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!

Friday, March 20, 2015

Building a Portable Backdrop

This new 3' x 6' portable backdrop will provide improved viewing and photo opportunities on the layout, especially for scenes where no permanent backdrop is possible.


Eventually, the TMMC will be surrounded on three sides by a painted backdrop that will extend the illusion of Thunder Mesa country far beyond the actual boundaries of the layout. Unfortunately, even then, there will still be some viewing angles where no permanent backdrop is possible due to the layout sharing space with my studio and workshop. My solution was to create a portable, "roll-away" backdrop that can moved into position for operations or photos, and then shoved back into the layout aisle when not in use. Here's how it went together.

The portable backdrop is basically a 3' x 6' sheet of 1/8" thick Masonite on an easel-like frame of 1x2s. Angled braces provide strength and stability, and swiveling castors screwed to the 36" long 1x3 feet make it easy to roll around the layout. The lumber is primed MDF trim board and it's held together with 1 1/4" drywall screws. Loctite Powergrab construcion adhesive was applied to the frame uprights and the Masonite panel clamped in place  to dry overnight.

One of four swiveling castors that make it easy to move the backdrop. The three foot length of the feet is just right for fitting down the layout aisles. One of these days I'll get around to painting the frame flat black.

For the base sky color, I chose Behr "Bliss Blue" interior flat latex paint. It provides a nice contrast with my red rock scenery and I will use it for all of the backdrop painting on the layout. The paint was applied with a roller, taking care to get the surface as smooth as possible.

I painted the clouds using artists acrylics, primarily Titanium White and Paynes Grey. The paint was applied with a semi-stiff filbert brush in a dabbing motion to create the cloud shapes. In some areas, I scrubbed most of the paint off of the brush and used a swirling motion to dry-brush transparent wisps of cloud. The Paynes Grey was used sparingly, just a few drops mixed with white to create shadows and contours.

With clouds painted, I went back and sketched in the basic landforms of a canyon country scene. I admit the scene is entirely invented and I was going for something like a cross between Grand Canyon, Moab, and Sedona. I paid special attention to where the horizon line would be and just how much of the painted scenery would be visible from different angles on the layout. In all, the canyon scene only covers about the bottom 8 inches of the backdrop.

Next, I blocked in the canyons and mesas with acrylics. It's a really good idea to mix up some large quantities of your basic colors in air tight containers ahead of time. My basic colors where a medium raw sienna shade for the rocks, a darker shadow color, and a medium and darker blue-green for the mesa tops. I used the same basic colors that I use for painting rock scenery on the layout, but added some of the blue sky color to grey them down a bit and to give the illusion of distance. The further away an object was, the more of the sky color that was mixed in. This is a simple way to create the illusion of distance and to keep the colors in harmony.

And here is the completed backdrop after a couple days of painting. My goal was to match the character of Thunder Mesa's scenery as close as possible without going overboard on the detail. 

With the portable backdrop finished, now it's time to have some fun. With the backdrop moved into position to block my workbench, here's a view of Ambush Rock that was never possible before (at least not without Photoshop).

Wheeled around to the other end of the layout, here it is backing up the depot scene.

Here you can really see the difference a backdrop makes! The bottom image is from almost the exact same angle but the cluttered studio in the background completely destroys the illusion.


Creating the portable backdrop was a fun project and a good "dry run" for the much bigger project of building a permanent backdrop around three walls of the studio. In the meantime, it will provide that much needed sense of place in the world of Thunder Mesa. Thanks for checking in, amigos. Adios for now!

Number 6 steams toward McKennon Arch with a short freight in tow. The new portable backdrop adds a great sense of depth and distance to this scene.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Building an On18 Locomotive: Part I

Calico Gold Company #2, the Walter Knott, fresh from the paint shop and on its way to the CGC facilities for final outfitting. Building this little On18 mine locomotive is the subject of today's post.


Before I start building benchwork and laying track on my On18 Calico Gold Company layout, I wanted a relatively simple On18 locomotive to pull some trains with. After doing a little research, I decided on a vertical boiler design that starts with a 3D printed shell from Tebee Models at Shapeways.com, atop a smooth running and reliable Kato 11-103 drive unit. This is my first real build in On18 and my first time using 3D printed parts. Despite the learning curve, the little steamer is coming together quickly.

The two axel Kato 11-103 drive unit is 2.125" long by 0.6875" wide. I'm using my N scale Pagosa & Southern switching layout as a test track.

The 3D printed shell from Tebee Models is made from polyamide nylon, what Shapeways calls their "White, Strong and Flexible Plastic." It is white and strong, but comes unfinished with a rough, sandpaper like texture. It fits perfectly over the Kato mechanism.

My first modification to the shell was to add a new stack. I cut off the top of the cap-stack on the printed body and replaced it with a taller HO diamond stack and some plastic tubing from my scrap-box. Here the new stack has been painted with grey primer. It's a snug press-fit over the original stack.

I'm not planning on adding a decoder to this tiny model so I filled the hollow spaces of the boiler and water tank with about 1.5 oz of BBs for additional weight. I mixed up some 2-part epoxy resin and carefully poured it over the BBs to cement them in place. I wanted to do this before painting the shell so any spills could be more easily cleaned up or covered. I let the epoxy cure overnight before going on to the next step.


The next challenge was to smooth out the rough 3D printed surface and make it look more like metal. Conventional wisdom says this should be done with primer and repeated sanding but I was concerned that too much sanding would wear away the details. Acetone vapor smoothing has been recommended for 3D printed parts but that only works for ABS plastics and not for polyamide nylons. I found a technique online for using several coats of plastic primer to smooth the surface so I decided to give that a try.

First I cleaned the shell thoroughly with a wash of 70% isopropyl alcohol. Next, I took the model outside for painting using Krylon Satin Finish Plastic Primer. Several coats are necessary because the surface is so porous. A second heavy coat was applied 20 minutes after the first. Then a third coat was applied 30 minutes after that. A fourth coat was applied an hour later and a fifth coat about 5 hours later. After drying for 24 hours, the shell had taken on a smoother, cast iron appearance.

More or less satisfied with the smoother surface, I masked off the black areas an sprayed the tank and bunker with satin finish Hunt Club Green. This is the "official" green for all CGC equipment.

Diving back into the scrap-box I was able to find the shell of an old MDC HO Consolidation and cut the smoke-box out from the backhead with a razor-saw. Then I wrapped some 220 grit sandpaper around the barrel of a marker and sanded a curve into the back of the piece so it would snug up to the boiler. The next step was making a new throttle from a paperclip and drilling a #61 hole above the firebox to receive it. The paperclip/throttle was ACC'd into place and the assembly painted flat black.

While I still had the flat black paint out, I masked off the green water tank and bunker and gave everything else a coat of the flat black to dull it down.

Looking at some photos online of similar historic locomotives made me want to add some brass bands to the boiler. These were cut about 4 scale inches wide from very thin sheet brass. I taped them down at the ends and sprayed one side with 3M 45 All Purpose Adhesive. After letting this set up for several minutes to get tacky, the bands were then applied to the boiler like tape, with just a small drop of ACC to keep the ends from curling up.

With the brass bands in place, the firebox and throttle assembly were glued to the boiler with thick ACC.

After looking long and hard at the model, I came to the conclusion that the stack was too tall. As a fellow modeler pointed out (thanks AJ!), a mine loco working in low clearance tunnels would likely have a shorter stack. So I went back and cut a scale 12 inches from the height and I'm pleased with the less cartoony look. I was also curious to see how well decals would adhere to the "smoothed" 3D printed surface so I went ahead and applied Walter's numbers and nameplate. A couple drops of Micro-Sol really helped the decals snug down onto the surface.


At this point, the Walter Knott is starting to look less like a collection of parts and more like an elegant early steamer. There are still many details to add: steam pipes, gauges, a headlight, bells and whistles, and link and pin couplers among other things. I also need to decide on whether to add a cab or not. There is much more still to be done but it will have to wait until more parts arrive. That's going to wrap it up for this time. Thanks for checking in, amigos. Adios for now!

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Caboose Hop in Dinosaur Gap

The Daily Mixed steams back toward Thunder Mesa with drover's caboose #90 in tow after dropping a tank car and some stock at the interchange in San Lorenzo. It seems like the mines around San Lorenzo have been shipping less and less ore these days. In fact, if it weren't for the local ranches and the mail contract, the Daily Mixed to San Lorenzo might as well be the weekly mixed.

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