Monday, November 11, 2013

The World of Thunder Mesa

Click for a much larger view.



















Today we have an illustration of Thunder Mesa Country, the imaginary world of canyons, western towns and scenic wonders served by the TMMC. This is a spread-out and expanded view of just about everything that does or will exist on the layout as it might be seen from a low flying plane. One thing not on the layout is the junction with the Santa Fe, Denver & Carolwood, seen on the far right side of the drawing. Only a short section of track represents this interchange on the model.

I created the drawing to help visualize both the scenic treatment of the expanding layout, and the operation of the railroad between Thunder Mesa and Calico. This is what I see when I look at the layout and what I imagine as each new section is completed. To really see where the layout is headed, compare this drawing to the updated track plan posted last week.

Adios for now!

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

A Grand Plan for the Thunder Mesa Mining Co.

At long last, here is the "Grand Plan" for the expanding TMMC. This should give a good idea as to where the layout is headed, and help to make sense of the construction updates I'll be posting. I've been thinking "out loud" about this expansion here on the blog for awhile. Some things I thought might be included, or had planned to include in the past have ended up on the cutting room floor, while other possibilities I hadn't considered found their way into the plan as it was being drawn.

Click the image for a much larger version.  Grid spacing is 12".  Overall size is 11'x8'.



The layout will operate as a simple point to point design, with ore trains coming down from the mines at Calico, headed for the mill and an interchange with the Santa Fe, Denver and Carolwood at Thunder Mesa. A daily mixed train will head up-grade in the opposite direction, carrying freight, supplies, passengers and mail from Thunder Mesa to the far-flung mining camps. An excursion train or two will also be on the schedule, taking wide-eyed tourists for a ride through "Nature's Wonderland." Continuous loop running will still be possible using the hidden cut-off track below Thunder Mesa.
It's funny, but for the longest time I had thought of Thunder Mesa as being way out in the boonies, near the end of the line and far, far from the SFD & C interchange (which was originally to be located in another town called Grizzly Flats. That town still exists in the make-believe world of Thunder Mesa, but it's aways north now and off the layout). While creating this plan I discovered it made a lot more sense to have the interchange be in Thunder Mesa itself, with the ore trains serving the "mines above" much like the real-world Gilpin Tram once did in Colorado. Once this decision was reached, the entire plan and operating scenario fell into place.

Another idea that got rejected was the On18 tram from Calico. As fascinating and fun as I think it might have been to run those tiny trains, there just wasn't enough room for it and the On30 mainline I wanted to build. So now, the On30 line climbs a steady 3% grade up to Calico and on to what had once been planned as an On18 right of way. (I still might build a separate On18 module in the future. Time will tell!)

The layout is being constructed in three separable sections as illustrated below.

The Thunder Mesa section is roughly 4'x8' and is more than half complete at this point.


The 3'x4' Calico section is the future home of an engine facility with a 36' turntable. Down below, open caves will provide views into more of Rainbow Caverns.


The Canyon section is 8' long and drops the base of the layout about 14" to provide adequate depth for the dramatic vertical scenery planned here.


The good news is that nearly all of the scenic elements I wanted to include have made it into this final version of the plan. Heading up-grade from Rainbow Caverns, trains cross Natural Bridge, a breathtaking and precarious sandstone span. That leads into Balancing Rock Canyon, a land of strange hoodoos that seem to teeter and sway as the trains rumble past. Just beyond, Indian Pueblos sit atop a high mesa overlooking the grandeur of Bright Angel Canyon. A pair of spidery bridges span the canyon itself, the longest and highest being a scale 120' and some 94 scale feet above the churning rapids of the Rio Del Barranco far below (On the backdrop, I'll do my best to replicate the views of Disneyland's Grand Canyon Diorama). Then it's on to the Calico mining districts where the line makes a graceful curve below the overhanging alcove of Calico Mt. before winding to its end near Big Thunder Mine.

For those who may be interested, I draw my plans out by hand in pencil on 1/8"x 1/8" blue-line grid paper at a scale of 1/8" = 1". The completed drawing is then scanned to a digital file and colors and graphics are added in Adobe Photoshop.

And there you have it, a Grand Plan for Thunder Mesa that should keep me busy working on the railroad for quite some time to come. Thanks for checking in. Adios for now!

Monday, November 4, 2013

Aerial View & Expansion Progress - November 4, 2013

It was back into construction mode over the weekend and I'm happy to report that all benchwork for the layout expansion is now complete! Since the layout shares space with my art studio, I had to make a few hard decisions regarding the final size and shape. In the end I settled on an 11' x 8' U-shaped footprint that will allow for some nifty scenery and interesting operation. It all comes down to how much railroad you think you can live with (and finish in a reasonable amount of time).


Last month: October 1, 2013

Today: November 4, 2013

The new "Canyon" section is 8' long and 2' wide, ballooning out to 3' wide for a 15" radius curve at one end. The base of this section drops 14" below the rest of the layout to allow for some dramatic vertical canyon scenery. Trains passing through this section will be between 70 and 94 scale feet above the canyon floor on a 3% grade up to the mines. The new section is supported by two sturdy, 36" tall metal shelving units recycled from my previous layout. The aisle between sections is approximately 36" wide. I'm putting the finishing touches on an expanded track plan now and will be posting a revised version showing the new sections in a few days.

I've also been working on some new rolling stock projects and structure models and will be posting about those soon as well. Thanks for checking in!

Monday, October 28, 2013

A Short Break

Looks like the Daily Mixed has arrived in Thunder Mesa with the mail and express parcels. The Santa Fe, Denver & Carolwood combine is a magazine article project I've been working on for the last several weeks.

Apologies to regular readers for the lack of update last week and a very meager one this week. I'm afraid the blog must take a back seat while I finish up a slew of real world and 1:1 scale projects that have been demanding my attention. Should be a short break however and with any luck I'll be back on track with a full update next week.

Thanks for checking in!

Monday, October 14, 2013

Thunder Mesa #1 Visits the Estrella & Sonora Grande

Earlier this year, Thunder Mesa Mining Co. #1, the Marc F. Davis, took a trip down to the wild Sonoran Desert town of San Lorenzo for a run on Verne Niner's fantastic Estrella & Sonora Grande Railroad during the first meeting of the Arizona On30 Desperados.

The One Spot takes a spin on the San Lorenzo turntable.

The Estrella & Sonora Grande does a wonderful job capturing the look and feel of a down-on-the-heels desert mining line.

Downtown San Lorenzo. Always a good idea to keep an eye out for banditos!

The local crews aren't quite sure what to make of an odd critter like the Marc F. Davis. Meanwhile, a potentially catastrophic pairing of cars waits on the San Lorenzo siding. Verne's great sense of humor and attention to detail really come through on scenes like this. I designed the graphics for the Lytum & Hyde car and Verne painted, decaled and detailed the 18' Bachmann boxcar.


Many thanks to Verne Niner for hosting the first meeting of the Arizona On30 Desperados. Our motto is "We don't need no steenkin' badges!" Members share a light-hearted and fun approach to the hobby and a passion for funky old Southwestern narrow gauge lines.



In addition to running some trains on Verne's layout, we also had a great cactus building clinic led by Travis Handschug. Thanks to Travis, I'm now replacing all of the big cacti along the Thunder Mesa line with better looking models inspired by his techniques.

There was also discussion of combining all of our modeling efforts on a portable/modular layout in the future, but those plans are still up in the air at this time. The next Desperados meeting will be here in Thunder Mesa country. Stay tuned for more updates on this informal little club.

Be sure to check out Vern's wonderful layout, as well as all of the great modeling tips and how-to's on his website.

Adios 'till next time!

Friday, October 11, 2013

Update to the Track Plans Page

My Blogger stats have shown that lots of folks seem to enjoy looking at track plans. With that in mind, the Track Plan page is now Track Plans, plural. The page has been updated with drawings in On30, HO and HOn30, showing the evolution of ideas for Thunder Mesa - from Nature's Wonderland and the Big Thunder & Western, through some current possible expansion plans for an On18 Calico.



I love to draw plans, and a new Grand Plan for the entire layout is in the works so the page will be getting updated again soon.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Thunder Mesa Inspirations #2: The Disneyland Railroad

Disneyland Railroad Bicentennial Poster, created for WED by my friend Jim Michaelson, with help from Ernie Prinzhorn and Rudy Lord. © Disney


"I just want it to look like nothing else in the world... and it should be surrounded by a train."
- Walt Disney, speaking to his artists about the idea for Disneyland 

1958 Dsineyland souvenir map, drawn by Sam McKim. © Disney

1964 Disneyland souvenir map, drawn by Sam McKim. © Disney

I do not clearly remember my first visit to Disneyland, it was 1966 and I was four years old at the time. I do remember the train. It gleamed in the California sunshine, chuffing, hissing, a living, magical thing in red and green and gold, the colors of Christmas. It was love at first sight. I don't even remember for sure if we rode the train that day, but I do know that I have ridden on every single Disneyland trip since then. And there have been many. A few years ago I took my own 4 year old son for a ride on the Disneyland Railroad. It was still magic.

"Magic of the Rails" by yours truly. I painted this for the Carolwood Pacific Historical Society, a group dedicated to preserving Walt Disney's railroad legacy. © Dave Meek

The Carolwood Pacific

It's no secret that Walt Disney loved trains, particularly steam trains, and some form of miniature railroad was included from the very first in plans and drawings for Disneyland. As a young lad, he had worked on the Missouri Pacific as a news butcher, selling magazines, peanuts and candy bars to commuters. Much later, with the success of the Disney Studio and with help from studio machinist Roger Broggie, Walt built his own 1/8th scale railroad in the backyard of his home in Holmby Hills in 1950. Christened the Carolwood Pacific (for the street where the Disney's home was located, Carolwood Lane), the little railroad boasted 2,615' of track, a 46' long trestle bridge, and a 90' long tunnel under his wife's flower bed. A workshop was also built on the property in the shape of a rural barn. "Walt's Barn" became Disney's favorite retreat from studio pressures, and he spent many happy hours there tinkering away on projects. From that barn and the miniature railroad grew the idea for Disneyland.


The Carolwood Pacific no longer exists but some of its original equipment, along with Walt's Barn and Combine 101 from the Disneyland Railroad, have been preserved by the Carolwood Pacific Historical Society.

The Santa Fe & Disneyland Railroad

Construction of Walt's magical little park began in 1954, on the site of an orange grove in Anaheim, California. With the expert guidance of Roger Broggie and Earl Vilmer, the railroad was the very first attraction completed for the new park.

Disneyland, shortly after opening.


When Disneyland opened on July 17th, 1955, there were only two trains on the line: the Passenger Train, headed up by locomotive #2, the E. P. Ripley, and the Freight Train, powered by engine #1, the C. K. Holiday.

Vintage postcard of the E.P. Ripley and Passenger Train at Main Street Station. © Disney

Vintage postcard of the C.K. Holiday and Freight Train at Frontierland Station. © Disney

Both locomotives were 4-4-0 American types, built at approximately 5/8" scale and based on scaled up drawings of Walt Disney's 1/8" scale Carolwood Pacific locomotive, the Lilly Belle. Mechanically, these first two engines were nearly identical, but cosmetic details like smoke stacks, domes and headlamps, placed each in a different era. The Holiday was adorned as a locomotive of the 1880s, while the Ripley had the appearance of an early 1900s engine. Today's park visitors may be surprised to learn that in those first years of operation, the Passenger Train only stopped at Main Street, and the Freight train could only be boarded in Frontierland. There were passing sidings at each station that allowed each train to make the complete "Grand Circle Tour" before returning to its station. So the Freight would pass right by Main Street Station and the Passenger Train would take the siding at Fronteirland and keep right on going! This operating scheme didn't last very long, however, and today you can board or de-board any train at any of the four stations along the line.

© Disney

From 1955 through 1974, the Railroad was sponsored by the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe and both locomotives bore names in honor of that fabled line. The C. K. Holiday was named for Cyrus Kurtz Holiday, founder of the Santa Fe, while the E. P. Ripley honors a fomer president of the AT&SF, Edward Payson Ripley. In those days, all equipment on the line was lettered for the Santa Fe & Disneyland Railroad and the distinctive blue and white heralds of the Santa Fe adorned each station.

A seperate ticket was required for each Disneyland train in the early days. Note the Santa Fe & Disneyland herald. © Disney

The Grand Circle Tour

As the popularity of Disneyland grew, new locomotives and trains were added to the roster. In 1958, engine #3, the Fred Gurley entered service, and the new open-sided excursion train came on line with the opening of the Grand Canyon Diorama.

© Disney 

© Disney


The Fred Gurley is a 2-4-4T Forney type locomotive and was named after the then president of the Santa Fe in 1958.

© Disney


The following year, engine #4, the Ernest S. Marsh entered service. This engine has a 2-4-0 wheel arrangement and was named for Santa Fe's chairman of the board in 1959.

The Ernest S. Marsh at Toontown Staion. The Marsh came to Disneyland in 1959. Toontown Station opened in 1993.  © Disney

In 1966, Walt Disney expanded the Grand Canyon Diorama, adding audio-animatronic dinosaurs created by his imagineers for the Ford pavilion at the 1964 World's Fair. Sadly, the new "Primeval World" marked the end of regular use for the original yellow passenger train that had debuted with the park in 1955. Though handsomely built and period accurate, the six car train was slow to load and unload, and small windows made it difficult for guests to see the dioramas. The train was slowly fazed out of use and retired permanently in 1974. Two new, open-sided trains were brought on line in 1966. Called Holiday Green and Holiday Blue by the crews, these cars have the familiar side facing benches and striped awnings that guests see at the park today. The original Freight Train was also retrofitted in a similar style and became the train known as Holiday Red.

© Disney

Retlaw 1 was the name given to the original Passenger Train (while the Freight Train was known as Retlaw 2). Retlaw wast the name of Walt Disney's private company that owned and operated the trains and monorails at Disneyland and employed their crews. Retlaw, of course, is "Walter" spelled backwards. Most of  Retlaw 1 was sold off to private collectors. Four coaches are now owned by the Pacific Coast Railroad in Santa Margarita, California. The Retlaw 1 Combine, #101, was recently acquired by the Carolwood Foundation and is now on display near Walt's Barn in Griffith Park. Only the train's excursion car, #106, Grand Canyon, can still be seen at Disneyland. It was restored and refurbished and now rides the rails as the opulent Lilly Belle parlor car.

Ride the Disneyland Railroad!

Today, as it always has, the Disneyland Railroad serves as a living history lesson in American steam railroading. Though small in scale, the trains are still powered by authentic steam engines, providing the same nostalgic journey that Walt Disney wanted for his guests all those years ago. And now, with the passage of time, they have also become a living reminder of Disneyland's past. Much has changed at the park in the last 58 years, but Walt's trains still roll on.

And the railroad has grown. The track is longer now than it was in 1955, thanks to the addition of New Orleans Square, Critter Country and it's a small world. And just recently, a fifth locomotive has joined the roster: engine #5, the Ward Kimball.

DRR #5, the Ward Kimball

Ward was a great Disney animator and a true lover of trains, perhaps best known as the creator of Jimminy Cricket. His own 3' gauge Grizzly Flats railroad is something of a legend itself - but that might be a topic for another post.

Much, much more could be written about the Disneyland Railroad, and, in fact, has been. Much of what I know about the topic comes from Steve DeGaetano's wonderful book, Welcome Aboard the Disneyland Railroad. The book is now, sadly, out of print, but his equally marvelous book on the Ward Kimball locomotive is still available. Maybe if enough people ask, he'll do another print run, or better yet, an updated and revised edition (hint, hint).

Other great Disney Railroad resources are:
So, gentle reader, the next time you are at Disneyland (or Disney World, or Disneyland Paris, or Tokyo Disneyland), please make time to ride the railroad as you hurry on your way to Space Mountain or Pirates. Its a wonderful, living piece of Disney history and a personal connection to Walt Disney himself. And, I think, if you've read this far, that kind of thing matters to you.

As always, comments, questions and conversation are welcome.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

A New Look & New Features for the Thunder Mesa Website

Welcome to the redesigned Thunder Mesa blog! 



In addition to a new look, the site also has several new features that can be accessed from the tabs near the top of this page.
  • The Track Plan tab gives a view of the most up to date overall plan for the TMMC.
  • The Photo Album tab will take you to a slide show with the very best photos from Thunder Mesa country.
  • The Plans & Graphics tab opens a page featuring downloadable PDF files for many of the structures and plans seen on this site. (They're free! Just don't try to sell 'em!)
  • The Layout Construction tab leads to a an ever-growing slideshow documenting the layout from bare-benchwork to the present day.
  • The Videos tab is where to find large format versions of every video pertaining to the TMMC.
So click around! Have fun and, as always, thanks for stopping in!

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Your Pass for Thunder Mesa


This rail pass is good between all points and stations along the Thunder Mesa Line - though you might have to shrink down to an inch and half tall in order to use it.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Aerial View - September 30, 2013

Time for our monthly (more of less) helicopter shot showing progress on the layout to date! Let's see what's changed in the last month or so...

Before: August 26, 2013

After: September 30, 2013


Still no track laid in the new Calico section, but the scenery has been roughed in over Rainbow Caverns and in the new town and turntable areas. The turntable itself has been installed (though still not wired) and a small new section has been added where the just completed Thunder Mesa Depot now sits. The bookshelves have been moved to make way for further expansion of the layout as plans for this area continue to evolve.

All in all a pretty productive month on the old railroad. Throughout October I'll be focused more on a few rolling stock projects I'd like to get finished and perhaps a little more scenery building. Thanks for checking in!

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Thunder Mesa Depot Grand Opening


It looks like Billy Hill & The Hillbillies have come down to play and everyone's having a grand time at Thunder Mesa Depot's grand opening celebration!

Monday, September 23, 2013

Lights, Sounds & Details for Thunder Mesa Depot

Well, I think I can safely say that Thunder Mesa Depot is now finished. Of course, there are always more details to add and little things to tweak but the project has now reached that point where I'm ready to move on to the next thing.

The platform is detailed, the signs are hung, the roof is weathered and the lights are on. Yup, looks finished to me.

Details, Details, Details

I like loads of detail in my structures, both to give them character and to help tell the story. This last week was spent creating lots of little details for the depot.

Platform details. These are mostly resin and white metal castings from various sources, painted with artists acrylics. I use an airbrush to get even coverage and some variations in the color. The tinier details were painted with a tiny brush. 

More platform details. The big trunks are castings from Wiseman. Some of the smaller suitcases were made from bits of strip-wood with music wire handles.

You can paint just about anything with acrylics, but wood, metal and plastic all need to be primed first. This batch of details has just been primed with a rattle-can enamel. 

Pot-bellied stove and coffeepot for the depot.

Stove and other details installed inside. 

A broom for sweeping up. 

Signs and smoke-jack ready to install.  The signs are made from paper, wire and wood. The smoke-jack is from Grandt Line.

Lights and Sounds

With a detailed interior like this, it's nice if people can actually see it. I decided to add LED lighting to the structure, along with some digital telegraph sounds with an ITT Products sound module.


LED lighting. One of the bulbs provides a lantern-like flicker.

The interior is lit by one 5mm yellow LED and one 5mm flickering LED. The covered waiting area has its own 5mm LED. The yellow bulbs are very diffused at 360ยบ while the flicker bulb is more focused. Wiring for LEDs is pretty straightforward once you figure out that they are polarity specific and every bulb must have its own resistor. The resistors in this case are 510 ohm to match up with a 9 -12v DC power source. The tricky part is soldering all of the tiny components without burning out the LEDs. I tin all of the pieces to be soldered beforehand and use a heat sink (wet paper towel). Tinning with solder beforehand means you only have to touch the components with a hot iron for a second or less to get a good bond.

The LEDs provide a nice warm glow.

Only one flicker bulb was used because a little flicker goes a long way.

The wires run down through the walls, through the platform, and beneath the layout. Since LEDs are polarity specific, it was important to keep track of which wire was which - red for positive, black for negative. A mini-plug connector was used to hook up to the effects control panel. This allows the structure to be easily removed from the layout if necessary. The white dots insure proper polarity alignment. The sound unit is hard-wired beneath the layout and not physically attached to the depot.

Here are the components of the ITTP sound system, a 9v DC transformer (also used for the lights) the sound module and a 2" speaker. Hook-up was super easy and the sound is great. I can highly recommend ITT Products.

The sound module was mounted below the layout with 3M foam tape. It doesn't really matter where this goes, what's important is the placement of the speaker. I put mine directly beneath the depot platform (the pink foam makes a great resonator). I had originally planned to cram the speaker in under the roof along with the lighting but there was no need and it actually sounds better where it is. 

And here is my hi-tech special effects control panel! Actually, the real panel is yet to be built and will control all of the lighting, sound and animation effects in Thunder Mesa. In the meantime, this good old, well used, highly temporary Atlas Connector performs the necessary on/off duties.

Okay! I think that covers it for the Thunder Mesa Depot project. It's amazing how much can be packed in to such a small structure. Thanks for stopping in! Here's two more for the road.



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