Category: Calico

A Thunder Mesa Excursion Special

 

All aboard for a Grand Circle Tour thru Nature's Wonderland on this Thunder Mesa Excursion Special! Enjoy the sights and sounds along the way as we explore the Living Desert, Geyser Gulch, Rainbow Caverns, Natural Arch Bridge and more. Stops at Calico, Tumbleweed, Los Feliz Jct, and Rainbow Ridge. Apologies in advance for some unfinished scenery and empty excursion cars. Thunder Mesa is always a work in progress!


Thanks for following along, amigos. Registered users can leave questions and comments below so, please, join in the conversation!

All the best,
Dave

Laying Track in Calico and This Week’s Video Log

Studio Update - Sep 1, 2017

This week I was able to spend a few enjoyable hours completing the track work through the new Calico town section. As usual, Peco On30 flextrack and turnouts were used, just as they have been on the entire Thunder Mesa layout.  This track is tough, easy to work with and operates very well. As a bonus, it's chunky, caricatured appearance fits in perfectly with the TMMC as it resembles track on Disney's Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. Click on this week's video log above for a few track laying tips and tricks, as well as a little ghost railroad hunting along the old right-of-way of the United Verde & Pacific, Jerome's fabled narrow gauge line from 1895. Below, I'll go into a bit more detail on some of the track laying particulars for this project.

One thing I didn't really cover in this week's video log was the installation of the wye turnout that connects the rest of the layout to the new Calico town section. This was a little tricky since the turnout needed to be located on a curved section of the existing mainline. After a bit of trial and error, I found the sweet spot where the curvature of the proposed wye best matched the existing curve on the mainline and then planned the rest of the track into Calico from there. I marked where the ends of the turnout would fall and then cut out and removed the matching section of mainline.

I've recently begun adding Tam Valley Depot Frog Juicers to the turnouts to improve DCC performance. In the photo above you can see a simple modification made to the wye turnout where a length of wire has been soldered to the thin wire that brings power from the points to the frog. This wire will be connected to a Frog Juicer to provide constant current to the frog while automatically changing polarity when the points are thrown. The Frog Juicer itself will be installed below decks at a later date.

A small hole for the wire was drilled below the frog's position and then the turnout was installed, making sure to add insulated rail joiners to prevent shorting when current is fed from the open, non-point end of the turnout. A couple of Atlas track nails on the connecting tracks hold everything firmly in place.

The rest of the track installation is covered pretty thoroughly in this week's video log, but there are a few points I should emphasize.

  • I always solder rail connections on curves, but almost never on turnouts or straight sections of track. This allows for expansion and contraction of the rail during changes in humidity and also makes it much easier to remove a turnout and replace it should that become necessary.
  • I use either glue or track nails to hold the track in place (though rarely both), and always use nails on sharp curves or anywhere I need the flextrack to firmly hold its shape.
  • I do not glue or nail turnouts to the roadbed. Connections on adjoining tracks make this unnecessary and, again, not nailing them down makes them easy to remove should the need arise.
  • Always pay attention to how power flows through the rails and follow the manufacturer's instructions on where to place gaps or insulated rail joints on turnouts to prevent short circuits.

And lastly: have fun! Model railroading really is fun if you take your time, enjoy what you're doing and don't take it all too seriously. Remember, when all is said and done, we're just grown-ups playing with trains. Make the most of it.

Here's a bonus video showing the first train into Calico after I dropped some feeder wires and hooked the new track up to the DCC bus. Enjoy!

Thanks for checking in, amigos. Adios for now!

Changes to the Backdrop and This Week’s Video Log

Studio Update - Aug 26, 2017

This past week I did more work on the new Calico section, repainting an area of the backdrop that will be behind the town to look a bit more like the desert hills around the real Calico Ghost Town near Yermo, CA. Many thanks to former Calico resident K.D. Younger for sending me a disc full of photos from her days there. I also found a little time to do some ghost-mine hunting this week and paid a visit to the Audrey Shaft Head-frame at the Little Daisy Mine in Jerome. Click on this week's video log above for a visit to the mine, some backdrop painting, and other assorted antics.

When I originally painted this section of the backdrop a few months ago, I really didn't have a clear idea about what to build in this new section of the layout. Once the decision was reached to relocate Calico town there, I knew that the backdrop would need to be altered to fit the scene. I started by studying photos of the mountains around Calico, and then lightly sketching in a rocky profile with pencil. Fortunately, I still had a lot of paint left over in several shades that were specially mixed for the backdrop and I blocked in the basic shapes with a medium brown tone.

The next step was to start defining the shapes a bit with a slightly darker shadow color. That was then followed by a lighter, more saturated color on the areas where sun would be hitting the rocks. When working with acrylic or, in this case, latex paints, I've found that it's best to start with medium values and then work darker and lighter from there, saving the highlights and darkest shadows for the final steps.

Then it was just a matter of building on these medium tones with lighter and darker shades to give definition to areas of sunlight and shadow. Again, most of the colors used were already pre-mixed from the earlier backdrop painting and I highly recommend this approach. My practice is to experiment and then mix up small amounts of the colors I'll need with artist's acrylics. These colors are then painted on to small, 2x2" pieces of white cardstock, and labeled on the back with names like "medium sandstone," "red sandstone," "dark shadow," etc. Then I take these cards down to my local home center and have the colors matched and mixed up by the quart as interior flat latex. This system ensures that I always have color samples at hand, and that one section of the backdrop will always match (and not clash with) another section, even if they are painted several months apart.

The final step was to bring the entire scene up to the same level of finish as other parts of the backdrop. This is when the final, lightest highlights are added and small details like trees and bushes are painted in. Obviously, I don't go for photo-realism on the backdrop, just a believable scene that will blend with and compliment the 3-d foreground scenery to come. The challenge here at Calico was to convey the rugged, Mojave Desert feel of the mountains there, while still matching the colors and character of earlier sections of the backdrop. I hope I pulled it off.

That's going to wrap it up for this week. Just a quick reminder that next Saturday, September 2, is the next Open Studio & Train Day at Thunder Mesa Studio and I hope to see some of you there. Also, a big thank you to those who have taken advantage of the 15% off coupon and free shipping going on now through August 31 at the Thunder Mesa Spreadshirt shop. The coupon code is: EAAIZSF9

Thanks for checking in, amigos. Adios for now!

An Update on Calico and This Week’s Video Log

Studio Update - Aug 19, 2017

Progress in Calico Town

It's been a busy week at Thunder Mesa Studio with the new Calico town section well underway. After taking precise measurements at the studio, plans were drawn up for the new 22x56" module and for the future 8' long staging yard to be built behind the backdrop and above my workbench. Click on this week's video log above to see some of the work being done on Calico town.

I built the module in my garage workshop, using dimensional kiln dried stock with a 1/2" thick plywood deck. It's my usual "box and stilts" method of construction, with 1x3 risers supporting the plywood sub-roadbed above a square and sturdy box built of 1x4's. It's strong and relatively lightweight; the same formula that has served me well on multiple layouts over the years, and remains the favored method of benchwork construction on the TMMC.

Installation up at the studio was relatively quick and easy, with everything fitting and lining up with the existing layout just the way it was supposed to. What can I say? I get lucky sometimes. The module is supported by a base built from 1x4's that sits atop some sturdy metal shop shelves. I built a little wiggle room into the base allowing the module to be adjusted to sit level and flush with the deck of the neighboring Canyon Section. The most challenging aspect was building a short piece of new roadbed on the existing layout to connect with the new module. Like most of the layout, track height in this new module will be about 52" above the floor.

When viewed from across the aisle, I want an unbroken vista of canyon scenery so I took particular care in planning the height and placement of the fascia. After testing sight lines, the fascia was cut from 1/8" thick Masonite and glued in place with a pro-grade construction adhesive.

With the module firmly in place, I turned my attention to cutting a "mouse hole" through the Masonite backdrop. This hole will allow trains to enter the layout from a new staging yard to be built "backstage" above my workbench. I used a spade bit in my drill, a small electric saw, utility knife and other hand tool to cut the hole, making sure that there was plenty of clearance allowed for trains to pass without getting hung up. A tunnel portal and some rocky scenery will be built to hide the opening on the layout side, while a simple, black-painted box will block the light and views from backstage on the staging yard side.

The final project I had time for this week was gluing down some HO scale Midwest cork roadbed for the tracks to ride on. Yellow carpenter's glue and a large helping of thumbtacks were used to get this done. Once the glue dried, a sanding block was used to make everything nice and smooth for track laying.

My plan for the town of Calico is for something like a cross between Knott's Berry Farm's Ghost Town, and the real, restored ghost town of Calico that's out near Barstow, CA. There will be some structures inspired by both locations, but unlike Knott's, my Calico town will be built up the side of a hill to add some visual interest to the scene. For now, I've mocked up the town with a few paper model structures to get a feel for how things will come together. The scenery here will evoke a strong Mojave Desert vibe, distinguishing it from the red sandstone, Colorado Plateau look on the Thunder Mesa side of the layout. I'll probably also tweak the backdrop painting here a bit to look more like the rugged scenery around the real town of Calico.

Next up will be extending the DCC electrical bus to the new layout sections and then laying some track. I'll probably get the track laid through Calico and make a good start on the scenery before diving into the staging yard - mostly because I haven't quite figured out how its going to be supported yet. Then there are all of the other ongoing projects like the Thunder Mesa Riverfront, the big canyon section, Calico Mountain On18 mini-layout, Balancing Rock Canyon, Hanging Rock, and the still unfinished portions of Rainbow Caverns. All in all, enough to keep me busy for quite awhile!

Don't forget to save the date for Thunder Mesa's next Open Studio & Train Day, coming up on Labor Day weekend, Saturday, September 2 from 2pm to 6pm. That's going to wrap it up for this week, amigos. Adios for now!

Big Changes for Calico and a Little Riverfront Progress

TMMC Update - July 29, 2017

It's been a busy week life-wise since the last update so I haven't had too much time to work on the railroad. We took a family trip out to California to spend some time with friends old and new, and to revisit a few old haunts of mine, including Knott's Berry Farm and Calico Ghost Town out near Barstow. It was a fun trip that left me energized and inspired to get things done on the TMMC. Back at the studio, I took a long hard look at my plans for the Calico section and ultimately decided to change course a bit and revive earlier plans for a portable mini-layout based on Knott's Calico Mine Ride.

Plans for a portable On18 layout that docks with the larger TMMC have been on-again, off-again for the past couple years. I've always liked the idea, but couldn't quite figure out how to make it work in the space I had. Looking at things again with a fresh perspective, I realized I could move the town of Calico around the corner into the unused space where I'd been planning to expand the layout since moving it to the studio. This would then free up some room to extend the On18 line down from Big Thunder Camp and have it connect via a long trestle to a portable section depicting the top half of Calico Mountain.

The new mini-layout is smaller than what I had previously planned, just about 24x36", with a tight minimum radius of 9". For the uninitiated, On18 is 1:48 O scale trains running on 9mm gauge track - the same gauge as N scale. Tight curves are the norm, and I just love the chunky, top-heavy look is gives to the equipment. Perfect for a caricature of mining operations like Calico. The track plan is a simple loop with a switch or two to connect to the rest of Thunder Mesa's On18 track.

I started by cutting a piece of 1" thick extruded polystyrene foam, or EPF, to 24x36" and then drawing the basic track plan right on top. Then I placed the foam on top of the existing base I'd built for Calico Mountain and traced the contours before cutting the shape out with a hotwire tool. This gave me the beginnings of a portable module that could fit in the corner and form the top half of Calico Mountain. The next step was tracing the shape onto some 1/4" MDF board and cutting it out to match with a jigsaw. This baseboard was then braced with a simple box made of 1x2" stock to keep everything flat and level. Then the foam was lined-up and glued to the top to form the lightweight, portable benchwork.

The existing EPF base for Calico Mountain was notched and modified to accept the new module but additional bracing underneath will probably be required. The cavernous space created below will eventually be home to a detailed, underground mining scene based on the famous "Glory Hole" scene on Knott's Calico Mine Ride. In the former location of Calico Town, the track has been simplified and the short passing siding removed. This area will now be called Mojave Flats and a trestle from the On18 line will feed a large ore transfer bin here before connecting to the existing On18 track behind Hanging Rock. What was once East Calico will become the new home for Balancing Rock Canyon, a feature from Disneyland's old Mine Train Thru Nature's Wonderland that I have long wanted to model.

As for the town of Calico itself, it will still mostly consist of structures from Knott's Ghost Town. I still need to finalize plans for the new section of benchwork to be built to the left of Calico Mountain, but I hope to have enough space for a better representation of the town, along with a new passing siding, and possibly a reverse loop that ducks behind the backdrop to connect with a planned staging area above my modeling bench.

Meanwhile, Back at the River...

Work also continues on the roll-away Thunder Mesa Riverfront section where I'm still roughing in the riverbanks and cliff sides with EPF. My 50' paddlewheel steamer kit is on it's way from Kitwood Hill Models and I'm really looking forward to finishing the scenery on this module. 

Hopefully I'll be able to make more time for work on the layout in the coming weeks. In the meantime, don't forget that the next Open Studio & Train Day is Saturday, August 5th. Come on over and say "howdy" if you're in Jerome and see what's new on the railroad for yourself. 

That's going to do it for this update. Thanks for checking in, amigos. Adios for now!