Thunder Mesa Blog

Planning the Bandit Canyon Ry.

An Adventure in 1:32 Scale Modeling

After a visit from Scott Carter and his wonderful Cinnamon Creek Mining Co. layout, I became inspired to build a small, portable layout of my own. Wanting to do something a bit different from the TMMC and other modeling I had done, and following a correspondence with another fine modeler, William Dickman, who introduced my to the idea of 1:32 scale industrial narrow gauge, I landed on the idea of an outlaw trail themed mining layout in 3/8n20. In truth, the idea for something called "Bandit Canyon Railway" had been gestating in the back of my brain for a couple of years and it just needed a little push to get it started.

1:32 Scale + HO Gauge = 3/8n20

Most readers may not be familiar with the scale/gauge combination of 3/8n20, it is certainly not a common modeling scale, even to die-hard narrow gauge modelers. 1:32 scale is common enough, and is quite popular with large scale modelers to represent standard gauge trains on 45mm gauge track. It's also a common scale for model airplanes, die-cast cars and tractors, and some ship models. 1:32 scale is 3/8"=1', so it's right there in between O scale at 1:48, and F scale at 1:20.3 (there's really no such thing as "G scale," by the way, there's 1:32, 1:24, 1:22, 1:20.3, and others all running on 45mm track to represent different gauges!).

In 1:32 scale, HO gauge measures out to about 20" between the rails. This means that one can use HO and On30 mechanisms, wheel-sets, and chassis as a starting point for some quaint and chunky industrial narrow gauge equipment in what amounts to 3/8n20. This scale/gauge combination is rare enough that it doesn't even have a letter designation like O, HO, S, or N. If anyone ever asked me, I might suggest "Q" for 1:32 scale trains and that would make this project Qn20. The Q stands for "quirky." But I'll leave it up to the NMRA to sort out the alphabet soup.

 

Building a Planning Model

Since the BCRy is to be a portable layout, there were a few problems I needed to work out before starting actual construction. Specifically, I wanted to see how my plan for having the layout travel inside its own stand/base would work out in practice. The solution was to build a 1:8 scale planning model. As a bonus I could work out the sight-lines, color scheme and other aspects of the scenic treatment at the same time.

Using my track plan at the top of this page as a guide, I constructed the planning model from 1/16" thick cardstock and extruded polystyrene foam. The finished layout will measure 35" wide, 60" long, and 44" high with the backdrop. For travel, it will nestle securely down inside the slightly larger base, and the entire set-up will stand nearly 8' tall when assembled. The roof above the layout will house lighting, and doubles as a lid when everything is boxed up. The whole thing will roll around on swiveling castors.

Scenery was sculpted from EPF in a similar manner as the rockwork on the Thunder Mesa layout. Building the planning model gave me a chance to work out sight-lines, like views of the town of Hole in the Wall through the natural arch. The rockwork is based on formations near Bluff, Utah.

 

A 3/8n20 Locomotive

The next thing needed as proof of concept was an actual 3/8n20 locomotive to pull trains around the planned layout. Starting with an On30 Bachmann Porter, I quickly put together a new cab and stack to see how the proportions would work out.

The cab was knocked together from illustration board and wood scraps from my scrap-box, and the stack is some plastic tubing joined to castings from an old MDC-Roundhouse HO kit. Nothing too fancy or detailed yet, but enough to give a feel for the proportions of a finished 3/8n20 mining engine. The last photo shows a size comparison between the 3/8n20 Porter and an unmodified On30 Porter. All in all, I'm very pleased with the chunky and narrow look and can easily see it fully detailed, weathered, and pulling a string of mining gons. One question left to answer now is how to control the trains. Standard DC, digital DCC, or some form of Dead Rail battery power?  Another is, what kind of track to use - Peco On3o, Micro Trains, or hand laid? Dead Rail would mean fairly trouble free operations, and hand laid track would look fantastic on a small layout like this. Stay tuned for further developments from Bandit Canyon country to see where this adventure leads!

Thanks for checking in, amigos. Adios for now!


 

New “How To” Video Series Launches with Scenery Building Techniques

Since I'm often asked about the scenery and structure techniques used on the Thunder Mesa Ming Company and other projects, I've decided to produce a new series of YouTube videos with a step-by-step, "how-to" focus. Welcome to the first two videos in that new series, "How To #1: How to Build Scenery with EPF and Sculptamold" and "How To #2: How to Paint Rockwork and Add Ground Cover."  These video brings together both new and existing footage to show scenery building and finishing techniques, and to answer the most common questions about how things are done on the On30 Thunder Mesa Mining Company layout. There are several more "How To" videos in this series on the way so don't forget to subscribe on YouTube. Thanks for watching!


 

Set Sail for the Skull Rock & Neverland

Second Star to the Right and Straight on 'till Morning

The HOn30 Skull Rock & Neverland Ry. is a pure flight of fancy. Now in the early development stages, this little layout will seek to answer the question of just what kind of railroad a fantastical land of Lost Boys, pirates, mermaids, pixies, and Indians might have. Most folks don't know this, but one of the more valuable ores mined in Thunder Mesa Country is the extremely rare and magical Neverlandium, a volatile, glowing mineral that can cause children to fly when accompanied by the thinking of happy thoughts. Naturally, most of this ore is shipped off to the Skull Rock & Neverland where it is used for everything from powering the locomotives to fertilizing the lush island plant growth. Perhaps this valuable ore is what first drew the attention of Captain Hook and the crew of bloodthirsty pirates who plague the island to this very day.

For the uninitiated, HOn30 (or OO9) is basically 1:87 HO scale trains running on 9mm N gauge track. It's most often used to model the 2' narrow gauge lines that once ran in Maine, but I've long been fascinated by the possibilities of this scale/gauge combination, and see it as an ideal jumping off point for something with a British flair. I've also been wanting to do something with a pirate ship - specifically Captain Hook's pirate ship. I grew up with Captain Hook's at Disneyland where it housed a tuna restaurant at its anchorage in cool, scenic Skull Rock Cove. That ship has been long gone since the '83 redo of Fantasyland and it may never come back, but I can have my own version with my own Skull Rock in a little slice of Neverland. This project will be built across the aisle from the Thunder Mesa layout in a narrow 2' x 6' space near my workbench. Much of Neverland itself will be conveyed by the backdrop, and the railroad will wind it's way along the waterfront of Pirate's Cove. Minimum radius for the curves is 9" and the grade is to be determined.

Hope you'll follow along as this project develops!

“Breaking the Rules” in Model Railroad Hobbyist Magazine

Imagineering

My latest Imagineering column for Model Railroad Hobbyist Magazine is all about "Breaking the Rules" and creative thinking in the hobby. Now available online and you can read it here: Model Railroad Hobbyist Magazine.


 

Next Open Studio & Train Day: Wednesday July 4th

Celebrate Independence Day at Thunder Mesa Studio

Celebrate America’s Independence at Thunder Mesa Studio on Wednesday, July 4th! See what’s new on the Thunder Mesa Mining Company Model Railroad, an operating 1/4″ scale narrow gauge display featuring spectacular scenery, lights, animation, and sound. Then stick around after dark for an all new digital fireworks show in the skies above Thunder Mesa! Meet local artist D.L. Meek and see what’s new on his drawing board. Note that this event replaces the usual first Saturday open studio.

Plenty of free parking at the venue! Full details here.

Next Open Studio & Train Day: Saturday, June 2

Kick off the summer season at Thunder Mesa Studio on Jerome’s 1st Saturday! See the Thunder Mesa Mining Company Model Railroad, an operating 1/4″ scale narrow gauge display featuring spectacular scenery, lights, animation, and sound. Meet local artist D.L. Meek and see what’s new on his drawing board. Stick around after 5pm for the 1st Saturday Jerome Art Walk. Click here for more info!

Free parking at the venue and free shuttle bus service to and from downtown Jerome from 5pm to 8pm.

Event Calendar

Calico Canyon Unit of the Horse Thief & Never Mine Ry.

A Simple On18 Loop

This may be a case of the name of a model railroad being longer than the line itself, but I had to call it something, right? The Calico Canyon Unit of the HT&NMRy is a simple loop of 9mm gauge track about a foot below the Thunder Mesa mainline in Calico Canyon. It emerges from a mine tunnel, crosses Calico Creek on a high trestle, then passes behind a waterfall before ducking back into another tunnel. Round and round it goes, bringing a little more kinetic energy to the canyon scene. The circle is 11" radius and uses Peco HOn3o track for the visible areas, and Atlas N scale snap track for the hidden parts of the loop. Power comes from a well used Kato DC power pack under the layout.

The idea began with earlier plans for Calico Mountain and evolved into a loop inside the canyon when I started roughing in the scenery there. I started by creating a circular sub-roadbed from pink extruded polystyrene foam, and then building the canyon walls up with more foam around it. Midwest HO cork roadbed was glued to the foam with yellow carpenter's glue and allowed to dry overnight before track laying began. Using sectional track in the hidden areas allowed me to leave some rail joints un-soldiered, always a good idea since nickle-silver rail shrinks and expands with changes in temperature.

Calico Creek will cascade down the canyon in a series of dramatic falls, over and under the On18 and On30 tracks. Up top on the TMMC mainline, a new mine headframe and hoist house will be built near the backdrop, giving the illusion that the On18 tracks below are part of a large mine complex.

Progress on this little loop is tied in with progress on the larger scenes of Calico Canyon and Calico Mountain. The next big jobs will be building a mine complex trackside and all of those bridges across the canyon. Then there's the canyon scenery itself to finish and the cascades and falls of Calico Creek. In the meantime, here's a quick video of the On18 loop in action. Stay tuned, Amigos!


 

Open Studio & Train Day: Jungle Edition – Saturday, April 7

Join us April 7, 2018 at Thunder Mesa Studio on Jerome’s 1st Saturday! See special Guest Robert Kurner’s On30 Jungle Navigation Railroad Co. side by side with the Thunder Mesa Mining Company Model Railroad! Come hang out with Dave and Robert as we play trains and bring a little Disney style magic to life. Stick around after 5pm for the 1st Saturday Jerome Art Walk.

Free parking at the venue and free shuttle bus service to and from downtown Jerome from 5pm to 8pm.

Map and event info.

Adventures in On18

The Horse Thief & Never Mine Ry.

Plans for an On18 mining tram to feed the Thunder Mesa mainline have gone through several evolutions over the years. Most recently, I've settled on a simple point to point design that operates between Never Mine tunnel through Baxter's Butte, and some as-yet-to-be-built ore bins at Horse Thief Canyon. In between, the tram will serve the richest diggings in the territory; Big Thunder Mine and the camp of shacks and outbuildings that have sprung up around it. Earlier versions had the tram extending all the way to Calico, and even included a portable On18 module at Calico Mountain. This plan was scrapped, mostly due to esthetic reasons since I decided a long On18 trestle in front of the backdrop would detract from other scenic features there like Horse Thief Canyon and the balancing rocks beyond.

An On18 Primer

Simply stated, On18 is O scale trains running on N gauge track. The "N" in N gauge stands for 9mm, and that scales out to about 18" in 1/4" O scale. 18" was a common track gauge for mining trams in the American West so the result of this scale/gauge alchemy is On18. I'm sure that readers of this blog don't need reminding about the esoteric differences between scale and gauge, but just in case you do, there's a post on it here.

To make things just a little more complicated, On18 trackage on the Thunder Mesa layout is represented using Peco HOn30 flextrack and turnouts which are, of course, also 9mm gauge. HOn30 uses N gauge track and mechanisms to model 2' gauge or 30" prototypes in 1:87 scale - but that's a story for another day. Suffice to say that this Peco track also has the perfect look for a light On18 mining tram.

On18 uses parts and materials from N, HO, S, and O scales to represent 18" gauge equipment in 1:48. Vertical boiler engine #2, the Walter Knott uses a 3D printed shell from Shapeways atop an N scale Kato 11-103 mechanism. 


Earlier Track Plans

As mentioned above, fitting an On18 line into the world of Thunder Mesa has been an ongoing process. Several plans were created and then later set aside as the line as it currently exists evolved somewhat organically on its own. Here are a few of those On18 plans, all of which incorporate Calico in some form or another. Though none of these are presently being built, each could work on their own in some future project.

Building the Horse Thief & Never Mine

The point to point On18 HT&NM Ry runs on a level between 5 and 6 inches above the On30 tracks of the TMMC. It starts at some ore bins at Horse Thief Canyon before quickly ducking into a tunnel and emerging at Natural Arch Bridge where it crosses the TMMC mainline. From there it's on to Big Thunder Camp, which sits directly above Rainbow Caverns, and into Never Mine Tunnel which passes through the heart of Baxter's Butte. The line terminates at the combination dump trestle and loading dock above Saguaro Siding. The sharpest curve on the line is about a 12" radius and control is standard DC. In the future, point to point operations may be automated using photic detection and a Circuitron AR-2 unit.

Track and roadbed being laid through Big Thunder Camp and across Natural Arch Bridge. Midwest products HO scale cork roadbed and Peco HOn30 track were the products used.

Track was primed and painted with artists acrylics. The trestle above Saguaro Siding was originally built for On30 rails, but it works just fine for On18. The scratchbuilt jib crane is used to bring supplies up to the mines from the TMMC siding below.

Ground cover is Polyblend sanded grout, and the ballast is red dirt collected near Sedona, AZ. Plants, weeds and bushes come from Scenic Express and Woodland Scenics. Cacti are from Pegasus Scale Models. 

The miner's shack was scratchbuilt from wood and Illustration board and features flickering lantern lights.

At least two more locomotives will join the HT&NM Ry roster, a tiny Shay, and a Porter-like 0-6-0, both currently under construction. The 0-6-0 is mostly being built from scrapbox parts, but the Shay has a 3D printed shell  from Marsh Creek Miniatures and runs on a Kato 11-103 chassis.

What's Next

Most of the track for the On18 line has now been completed and the rest is details and structures. One of the main features will be the Big Thunder Mine complex. This will be a combination of kit-bashed and scratchbuilt structures sitting on a high ledge above Rainbow Caverns. A below ground view into the caverns will also reveal the main shaft of the mine and an animated lift beneath the headframe. At the Horse Thief Canyon end, ore bins and a short trestle need to be built for the transfer of ore to TMMC trains. Also, if I can find the room, there may be a small turntable and engine shops in Big Thunder Camp. 

Summing up, I was a little sad to let go of the whole Calico mini-layout idea, but part of the creative process is knowing when things just aren't going to work and making the proper adjustments. I haven' given up on Calico Mountain, far from it, it just won't be a part of the On18 layout. But there'll be much more on that in an upcoming post. 

As always, I'll do my best to answer any questions in the comments below - so ask away! Just keep in mind that the WordPress platform is a spam magnet so it may take a little while for me to weed through and get to an answer. Thanks for checking in, amigos. Adios for now!