Category: Thunder Mesa Blog

Calico Expansion and a New Layout Map

 

Thunder Mesa is expanding! In 2021, a new 3x5' Calico Mountain Extension will be built next to the town of Calico, adding a longer run and a reverse loop option to the On30 mainline. On a higher level, the new On18 Calico Mining Company Ry will wind in and out of the mountain in a figure 8 pattern, evoking the look and feel of Knott's famous Calico Mine Ride. Both lines will journey underground, passing through detailed mining scenes inspired by the Knott's original. Some version of Calico Mountain has been part of the plan for Thunder Mesa from the earliest days, and I'm excited to finally be bringing this to life. Here's a first look at the new Calico Mountain Extension, and an all new layout map for 2021!

Above is the first new layout map I've published since 2016, and as you can see, there have been a lot of changes! At left is a floor plan of the Jerome studio, showing how the layout fits in with everything else.  In this week's video, I demonstrate a little bit of my process for making these plans, and go into more detail on the new Calico Mountain section.


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

Happy Holidays,
Dave

Adventures in On18

On The Horse Thief & Never Mine Ry.

 

I've added a new engine to the roster of my On18 Horse Thief & Never Mine Ry., No. 5, the H.D. Ryman - named for one of my all time favorite Disney artists, Herb Ryman. In this week's video, I show how I scratchbuilt the engine, and get into some of the particulars of On18. Allow me to expand on things a little more below.

A Primer on On18 and Scale vs Gauge

If you are already familiar with On18, this information will not be new to you, but since it is a relatively obscure scale/gauge combination, here's a brief explainer of what it's all about for the uninitiated.

The "O" in On18 stands for O scale, which in America is understood to mean 1:48, or 1/4" = 1'. The "n" stands for narrow gauge, meaning a distance between the rails narrower than the American standard gauge of 4' 8.5". The "18" refers to a track gauge of 18". Unfortunately, the terms "scale" and "gauge" are often confused or conflated by the layman but they actually mean very different things. In the simplest terms, "scale" refers to the size of a model relative to the real thing, while "gauge" is a railroad specific term that refers to the distance between parallel rails on a track. In other words, if you say, for example, that a model is N gauge, what you are really indicating is only that it runs on 9 mm gauge track. Whereas if you say it is N scale, you are specifically stating that the model is 1:160th the size of the real thing.

The Thunder Mesa Mining Company model railroad is built in On30. Using the formula above, this translates to O scale trains running on 30" narrow gauge rails. Its wholly owned subsidiary, the Horse Thief & Never Mine Ry is built in On18. Though still the same scale, that means the equipment is somewhat smaller because it runs on a narrower gauge track.

To model On18, we often use N scale mechanisms, wheels, etc. as a starting point. Using them in O scale means we are effectively changing their size relative to the real thing. Track is a good example of this. In N scale (1:160), 9 mm gauge track represents American standard gauge, 4' 8.5". The same 9 mm gauge track used in O scale (1:48) shrinks down to become 18" industrial narrow gauge.

This is the same formula used to model On30. HO gauge track scales out to very near 30" in O scale, and so HO scale mechanisms, wheels, etc., can be repurposed for On30.

To further confuse matters, there is HOn30, used by some modelers in HO scale (1:87) to represent 2', 3', or 30" narrow gauge. Just like N scale and On18, HOn30 also uses 9 mm gauge track and components, and fortunately for the On18 modeler, many of these can be repurposed for O scale. For example, the Horse Thief & Never Mine uses Peco HOn30 track to better model On18 track. The scaled up and wider distanced ties look better than standard N scale track would.

An On18 Baby Climax

To build my On18 "Baby Climax" locomotive, I started with a smooth running and reliable Kato 11-106 N scale 4-axle mechanism. Then it was a matter of designing and building a somewhat plausible model to fit over this mechanism. I used a lot of parts from my scrapbox, particularly from old HO scale locomotives that had given their all. I never throw anything away and will sometimes buy old junkers on ebay just to use for parts in projects like this. Things like bells, whistles, and headlights translate perfectly from HO to O18 because they should look like smaller versions than one would find on the usual O scale narrow gauge equipment.  I use Micro-Trains N scale couplers with draft boxes and trim off the trip pins since these trains wouldn't have air brakes. One thing I failed to mention in the video is the extra weight added to make the model run better. During assembly, I filled the boiler with lead BBs held in place with epoxy resin.

Below are some photos from the build and of the finished model.

About the Climax Locomotive

The Climax geared locomotive was the invention of a skilled lumberjack and machinist named Charles D. Scott. He brought his drawings to the Climax Manufacturing Co. of Corry, PA, and the first locomotives of his design were built and delivered in 1888. Climax locomotives of ever improving design were manufactured until 1928 and more than 1,000 were built. Many loggers and miners considered the Climax to be superior to the similar Shay in hauling capability, stability, and performance.

My model represents one of the earliest models, known as a "Class A Climax." They had either vertical or "T" type boilers, with two vertical cylinders mounted in the center. Their construction was similar to that of a flat car or gondola, with boxy wooden sides built up to protect the crew and fuel from the elements. Most had a round water tank in the rear, though my model employs a rectangular tank to save on space. Though I've never seen a photo of a Climax locomotive this small, I'd like to think that such a critter was at least possible.


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All the best,
Dave

Evolution of a Scene: Zocalo Plaza

 

Zocalo Plaza represents the “Old Spanish” section of town on the On30 Thunder Mesa layout. It’s a quaint village of adobe structures from Tom York’s “Frijole Flats” sketchbook, and anchored by stately Mission San Lorenzo. This scene is unique in that most of the structures, figures, and details started out on a friend’s layout before being relocated. They were all part of Verne Niner’s award winning San Lorenzo diorama and I am very happy to have Verne’s work live on as part of Thunder Mesa. This video shows the evolution of Zocala Plaza, from Verne’s diorama to a finished scene integrated into the layout.

The Helengon Mine Story

 

Saddle up fer Helengon, Amigos! It's the Helengon Mine Story this week as I explain the structures and operations in this wild and wooly corner of the Thunder Mesa On30 layout.

The Helengon Mine was created as a focal point during development of the Hanging Rock scene. It's made up of a head frame and hoist house on the cliffs above, Helengon Tunnel, and the Helengon Mine office built right into the cliffside. The name, "Helengon," is a tribute to John Allen's HOn3 Devil's Gulch & Helengon, and his name appears on the office wall as General Manager. The office is built up against a timber retaining wall, and is actually a model of a new scenic element that appeared along Big Thunder Trail at Disneyland when that entire area was remodeled during the Star Wars Galaxy's Edge construction. The Indiana Jones dog house is another Disneyland Easter Egg added just for fun. A paper model plan of the dog house can be downloaded for free here.

The head frame was based on drawings from the Mining and Engineering Journal of 1902, and the hoist house was freelanced to fit. Helengon Tunnel and its On3o spur is actually a relic from an earlier version of the Thunder Mesa track plan when a reverse loop was considered for this end of the layout. The loop was abandoned but the track through the Mesa remained, reimagined as Helengon Tunnel; a drift into the cliffside just big enough to set out some On30 ore cars in. Locomotives do not enter far beyond the tunnel entrance due to clearance issues and the risk of asphyxiation.

Just next door to Helengon Tunnel is Olson & Furlow's place. A saloon, store, and bawdy house all in one that somehow survives as the only commercial structure in this outlaw ridden burg. But more on that in a future post!


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

All the best,
Dave

Building a Stone Based Water Tank

 

This week we have a how-to video describing the build of Thunder Mesa's stone based water tank. I describe the techniques and materials used to create realistic random stone walls, and reveal my secret for perfect graphics on model structures. To go further in depth, he's a gallery of photos from the build as it came together step by step.

The tank base was carved from Balsa Foam II, and then painted with acrylics. Mortar between the stones is spackling compound pressed into the cracks. The doors and wooden trim were stained a warm gray, then dabbed sparingly with rubber cement. These pieces were then painted and the rubber cement rubbed away to create the look of old, peeling paint. The lone window is a modified Grandt Line casting, and the old fashioned rippled glass effect was created by painting Woodland Scenics Realistic water on the back of the acrylic glazing and then drying it quickly with a hair dryer.

The tank and bands are printed paper. I created the entire tank as a graphic in Adobe Photoshop, including the herald, water stains and weathering, and then printed it out on heavy matte inkjet paper. It was then wrapped around a scratchbuilt cylinder and the tank bands were cut from a second printout and applied individually for a 3-D look. White metal tank band fasteners and spout hardware from Wiseman Model Services complete the look. The spout yoke, water depth gauge, and roof hatch were scratchbuilt from scale wood and paper. The paper shingles are from Bar Mills and the roof finial is the head of a dress pin painted copper.

A 5mm yellow LED was added to the hollowed out interior for illumination, and the entire structure weathered with powdered chalks before being installed on the layout. Dimensions are called out at the end of the video if you would like to build a similar tank for yourself.


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

All the best,
Dave

The Little Mining Town of Rainbow Ridge (So Far)

 

Howdy, folks! Welcome to the little mining town of Rainbow Ridge, the latest boomtown under construction along the Thunder Mesa line. Here's an inside look at the planning and construction of the town to date, and insights into the addition of Walt's Barn and Circle D Ranch. Rainbow Ridge was the jumping off point for the fabled Mine Train thru Nature's Wonderland at Disneyland, and I'm excited to be adding my own version of the Thunder Mesa layout There's lots more to do in these parts, so stay tuned for future updates on this developing area.


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

All the best,
Dave

The Haunted Undertaker’s Shop Revisited

 

As featured in the recent Ghost Story video, Atencio, Crump & Gracey's Undertaker Shop features a built-in Pepper's Ghost illusion. Take a look as I revisit this structure and explain how it was built and how it works!

A Tribute to the Haunted Mansion

The Thunder Mesa Undertaker's Shop was built as part of the original Boot Hill scene on the layout. When that scene expanded with the addition of a Crescent Creek Models Old West Gallows, the structure was relocated across the tracks, giving guests a better view of the ghosts in the attic during nighttime operations. From the beginning, the structure was conceived as a tribute to Disneyland's Haunted Mansion, and the name, "Atencio, Crump & Gracey," refers to some of the Imagineers (less Marc Davis) most responsible for the attraction, namely, X Atencio, Rolly Crump, and Yale Gracey.

I designed the structure in Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop, with the signs and entire front wall created with realistic wood photo textures, printed on inkjet paper, and then laminated to Illustration board. This is still the best technique I've found for re-creating complex graphics and signs on building surfaces. The rest of the structure was built from 1/16" illustration board, scribed, and then painted with watercolors to match the printed front wall with a look of old, whitewashed wood.

The brick chimney was hand-carved from Balsa-Foam II, while the door, window, roof trim, and smokejack castings are from Grandt Line. I used Berkshire Valley fish-scale shingles for the roof, and the front and side porches are decked with distressed and stained coffee stir sticks.

The entire bottom floor of the structure is taken up by the ghost mechanism. This consists of a low RPM dc motor with rotating drum attached. The drum was made from a piece of mailing tube, painted flat black, and then decorated with several ghosts, painted on with UV reactive (Blacklight) paint. As the drum rotates, the ghosts are illuminated by a 5mm UV LED and reflected onto a piece of clear plexiglass set at a 45% angle directly above. When viewed through the upstairs window, the mechanism is invisible, and the transparent ghosts appear to be flying upwards. A removable interior set, decorated with Haunted Mansion details, serves as a background for this ghostly apparition.

All of this happens at the press of a button on the layout fascia, and is accompanied by a custom-mixed spooky soundtrack played on an ITT products sound module. The soundtrack itself is available as a free MP3 download  and is ideal for Halloween parties and haunted houses of your own.

The Haunted Undertaker's Shop is always popular with guests during nighttime operations, adding a spooky accent to the outskirts of Thunder Mesa town. Happy Halloween!


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

All the best,
Dave

A Thunder Mesa Ghost Story

 

Happy Halloween! It's time for a good old fashioned ghost story from Thunder Mesa. I've added more than a couple spooky structures and effects to the layout over the years and since I can't host an open studio train night this year, here's a video filled with ghoulish delights and hot and cold running chills. All visual effects were recorded live on the layout. Enjoy!


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

All the best,
Dave

Update on the Thunder Mesa Riverfront

Building Fowler's Landing

 

The little mining town of Thunder Mesa sits along the banks of the Rio Frontera, where steamboats up from the Sea of Cortez still deliver passengers and cargo. Follow along as I build the docks at Fowler's Landing and the colorful headquarters of the Western River Expedition Company.

For the new riverfront scene, a 10" wide addition was added to the layout in front of Thunder Mesa Town. This replaced a previous roll-away river module that simply took up too much space and blocked access/viewing of the town and future engine service area. I decided that I really want folks to see the models and scenes that I so laboriously build! This decision made for a narrower aisle, but I believe the trade off was worth it.

Here it looks a little like it snowed down along the Thunder Mesa riverfront, but this is the next step in building the scenery along El Rio Frontera. Sculptamold is applied over and around the foam pieces to add texture and blend things together. After this dries overnight it gets a coat of the scenic base color.

Skipping ahead, here's the final look of the rockwork after painting with acrylics. The process is to apply a scenic base color (raw sienna in my case), then use a diluted black wash to bring out the shadows and details. Then, gradually lighter and bolder colors are lightly brushed on until I'm satisfied with the look.

As is my usual practice, I built a cardstock mock-up to make sure everything I had planned for the scene would fit. The white card is the footprint for a 50' river steamer.

The docks were Scratchbuilt in place with dimensional basswood, dowels for the piles and good old coffee stir sticks for the decking. All of the wood was distressed with a razor saw and stained with an alcohol/shoe dye mixture prior to assembly with carpenter's glue. The stairs down to the lower dock are from Grandt Line, while all of the "rope" is #8 crochet thread in a natural color. Grandt nut/bolt/washer castings were used on the joists and sway braces and other details come from various manufacturers. The stair balusters and upper deck railing were made with fancy wooden toothpicks. Just in case anyone is foolish or drunk enough to fall in the river, I added the Western River Expedition Co. life ring. It was created in Adobe Photoshop and printed out on heavy paper. I then used a very fine emery-board to round off the edges before adding the scale rope.

Naturally, crews need a way to get freight from the riverboat dock to trackside and vise-versa. I scratchbuilt this armstrong jib crane with some Crow River, Berkshire Valley, and Grandt Line details. The winch line is elastic thread.

With the docks themselves just about finished, I began work on the Western River Expedition Co. building at Fowler's Landing. It was Scratchbuilt using some laser cut walls I had lying around from another project. The battens were individually applied, then I started adding some color, weathering as I went. The design, layout and colors of the structure were all chosen to compliment the depot scene across the tracks. Setting the structure at a 90º angle to the depot acts as a framing device to help bracket the scene and focus the viewers attention.

Doors, windows and trim were added (most modified Grandt Line castings) before starting on the roof. I used real cedar wooden shingles over an illustration board base, and the distinctive cupola was built up from scale basswood and flashed with real copper strips. The gingerbread roof trim was leftover from my depot build, and the various signs and posters were all created in Photoshop.

Some final details were the crossed oars on the upstream side and the nautical looking jib above the cargo doors.

Like most of my structures, Fowler's Landing has lights. The interior is illuminated by a single 2.5 mm constant yellow LED, while the exterior lamp houses a 2.5mm flickering yellow LED. The lamp itself was built from a doubled and rolled up piece of Scotch Magic Tape with parts from my scrap box. To keep the structure removable, it's a simple press-fit on a rectangle of foamcore attached to the wooden dock. 12V DC power comes from below the dock (and the layout) and is distributed via some very handy dollhouse wiring tape. A mini plug and socket for the porch-light keeps the structure removable. Proper polarity for the LEDs is maintained using color coded wiring (red for +, black for -). All of the window glazing is fogged using Scotch Tape so the interior and wiring does not show when the lamps are illuminated.

With the structures complete, I began adding more details on and around the docks. Looks like Old Bob's got a big catfish on the line - even though the water hasn't been poured yet! The figure is by Arttista with scratchbuilt fishing pole. Just downriver from the docks, Tom and Huck's raft is pulled in close to shore in yet another nod to the Disneyland inspiration.

And that's it for the build of Fowler's Landing! Next will come the 50' river steamer that will be the true centerpiece of this scene. After that, I can actually finish modeling the river itself with epoxy resin. Stay tuned!


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

All the best,
Dave