Friday, June 23, 2017

Introducing Thunder Mesa Studio


Howdy folks! It's been quite some time since I last updated this blog but I'm here today to share some exciting news. Over the last several months, the Thunder Mesa Mining Company layout has been disassembled, moved, and completely reassembled at my new studio in Jerome, AZ. Thunder Mesa Studio now brings all of my creative endeavors together into a single workshop and showcase that guests can actually visit!

Some readers may be familiar with the historic mining town of Jerome, AZ. Known as Arizona's "Ghost City," the charming old town has gone from wild west mining boomtown, to ghost town, and now to artist colony and tourist destination. Just across the valley from the famous red rock spires of Sedona, Jerome served as inspiration for John Olson's landmark how-to series in Model Railroader Magazine on "Building an HO Model Railroad with Personality." John's fictional Jerome & Southwestern layout was a huge inspiration for me, and now things have come full circle with the TMMC finding a new home to Jerome.

Thunder Mesa Studio is located in the Old Jerome High School Art Center, a complex of historic structures that is now home to many art studios, galleries and workshops. The studio and model railroad are open to guests on the first Saturday if each month, or by appointment (my schedule permitting).

This new chapter means that I will no longer be updating this blog. However, I've launched a new website and blog for Thunder Mesa Studio where I will continue to post articles, news, and how-to's about the railroad. This blog will remain online as an archive for the foreseeable future. I hope that the many friends who have patiently followed the railroad's progress here will continue the journey with me at the new site.

Thunder Mesa Studio

Adios for now!

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

A Lack of Progress Report

Scenery progress has been halted on the far side of Big Thunder Creek for quite awhile now. The prospect of maybe having to disassemble and move the railroad has put a lot of projects on hold.


What's this? An update to the Thunder Mesa blog? There hasn't been one of those since August! Well... not exactly. This is more of an update on why there haven't been any updates. A "lack of progress" report if you will. The good news is that I'd really like to get back to work on the railroad and finish up the many, many projects that are still left to do. The bad news is that I may need to disassemble and move the entire mess at some point in the not too distant future. My wife and I have been shopping for a bigger house, you see, and that means we will be selling the property where we currently live, including the 16x16' outbuilding that houses the TMMC. In theory, the railroad comes apart into four big chunks that can, with a little coaxing, fit through the door. That's the way it was designed. In practice, well... I guess we'll see what happens.

Hopefully, wherever we end up will have an adequate space to reassemble the railroad in all of its former (and future) glory. Who knows? It might even be bigger. Conversely, it might end up in a smaller, squarer, spare bedroom like space and that would call for a redesign of the current track plan. Either way, moving is rough on a model railroad, even when it's planned for, and some damage will be inevitable. So, long story short, the prospect of a move and the damage it may entail has caused me to put off finishing a lot of things, particularly scenery, ballast, and backdrop projects.

I'm looking forward to what the future might hold for the TMMC, but the future's not here yet and so the layout remains in limbo. There are smaller structure and rolling stock projects I can work on, but it's tough for me to get enthusiastic about them when I don't know how everything will fit together. One thing I do know for sure is that when the move does come, I will fully document how it goes on this blog so that others can see what it's like to disassemble and move a mid-sized model railroad that wasn't really meant to be portable. Stay tuned for that, amigos. Adios for now!

Sunday, August 14, 2016

An Update to the Thunder Mesa Mining Co. Locomotive Roster

Ex-Estrella & Sonora Grande RR #2 and #3 have found full time work on the TMMC. These great running, beautifully detailed Porter locomotives were originally built by the late Verne Niner for his On30 layout.



Way back in May of 2014 I first described an engine roster for the TMMC. Quite a few things have changed since then so it's high time for an update. As shown in the top photo, two slots in the roster have now been filled by locomotives acquired from the sadly defunct Estrella & Sonora Grande RR. These little Porters were a labor of love for my friend, the late Verne Niner, and I am thrilled that they have found their way on to the TMMC. No 3, Rattler, has a Keep-Alive capacitor hidden ingeniously below the cab roof, while #2, Estrella, has an auxiliary 4-wheel tender to add additional electrical pick-up. The result is that both of these short wheel-base steamers are excellent runners. Even over less than perfect dirty track, they very seldom ever stall or cut-out. No. 3 was purchased directly from Verne before his untimely passing, while the 2-spot came to me from a third party who had bought the engine from Verne but is now thinning his collection. In the fictional world of Thunder Mesa, these engines were purchased used from the E&SG to replace original locomotives #2 and #3 that were lost in a tragic derailment while pulling a double-header across Calico Canyon High Bridge. The TMMC shops will probably never get around to painting the new locomotives or changing their E&SG livery since I enjoy thinking of Verne every time I run them on the layout.

As for the rest of the roster, I continue my practice of loosely basing locomotives on Disney park prototypes and naming them for past Disney artists and Imagineers whom I admire. The exception is #7, Bud Hurlbut, which is named for the talented mastermind behind Knott's Calico Mine Ride and so many other memorable attractions. As of this writing, there are eight locomotives operating on the TMMC, with at least two more planned or under construction.



No. 1 ~ Marc F. Davis


Wheel arrangement: 0-4-0
Builder: Thunder Mesa Mining Co.
Entered service: 1878
Notes: This unique vertical boiler, single piston steamer was built from the recovered wreckage of a steam launch and the 2-4-0 El Dorado. Placed into service in 1878 to help complete construction of the railroad. Named for the proprietor of the Western River Expedition Company.

Modeling notes: Scratch-built from spare parts on a Bachmann HO cable car power truck. Analog DC power. No sound. Mostly a static model these days, though I might rebuild it in the future on a better chassis with DCC. Click here for more on the Marc F. Davis.


No. 2 ~ Estrella


Wheel arrangement: 0-4-2 w/auxiliary tender
Builder: H.K. Porter Co.
Entered service: 1905
Notes: Purchased used from the Estrella & Sonora Grand RR as a replacement for the original TMMC #2 lost in a wreck on Calico Canyon High Bridge.

Modeling notes: This is a heavily modified Bachmann model built by Verne Niner. The 4-wheel tender was built atop an On30 passenger car truck and provides much needed additional electrical pick-up. Lots of extra weight has also been added. DCC Equipped with Tsunami sound.

Here's a new video showing this great-running little steamer in action:



No. 3 ~ Rattler


Wheel arrangement: 0-4-0
Builder: H.K. Porter Co.
Entered service: 1905
Notes: Purchased used from the Estrella & Sonora Grand RR as a replacement for the original TMMC #3 lost in a wreck on Calico Canyon High Bridge.

Modeling notes: Another Bachmann Porter modified by Verne Niner. The 3-spot has a Soundtraxx Keep-Alive Capacitor hidden beneath the cab roof. DCC Equipped with Tsunami sound.


No. 4 ~ Earl Vilmer


Wheel arrangement: 4-4-0
Builder: Freelanced
Entered service: 1880
Notes: General duty locomotive named for the first general manager of the TMMC.

Modeling notes: Bachmann On30 inside frame 4-4-0. Inspired by the Santa Fe & Disneyland Railroad. DCC installed, sound to be added. Earl Vilmer supervised the construction and operation of both the Disneyland and Walt Disney World Railroads.


No. 5 ~ Frank Thomas


Wheel arrangement: 0-4-2
Builder: H.K. Porter Co.
Entered service: 1881
Notes: General duty mining locomotive.

Modeling notes: Bachmann On30 0-4-2. Inspired by Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. DCC and Tsunami sound on board. Frank Thomas was a legendary Disney animator, one of the Nine Old Men and best friends with Ollie Johnston.

No. 6 ~ Ollie Johnston


Wheel arrangement: 0-4-2
Builder: H.K. Porter Co.
Entered service: 1881
Notes: General duty mining locomotive.

Modeling notes: Bachmann On30 0-4-2. Inspired by Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. DCC and Tsunami sound on board. Ollie Johnston was a legendary Disney animator, train enthusiast, one of the Nine Old Men and best friends with Frank Thomas.

No. 7 ~ Bud Hurlbut


Wheel arrangement: 0-4-0
Builder: H.K. Porter Co.
Entered service: 1883
Notes: General duty mining locomotive named for the discoverer of the Calico Mine.

Modeling notes: Bachmann On30 0-4-0. Inspired by Knott's Calico Mine Train. DCC and Tsunami sound on board. Bud Hurlbut was a pioneering theme park designer best remembered for creating the Timber Mountain Log Ride and Calico Mine Train attractions at Knott's Berry Farm.

No. 9 ~ Admiral Fowler


Wheel arrangement: 0-4-2
Builder: H.K. Porter Co.
Entered service: 1885
Notes: General duty mining locomotive.

Modeling notes: Bachmann On30 0-4-2. DCC and Tsunami sound on board. This Porter is named in honor of Admiral Joe Fowler, The man Walt Disney put in charge of Disneyland's construction, and who stayed on as general manager of the park for its first decade. More on this locomotive here.

Here's a short video featuring locomotives #9 and #6 bringing a doubleheader across Big Thunder Creek Trestle:


Where's No. 8?

Good question! Currently, #8 is still in the planning stages and will either be another 4-4-0 or a tiny 2-4-0 or 2-4-2. The only thing I'm certain of is that it will be named for Ward Kimball, Disney's mad genius animator and unparalleled train enthusiast. It's worth noting that the "Ward" might be the only TMMC locomotive that also has a namesake in the parks, engine #5 at Disneyland. My version will be different, but one simply can't do a tribute to Disney railroading without Ward Kimball. (I hear you Disney train nerds out there! Don't worry, Roger Broggie will get his due too.)

Walt Disney and Ward Kimball with Santa Fe & Disneyland Railroad engines #1 and #2.


There will also likely be an engine #10. It will probably be named in honor of pioneering Disney Imagineer, Claude Coats. In the mythology of Thunder Mesa, Coats is the intrepid explorer who first discovered Rainbow Caverns. In real life, he was the amazing artist who figured out how to do the incredible blacklight water effects on Rainbow Caverns at Disneyland. The famous quote from Walt where he says, "It's kind of fun to do the impossible," comes from a meeting with Claude Coats in the early days of Imagineering. They were trying to tell their boss that the colorful water effects he wanted for the caverns couldn't be done. Coats did the impossible and made it happen.

Ok, friends, I think that should about wrap it up for this time. I haven't updated the blog here as often as I would have liked too in the past few months since life and work keep getting in the way of my train time. A great big "thank you" to those who continue to follow along. More frequent, regular updates can often be found on the Thunder Mesa Facebook Page. Thanks for checking in, amigos. Adios for now!

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Four New Videos

The Thunder Mesa Mining Company So Far

There's not much new progress to report on the layout this month, but I have spent a little time chronicling the latest happenings in a slew of new YouTube videos. First up is a look back at how the layout has grown and evolved over the years from a 3'x6' display to the room filling model railroad it is today.


Inside Rainbow Caverns

Now, here's look inside Rainbow Caverns at some of the ultraviolet lighting effects that are up and working so far. Just like on the prototype, these scenes have proven hard to photograph but I've finally managed to get some decent clips that give a good feel for how the Caverns are shaping up. There's more to come here, with original scenes like the Bottomless Pit, Crystal Grotto, and Color Changing Pools still in development.



Thunder Mesa in 1910

Next up is something just for fun, some "historic" promotional footage of the railroad and its natural wonders, presumably filmed around 1910.



Sam Towler's Nature's Wonderland Model

Last but not least we have some video shot at this year's Fullerton Railroad Days of Sam Towler's remarkable Mine Train Thru Nature's Wonderland Model. Sam's model recreates this fondly recalled Disneyland attraction in amazing detail - right down to the themed trashcans! Sam's layout was the undisputed hit of the show, drawing big crowds both days and many "oohs and ahs," both from the general public and quite a few theme park industry professionals. Reader's of this blog will know that I am a huge fan of the old Disneyland Mine Train, and after following Sam's progress for the last decade it was great to finally meet him in person and to see the result of his efforts. Nice job, Sam.



That's going to wrap things up for this time. Thanks for tuning in and don't forget to subscribe to the Thunder Mesa YouTube Channel if you haven't already. Adios for now, amigos!
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