Here’s the latest “How-To” video from Crescent Creek Models introducing our new Route 66 Road Stencils. These are available to order now in HO, S, and O scales.
Walt's Bench is Here!
Crescent Creek Models' new Park & Depot Benches are now available to order. These classic wooden slat style benches are based on none other than "Walt's Bench" from Griffith Park in Los Angelas - the very same bench where the old Moustro is said to have first dreamed up the idea for Disneyland as he sat eating peanuts and watching his daughters ride the carousel. These scale 8' long benches will look right at home on a depot platform, city park, or town square in just about any era.
Our O scale Park & Depot Benches feature an innovative design, making construction easier by allowing you to build the delicate seat and back assemblies right on the card. Follow along with the photos for a quick how-to, and watch the video below for a step-by-step build.
Step 5: Remove the back assembly from the sheet and align with the seat assembly. The combined legs should form x-braces below the seat. Glue together when properly aligned.
Building the Diorama
The one question I am asked more than any other is, "How do you model your rocks?" I've done a couple of videos that explain my methods in detail, and this one, originally created for Joey Riccard's Trackside Scenery YouTube Channel is among the best. I've re-edited my segment of that video to make things a bit clearer, and added it to my own ongoing series of "How To" videos.
The Lone Rock diorama featured in this video began with an email from Joey Ricard. He asked if I might be interested in contributing to an upcoming video about modeling rocks and I was happy to agree. Joey's videos are always fun and informative, focusing on both tried-and-true and new-and-innovative techniques. Just my kind of project. Most of the build is covered in the resulting video, so this post focuses on a few additional details that may have been glossed over.
The 12" x 24" diorama started with a simple frame of 1" x 2" MDF and three layers of 1.5" white polystyrene bead-board. Some 1" thick gold polyurethane foam (Balsa Foam) was roughly shaped to form a single, towering butte. 1/2" plywood was cut to shape for track sub-roadbed and glued in place atop the foam. The white foam was shaped with a hot-wire cutter, and a small stone culvert made from Balsa Foam was created to bridge the gully. I used Loctite Power Grab construction adhesive to glue everything together.
The butte was carved from hard density Balsa Foam. This is a commercial version of the same gold urethane carving foam used by Walt Disney Imagineering and Hollywood special effects model builders. It's available through better stocked art and craft dealers.
A short section of the 1/2" plywood sub-roadbed was cut away and a chunk of 1" thick Balsa Foam was used to form a small stone culvert. The arch was created with sandpaper wrapped around a small bottle, and the stones were carved with a hard 5H pencil.
Using photos of rocks from Monument Valley, Moab and Sedona, Lone Rock Butte was carved from Balsa Foam using mostly a #2 hobby knife. The butte was then glued to the base with Loctite Powergrab adhesive. Four bamboo skewers between the butte and the base add additional strength.
Sculptamold was used to blend the butte into the base and to form an embankment along the sub-roadbed right of way. A soft, wet brush was used to smooth the Sculptamold and blend it with the different foams.
Since there would be scenery below it, the stone culvert was finished early and installed flush with the sub-roadbed. It was painted with acrylics and the mortar lines were filled with spackling paste. Midwest HO scale cork roadbed was glued down with yellow carpenter's glue, then just about everything on the diorama was given a base coat of golden-tan flat latex house paint. When that was dry, a length of Peco On30 flextrack was cemented in place with Powergrab adhesive.
As described in the video, a wash of diluted India ink was sprayed onto the butte to darken cracks and crevices before final painting was done. Inexpensive craft acrylics were used to complete the paint job. Colors like raw sienna, red oxide, burnt umber and unbleached titanium were applied wet into wet, working from darker to lighter tones.
I masked off the diorama and painted the track flat black with some Krylon spray paint. Next the ties were painted with a light tan acrylic. I used Apple Barrel "Khaki." Then the rails were painted with rust colored chalks suspended in 70% isopropyl alcohol. The final step was to give everything a good dusting with black and dark brown chalks. There's no power going to this track so I didn't bother to clean the paint off of the railhead. On powered track I'd use a Bright Boy or paint thinner to clean the railhead after painting.
The basic ground cover is Polyblend Sanded Grout. I mixed it up with a little water to form a thick paste and then just stippled it on with a cheep paintbrush (don't use a good brush for this! You'll never use it again). The erosion lines were pressed in with a pencil. The grout does a good job of representing soil while also filling and smoothing any remaining gaps in the foam base. This color is called "Sandstone," appropriately enough, and it dries a couple of shades lighter than it goes on. The wet grout generally stays where you put it but I also wet it down with a misting of diluted matte medium to lock it in place.
Once the grout had set overnight, the final coloring was done with light washes of acrylics to blend and unify the grout layer with the rock carving.
Real dirt and rocks were sprinkled on and then glued in place with white glue and diluted matte medium. Then the track was ballasted with local sandstone, held in place with more diluted matte medium.
Woodland Scenics "Field Grass" was used to make clumps of desert grasses and weeds, held in place with dabs of Aleene's Tacky Glue. Any loose fibers were later cleaned up with a shop vac. Then a few more bushes and desert plants were added to finish the diorama. The juniper bushes are Super Trees from Scenic Express covered in Noch dark green foliage. Clumps of gray sage were made with Woodland Scenics medium green bushes, lightly sprayed with gray primer. The prickly-pear cacti are castings from Pegasus Models.
Building the Lone Rock diorama was a quick, fun and rewarding project. Even if you don't have room for a full layout, I encourage anyone to try their hand at a small diorama like this. It can be finished in a week or so, and it's a great way to learn new techniques or to experiment with scenery ideas.
The Lone Rock Diorama was completed back in early 2016 and was later featured on the cover of Railroad Hobbyist Magazine. Today, it is being incorporated into a new HO layout I'm building at the studio called the Rio Lobo & Western and there'll be more on that in a future post. But that's it for this time. Thanks for checking in, amigos. Adios for now!
Thunder Mesa's newest locomotive is a trusty and reliable 14-ton Stearns-Heisler, circa 1895. The repainted and detailed Bachmann model is named in honor of Disney Imagineering legend, Bob Gurr. It has always been Thunder Mesa's practice to name its locomotives in honor of Disney artists and Imagineers, and If you're not familiar with Bob Gurr, you should be. He designed just about everything with wheels in the early days of Disneyland, including the Monorail, Autopia cars, and Main Street vehicles. On the Thunder Mesa layout, the R. H. Gurr wears the number 8, and has the distinction of being the first geared locomotive used on the line. Lacking a third truck, #8 has something of a short, squished appearance, and that has earned it the nickname of "The Bob" with the Thunder Mesa crews.
Thunder Mesa's R.H. Gurr locomotive is based upon a small, 14-ton version of Charles L. Heisler's 1892 patented design. Heisler's design featured two cylinders canted inward at a 45º angle, with power transferred via a center mounted longitudinal drive shaft connecting enclosed gearboxes between the truck frames. Outside connecting rods then distributed power between the wheels. This was a variant similar to the Climax design where the cylinders are canted at an angle but mounted inline with the locomotive boiler.
The Stearns Manufacturing Company of Erie, Pennsylvania built Heislers from 1894 to 1907, when they reorganized as the Heisler Locomotive works and continued producing the design until 1941. As befitting a locomotive name in honor of Bob Gurr, Stearns claimed that the Heisler was the fastest of the geared locomotive designs, but with the same low-speed hauling ability as a Shay or Climax.
Though a later model, Roaring Camp & Big Trees Narrow Gauge Railroad's Stearns-Heisler #2, the Tuolumne, inspired some of the color and design choices on TMMC's #8. The Tuolumne originally belonged to the fabled West Side Lumber Company where it wore the number 3.
The Bachmann Stearns-Heisler
Bachmann's On30 version of the 14-ton Stearns-Heisler is an accurately detailed and fine running model without any of the split gear issues that plagued their Climax and Shay offerings. Mine has become the reliable workhorse of the TMMC and you can see it earning its keep at most Open Studio days. I look forward to adding another to the roster at some point in the future.
For this model, I replaced the original cab with a Banta Modelworks cab kit and stained the wood cherry red. Then I stripped the factory paint and decals off of the tender and repainted it with a gloss Hunter Green, painting the cab window trim to match. I replaced the headlight with a backdated box-style headlight salvaged from an old Bachmann Porter, then built up a new load for the tender from real Utah Juniper twigs, split and stacked as cordwood. The pilots and running boards were all repainted to add realism and dull the shine. Custom water-slide gold decals where printed for me by Stan Cedarleaf, and the crew is a pair of repainted Arttista figures. The tools and details are white metal castings from Wiseman Model Services.
A Trip Through Thunder Mesa Country with the R. H. Gurr
Sit back, relax, and enjoy this video tour of the layout and some insight into the building of the R.H. Gurr.
I hope Bob will forgive me for naming a slow, geared locomotive after him. He would probably prefer something sleek, fast, and candy-apple red!
Thanks for checking in, amigos. Adios for now!
A Scene 7 Years in the Making
I first began work on Geyser Gulch back in early 2013 and wrote a little about it on the old Thunder Mesa blog. In this three part series, I'm revisiting and elaborating on some of those old posts, and describing the planning and building of the Gulch right up to the present day. Click here to read Part 1. Click here for part 2.
Part 3: Finishing the Scene
With the trestle complete, it was time to finish the scene with ground cover, desert plants, details, and, of course, the modeled water of the hot springs and geysers. The first step was to blend the bridge abutments into the existing scenery with Sculptamold, and then paint that new scenery to match. I use flat latex and acrylic paints for my scenery painting and have a good supply of the most used colors pre-mixed and on hand.
I've described and done videos about my scenery painting techniques several times before so I won't rehash it too deeply here. Basically, I paint the new area with my scenic base coat, a special mixture of Raw Sienna flat latex house paint. Once that has dried completely, I go back and darken the textures with a thin black acrylic wash from a spray bottle or soft bush. This seeps into the cracks and crevices, darkening the shadows and giving them added depth. I allow that to dry, and then do the final scenic painting with earth toned artists' acrylics right out of the tube. I get the cheap student grade stuff since I use a lot of it. The colors used on the Gulch were raw sienna, burnt sienna, burnt umber (for deep shadows), yellow ochre, and unbleached titanium. Using a flat 1" brush or filbert, the colors are semi-dry-brushed onto the top surfaces of the rocks, working from darker to lighter tones. Colors can be blended together right on the scenery. The final step is to go back with some unbleached titanium and dry-brush on a few highlights to really make the scene pop.
Once I was happy with the scenery painting, I ballasted the approach tracks to the trestle, and started adding ground cover in the form of real rocks and dirt collected in Sedona, Arizona and Moab, Utah. This was all wetted down with a spray bottle filled with "wet water" (that's water with a coupe drops of liquid detergent to break the surface tension), and then everything was cemented in place with diluted matte medium.
Larger rocks, bushes, weeds and cacti are being added in this view. They were all cemented in place with Aleene’s Tacky Glue. Note the big rocks that have tumbled down into the water.
Prickly pear and other cacti are castings from Pegasus Models. Other plants and weeds came from Scenic Express and Woodland Scenics.
Modeling Water in the Hot Springs
Modeling water believably is one of the biggest scenic challenges in this hobby. Perhaps one reason is that water can look so differently under varying conditions and environments. When I modeled Big Thunder Creek, for example, I wanted the look of a fast moving, high desert stream, rushing down from the high country to bring water and life to the canyons below. Frothy cascades and waterfalls give way to deep, green tinted pools, teaming with riparian plants and animals. I also wanted that green tinted water to evoke similar waterways at Disneyland. But for Geyser Gulch, I was after a very different kind of water: the travertine rimmed turquoise pools fed by hot springs and geysers.
Modeling the water for Geyser Gulch actually began with the sculpted terraces and blue-green colors applied when the scene was first begun 7 years ago. Following photos of places like Havasupai and Mammoth Hot Springs, I chose colors and textures that are not typically seen on model railroads, but nevertheless do exist in many places in the natural world. The water in these places is actually crystal clear, like the waters in a swimming pool, nearly devoid of nutrients, but filled with tiny particulates of white travertine. The amazing colors come from those sediments reflecting the sky in the clear waters.
Big Thunder Creek evokes the high desert riparian environments found in canyon country. A rare oasis of green in the red rock desert.
As the waters evaporate, that travertine also forms a white crust on everything it comes into contact with. Over time, that's what builds those sculpted terraces. In the shorter term, it crusts the shoreline and anything close to the water. I simulated this mineral build-up on the lower parts of the trestle by dry-brushing unbleached titanium acrylics onto the stone footings, and dusting the lower bridge timbers with white chalks.
With the scene finally set, and everything painted, it was time for the final steps to make that painted on water look wet. For this, I turned to a couple of products that should be familiar to most modelers: Envirotex Lite clear epoxy resin, and Mod Podge acrylic gloss medium. Envirotex to give the water an appearance of depth, and Mod Podge to enliven the surface and make the water look like it was moving.
Follow the photos below for the step-by-step process.
It’s important to prepare the surface well before pouring liquid epoxy. Envirotex is self-leveling and will find any holes in the surface to flow through. A temporary dam of blue painters tape was used to keep the resin from flowing out of the hot springs and onto the floor.
After the initial pour, and as the resin began to set-up, I used a bamboo skewer to try and add some ripples to the surface. You can use a small propane torch to eliminate air bubbles at this stage also, but since I wanted the look of bubbling springs I didn’t bother with that step.
The Envirotex sets crystal clear and ultra glossy. It also wants to set completely flat and level so most of the ripples that I worked into the surface completely disappeared as the resin cured overnight. You can tint Envirotex with a drop or two of acrylic colors if you want, but since I wanted clear water, I poured the resin as is.
Dead, flat water looks pretty unconvincing in my view and will also reflect anything above the layout such as track lighting to pull you right out of the scene. The solution is to add some texture to the surface of the water and I used good old Mod Podge for this. This stuff is one of my favorite scenic materials. It’s cheap, widely available, and easy to use. The matte version even makes an excellent scenic glue.
Once the Envirotex had cured completely, I stippled Mod Podge onto the surface with a soft brush. I also brushed some onto the geyser heads and other surfaces that might be shiny from splashing water. Mod Podge is a heavy bodied acrylic medium that dries to a clear high gloss while still holding its shape.
The final look of Geyser Gulch after drying overnight. The Envirotex gives the water depth, while the Mod Podge enlivens the surface with ripples and movement.
Making Old Unfaithful Erupt
An erupting Geyser or two is something I've wanted on a model train layout since long before I even began thinking about Thunder Mesa. Inspired by "Old Unfaithful" from Disneyland's early Mine Train Thru Nature's Wonderland attraction, I wanted an effect that was reliable, relatively easy to maintain, and that could be triggered by push-button or by a passing train. I knew I wanted an effect with real steam or vapor coming out of the geyser head, but one that wouldn't damage the scenery or lead to maintenance issues over time. I had an inkling that some sort of theatrical smoke machine might work, but they were all too big and messy for my needs. To be honest, how to do the effect stumped me for quite a long time and I kind of had to wait for technology to catch up before I could do it right.
A vape pipe converted to mini smoke machine. The plastic vial contains vape “base” – A flavorless, nicotine free concoction of propylene glycol and vegetable glycerin that is the “smoke fluid” for the machine.
As vaping gained in popularity, I began to wonder if one could modify an inexpensive vape pipe into a small smoke machine that could be used on a layout. As it turns out, you can, and I was far from the first person to think about converting one of these things to more creative and artistic uses. I wondered if you could attach a small electric fan to one end and blow the vapor out the other. After doing a little research online, I found that not only could you do that, but that the cosplay community had beaten me to the idea by several years. A few people were already making them and selling them on Etsy and other places, so, rather than cobbling something together myself, I saved a little time by purchasing one of the units and having it shipped to the studio.
I chose a model that could be activated by push-button and powered by a rechargeable 2 amp power bank via USB (not included). Then it was a fairly simple matter of hooking the unit up to the existing plumbing I had built into the geysers. Old Unfaithful was built up from carved Balsa Foam over a short length of 1/4" copper tubing that extends below the layout. Rubber tubing connects the business end of the pipe to the copper and a big red button on the layout fascia was wired up to activate the unit. The rechargeable power bank is hidden beneath the layout where it is secured to the benchwork with velcro tape. Load the unit with fluid, plug in the USB, press the button, and voila! The geyser erupts!
In this overhead view, it’s easy to see the copper tubbing inside the caldera of Old Unfaithful Geyser.
Check out my latest YouTube "How To" for a complete breakdown and demonstration of the system and how it works.
The mini smoke machine I used was made by MONcosplay Prop Shop, available on Etsy.
Off the top of my head, I can think of lots of other model railroading uses for a mini smoke unit like this: a forest fire scene. a slash burner at a sawmill, a burning building, a factory or smelter smokestack... You get the idea. Imagination is the only limit!
I hope everyone enjoyed this series on building Geyser Gulch and found it informative. Looking back on the 7 years it took me to complete the scene, I'm glad I didn't rush it. It certainly didn't need to take 7 years, but it does take time to build the required skills and knowledge, and to better refine an idea for the best presentation. I'll be happy to answer any questions in the comments below, or over on Thunder Mesa's Facebook page if you follow my exploits there. Remember, you can also visit Thunder Mesa Studio and see the layout in person on the first Saturday of every month. Check the Visit tab for details.
I really appreciate everyone who takes the time to follow along with my projects. Enthusiasm is contagious. Thanks for checking in, amigos. Adios for now!
In partnership with the Carolwood Foundation, Crescent Creek Models is thrilled to announce the O scale, premier edition of our Walt Disney's Carolwood Barn model kit. This video gives some history of Walt's Barn and the inspiration for these beautiful kits. The premier edition of 200 O scale kits are available for pre-order now and will ship in early fall 2019. Order yours now while supplies last!
It’s time for anther railroad adventure! Let’s take a ride on Fort Collins Municipal Railway streetcar 21. This is a heritage electric streetcar railway with one of the few Birney streetcars still operating in the United States. It runs down the center of Mountain Avenue in beautiful and historic Fort Collins, just as it first did in 1907 when the line was operated by the parent Colorado & Southern. Today, the railway is operated by the Fort Collins Municipal Railway Society on weekends during May through September in Fort Collins, CO. http://www.fortcollinstrolley.org/welcome.html
Music in this video is courtesy of the YouTube Audio Library.
Central California’s Santa Margarita Ranch hosts the Best in the West Antique Tractor and Machine Show every year on Memorial Day Weekend. Featuring Rob Rossi’s Pacific Coast Railroad with the original Disneyland Railroad Coaches, and a host of other wonderful machines from years past, this is one of a kind event is a must-do for any rail fan! Here’s a video recapping our experience there in May. Enjoy.
Here’s a quick Thunder Mesa Update video featuring a few areas of the layout that I’ve been working on over the last several months. More to come. Thanks for tuning in! You can see all new video releases on the Thunder Mesa Studio YouTube channel.
Engine 6, the Ollie Johnston, pulls ore train duty at the June 1st, 2019 Open Studio and Train Day. Open Studios happen on the first Saturday of each month in Jerome, AZ. Details on the Thunder Mesa Studio website. Hope to see you there!