Friday, July 31, 2015

Expansion Update and Video Log: Track Complete Through Hanging Rock and Coyote Canyon

Hooray! The benchwork, wiring and track is now complete over the entire mainline from San Lorenzo to Thunder Mesa and trains are running! Here's an overhead view from the mocked-up engine service area to the Hanging Rock and Coyote Canyon sections.

Greetings from Thunder Mesa!

I'm back from my summer break and just spent the last week finishing up track laying and wiring on the new sections of the layout. About 30' of Peco On30 flextrack was installed across the Hanging Rock and Coyote Canyon sections, and over 40 soldered connections now bring DCC power to the rails. This is a major milestone toward completing the layout expansion and I'm very happy to have it done. Check out this month's video log for more details and a first-ever excursion over the entire mainline!

Shiny new rail above Coyote Canyon. The plywood bridges are temporary and can be easily removed. They'll be replaced with detailed models after I decide just what kind of bridges I want here. The 16" radius turn-back curve will be hidden in a tunnel below the portable On18 Calico layout. The breaker box will be hidden behind Calico Mountain itself. Installing an around-the-walls backdrop here is also high on the old to-do list.

Here's the Hanging Rock section. Devil's Garden balancing rocks will be at lower left and the whistle stop depot at Hanging Rock will be at right, just before the tunnel portal. In between will be three bridges deep and narrow Horse Thief Canyon. The stub-ended uppermost track is the start of the branchline up to Big Thunder Camp.

The new Coyote Canyon and Hanging Rock sections are at upper left on the above plan. Sharp eyed viewers might notice that I've already deviated from the plan by swapping the turnout and spur directions at Hanging Rock and San Lorenzo. Things always change during construction and this just made more sense for fluid operations.

One thing I'm most excited about is the new sight-lines and deep views that are being created with this expansion. When completed, the canyon scenery in this view will create an unbroken vista nearly 12' deep. Try that on a shelf layout.

With the mainline track laid and operating well, I'll probably turn my attention to the branchline up to Big Thunder Camp next. I'm also itching to build some scenery and structures and might just dive right in to the scene at Hanging Rock. Time will tell. Thanks for stopping in for a visit, amigos. There's much more to come. Adios for now!

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.

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