Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Building Dinosaur Gap

Engine #1, the Marc F. Davis, hauls another load of Leaverite through Dinosaur Gap on a hot, sunny afternoon.  Sky and smoke effects by Photoshop, all else as modeled. There will be more on the story of Engine #1 in a future post.

Bones in the Desert 

"Ya know, I hear tell a long time ago Dinosaurs roamed this area. 'Course all ya find now is cactus, snakes and coyotes... And sometimes the sun-bleached bones of an ancient animal."
So spoke Dal McKennon during the recorded spiel on the old Mine Train Thru Nature's Wonderland at Disneyland, describing the scene as the little yellow trains passed by a fossilized T-Rex in the Living Desert. Later, when the Big Thunder Mountain Railroad replaced Nature's Wonderland, the idea of a fossilized dinosaur was carried over and imbedded in the rock as part of the exciting climax of the attraction.

Big Thunder's dino. © Disney

Since both the Living Desert and Big Thunder Mountain prominently featured a dinosaur skeleton, I knew I just had to include a scene like that in my story of Thunder Mesa.

Dinosaur Gap on the Thunder Mesa Line. The bones came from the local toy department.

Dinosaur Gap is a major scene on my small railroad, one that I've been planning on from the very beginning. I had put off tackling it for a long time since I wasn't sure exactly how I would make the bones. Finally, I had a serendipitous moment when I saw the perfect item while shopping with my son at the toy store. There was an educational kit for building a Tyrannosaurus Rex from the bones up. It was a little more than I wanted to pay but it was just the right size. I bit the bullet and brought one home. Now I had no excuse for not finishing the scene.

Fitting and Sculpting

Once I got Rex home, I picked out the parts I wanted to use from the kit and went to work. I wanted a more naturalistic position for the fossil than what is seen on Big Thunder, and I wanted it to look as if the natural weathering and erosion had only recently exposed the bones from their sixty five million year old hiding place.

Testing the fit. I had to "break" a few bones to get everything where I wanted it.

Carving away a little of the existing scenery.

A bed of fresh Sculptamold for the bones to rest in. The mixture had to be pretty stiff to stay where I wanted it.

The bones were then pushed into the wet Sculptamold and a clay modeling tool was used to work the paste up around them and sculpt the rock.

Ballasting the Rails

While waiting for the Sculptamold to set up, I decided to go ahead and ballast all of the track in the scene. I had already painted the track awhile back using Floquil paint pens, mostly Rail Brown for the the ties and Rust for the rails (with a few ties dry-brushed with unbleached titanium here and there for a little variety). Yet, I always seem to put ballasting off for some reason. It must have something to do with a traumatic N scale experience long ago. Anyway, ballasting in On30 is a lot easier given the size of things. I used Chick Grit from the local feed store for my ballast. It's just the right size and has a nice, uneven texture compared to most commercial model railroad ballast. The only problem is that it is a white granite and I wanted a ballast with more the look of buff limestone. My solution was to die the ballast with diluted acrylic paint.

Pouring some Purina Chick Grit into a soupy mixture of raw sienna acrylic paint. The paint has to be diluted by just the right amount for this to work; too thick and the grit will all glue together, too thin and the color won't take. No, I have no idea what ratio I used. I eyeballed it as usual. After soaking in the paint for two days, I strained the grit through an old t-shirt and let it dry in the sun. The result was a nice, varied buff color ballast.

The ballast was applied in the usual way, spread out with a soft brush, wetted down with "wet" water and held in place with diluted matte medium (1:1). The masking tape is a dam to keep the ballast in place on the steep slope while the glue dries. 

Painting and Finishing

Both the ballast and the Sculptamold were allowed to dry for a couple of days and then it was time for the final paint job. The bones and the rocks were finished using my usual colors and methods. The bones, technically, are rock, fossils that is, and I didn't want them to stand out too much or look garish.

First, a coat of the scenic base color, Glidden "French Mustard."

A wash of diluted India ink. 

The final paint job - using mostly raw sienna, burnt umber and unbleached (buff) titanium acrylics, dry-brushed on with a light touch.

Once the paint job was done it was time to bring some life to the Living Desert with plants, rocks and ground cover. One of the keys to good model scenery, I believe, is a variety of textures. With that in mind I use a mix of commercial products, scratch built trees and cacti, sticks from the yard and real dirt and rocks from nearby Sedona, AZ.

Some of the scenic elements here include rocks and red dirt from Sedona, hand-built balsa cacti, Silflor grass tufts and flowers, Woodland Scenics Course Turf and Field Grass, dead branches from our rose bush, and some excellent prickly-pear cactus castings from Pegasus Hobbies.

Overall view of the finished scene. The scraggly juniper trees are made with rose bush twigs and Woodland Scenics Dark Green Foliage.

Okay! That should do it for this update. Next time I'll tell the detailed story of Engine #1. Thanks for checking in. Adios for now!

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