Category: video

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!
Dave

2020 Year in Review

 

2020 was a tough year for many of us. Fortunately, it's always somewhere between 1890 and 1910 on the Thunder Mesa layout so I made the best of things by working on and finishing up projects both old and new. I hope you all enjoy this look back at the projects and highlights of 2020, and I can't wait to share what's coming up in 2021! Happy New Year from Thunder Mesa Studio! Dav

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.

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.


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

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