Category: Thunder Mesa Town

Building the Thunder Mesa Assay Office


In old west mining towns, the assay office was where would-be prospectors could have their ore samples tested by a chemist to see if they had struck it rich or gone bust. My Thunder Mesa Assay Office was inspired by a similar structure from the Big Thunder Mountain Railroad at Disneyland. Follow along step-by-step as I build this charming little adobe structure with its distinctive balcony and southwestern colors. Tips for using a stencil and airbrush to do the lettering too!

Thanks for watching, amigos!

Crescent Creek Model Scale Stucco:


A Fireworks Wagon for Thunder Mesa


Come along as I build an O scale Fireworks Wagon based on artwork from Disneyland! Using kitbashed parts and cg texture/printed paper modeling techniques, I build a 19th century fireworks wagon to compliment Thunder Mesa's digitally projected fireworks show. I hope you enjoy this step-by-step "how to." Patreon subscribers can download the custom artwork created for this project.

Thanks for tuning in, amigos!

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.

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,

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,

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,

A New Depot for Thunder Mesa


It all started with a kind gift from my friend Robert Kurner. You may remember Robert as the delightfully creative fellow behind the tiki/jungle cruise/typhoon lagoon themed Jungle Navigation Company Railroad. Anyway, Robert gave me one of the old Scale Structures LTD Grizzly Flats Depot kits in O scale. The kit was based on the depot for Ward Kimball's 3' gauge Grizzly Flats backyard railroad, but its history goes farther back than that. Ward had found drawings of an old Lehigh Valley Railroad flag depot while doing research for the Disney film, So Dear to My Heart.  Walt liked the design and so a set was built for the film based upon those drawings (fun trivia fact: a facsimile of Walt's Carolwood Barn also appears as a set in the film). When filming was completed in 1949, Ward asked Walt if he could have the structure for his backyard railroad in San Gabriel, CA. Walt said, sure, if you cam get it out of here, and Ward trucked the set piece home. Then, he and his wife Betty spent the next several years converting the flimsy, unfinished movie set into an actual usable structure with four solid walls and a finished interior. A few years later when Walt was building Disneyland, he saw that nice looking depot on Ward's property and asked if he might have it back for his new park. Ward called him an "Indian giver" and a few other choice names and flatly refused his boss' request. That left Walt with no choice but to dig out those old Lehigh Valley flag stop plans again and have the studio carpenters build a new version for Frontierland at Disneyland. The Disneyland version differs in a few details from Ward's depot, but the overall Victorian gingerbread flavor is the same.

Being well versed in the history, I've aways had a great fondness for this structure and decided right away that I needed to build a version for my Thunder Mesa layout. The only problem was where to put it.

Years ago, I had already scracthbuilt a small depot for my Thunder Mesa town and was quite fond of its looks and proportions. My solution was to move the old depot to the little mining town of Rainbow Ridge where I knew it would fit in perfectly with the small, charming structures there. This freed up the necessary real estate for a new depot at Thunder Mesa.

I began planning for the new depot in January of 2019, but didn't finish the project until March 2020. It didn't need to take that long, but one thing leads to another and I got involved with several other projects along the way. This often happens and I know it can be frustrating for those trying to follow along. I've condensed the entire build here from start to finish as a record and guide for anyone interested.

Like most of my builds, it all started with a paper mock-up...

With the old depot relocated to Rainbow Ridge, I built a paper model mock-up of the Grizzly Flats depot to make sure everything would fit. It did - just barely! This mock-up was made from the Frontierland Station plans you can download free on this website.

The overall footprint is just a little larger than the old depot but the clearances were just fine.

Here are all of the parts laid out prior to painting and assembly. Only the fancy roof brackets and trim are from the original kit. My friend and business partner Jake Johnson had been working on a set of laser cut replacement parts for this kit and I had him cut a set for me. I wanted a depot that was a hybrid between the Grizzly Flats and Frontierland depots, so these parts allow for a door on one end and a window on the other. Disneyland's depot also has double doors and a bay window on both sides. On my version, there is a single door and one bay window on the track facing side like Grizzly Flats.

A coat of primer on the exterior walls for the new depot. Gotta love the fit on those laser cut pieces! The walls pieces are 1/16" MDF with tabbed joinery at the corners. This is a dry fit with no glue yet.

The platform base is a solid piece of 1/4" thick MDF, cut to shape, and the planking is coffee stir sticks that have been distressed with a razor saw and stained with my favorite alcohol and shoe dye mixture. The depot footprint was cut from illustration board and cemented in place as a guide for the planking. Nail holes were added with a hard HB pencil.

Usually the hardest part of any Grizzly Flats type depot kit is building the intricate bay window. Even with laser cut pieces, this was a challenge, but I wanted to get it done right first before moving on to the rest of the structure. As per my usual practice, all parts were painted before assembly. I decided to stick with the Frontierland/ NOS color scheme of Ivory and Hunter Green and the paints used were inexpensive spray enamels with a satin finish.

With the bay window sub-assembly complete, I took the time to create two-sided, double hung windows from the laser cut parts since the structure is going to have a detailed interior. I added some blinds to the bay window, then made a  start on all that fancy trim.

At the same time that I was working on the exterior walls, doors and windows, I also made a start on the depot interior. The interior walls are 1/16" thick Crescent illustration board left in its natural color, and the wainscoting and trim are dark walnut stained basswood. The roll-up blinds are painted masking tape, doubled and wrapped around toothpicks.

Here is the nearly completed interior opened up like a doll's house. I wanted the interior to look cluttered and busy, walls lined with memorabilia - just like Ward's GF depot. There are a ton of Grizzly Flats and Disney references here if you look closely. The closet like nook in the corner will hide electrical wiring for the lights.

An overhead view of the completed interior. The floor is scribed basswood, stained to a golden oak color. Details are from Berkshire Valley, Wiseman Model Service, Banta, and my scrap box. The Navajo rug was printed from an image I found online and the Thunder Mesa sign is a remnant from the original scratchbuilt depot.

Here, work has begun on the exterior details. The fancy roof corbels are white metal castings from the Scale Structures LTD Grizzly Flats kit. Seen thru the bay window, the telegraph operator is an Aspen Modeling Co. figure. The fella with the dog is none other than Chuckawalla Slim from Verne Niner's Estrella & Sonora Grande. The train order board was created in Photoshop, and the doormats are 300 grit sandpaper painted dark gray.

The roof was built as a separate assembly and designed to be removable as shown in the video. This allows for continued access to the interior details and lighting if required.

The roof is in place and nearly all of the fancy trim has been added. I lost track of all the compound angles I cut for that roof trim. Note the new "Thunder Mesa" sign below the eaves. This placement is consistent with the Grizzly Flats depot.

Shingling the roof and getting the lights working. The depot has five 3mm LEDs, 2 warm white to light the interior, and 3 exterior yellow lights to simulate lanterns. The one over the front door flickers. The shingles are real cedar from Crescent Creek Models.

Proof that I never throw anything away and that it eventually finds its way onto the layout. Here's a look at the wiring inside the depot's attic. Yes, that's an old Atlas Connector pulling duty as a power strip. I wanted some sort of terminal strip in case I ever have to change the bulbs (unlikely with LEDs, but still) and this old piece of junk fit the bill just fine. As a bonus, I can even slide the switches and turn some of the lights on or off if I want to. Note that it is cemented to a removable ceiling that prevents light leaks around the roof.

Almost finished! The roof has been completed by adding cap shingles, gingerbread trim, and the main Thunder Mesa sign (which is a callback to the original Frontierland station sign at Disneyland). All that's really left to do now is add a few more details to the platform.

Testing the lights in this nighttime view of the depot scene. You can almost hear the telegraph key clicking and the crickets chirping.

The 2-sided Western Union Telegraph sign was based on a similar sign at Disneyland. It was created in Photoshop and printed on thick paper. The sign bracket was made by soldering together some music wire and a dress pin.

Small holes were drilled in the front wall to accept the sign bracket and it was cemented in place. The ability to add little details like this is one of the reasons I model in O scale.

had a lot of fun detailing the depot platform, arranging the figures and other elements to enhance the overall story. Figures here are from Knuckleduster Miniatures and Woodland Scenics, painted by me.

A scratchbuilt a-frame sign directs arriving passengers to the Panhandle Cafe just across Main Street. The baggage wagon was assembled from a Banta kit.

I decided that arriving passengers might need to refresh themselves after their long rail journey so I scracthbuilt this privy next to the depot. It was assembled from basswood and illustration board, detailed and painted to match the depot. It's important to note that not all 19th century outhouses were nasty shacks with moons cut in the door!

A look at the privy with the lanterns aglow. The lantern is a casting that came with the Grizzly Flats Depot kit. It was non-functional but I added a flickering yellow LED so passengers might find their way in the dark. By the way, it is an agreed upon fact amongst the Thunder Mesa locals that the depot has the best toilets in town.

Another final detail was this loading dock between the parallel tracks in Thunder Mesa town. It's built from O scale lumber and coffee stir sticks, stained a weathered gray with my favorite alcohol and shoe dye mixture.

Over behind the depot, I built some stairs to connect the backdoor to upper Main Street. This is one of those details hardly anyone will ever see, but I know it's there.

What's a privy without a place to wash up? The horse trough was scratchbuilt with "water" made from clear acrylic sheet painted murky green on the back. The hand pump is a casting from Berkshire Valley and the grass and flowers are from Scenic Express. For the small Pinon pine, I used a Woodland Scenics armature with the correct bushy shape but epoxied on a couple extra branches. Then I sprayed the whole thing with Super 77 adhesive and sprinkled on N scale ballast for bark texture. Then I airbrushed the tree dark brown and grey before gluing on Woodland Scenics dark green foliage clumps.

A set of stairs were also built for the freight platform. These are the same stairs that come with Crescent Creek Models O scale Gallows Kit.

And with that, the new depot project was finished. In this shot from Sept, 2020, the ground cover has been worked in up to the edges of the platform and a few new weeds have sprouted up. The previously installed telegraph sound unit from ITT Products below the layout now welcomes guests to the new Thunder Mesa Depot just as it did for the old.

This was a challenging, fun, and rewarding project to build, and I am very happy with the results. The new depot adds tons of charm and character to Thunder Mesa town, just as the structures that inspired it did for Ward's Grizzly Flats and Walt's Disneyland. Many thanks to Robert, Jake and the others who helped me on this project.

That's it from Thunder Mesa. Until next time, adios for now!

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

All the best,

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,

A Water Tower for Thunder Mesa

Starting from Scratch

The one way to get exactly the structure you want on a model railroad is to design it and build it from scratch. The original water tower for Thunder Mesa Town was a built from a modified Banta Modelworks kit, but after I decided that it fit better in the scene over in Hanging Rock, I was left needing a new tank for this location. I've always liked the look of stone-based water towers, so when it came time to replace the tank at Thunder Mesa Town, I had a pretty good idea of what I wanted. I also wanted the railroad's herald to appear painted on the sides of the tank, and these requirements led to the materials and techniques used on the project as described below.



For the stone base, I turned to a versatile material that has been used many times before on the Thunder Mesa layout: Balsa Foam. Balsa Foam is basically the retail hobby version of the "gold foam" or "prop foam"used by Disney Imagineers and Hollywood prop makers. It has an excellent consistency for carving and no grain. I prefer the denser version sold as Balsa Foam II for its ability to hold finer detail. The stones for my pump house were carved using a hard HB pencil lead and a #11 hobby knife. I measured carefully for the doors and windows, and then carved out cavities for them so that they would appear recessed into the the masonry. Behind the window, I hollowed out a larger cavity so that the structure could be lit from within. Balsa Foam creates a lot of fine dust while carving so breathing protection should be worn.


Spray paint makes most foams disintegrate, but Balsa Foam is non-reactive, so the finished carving can be primed with your favorite brand of rattle-can paint. I used Krylon Ultra Flat Camouflage Brown. Once that had dried completely, the stonework was painted with inexpensive craft store acrylics. I chose colors that matched the scenery on my layout since I wanted it to appear that the stones were quarried locally. When satisfied with the painting, joint compound was pushed into the cracks to simulate grout between the stones. The excess was removed with a wet brush and, once dry, a thin, dirty wash of acrylics (basically the paint water) was applied over the entire structure to darken the grout lines. Then some individual stones were picked out with a small brush and random earth-tone colors.


I created lintels above the doors and windows with scale 6x6' strip-wood, a common architectural detail in the Southwest, then built the doors themselves from scribed basswood and wood scraps. The doorknobs are Atlas HO track nails, painted with Model Masters brass. The solitary window is a Grandt Line 6 over 6 masonry window casting cut in half and re-assembled with styrene cement. The roof panels, rafters and trim are all Crescent 300 illustration board. This material is about 1/16" thick and has an excellent surface for painting. I add woodgrain to the illustration board with a fine razor saw before scribing boards with a #11 hobby knife. Then I paint it with watercolors, using about a 50/50 mixture of burnt sienna and cobalt blue to achieve a silvery, weathered wood appearance. The watercolors soak into and darken the score lines and woodgrain doing most of the work for you. Heavily diluted acrylics could also be used for this, but I prefer watercolors. All of the basswood pieces were also stained a similar warm gray to match.


To achieve the look of old, pealing paint, I dabbed all of the trim pieces in likely spots with a latex resist known as Friskit. Rubber cement can also be used for this step but Frisket is specifically formulated for this kind of thing. Once the latex was dry, I airbrushed all of the roof pieces, doors, and windows with a dark, flat green. A half hour or so later, I rubbed the Frisket off with a kneaded rubber eraser to expose the bare wood underneath.

For the window, I simulated the look of old style, rippled glass by carefully painting Woodland Scenics Realistic Water onto the back of the thin acrylic glazing and then drying it quickly with a hair dryer. Since I didn't want the nearly solid interior of my structure to be visible, I also sprayed the back of the glazing with Testor's Dullcote once it was completely dry. Then all of the roof, trim pieces, and doors and windows were assembled onto the structure and cemented in place with Aileen's Tacky Glue.


To create a tank with the look of the Thunder Mesa herald painted on the sides, I turned to the technique of using realistic printed photo textures. I downloaded free hi-res wood textures from and then created my tank wrapper in Adobe Photoshop. I use Photoshop daily in my work as a commercial artist so this was second nature for me, but I understand that it is expensive software and has a steep learning curve. However, there are a few open source programs available like Gimp that can be used instead with very good results.

I made careful measurements as to the thickness of the tank slats, bands, and the relative positions of the heralds as all would appear on the finished model. I also added water stains and weathering in Photoshop by selecting and desaturating certain areas. Then I printed several copies of my tank wrapper on Epson Premium Matte Presentation Paper using the highest quality setting on my inkjet printer.


To build the tank, I laid out two 2.5" diameter circles on illustration board using a compass. Then the circles were cut out with a hobby knife. To insure that the circles were perfectly round and would align properly, I placed one atop the other and then drilled the compass point holes all the way through. Then I could chuck them up together in my Dremel tool and turn them against 300 grit sandpaper until the edges were perfectly matched and even. Cardstock supports were cut to size and glued in place for the tank interior, and then the entire assembly was wrapped with Bristol Board to form a cylinder. Bristol Board is a heavy illustration paper that shapes easily.

Once the tank structure was built, I laminated one of my tank wrapper printouts to a second piece of Bristol using 3m Super 77 spray adhesive, using a good even coat, and rolling with a brayer to insure good adhesion. This was then cut out and carefully glued in place around the tank structure using white glue. Rubber bands were used to hold everything in place until the glue set.


With the tank wrapper cemented in place, I repeated the laminating process with a second printout, and then cut out the individual tank bands to glue over the printed bands on the tank. The white paper edges of each band were carefully painted dark brown before each was cemented into place. This took a little time, but was well worth it for the convincing 3-d look achieved, especially around the TMMC heralds. Then, the bands were finished with white metal tank band fastener castings from Wiseman Model Service - a hobby supplier that I highly recommend.

Turning to the roofs, scale 4x8's were cut to size, stained, and then glued in place to form a support structure for the tank. Then I finished the pump house roof with laser cut printed paper shingles from Bar Mills and these were given a heavy weathering with various shades of colored chalk dust.


I wanted a conical roof for the tank, so a support structure was built from illustration board. The base is two disks, one slightly smaller than the other, and both turned in the Dremel and sanded to be perfectly round before being cemented together. The upright triangular pieces form a hexagon. This structure was then "skinned" with thinner Bristol to form a base for the shingles. The underside of the tank roof was painted a flat dark green to match the rest of the trim on the structure.


The tank roof was then shingled with Bar Mills laser cut paper shingles. This was not as easy as it sounds since their shingle strips are designed for straight roofs, not curves, and the strips had to be cut down to just 2 or 3 shingles each to match the conical shape of the roof. After this step, a finial cap was constructed from a small cone of Bristol Board and the head from a dress pin. This was primed, then painted with Model Masters Copper before being glued in place. The finial was then heavily weathered with blue-green colored chalks to suggest oxidation and tarnish. Then the rest of the roof was similarly weathered with gray and brown chalks.


Before shingling was complete, a small hatch was made for the roof from scribed basswood, wire, and some scraps from the drawer. All of this was stained and weathered to match the rest of the tank.


Thunder Mesa crews need to see how much water is in the tank, so a water depth gauge was created from paper, wood, and black thread and glued into place. Its strategic placement also does the job of hiding the seam where the printed tank wrapper and bands come together.


The spout, weights, and pulleys are Grandt Line white metal castings that were given to me by a friend of the railroad. I cleaned up the castings and then painted them with Krylon Ultra Flat Camouflage Brown paint from a rattle-can. Then I went back with a rag dipped in paint thinner and rubbed some of the paint away in likely areas. Rust and lime deposits were added by painting on colored chalk dust mixed with 70% isopropyl alcohol.


The spout hanger, or yoke, was built from scale stripwood, and the cables are elastic thread that has been stained silver-gray with diluted acrylics. All of this was assembled and glued to the tank before it was cemented to the stone base. Then the roof was carefully aligned and cemented in place with white glue. A final detail was the addition of an inflow pipe to bring water from the creek to fill the tank, a white metal piece left over from the Grandt Line spout assembly.


For a finished look, some matching trim was cut from stripwood, then stained and painted in the same manner as other trim on the pump house before being cemented in place below the tank. A short smokestack was created from a soda straw with a piece of styrene flashing, painted and then glued to the pump house roof as evidence of a steam powered water pump inside the structure.


Finally, a ladder was built for the tank using two sections from a Bar Mills laser cut ladder kit. A bracket built from scrap stripwood connects the ladder to the tank and pump house roof. The warm glow from the pump house window is provided by a 3mm yellow LED, wired to this layout section's 12v DC lighting, sound, and animation bus.

Wrapping Up

I little bit of touch up here and there with a small brush, and a little more weathering and blending with chalks, and the finished model is ready to be worked into the scene. Now it can do its job, filling the saddle tanks and tenders of thirsty steamers on the TMMC.

As always, thanks for checking in and following along. I hope some of you will find the techniques and materials described here useful. I'll be happy to answer any questions in the comments section below. Keep moving forward, amigos. Adios for now!


Boot Hill Part 3 and The Haunted Undertaker’s Shop

Studio Update - Sep 30, 2017

My Undertaker's Shop tribute to Disney's Haunted Mansion is just about finished as of this writing, with just a few more small details to add. The same is true across the street at Boot Hill Graveyard, where a new picket fence and a gnarled old tree have sprouted up. This week's video log goes into detail on the "illusioneering" and special effects at the Undertaker's Shop, and shows how I built the "Lantern Tree" in the graveyard from twisted picture wire and acrylic modeling paste. I'm pleased with how these scenes have turned out and quite happy to have them done in advance of next Saturday's Open Studio & Train Night.

The Undertaker's Parlor of Messrs. Atencio, Crump and Gracey has been installed in its plot near the front edge of the layout. A follower of the TMMC Facebook page suggested that I rotate the structure 90º to give guests a better view of the interior effects and that turned out to be an excellent suggestion. Thanks for that! Below decks, an ITT Products sound module with a 2", 8 ohm speaker plays a spooky 2-minute soundtrack that I created. George at ITT products was very helpful when creating this custom sound module and I highly recommend his products. Both the soundtrack and the interior Pepper's Ghost effect are activated by one of the "Big Red Buttons" that guests can push on the layout fascia. There's much more on the Pepper's Ghost effect in this week's Thunder Mesa video log.

Check out the video below for part 2 of the time-lapse Undertaker's Shop build.

Over at Boot Hill, I've been putting the finishing touches on the scene with a weathered wooden fence and a gnarled old Juniper tree that has a flickering lantern hanging from the branches. I wanted some sort of illumination for the scene during night operations and this seemed like a fun and clever option.

The picket fence was built from Grandt Line castings with scratch-built wooden posts between them. The knobs on top of the fenceposts are dress-pin heads. The fence was assembled in three large sections at the workbench where it was primed and painted before being installed in the scene. I primed it with Krylon flat grey before drybrushing on splotchy coats of light tan and white acrylics to simulate weathered and faded paint on a wooden fence. I still need to add the iconic "Boot Hill" sign to the crossbar above the gate.

I built the tree using braided picture-hanging wire, twisting several strands together to create the trunk and then unraveling the ends to simulate smaller branches and twigs. Some some scrap-box bits were glued to a 3mm yellow flickering LED to make a lantern, and then the soldered on leads were hidden within the tree's armature.  All of this was then coated with three or four applications of acrylic modeling paste to build up texture, taking care not to cover the lantern itself. I let the paste dry overnight before finishing the trunk with a dark brown primer, followed by several dry-brushings with lighter shades of tan and grey acrylics. The tree was then installed on the layout and Woodland Scenics dark green foliage clumps were cemented on with Aleene's Tacky Glue. You can see a time-lapse of the tree being built in this week's video log.

I'm pretty pleased overall with how the entire scene has come together. As usual, it turned out to be a little more complex than I had originally planned as additional effects and details were added, but I'm very happy to have it (mostly) done in time for the Halloween season! 

I'm not quite sure which project I'll be tackling next. There are a few more lighting effects I'd like to finish up before next weekend, but I'm also more than ready to get back to work on the Thunder Mesa Riverfront and its 50' paddle-wheel steamer. Right now, it's time to clean up the studio and get organized again after the last two weeks of frenzied modeling. Thanks for checking in, amigos. Adios for now!

PS: As a bonus for following along, I'm offering the ambient night sounds of Thunder Mesa and the Haunted Undertaker's Shop soundtrack as free Mp3 downloads. I created both of these tracks for the layout and they can be downloaded and played on any MP3 capable devise. Add a little nighttime atmosphere to your own layout or a spooky Halloween soundtrack. Have fun!

Thunder Mesa Night Sounds

Haunted Undertaker's Shop

Thunder Mesa T-shirts from