Monday, May 4, 2015

A Model Railroad as Themed Environment

My first imagineering column for Model Railroad Hobbyist Magazine is now available to read online. Read my column and the entire e-zine here!

Friday, April 17, 2015

Thunder Mesa Video Log: April 2015

I'm trying something new this month, a video log bringing everything up to date on Thunder Mesa's expansion progress. If people enjoy it, I'll try to do a new one each month as the layout progresses. Don't forget to subscribe to the Thunder Mesa Youtube Channel!

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Expansion Update: San Lorenzo Arrives in Thunder Mesa!

Verne Niner's Gazette Award winning San Lorenzo diorama has arrived at its new home in Thunder Mesa Country! The 18"x30" scene fits snugly into a new corner of the layout and will represent one end of the line in operations.

Back in October of last year, my friend Verne Niner announced that he would be dismantling his legendary Estrella & Sonora Grande layout in order to move on to new projects. When he began to sell off the structures and equipment, I was lucky enough to call dibs on his wonderful San Lorenzo Village diorama. After months of planning, and a couple furious weeks of benchwork construction, I'm happy to report that the sleepy border town of San Lorenzo has been safely settled into its new home. The village now resides in a corner of the layout room on its own custom-built layout section. Physically, it's just down the aisle from Thunder Mesa town, but in operations, it will represent the far end of the railroad.

Here's an overhead view of the new 48"x66" San Lorenzo section. This piece of benchwork acts as a literal bridge between the central Thunder Mesa section and the Hanging Rock and Calico sections along the wall. Changes always happen during construction and I've altered the plan somewhat by changing the orientation of San Lorenzo. Now the track enters the village from the opposite direction via a wye, a much more logical arrangement if this is meant to represent the "far end of the line." This change also allows for the San Lorenzo track to connect to a narrow staging shelf that will be built along the wall. What I'll lose in aisle width should be more than made up for in enhanced operations.

This section of benchwork will also house a large chunk of Rainbow Caverns. The foreground track will curve through three cavern scenes before emerging at Hanging Rock.

Here the existing layout joins the new benchwork and the new route through Rainbow Caverns. Passing trains will be viewed through rugged cave openings and the largest scene will feature some dramatic subterranean waterfalls.

I use what I call the "box and stilts" method for building benchwork. Basically, that consists of a box-girder frame made from 1"x4" lumber and 1/2" plywood subroadbed atop 1"x3" risers or "stilts." Here, the subroadbed top has been cut out and positioned but risers have yet to be added. I find this to be a simple, flexible, and somewhat economical method that has served my needs well on a number of projects.  

I cut the 1/2" plywood to size and then layout the track centerlines with a straightedge, bar compass, and actual track components like turnouts. Then, allowing at least1.5 to 2 inches on either side of the track centerline, I cut everything out with a jigsaw.

Here's the San Lorenzo depot area before cork roadbed and track were laid. The airspace between the roadbed and the box-frame makes it easier to add scenery below track level. Everything is held together with drywall screws.

That should bring everything up to date for this week. Now I'm just waiting for some more Peco On30 track components to arrive so I can finish up this section and get everything wired. As always, questions or comments are welcome below. Thanks for checking in, amigos, Adios for now!

All those shots of bare plywood benchwork can get a little tedious so here's some eye-candy. In addition to San Lorenzo Village, the TMMC also acquired E&SG Porter #3, the Rattler, along with Lytum & Hyde Explosives Co. boxcar #66 (I designed the decals and Verne Niner painted and detailed the Bachmann car). With its handsome red livery, the TMMC shop crews may never get around to repainting the three spot.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Aerial View and Expansion Progress: March 28, 2015

It's been nearly 5 months since the last aerial view update so it must be high time for another one! As of today, all of the basic benchwork for new sections of the layout have been completed and I'm ready to start laying down some 1/2" plywood sub-roadbed. Here's the before and after aerial views:

Almost 5 months ago, November 8, 2014: A new plan had just been decided on and the layout moved out from the wall. The change of plan necessitated dismantling of the previously built Calico benchwork.

Today, March 28, 2015: The layout has now grown too large to capture in one overhead photo. 1"x4" pine box-girder benchwork is now in place for three new sections of the layout. Note how the layout base drops down in stair-step fashion to accommodate deep canyons in the Hanging Rock and Coyote Canyon sections. The floor of Coyote Canyon will be 24" or 96 scale feet below track level.

The individual layout sections are joined together with 1/4" bolts and thumb-screws, allowing them to be separated should a move ever prove necessary. The lowered sections of Hanging Rock and Coyote Canyon are supported by sturdy metal shop shelves that also provide handy storage below the layout. The San Lorenzo section creates a literal bridge between the Thunder Mesa "island" and the new parts of the layout, allowing for maintenance access via a duck-under. Next steps include sheathing the walls with 1/8" Masonite for the backdrop, building risers and sub-roadbed, and creating the sturdy shelf structure to support the portable Calico On18 layout on the Coyote Canyon section.

The current plan for Thunder Mesa shows the new shape of the layout and illustrates the labeled areas in the photos above.

It's great to be moving ahead with the expansion and I'm really looking forward to seeing these new sections of the layout take shape. Right now trains can only shunt back and forth between Thunder Mesa and Rainbow Caverns so I'm determined to get some more track laid soon. The San Lorenzo section will probably be tackled first, along with the turntable and engine service area. Lots to do! Thanks for checking in. Adios for now, amigos!
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