Emerging from Rainbow Caverns.
Just after leaving Thunder Mesa, trains pass beneath majestic McKennon Arch, gateway to the Living Desert, and into an active geo-thermal area known locally as Geyser Gulch. The Gulch is spanned by a rickety old wooden trestle and is home to bubbling pools, multi-hued hot springs and more than a couple erupting geysers - including "Old Unfaithful," most famous of them all.
Hot Springs and erupting Geysers at the Magic Kingdom, Walt Disney World.
Geyser Gulch under construction on the TMMC.
Modeling the physical appearance of the geysers is relatively easy, the tricky part will be making them erupt on demand.
Copper tubbing has already been installed below the geyser cauldrons, ready to be connected to the fog system.
Anyone who has followed my modeling knows that I am a big believer in using structure mock-ups to work out a scene. They are quick, easy and cheep to build and can really help answer important questions about proportions, spacing and color, especially in a group of buildings like a town. On top of that, a well built and attractive mock-up can "hold the place" for a more elaborate and delicate finished model as scenery, lighting and other details are worked in. My first round of mock-ups on the TMMC were pretty basic, just white foamcore boxes really. But as I create plans for my structures, all of which will be scratch built, I've gotten in the habit of cutting and pasting those plans together into full sized, dimensional paper models. To date, I've replaced all of my earlier plain white mock-ups with these paper models.
I design my structures in Adobe Illustrator, a wonderfully versatile vector graphics program, and use photos from the parks and educated guesses for most of the dimensions. My goal has never been to make exact copies of the Disneyland structures, but rather to capture the look and feel of them in a way that works for my layout. Here is a sampling of the plans I've created for Thunder Mesa, most are based on Disneyland structures that currently exist on the Big Thunder Mt RR, or used to exist in the little mining town of Rainbow Ridge.
El Dorado Hotel and Barber Shop.
Marshal Bound's Office. This one is from Rainbow Ridge and no longer exists at Disneyland.
Paper model mock-ups on the layout.
Thunder Mesa Gazette. This is the Big Thunder Epitaph at Disneyland.
Cordelia's Cafe. This one isn't at Disneyland. It is a freelanced design and my homage to Cordelia Knott's wonderful chicken dinners and Boysenberry pies.
Paper models on the layout.
Gold Nugget Dance Hall.
Big Thunder Saloon.
Dance Hall, Assay and Saloon as paper models.
The General Mercantile sits trackside on the layout with its own curving platform. It doubles as the town Post Office, and as train station for guests taking scenic rail excursions aboard the Thunder Mesa Line.
Another view of the Mercantile paper model. Colorful posters advertise the amazing scenic wonders along the line in "Nature's Wonderland."
Big Thunder Mill
Those familiar with Disneyland's Big Thunder Mountain Railroad might wonder why I'm not using the big, iconic ore mill/mine building to load passengers. Well, because in my world, that big building is still used for mining.
The ore dump. This is a pretty small mill so only one car at a time can dump its ore. The dump goes straight through to below the layout where loose ore can be collected in a container, then returned to the mines and load the cars all over again.
Another view of the mill. The open loading dock at right is for incoming supplies, parts, coal, etc.
Mock-up for an open-air engine shed.
Why on Earth would a little town like Thunder Mesa need an engine shed? Why, for the mill switcher of course. But, why would they need a mill switcher? Couldn't the local trains just switch the mill as they came through town? Well, yes, they could, if there was a runaround track. But there isn't, so trains traveling in one direction can switch the mill but trains traveling in the other direction can't. The solution? A mill switcher.
There is a switchback siding in Thunder Mesa and, almost from the beginning, I had though that it would be a good place for a funky old engine shed and service area. Then, for while I thought it would be a lousy place for one and decided to put some stock pens there instead. Turns out it was even a lousier place for stock pens than it was for an engine shed and I was back to square one again.
Then, as I began to think about how my little empire might actually operate I realized that an engine shed and service area would be just the thing for that spot. It also fits into my larger "Grand Plan" for expanding the layout, but I'll go into that in depth in a later update.
The engine service area is right next to McKennon Arch.
The layout as it looks today. I got so tired of looking at pink styrofoam that I went ahead and painted almost everything with my scenery base color. Much better.
A few things have changed since this original posting. The layout has expanded, the engine shed has been removed from this area, and the Mercantile has moved to the top of the mesa and no longer functions as the depot. Most importantly, all structure plans are now available online as downloadable PDF files. Click the Plans & Graphics tab at the top of the page to download.