Friday, September 19, 2014

Big Thunder Creek: Part II ~ The Bridges

Click here for part I of this series.

Three bridges now span the rocky chasm of Big Thunder Creek. It looks like a clear, sunny morning in Thunder Mesa country but a storm could boil up in the afternoon and send a flash flood cascading through that dry creek bed.  Time will tell...


This past week saw a lot of progress on the layout with the completion of three railroad bridges across Big Thunder Creek. Up on the Calico High Line, a small stone arch crosses the creek where it's narrow at the source, while farther down, a rustic 20' king post truss does the job on the mill spur. Near the front of the layout, a 48' wooden trestle on the main line spans the wide, clear pools below.

Follow along with the photos to see how each of these bridges was constructed and installed.

The Stone Arch

The stone arch bridge is little more than a fancy culvert, carved from a block of 1" thick Balsa Foam. The arch was shaped with some medium sandpaper wrapped around a small plastic bottle and the stones were scribed in with the point of a hard 5B pencil. HO cork roadbed was glued to the top to bring it flush with the track.

Here's the stone arch painted and blended into the surrounding rock-work. The Balsa Foam carvings are painted in shades to match the surrounding scenery using artist's acrylics. An undercoat of Buff Titanium (a very light tan) is brushed on to seal the carving and represent mortar. A stiffer brush is then used to dry-brush Raw Sienna, Burnt Sienna and Burnt Umber on to the faces of the stones. Finally, a very thin wash of Carbon Black was brushed over all to darken and blend everything together.



The King Post Truss

The deck, trusses and abutments for this bridge were assembled separately at the workbench before everything was put together directly beneath the existing rails on the layout. This photo shows the simple foamcore jigs that were used to assemble the deck and trusses.  Kappler 10' suger pine bridge ties were used above 12 scale inch (1/4") diameter dowels to build the deck. All wood was scribed with a razor saw to simulate age and grain before being stained with a mixture of Kiwi black shoe dye thinned with 70% isopropyl alcohol. My method for creating this stain is to simply empty nearly all of the dye out of the Kiwi bottle and then refill it with alcohol, replace the foam applicator top, shake well and it's good to go. 

One of the truss assemblies under construction. A king post truss is about the simplest truss one can make. It was a popular design in the 19th century for crossing spans of about 20' or less (any longer would require something stronger like a queen post truss).  The beams of this truss are a scale 8" in diameter and notched at the joints.

The completed deck installed beneath the rails. A few dabs of thick ACC were applied to the bottoms of the rails and the deck was slid into place. Blocks of foam were used to support the deck from below while spikes were driven into pre-drilled holes. A tiny dab of ACC on each spike guarantees they won't work back out.

Next it was a simple matter to cement the trusses into place and add a little colored chalk weathering. The iron plate supporting the king post came from a set of Grandt Line narrow gauge boxcar details. A few strategically placed nut/bolt/washer castings complete the bridge.

Overhead view of the 20' king post truss. This bridge is about as narrow as a narrow gauge bridge can be. The caboose just visible at right was used to check clearances and my widest rolling stock just squeaks through with only a scale inch or two to spare.

A pair of wooden retaining wall bridge abutments were also built at the workbench, again using Kappler ties, NBWs and 1/4" diameter dowels.

Installing the abutments beneath the bridge was a little harder than I thought it might be. But after a little cutting, fitting, re-sculpting and cussing, both abutments were cemented into place and the scenery blended in around them. 



The 48' Trestle

The Big Thunder Creek trestle started life as a Hermosa Creek Truss kit from Goldline Products and for quite a long time I had intended to build it as designed. In fact, there are many photos of the bridge in various stages of completion in older posts on this site. However, once the real planning for scenes around Big Thunder Creek began it became apparent that the bridge as built would be a little too overpowering. My solution was to remove the trusses and modify the bridge deck into a low slung trestle.

The first step was was to remove the bridge from the layout and then cut down the ties with a razor saw, shortening them from 16' to a more trestle appropriate 10'. The masking tape marked ties not to be cut so they could be used to support fire-barrel vestibules. 

Once again a simple foamcore jig was made to aid construction of the 10' high trestle bents. Scale 12"x12" lumber was used for the posts and beams, and 6"x8" stock for the sway braces. The wood was distressed with a razor saw and stained with Minwax Dark Walnut pens prior to assembly.

Since this trestle sits in water, stone footings were carved from Balsa Foam. Here a hard 5H pencil is used to carve the mortar lines between stones.

The carved Balsa Foam footings and abutments were first painted with a sealing coat of Buff Titanium acrylic paint. Here a stone retaining wall is also being painted.

Once the base coat was dry, Raw Sienna was dry-brushed on to the faces of the stones.

Individual stones were then picked out with earthy, contrasting colors like grey, Burnt Umber and Burnt Sienna.

A completed trestle bent ready for installation. Each bent was detailed with 24 nut/but/washer castings and weathered with colored chalks.

Oops! It turned out that one of the trestle bents would stand right on top of a large boulder already sculpted into the creek bed. A portion of the scenery was cut away so that the bent's stone footing could be blended into the rock work.

Here's a nifty trick I learned for mixing up small batches of plaster or, in this case, Sculptamold. Pour some into a ziplock bag, add a little water, seal, then squish vigorously until well mixed.

When ready, snip off one small corner and squeeze out like a pastry tube. This works great for hard to reach spots where you don't want to mess up existing scenery or details.

Here both bents have been installed and fresh Sculptamold worked in and blended around the left abutment. The deck is not attached at this point, just floating on the bents so that it can be removed for detailing of the creek bed.

The big boulder has been repainted to match and blend with the existing scenery and real rocks and dirt added to the creek bed.

The creek bed stones were collected from real creek beds in Sedona, AZ and near Silverton, CO. The rocks and dirt were cemented in place with matte medium and white glue diluted 1:1 with water. The fire barrels are painted castings from Rusty Rails.

Here's a view from below Big Thunder trestle. From here I'll continue to detail the creek bed, adding more rocks, junk and some plants before pouring the Envirotex resin "water."



More to Come

Looking at our plan shows there's still much to be done before this area of the layout is finished.


That should just about wrap it up for this week. I hope everyone is enjoying this build and that my explanations are clear. As always, any questions or comments are most welcome! If all goes according to plan, next week should see the addition of cascading waterfalls and crystal clear pools to this scene. Thanks for coming along. Adios for now!

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Big Thunder Creek: Part I ~ Rock Work

This fall I'll be finishing the scenery around Big Thunder Creek, a major scene on the Thunder Mesa section of the railroad.


Howdy, folks!

I've finally returned from my long summer break and I am having a great time getting back to work on the ol' railroad! To start off this season's modeling efforts, I've decided to tackle some long delayed scenes around Big Thunder Creek. This includes the area around Thunder Mesa Mill, an old abandoned mine shaft, and part of the Calico High Line up on top of the mesa. Once completed, These scenes will tie everything together from the Cactus Forest to the Depot area.

Big Thunder Creek serves both to separate and transition between different scenes on the layout.


There's tons of work to be done in this area and it should keep me busy through most of the fall. Aside from the creek itself, there are three bridges to build or complete, the track to paint, ballast and detail, various structures to build, and scenic elements like bushes, trees, cacti and ground cover to add. But first thing's first, and the entire area spotlighted above needs rock-work brought to completion from the bare polystyrene foam that has dominated for too long. Let's get started!

This is how things looked at summer's end after cleaning off the dust and spiderwebs. The foreground bridge was originally planned as a pony truss and a kit from Black Bear Construction Co. was purchased to fill this spot. After getting the kit about halfway finished I decided that it blocked too much of the scene behind it so now the ties will be shortened and the bridge converted to a pile trestle. The shorter bridge behind it will be a scratch-built 20' king post truss. The uppermost bridge on the Calico High Line was craved from Balsa Foam and marks/hides the start of Big Thunder Creek.

A paper-model mock-up of Thunder Mesa Mill has occupied this spot for more than two years, hiding the bare black fomacore behind it that marks the backside of Rainbow Caverns. This area will be addressed as well.

The space was filled in and contoured with 1" pink polystyrene foam. That's an improvement but there's still a long way to go.

Checking site lines, I decided to add a couple of Balsa Foam carved formations to the mesa top. "Window Rock" and "Little Thunder Butte" will add scenic interest and a bit of forced perspective depth to the scene when viewed from certain angles. The rocks were carved using my usual method.

Here the scene is ready for the next step, adding a Sculptamold skin over the polystyrene foam and smoothing the transitions into the carved Balsa Foam.

Sculptamold is a mixture of cellulose and plaster, available through many art and craft suppliers. I've never found anything that I like better for blending things together and sculpting rocky contours. It' lighter than plaster, goes on like thick oatmeal and has a naturally rocky texture when dry. It's a messy process so I remove anything I don't want plastered before getting started. For more on how I contour Sculptamold, click here.

One the Sculptamold was dry, everything was painted with a base coat of latex paint. The color is Glidden "French Mustard."

After the base coat dries, all of the rock work is washed with a thin mixture of black to bring out the texture in the nooks and crannies. The mixture is just a few drops of Carbon Black with a lot of water. Other shades of black or India ink could also be used.

The final painting goes fairly quickly. The rocks are all dry brushed with Raw Sienna acrylics right out of the tube, then Burnt Sienna, Burnt Umber and Unbleached Titanium are worked in sparingly to bring out details and contrast. If things get too dark, I go back and highlight by dry-brushing more Unbleached Titanium. For more details on my rock painting technique, click here.

The cliff face and pad for Thunder Mesa Mill with Window Rock and Little Thunder Butte above.

Soon this rocky chasm will be home to the churning whitewater of Big Thunder Creek.


Okay! The hardest part is always just getting started and I'm happy to have this section of rock work finally complete on the TMMC. Right now I'm finalizing ideas for modeling the many waterfalls and drawing up plans for a rough-hewn king post truss. More to come soon! Adios for now.

Click here for part II of this series.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Summer Hiatus

A full moon rises over Baxter's Butte as Old Unfaithful Geyser gets ready to blow again.

My short vacation from the layout has extended into an extended summertime hiatus. This is the time of year when I travel with my family and work on other art projects away from the railroad. Though a labor of love, the TMMC is still a hobby for me and not a job. Hope to see you all back here when I have new material to post in the fall. Adios for now and happy trails!

Friday, May 23, 2014

Engine Roster for the Thunder Mesa Mining Co.

A reader recently asked a question on Facebook about the locomotive names and numbering on Thunder Mesa and it made me realize that I have never really published a complete engine roster for the railroad. The roster has changed and evolved a bit over time and will no doubt continue to do so as new equipment comes available and the railroad continues to grow. For the most part, I name locomotives after the Disney animators or Imagineers that I most admire, or other pioneers in the world of theme park railroads such as Bud Hurlbut. Currently, there are five locomotives running on the layout with at least two more planned or under construction.

No. 1


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. Click here for more on the Marc F. Davis.


No. 2


No. 2  - Claude Coats


Wheel arrangement: 2-4-0
Builder: H.K. Porter, Inc.
Entered service: 1879
Notes: Light duty mining locomotive named for the discoverer of Rainbow Caverns.

Modeling notes: Planned but not yet built. Inspired by Disneyland's Nature's Wonderland locomotives, the #2 will more than likely be built using a Bachmann 0-4-0 Porter with DCC and sound. Claude Coats was the brilliant Disney Imagineer who developed the lighting and water effects for Rainbow Caverns.


No. 3


No. 3  - Sam McKim


Wheel arrangement: 4-4-0
Builder: Freelanced
Entered service: 1879
Notes: General duty locomotive named for the first surveyor and cartographer of Thunder Mesa Country.

Modeling notes: Under construction. Inspired by the Santa Fe & Disneyland Railroad, #3 is a diminutive 4-4-0 that uses a Bachmann HO Richmond 4-4-0 as a starting point. Sam McKim was a first generation Imagineer and Disney artist who created the early souvenir maps of Disneyland among many other things.


No. 4


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


No. 5  - Frank Thomas


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

Modeling notes: Bachmann On30 0-4-2. Needs paint and decals. 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


No. 6  - Ollie Johnston


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

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


No. 7


No. 7  - Bud Hurlbut


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

Modeling notes: Bachmann On30 0-4-0. Needs paint and decals. 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.


That's where the roster stands as of this writing. Will there be more? Probably. Even though the TMMC already has more locomotives than a mining railroad of its size would likely ever need, this modeler simply can't resist the temptation of a shiny new engine every now and again. Besides, there's not a single geared locomotive yet and I've always been a fan of geared steam! Stay tuned. Adios for now!
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