Category: structures

Boot Hill Part 3 and The Haunted Undertaker’s Shop

Studio Update - Sep 30, 2017

My Undertaker's Shop tribute to Disney's Haunted Mansion is just about finished as of this writing, with just a few more small details to add. The same is true across the street at Boot Hill Graveyard, where a new picket fence and a gnarled old tree have sprouted up. This week's video log goes into detail on the "illusioneering" and special effects at the Undertaker's Shop, and shows how I built the "Lantern Tree" in the graveyard from twisted picture wire and acrylic modeling paste. I'm pleased with how these scenes have turned out and quite happy to have them done in advance of next Saturday's Open Studio & Train Night.

The Undertaker's Parlor of Messrs. Atencio, Crump and Gracey has been installed in its plot near the front edge of the layout. A follower of the TMMC Facebook page suggested that I rotate the structure 90º to give guests a better view of the interior effects and that turned out to be an excellent suggestion. Thanks for that! Below decks, an ITT Products sound module with a 2", 8 ohm speaker plays a spooky 2-minute soundtrack that I created. George at ITT products was very helpful when creating this custom sound module and I highly recommend his products. Both the soundtrack and the interior Pepper's Ghost effect are activated by one of the "Big Red Buttons" that guests can push on the layout fascia. There's much more on the Pepper's Ghost effect in this week's Thunder Mesa video log.

Check out the video below for part 2 of the time-lapse Undertaker's Shop build.

Over at Boot Hill, I've been putting the finishing touches on the scene with a weathered wooden fence and a gnarled old Juniper tree that has a flickering lantern hanging from the branches. I wanted some sort of illumination for the scene during night operations and this seemed like a fun and clever option.

The picket fence was built from Grandt Line castings with scratch-built wooden posts between them. The knobs on top of the fenceposts are dress-pin heads. The fence was assembled in three large sections at the workbench where it was primed and painted before being installed in the scene. I primed it with Krylon flat grey before drybrushing on splotchy coats of light tan and white acrylics to simulate weathered and faded paint on a wooden fence. I still need to add the iconic "Boot Hill" sign to the crossbar above the gate.

I built the tree using braided picture-hanging wire, twisting several strands together to create the trunk and then unraveling the ends to simulate smaller branches and twigs. Some some scrap-box bits were glued to a 3mm yellow flickering LED to make a lantern, and then the soldered on leads were hidden within the tree's armature.  All of this was then coated with three or four applications of acrylic modeling paste to build up texture, taking care not to cover the lantern itself. I let the paste dry overnight before finishing the trunk with a dark brown primer, followed by several dry-brushings with lighter shades of tan and grey acrylics. The tree was then installed on the layout and Woodland Scenics dark green foliage clumps were cemented on with Aleene's Tacky Glue. You can see a time-lapse of the tree being built in this week's video log.

I'm pretty pleased overall with how the entire scene has come together. As usual, it turned out to be a little more complex than I had originally planned as additional effects and details were added, but I'm very happy to have it (mostly) done in time for the Halloween season! 

I'm not quite sure which project I'll be tackling next. There are a few more lighting effects I'd like to finish up before next weekend, but I'm also more than ready to get back to work on the Thunder Mesa Riverfront and its 50' paddle-wheel steamer. Right now, it's time to clean up the studio and get organized again after the last two weeks of frenzied modeling. Thanks for checking in, amigos. Adios for now!

PS: As a bonus for following along, I'm offering the ambient night sounds of Thunder Mesa and the Haunted Undertaker's Shop soundtrack as free Mp3 downloads. I created both of these tracks for the layout and they can be downloaded and played on any MP3 capable devise. Add a little nighttime atmosphere to your own layout or a spooky Halloween soundtrack. Have fun!

Thunder Mesa Night Sounds

Haunted Undertaker's Shop


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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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Olson & Furlow’s Place Returns to Hanging Rock

TMMC Update - July 22, 2017

I didn't have much time to work on the new Thunder Mesa riverfront this week, but I did want to catch things up on the construction and migrations of the Olson & Furlow Saloon.

Built as a tribute to two of my favorite modelers, John Olson and Malcolm Furlow, the saloon was featured in my Model Railroad Hobbyist column from January, 2017: 10 Tips for Modeling Structures With Character. While the column delved mostly into the backstory and research behind the structure, I thought I'd take a little time here to show more about how it was actually built.

The scratchbuilt structure follows my own design and is made primarily of illustration board. The base is 1/4" thick MDF carved and painted to look like flagstone, the windows and doors are mostly Grandt Line details, and the main roof is covered in laser-cut paper shingles from Bar Mills. Click through the photos at left to see it come together step-by-step.

I built the structure at the same time that I was working on the scenery around Hanging Rock and the whole thing was designed to tuck up against the canyon wall. The idea being that this place was the last surviving remnant of an old railroad construction camp and had been scrounged together from various parts by its intrepid proprietors. In my 10 Tips article I wrote:

Deep in the canyons, about halfway down the line between San Lorenzo and Thunder Mesa is the whistle stop burg known as Hanging Rock. It's a lonesome place, once a stronghold for the Indians and now a haunt for outlaws. There, on a small rise between the mainline and a weed-grown siding, stands the Olson & Furlow establishment. Part saloon, part store, the old place has a character born from its bawdy history and seasoned by the harsh climate of the desert. The adobe casita that forms most of the ground floor probably dates from the 1850's, but nobody can say for sure. The place was abandoned when Olson and Furlow took it over in 1878 and added the upper wooden story. They were railroad men who came west with the construction gangs to help build the bridges at Horse Thief and Coyote Canyons. That was backbreaking work, and so, as the story goes, they decided to go freelance and open a saloon.

I always liked that backstory, but then, for some reason, I threw it all out the window and relocated the structure to Thunder Mesa town. I must have had a good reason at the time but for the life of me I can't remember it now.

Now, one thing has led to another, and with the plans for the new River Unit well under way, Olson & Furlow's has migrated back to its original location (and backstory) at Hanging Rock. The spot it briefly held down in Thunder Mesa town will now be home to some trackside livestock pens. Appropriate, I guess, since judging by their writings, both men were/are world-class bull shippers.

Moving the structure again also reminded me that it's not really finished. There are still a few interior details to add upstairs, and lighting to add throughout the model. It was originally built with these things in mind so adding them shouldn't be too difficult. And there's much more to add in Hanging Rock too. The plans I've drawn tell me there's a mine tipple there, as well as a small freight dock and a whistle-stop depot made from an old combination car. Then there's all of that slot-canyon scenery waiting to be finished and bridges to build over nearby Horse Thief Canyon.

I'm sure there will be more on all of that in some upcoming posts. For this week, thanks for checking in, friends. 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!