Thursday, March 14, 2013

McKennon Arch & The Cactus Forest


Under threatening skies, a daily mixed train passes beneath McKennon Arch. Porter #2 chugs through the Cactus Forest on its way to Thunder Mesa as a wily coyote looks on. 

Sky and smoke effects added in Photoshop, all else as modeled.

The latest section of scenery to be completed on the TMMC is a large swath of the Living Desert that includes the Cactus Forest and majestic McKennon Arch. The arch is named for the late Dallas McKennon, beloved character actor and voice of both the Big Thunder Mountain Railroad and its Disneyland predecessor, the Mine Train Thru Nature's Wonderland.

Cactus Forest on the original Disneyland Mine Train. Many of the cacti assumed human and humorous shapes on the attraction, including the Seven Dwarves. I decided to go a little more naturalistic on my version. Photo © Disney.


The Cactus Forest was an area of the Living Desert on the old Nature's Wonderland attraction that was not carried over when Big Thunder was created. Nevertheless, I have many fond memories of the old Mine Train ride and wanted to include a version of the Cactus Forest on my Thunder Mesa Line.

Finishing McKennon Arch and the Scenery Base

McKennon Arch is part of a ridge that forms a scenic divider on the layout, visually separating the Geyser Gulch scene from the Cactus Forest and engine service area. I knew I wanted to finish this ridge and blend it in with Baxter's Butte before I tackled the Cactus Forest. This is just a quick "what I did," for a complete "how I did it" rock tutorial, please see my Rock Work 101 series.

Nothing to see here, just some painted polystyrene foam. Things will be getting messy from here so I protected the track with masking tape.

Slathering on some Sculptamold with  my preferred sculpting tool, a butter knife. 

Letting the Sculptamold dry after it has been shaped and blended with the Balsa Foam carvings. 

Sanding excess Sculptamold off of the profile board once it has dried.

Scenery painted with my standard base color.

Darkened with a spray of diluted India Ink.

The finished paint job.

Detail of McKennon Arch.

Adding Ground Cover and Desert Plants

Once the rock work and scenery base was painted and allowed to dry it was time to add the ground cover and details. Once again I used real dirt and rocks collected in Sedona, AZ and near Moab, UT. For the greenery, I used a variety of products from Woodland Scenics and Scenic Express, plus my own, scratch built saguaro cacti. I made about fifteen cacti, using John Olson's tried and true method of carving them from balsa wood. These large cacti were intermixed with some smaller castings from Woodland Scenics. Small bushes are Woodland Scenics Extra Course Turf, and the clumps of grass and flowering plants are Silflor Tufts from Scenic Express.

Sprinkling on real dirt and small rocks.

Wetting everything down with a spray of "wet" water: water with a few drops of liquid detergent added to break the surface tension.

Flooding everything with a generous amount of white glue diluted 1:1 with water.  Diluted matte medium also works.

Gluing down larger rocks and boulders. 

After all the rocks and dirt have been added. 

I construct all of my cacti and trees with a small nail sticking out the bottom for planting. When everything is still wet, it's easy to push them right into the base. A dab of full strength white glue holds it in place.

Adding a Silflor Tuft to a dab of white glue. These tufts are an excellent product from Scenic Express and can produce very realistic looking scenery. I highly recommend them.

There are always flowers in bloom at Disneyland, so when it came time to decide on a season for Thunder Mesa there was never any question that it would be springtime to early summer. The Sonoran Desert in bloom can be an astoundingly beautiful place and I wanted to capture some of that on the layout. The flowers are "Early Spring" and "Late Spring" wildflower tufts from Silflor.

The Living Desert.

Desert Critters

The Living Desert will be full of wildlife and here are a just few that have found homes there so far.

This curious raven sits atop a cactus. He's made from acrylic modeling paste over a wire armature.

The coyote or desert wolf, carved from balsa wood.

And what would paradise be without a few serpents? This diamondback rattlesnake is a painted bit of solid core copper wire.

What's Next?

Track through the Cactus Forest has been painted but still needs to be detailed with ballast and weeds. I'm waiting on some Woodland Scenics medium buff ballast via mail order.

Trackside view of the completed area. I still need to balast the track and build a tailings trestle for the high-line track at right.

As for the next major scenery project, I'll probably finish Geyser Gulch next, then it's on to Big Thunder Creek and the rest of the town area. Stay Tuned!

Adios for now!

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