They say that time flies when you’re having fun, and that has certainly been true of 2018 on the Thunder Mesa Mining Company model railroad! Here’s a look back on the year with all the projects and people who made it so special. Thanks to all the friends who helped make 2018 a great year for Thunder Mesa Studio and the TMMC and I hope to see you all in 2019! Happy New Year!
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!
Support the TMMC
It’s a beautiful day for flying, so climb aboard our airship as we go Soarin’ Over Thunder Mesa! Yes, it’s time for another Thunder Cam and some wide-open, overhead views from high above the layout. Enjoy!
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!
Support the TMMC
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!
Update: Aug 4, 2019
The Skull Rock and Neverland project has been shelved indefinitely. However, we never throw anything away at Thunder Mesa Imagineering and many of the ideas from this layout will now be incorporated into the Carolwood Park project.
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.
Support the TMMC
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.
Support the TMMC
Big Thunder Creek is front and center on the Thunder Mesa layout and a favorite spot to do a little train watching. All sound effects were recorded live on the layout. Enjoy.
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.
Hola amigos! It’s time for another Thunder Cam! Here’s some video of today’s ore train making its way around the layout during our Cinco de Mayo Open Studio. Enjoy!