riverfront scene.

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The Lone Rock Diorama was never designed to function and the track had no power. It was built mainly to demonstrate rock carving techniques in urethane foam. It was a fun, quick project, and I'm very happy with the way it turned out. But it's time to move on and recycle this chunk of scenery into the larger layout.

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With the decision made, disassembly of the diorama was quick and relatively painless. I popped the foam off of the 1x2" base, removed the track and roadbed, pried out the short stone bridge (to be reused at a new location), and then used a hotwire tool to cut away the parts that wouldn't fit the river scene. All in all, I was able to salvage about 90% of it.

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From most viewing angles, Lone Rock will now obscure the point where the river meets the backdrop, giving the illusion that it disappears around a bend in the canyon. Once it was glued into position with Loctite Powergrab, I cut and contoured pieces of pink EPF foam to blend it with the rest of the riverbank.

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With the butte in place, I turned my attention back to the near bank and finished roughing in the road with foam, cradstock and plaster cloth. I don't use a lot of plaster on the layout, but plaster cloth is perfect for creating the contours of a dirt road like this and blending it with the foam.

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Ordinarily, the next step would be to blend the carved foam layers together with Sculptamold. However since I'm expecting guests for today's Open Studio & Train Day, I decided to go ahead and give the riverbed and rocky shoreline a base coat of latex paint. Much of this will be covered in the next step but it gives things a more finished look for now.

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The paint colors used were leftover from the backdrop and the final river color will be a bit different. In the meantime, I'm digging the photo opportunities that this new River Unit will present, and the miles and miles of depth it will add to scenes like this one.

Ok Amigos! That's going to do it for this week. Now I've got to head up and sweep the studio to prepare for today's Open Studio & Train Day event! I hope to see some of you there today, but if you can't make it, just remember that I do it just about every month on the first Saturday. Adios for now!

Big Changes for Calico and a Little Riverfront Progress

TMMC Update - July 29, 2017

It's been a busy week life-wise since the last update so I haven't had too much time to work on the railroad. We took a family trip out to California to spend some time with friends old and new, and to revisit a few old haunts of mine, including Knott's Berry Farm and Calico Ghost Town out near Barstow. It was a fun trip that left me energized and inspired to get things done on the TMMC. Back at the studio, I took a long hard look at my plans for the Calico section and ultimately decided to change course a bit and revive earlier plans for a portable mini-layout based on Knott's Calico Mine Ride.

Plans for a portable On18 layout that docks with the larger TMMC have been on-again, off-again for the past couple years. I've always liked the idea, but couldn't quite figure out how to make it work in the space I had. Looking at things again with a fresh perspective, I realized I could move the town of Calico around the corner into the unused space where I'd been planning to expand the layout since moving it to the studio. This would then free up some room to extend the On18 line down from Big Thunder Camp and have it connect via a long trestle to a portable section depicting the top half of Calico Mountain.

The new mini-layout is smaller than what I had previously planned, just about 24x36", with a tight minimum radius of 9". For the uninitiated, On18 is 1:48 O scale trains running on 9mm gauge track - the same gauge as N scale. Tight curves are the norm, and I just love the chunky, top-heavy look is gives to the equipment. Perfect for a caricature of mining operations like Calico. The track plan is a simple loop with a switch or two to connect to the rest of Thunder Mesa's On18 track.

I started by cutting a piece of 1" thick extruded polystyrene foam, or EPF, to 24x36" and then drawing the basic track plan right on top. Then I placed the foam on top of the existing base I'd built for Calico Mountain and traced the contours before cutting the shape out with a hotwire tool. This gave me the beginnings of a portable module that could fit in the corner and form the top half of Calico Mountain. The next step was tracing the shape onto some 1/4" MDF board and cutting it out to match with a jigsaw. This baseboard was then braced with a simple box made of 1x2" stock to keep everything flat and level. Then the foam was lined-up and glued to the top to form the lightweight, portable benchwork.

The existing EPF base for Calico Mountain was notched and modified to accept the new module but additional bracing underneath will probably be required. The cavernous space created below will eventually be home to a detailed, underground mining scene based on the famous "Glory Hole" scene on Knott's Calico Mine Ride. In the former location of Calico Town, the track has been simplified and the short passing siding removed. This area will now be called Mojave Flats and a trestle from the On18 line will feed a large ore transfer bin here before connecting to the existing On18 track behind Hanging Rock. What was once East Calico will become the new home for Balancing Rock Canyon, a feature from Disneyland's old Mine Train Thru Nature's Wonderland that I have long wanted to model.

As for the town of Calico itself, it will still mostly consist of structures from Knott's Ghost Town. I still need to finalize plans for the new section of benchwork to be built to the left of Calico Mountain, but I hope to have enough space for a better representation of the town, along with a new passing siding, and possibly a reverse loop that ducks behind the backdrop to connect with a planned staging area above my modeling bench.

Meanwhile, Back at the River...

Work also continues on the roll-away Thunder Mesa Riverfront section where I'm still roughing in the riverbanks and cliff sides with EPF. My 50' paddlewheel steamer kit is on it's way from Kitwood Hill Models and I'm really looking forward to finishing the scenery on this module. 

Hopefully I'll be able to make more time for work on the layout in the coming weeks. In the meantime, don't forget that the next Open Studio & Train Day is Saturday, August 5th. Come on over and say "howdy" if you're in Jerome and see what's new on the railroad for yourself. 

That's going to do it for this update. Thanks for checking in, amigos. Adios for now!

Work Begins on the Thunder Mesa Riverfront

TMMC Update - July 15, 2017

Many people today don't realize that the Colorado River along the Arizona-California border was once navigated by steamboats. Entering from the river's delta on the Gulf of California in Mexico, shallow draft paddle wheel steamers once plied the river as far north as the confluence with the Virgin River near the Nevada-Utah line. From 1852 until 1909, river towns like Fort Yuma, Ehrenberg, and Colorado City benefited from this economical form of transport between the Pacific and the rough-and-tumble mining camps of the Arizona and Utah territories.

In the world of Thunder Mesa, river transport is mainly handled by the small and sturdy steamers of the Western River Expedition Company. Tying up at Fowler's Landing, the weekly boat traffic still provides an important trade link to California, the Pacific, and beyond.

I had long dreamed of adding a river scene to the TMMC but was always at a loss as to where to put it. In my imagination, the boomtown had sprung up near the banks of some wild desert river carving its way through the canyons, but actually modeling such a scene would seam to require far more scale real estate than would be practical. The solution came to me one day recently when I was casting about for a creative way to keep casual visitors from wandering up the aisles and possibly damaging delicate details. I could, I realized, build a river scene right in the aisle in front of Thunder Mesa town, effectively blocking it for casual guests while at the same time adding a great deal of entertainment and visual depth. The trick would be to build it on wheels so that it could be rolled out of the way when actually operating the railroad.

This first step in making this plan a reality was to finish up the fascia in front of Thunder Mesa town and at the end of the aisle on the turntable/engine house section. I wanted this area to look good and finished with or without the River Unit rolled into place. All of the "Big Red Buttons" that guests can push to activate sounds or other effects were moved to the front edge of the layout and their wiring rerouted. Then it was a simple matter of cutting and fitting some flexible strips of 1/8" thick Masonite for the fascia, and then clamping and glueing them into place with Loctite Powergrab adhesive. A strip of carved extruded polystyrene foam rockwork was then glued to the top of the fascia to help ease the transition into the new river section. I carve the EPF with a hot-wire cutter, followed by a drum sanding bit in a Dremel rotary tool. For a video on how I carve EPF rockwork, click here.

 

Building the River Unit

Construction was fairly straightforward, using the same materials and techniques that have been successful elsewhere on the Thunder Mesa layout. The River Unit is basically a rolling table, with a box-girder style top attached to a separate L-girder and trestle leg assembly. The whole thing is very lightweight.

Before starting construction, I took very precise measurements to ensure that the River Unit would fit perfectly when docked in the aisle. I created a template from cardstock to match the inner curve of the layout fascia and then used that as a guide when cutting out the 1/8" thick Masonite top. The top is supported by a box-girder assembly of 1x3" stock, held together with Gorilla Glue and drywall screws. The base was built from 1x3" and 1x2" stock with 2x2" pine for the legs. L-girders made from 1x2's and 1x3's make up the top and bottom rails of the base, and the whole thong rolls on 3" castors. Swiveling casters were installed on one end only so that the unit could be easily steered into place like a shopping cart. The height of the Masonite top is 47" from the floor, placing it about 4" below track level in Thunder Mesa town (16' in O scale). This will be the base for the river. The entire unit measures 65x29.5" - purposefully 1/2" narrower than the aisle to give it some wiggle room when being rolled in or out.

After building the modules in my garage at home, I loaded them into the bed of my pick-up and drove them up to Jerome for installation. To my great relief, everything fit together perfectly as designed, proving once again that I can use a tape measure correctly on occasion. The assembled unit can be easily rolled in or out of the aisle. When in place, a simple C-clamp secures it firmly to the layout benchwork.

With the benchwork completed, I was ready to start roughing in the scenery. Once again I'm using pink extruded polystyrene foam board or EPF. I buy it in 4x8' x 1" sheets at my local home center. It's easy to cut and carve with a hotwire tool or a hobby knife, and I use various sanding bits in a Dremel rotary tool to carve rocky textures into the edges. It makes a huge mess, of course, but that's what shop-vacs are for.

 

Next Week

In the coming days, I hope to finish roughing in the river bank scenery with foam and might even make a start on the next steps of blending things together with Sculptamold and sanded grout. After that will come the scenic painting with acrylics, and real dirt and sand for the ground cover. Further on, I've got some fun structures to build for the River Unit, including one of the beautiful 50' paddlewheel steamers from Kitwood Hill Models. Stay tuned for that!

I'll also be getting back to the Marc F. Davis/Pack Mules foreground scene in the near future too since it segue-ways into the river scene. Happy modeling, friends, Thanks for checking in. Adios for now!

A New Scene for the Marc F. Davis

TMMC Update - July 8, 2017

Now that the layout has been successfully moved and I'm all settled in to the new studio, it's time to get back to work on the railroad and some other projects. Here's an update on what's been going on over the passed week.

The front edge of the layout by Thunder Mesa town is one of the first things guests see when they visit the layout. The space was originally home to Thunder Mesa Depot, but after that structure was moved during a redesign of the town, the narrow strip of layout in front of the tracks sat torn up and empty for a long time. One idea was to put some stock pens there, but those will now be built across the tracks below Castle Rock and Injun Joe's Cave. This frees up the space for a new scene featuring the Thunder Mesa Pack Mules building and a dummy spur track for displaying the Marc F. Davis locomotive, TMMC #1.

The sad truth about the one-spot is that it has always been a poor runner. It was a scrap-box special, built several years ago atop a DC powered Bachmann HO cable car power truck. Theoretically I could take it apart and add a tiny decoder somewhere to make it work with the rest of Thunder Mesa's digitally controlled equipment, but I just don't see that paying off with a better operating locomotive. The motor itself is poor and the electrical pick-up is spotty at best. So, for the foreseeable future, it will remain a static model. On the plus side, the headlight works great.

Still, I've always liked the funky, homebuilt look of the Marc F. Davis, and have long thought about building a small scene around it that might be a fitting tribute to its namesake.

Something else I've always liked is the old Rainbow Ridge Pack Mules structure that once stood at Disneyland. I did a plan for it based on old photographs (the structure is long gone), and built a mock-up several years ago with no clear idea of where it might be located on the layout. Putting that structure together with a new grade crossing and a dummy spur for the Marc F. Davis gave me the nucleus of a new scene to greet guests when they visit the TMMC at Thunder Mesa Studio.

Building the Scene

I started by building up the rounded corner of the layout with layers of 1" thick extruded polystyrene foam or EPF. The pieces were cut to shape with a hot-wire tool and then glued in place with Loctite Powergrab adhesive. Then I sanded the layers flush and glued on a curved section of fascia made from illustration board treated with a clear acrylic sealer. It's lightweight, tough, and does the job. Then I painted the corner flat black to match the rest of the layout fascia.

Next I cut a section of Peco On30 flextrack to length and then removed several of the ties to give it more of a hastily-built old siding look. This was then primed and painted, and then glued to the foam roadbed with a bead of Powergrab. This is a dummy spur so it won't be getting any power. The DC motored Marc F. Davis would burn out on the DCC powered tracks of the TMMC.

I cut a piece of 1/8" thick Masonite to size to act as a foundation for my upcoming model of the Thunder Mesa Pack Mules building. This received a wooden boardwalk/porch along two sides made from distressed coffee stir-sticks weathered with an alcohol/shoe dye mixture. A square of illustration board cut to the same dimensions was then glued in place on the scene to save space for the model when ground cover was added in the next step.

I mixed up some Polyblend Sanded Grout in a small plastic container. I measure out small amounts with a paper Dixie cup and then add water slowly, stirring until the mixture is completely wet, but not runny - about 3:1 grout to water. The color grout I use is called "Sandstone" but I usually end up painting or tinting it once it's dry. Then I half poured, half spooned the grout on to the layout surface until the entire scene, except for the track, was covered by a layer about 1/16" to 1/8" thick. Using an old paint brush, I then stippled the grout to give it an uneven, dirt-like texture. As the grout began to set-up, I used a pencil and a model horse figure to add wagon ruts and hoof prints to the road and other high traffic areas.

Turning my attention to the track, red-rock dirt from Sedona was used to ballast the dummy siding and give some variation to the grout. This was then glued in place with a sprayed mixture of matt medium and water, diluted about 4:1. As all of this dried, weeds, grass, and flowers from Scenic Express were planted in likely spots with small dabs of white glue.

Then it was just a matter of touching up the track, and setting the train and structure mock-up back in place to visualize how everything was coming together. There's much more to come on this scene, including some new figures and a humorous vignette that ties the story of the Pack Mules and the new siding together in true Marc Davis fashion. Across the tracks, new livestock pens belonging to the Circle D ranch are slated to be built. Stay tuned for that!

Thanks for checking in! The plan is to make this a new series of weekly updates on the railroad, posting each Saturday or Sunday. Let's see if I can keep it up. Adios for now!