Category: basics

Basic Wiring for Lighting and Accessories | Bandit Canyon Railway


BCRy Part VII. As promised, heres a how-to on the 9 volt wiring system I use for lighting and animated accessories on the On18 Bandit Canyon Railway. In this episode, I build a second animated balancing rock with a different technique, then show how I set up the 9v wiring bus step by step.

Thanks for watching, amigos!

9 volt ac/dc transformer:
DC power bus:

Model Making Quick Tip: Making it Square


This Model Making Quick Tip is all about keeping things square when building model structures. I share a few of my favorite tools and techniques for cutting and glueing to get the best results.

Thanks for watching, amigos!

Machinist square and 1-2-3 blocks:

Mini miter box and saw:

Model Making Quick Tip: All About Glue


Everything you’ve ever wanted to know about modeling glues but were afraid to ask! Well, maybe not everything, but here’s a good look at my favorite glues to use in model making and the proper applications and materials that they are best for. In this video I cover PVA glues like Elmers, Aleene’s, and good old carpenter’s glue, plus info on binding styrene and abs plastics, tips for fast, quick bonds with cyanoacrylate (super glue), and why I don’t like tape!

Thanks for watching amigos!

Thunder Mesa Limited Podcast Ep 10: Jake Johnson & the Art of Model Railroading

The Art of Model Railroading

Jake Johnson is back for a second appearance on the Thunder Mesa Limited, and this time our conversation is all about the art of model railroading! We talk about how and when to use forced perspective, color choices for scenery and structures, backdrops, how to choose a scale that’s right for you, the detail threshold, and so much more.

Calico Mountain Expansion Part 2: Roadbed, Track & Wiring


Welcome to the second episode in this series on building the Calico Mountain Expansion to the Thunder Mesa model railroad layout! In this episode we'll install the cork roadbed, lay On30 flextrack and turnouts, and wire everything up to run trains with DCC control - including installation of an auto-reverse unit! In future episodes, we'll get the On18 track running, begin building scenery and structures, do some backdrop painting, and so much more.

Thanks for tuning in, amigos!

Wiring Turnouts for Reliable Operations

Featuring the Tam Valley Depot Frog Juicer


I get into the tech side of model railroading in this episode, explaining how to use Tam Valley Depot "Frog Juicers" to ensure reliable turnout operations. There's some good, basic information on how Peco Electrofrog power routing turnouts work, and a demonstration on how to retrofit an already painted and ballasted turnout with a Frog Juicer.

Scale and Gauge

What the Heck is On30?

The Thunder Mesa Mining Co. is modeled in what is commonly known as "On30" - pronounced "OH-EN-THIRTY." This esoteric code is merely model railroader shorthand for the scale and gauge of what is being modeled. Scale and gauge can be confusing to the uninitiated and the terms are sometimes, regrettably, used interchangeably. Simply stated: "Scale" refers only to the relative size of a model in relation to its real world counterpart, whereas "Gauge" is a railway specific term that refers to the distance between the rails. In the case of On30, the "O" stands for O scale, which is 1:48, or 1/4" to the foot. A six foot tall person in O scale would be exactly 1 1/2" tall in our full sized world. The "n" in On30 stands for "narrow gauge." The "30" tells you that the gauge is thirty inches. To further confuse matters, 30" gauge in O scale is roughly the same as standard gauge in HO scale (1:87). In fact, On30 began as an effort to depict O scale narrow gauge by using HO scale track and mechanisms as a relatively inexpensive starting point.

Narrow gauge railroads, usually 3' between the rails, were common for mining and logging operations in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. They were cheaper and faster to build than the larger "standard gauge" railroads (4' 8.5" between the rails) that most Americans are familiar with today. Some railroads where built to even narrower gauges, such as the classic 2' roads in Maine, and there were 20" and 18" gauge railways too, usually used only in mines, industrial facilities, or plantations.

True 30" gauge railroads were actually quite rare in the United States so On30 modelers often fudge a bit and use the scale/gauge to depict 3' Colorado style narrow gauge. Then again, some go the other way and use it to model the Maine 2-footers. Since such minute differences in gauge are only important to serious builders of miniature railways, and since the primary purpose of the TMMC is entertainment, the gauge in Thunder Mesa is simply "narrow," leaving others to quibble about what amounts to 1/8" in one direction or the other.