Category: track

Bandit Canyon Railway | Roadbed, Track and Power


BCRy Part II. Work continues on my On18 Bandit Canyon Ry micro-layout! This week, I add risers to raise the plywood sub-roadbed up to the desired height, then it’s time for cork roadbed, laying some Peco flextrack, building a simple manual turnout linkage, and hooking up the DC power. Join me as I bring the BCRy to life for the first time and explain a few tips and tricks learned over the years to make all of these tasks a little smoother and easier.

Thanks for watching, amigos!

Foam Benchwork and Laying Track on Gruesome Gulch – GGRR Part 4


It’s time to finish the benchwork and get some trains running on my On30 Gruesome Gulch mini-layout! In this installment, I build both benchwork and roadbed from layers of lightweight extruded polystyrene foam (XPF), then lay down some On30 flextrack on the upper and lower loops. Some tips on soldering track connections with a butane torch too, and a little track cleaning to keep everything running smoothly. More to come!

Thanks for watching, amigos!

Calico Mountain Expansion Part 4: On18 Track Levels


In episode 4 of the Calico Mountain Expansion how-to series we get the On18 trains running on two levels! Some changes are made to the original plan, with a second mid-height loop of On18 track added to increase the fun and visual interest. Don't forget to subscribe and hit that notification bell so you don't miss a single episode. Thanks for tuning in, amigos! Dave

How to Paint & Ballast On30 Track


Here's my "How-To" on a much requested topic: painting and ballasting model railroad flextrack and turnouts. These are the methods I've used throughout the On30 Thunder Mesa layout for many years with good results. Though the focus here is On30, the same techniques can also be used for other scales like HO and N.

Thanks for tuning in, amigos!

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.

Meanwhile, Back at the Ranch

In the overhead view, I worked on the creek area to the right of Walt's Barn, adding rocks and ground cover. The second photo shows a new section of split rail fence between the Circle D and Thunder Mesa's mainline, and some new greenery along the creek as well. The next shot is the first train to come through these parts in a long time. Paint, glue and track ballast are tough on electric trains so all of the track needed to be cleaned and fine tuned before trains could run again. The last photo shows the remainder of the ranch property real dirt ground cover, blending the base of Walt's Barn with the rest of the scenery. Now I can finish the stock pens and start thinking about the log cabin that will sit at the base of Thumb Butte.


Operating Turnouts

In true narrow gauge fashion, all of the switches on the TMMC are thrown by hand. I extend the switch point ties on the Peco turnouts with scale 6x8s, and use N scale Caboose Ground Throws and a simple wire linkage to move the points. Here is a video of the ground throws in action at the Circle D and Calico sidings.


A Work Train Passes the Circle D

Engine #8, R.H. Gurr, heads up a short work train passing the Circle D en route to Thunder Mesa.

The Problem with Facebook
This post is part of an ongoing attempt to relocate material from Facebook to this website. Unfortunately, Facebook continues to engage in a wide variety of highly unethical practices which I have no desire to support. If you are a fan of my art and/or modeling, please follow them here. I will be posting much more here in the days and weeks ahead, and much, much less on Facebook. Registered users can leave questions and comments on posts so please, join in the conversation!

All the best,

Modeling Canyon Country Scenery with Foam

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!

The Saga of Geyser Gulch – Part 2

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.

This temporary trestle bent was built to see if a bridge using lighter 8″ x 8″ posts would be convincing in the scene. It worked so well at supporting the track that the scene didn’t progress much beyond this point for nearly seven years!

Phantom Ranch Canteen, Grand Canyon National Park. Designed by Mary Elizabeth Jane Colter.

Part 2: Geyser Gulch Trestle

It's always exciting when trains cross over water and as Geyser Gulch is such a focal point on the layout it required a very special bridge. Coming up with a pleasing design was a bit of a challenge since I wanted a wooden bridge, but at the same time didn't want it to obscure or distract from the scenery in the Gulch. Then there were the purely logistical problems of engineering a trestle for a tight 15" radius curve while trying to make something that might be believable in the real world. I wanted something light and airy looking, but also sturdy.

My first design decision was to use scale 8" x 8" timbers for the posts and sills instead of the more prototypical 12" x 12"s. This reduces the "visual mass" of the bridge right away and gives a nice spindly look to the bents. The next decision was to reduce the angle of the outside posts, adding to the tall, narrow look. Next I opted for a rather unusual butterfly truss arrangement between the bents instead of the usual straight stringers which allowed for a wider spacing of the bents than would otherwise be possible on such a tight curve. This arrangement is modeled after a bridge in Franklin New Hampshire and makes for a beautiful and graceful looking trestle in my opinion.

Placing wooden timbers directly into water is never a good option and most railroads avoided it whenever possible. It might be cheeper in the short run to use a pile driver and smash the posts into the stream bed, but it's a temporary solution at best. Corrosive minerals, flash floods, and wood rot would greatly shorten the life span of such a bridge. We try to build things to last on the TMMC, so the decision was made to use footing made of local stone to support the wooden bents above the water.

Using stone rather than concrete footings was a purely aesthetic decision. I have always been a great admirer of National Park architecture, particularly the native wood and stone buildings of Mary Elizabeth Colter at Grand Canyon and other Southwestern parks. Since Nature's Wonderland shares so much in common with our National Parks, it was obvious that what I wanted was a bridge that looked like it might have been designed by Mary Colter.

With that in mind, I tried to design a bridge that would compliment and reflect its surrounding, rather than detract from them, using local Ponderosa Pine timbers from the top of Thunder Mesa and local sandstone and limestone for the footings and abutments.

Mixing light and airy construction with sturdy stone piers, this butterfly truss design requires only four bents to cross the water at Geyser Gulch. During construction, I added about a scale foot of width to the bents and widened the angles slightly, but the overall look and feel is roughly the same.

Constructing the Bridge

Planning a bridge is one thing, building it in place is another story entirely. Since I had no desire to re-lay the 15" radius curve through existing scenery on either side of the Gulch, my idea was to create the bridge deck first, then install it beneath the existing rails. Then the bents and trusses could be built and installed beneath the deck. This is a little unorthodox, but I was able to pull it off with a little help from my friends.

On real curved trestles, only the rails are actually curved, while the stringers are made up of short straight sections bolted together. Since the curve was so sharp here on Geyser Gulch, I decided to cheat a little and create a trestle that really was curved. I contacted my friend and Crescent Creek Models business partner, Jake Johnson, to find out if it would be possible to laser cut some 1/4" MDF into the shape I had in mind. We put our heads together and came up with a curved, one piece, laser cut stringer that would run the entire length of the bridge and greatly simplify construction.

I designed the one piece curved stringer with a vector drawing program (Adobe Illustrator) to perfectly match the 15″ radius of the existing curve. This was sent off to my friend Jake Johnson who had the part laser cut for me out of 1/4″ thick MDF. Once stained and detailed, the piece does a great job of simulating 12″ thick bridge stringers.

The MDF stringer and Kappler bridge ties were both stained with Minwax Dark Walnut touch-up markers. This color does a nice job of simulating creosoted timbers. I created a full size template in Adobe Illustrator for the proper placement and alignment of the ties.

Double stick tape was applied to the template to hold the ties in place. Note the longer 8×8 ties for the two refuge platforms.

Yellow carpenter’s glue was applied to the ties and then the one piece bridge stringer was clamped in place on top. This was allowed to dry overnight.

Scale 6×6 guard timbers were cut to length, stained, and then cemented in place atop the bridge ties. Grandt Line nut-bolt-washer castings were glued into predrilled holes in the tops of the guard timbers.

The trestle refuges were constructed of scale 4×4 and 2×4 stock over a quickly drawn template. The platforms are floored with scale 1×12 boards.

Before the new bridge deck could be installed, the old plastic ties had to be cut away from the Peco flextrack. Short pieces of rail were soldered to the top of the track at intervals to help keep everything in gauge.

With the plastic ties removed, the rails were painted with a Rail Brown Floquil paint marker. It’s much easier to color the rails now – before the new bridge deck is in place!

At this point I was ready to install the new bridge deck, but there was a small problem. I wanted to use Micro Engineering small spikes for a prototypical look on the bridge but I was completely out of them. To make matters worse, they were also out of stock at all of my usual suppliers. Once again, a friend came to the rescue. Tom Gazsi said he had some small spikes that he'd been holding onto since the early 70's and offered to put them in the mail for me right away. They arrived in a couple days and the TMMC bridge crews were back in business. Many thanks Tom!

Before spiking, contact cement was applied to the bottom of the rails and allowed to dry. Then the deck was held snugly in place with foam blocks while the glue was reactivated with a hot soldering iron. This makes for a tidy job.

Pilot holes were drilled with a #75 bit in a pin vice and the spikes were pushed into place with a Xuron rail spiking tool. The small wooden block also helps keep the rails in gauge during spiking.

Each tie on the trestle gets 4 spikes. It’s time consuming, but the final look is well worth the effort.

The bridge abutments and footings were carved from Balsa Foam and painted with artists’ acrylics. Grout between the rocks is spackling compound pressed into the nooks and crannies.

I created a jig to make construction of the bents easier. A scale drawing was laminated to foamcore then covered with clear packaging tape. The foamcore allows you to hold things in place with pins while the glue dries, and the tape ensures parts wont get glued to the template.

One of the completed bents. Careful measurements were required to maintain a correct height for the carved Balsa Foam footings. Grandt Line NBW’s were painted dark brown and applied in logical places.

Each bent was carefully cemented in its proper location beneath the trestle deck. Then the butterfly truss braces were custom cut and fitted for each bent. An abbreviated version of the jig above was used to build the short bent near the left end of the trestle.

With all of the bents and truss supports in place, the final footings and abutments could be added and blended into the existing scenery with Sculptamold.

With the bridge now complete, the next steps were to blend it into the existing scenery and finish the Gulch itself. I'll cover all of that and more in part 3 of this series. We'll look at ground cover, plants, and details; and do some final water modeling with clear epoxy resin to make those travertine pools come alive. I'll also show how I created the effect of an erupting geyser in model form. Stay tuned, amigos! Adios for now.

Click here to read Part 3.