Friday, March 28, 2014

Saguaro Siding and the Track to Nowhere

The lanterns are lit and work continues into the evening at Saguaro Siding as engine No. 4, the Earl Vilmer heads up-grade with a night train bound for Calico.

In between structure projects, I've been working on bringing a few areas of the layout up to a more finished state. One such area is a scene I call Saguaro Siding. It's the short stub of track that switches back from the Mill Siding in Thunder Mesa. Hanging 6" above Saguaro siding is the end of the High Line, poking out of a short tunnel through Baxter's Butte. Literally up in the air with no real plan, that bit of rail earned the title of "Track to Nowhere."

This interesting meeting of upper and lower tracks has gone through several revisions since the layout began. The lower spur was, at different times, to be the home of a small engine shed, then some stock pens, and still later an ore bin. The upper track was originally conceived as an automated back and forth shunting operation, then it became On18 for a short while until I finalized a plan to join the track with the mainline coming upgrade to Calico. At long last I've settled on a scene that connects the lower and upper tracks in a way that tells a story while providing some visual and operational interest to the railroad.

Saguaro Siding is a small scene sandwiched between Baxter's Butte, McKennon Arch and the Cactus Forest.

The Track to Nowhere

I had a vague idea that the upper track protruding from Baxter's Butte should be a tailings trestle of some kind, a place where the upper level mines could dump their waste rock. Inspiration struck when I realized that the trestle could also support a small loading dock and hoist to bring supplies up to the mines from the siding below.

This lightly built tailings trestle was made from 3/16" dowels and dimensional strip-wood to fit the scene. The bridge deck is scale 8"x8" bridge ties from Kappler

The loading dock was decked with coffee stir sticks and the hand cranked jib hoist was cobbled together using junk from the scrap box. The hoist line is painted elastic thread.

I wanted to illuminate the trestle scene with warm, flickering lantern light so a kerosene type lantern was built around a 2.5mm flickering yellow LED. The base is a slice from a juice box straw and the top is made from a sequin, pin head and music wire. The diodes extend through holes drilled in the crate to wiring hidden below decks.

A crate was built from scribed siding so the wiring and 510 Ohm resistor for the lantern could be hidden inside. Music wire was bent to shape and hidden beneath the walkway to bring power to the LED.  Glue and a few rail spikes hold it in place.  The wiring is invisible with the trestle in place on the layout.

Saguaro Siding

With the trestle finished, I turned my attention to the lower track, building a wooden loading dock on one side and a small shack and stone loading dock on the other.

The small supply shack was built from illustration board, strip-wood and Grandt Line doors and windows. The corrugated roofing is painted and weathered paper roofing from an old Classic Miniatures kit. The stone loading dock was carved from Balsa Foam and painted with acrylics. A 5mm yellow LED inside and a 2.5mm flickering yellow LED hidden under the porch awning light the structure.

Across the track is a wagon transfer dock built atop scale 12"x12" beams with a deck of coffee stir sticks. Another lantern was constructed on a drilled out Rusty Stumps barrel with a 2.5mm yellow flickering led, music wire and slices from a juice box straw.

Finishing the Scene

With all of the wires for the lighting hooked up beneath the layout, both the trestle and the shack were blended into the scenery with Sculptamold, paint, real dirt and rocks, and various scenery products.

A thick mixture of Sculptamold, dyed with some Raw Sienna acrylic paint, was worked in around the stone loading dock and beneath the trestle bents. The retaining wall was built in place using stained and distressed Kappler ties.

After the Sculptamold had dried overnight, the area was painted with more Raw Sienna, the primary color for most of the rock work in Thunder Mesa.

Once the paint was dry, full strength matte medium was brushed over everything to be covered with dirt and rocks. This step helps ensure that scenery material will bond to the more vertical surfaces.

Several layers of rocks and dirt were backfilled beneath the trestle bents and behind the retaining wall. Each layer was  carefully sprinkled on with a spoon before being saturated with wet-water (water with a few drops of dishwashing liquid to break the surface tension) and then cemented into place with white glue diluted 1:1 with water. For the topmost layer, I chose a darker red, broken sandstone from my collection of Sedona rocks and dirt.  This creates a nice contrast with the surrounding rocks and simulates tailings mined from deep within the mountain. While the glue was still wet, weeds, bushes, small cacti and various bits of rusty junk were pressed into the surface.

Last but not least, a ladder was constructed from strip-wood and cemented in place so the O scale mine workers could get from the siding up to the hoist platform. The figure was sculpted from acrylic modeling paste over a wire armature.

The little shack and its stone platform.

Overall view of the completed scene.

The upper trestle deck and loading dock. The jib hoist was inspired by a similar crane at Big Thunder Mountain Railroad in Disneyland.

Though I'll probably add a few more details here and there and junk things up a bit more, I'm happy to get this little corner of the layout to a place where it's more or less finished. Now I can look forward to the added operating potential Saguaro Siding will bring to the railroad as an occasional flat car loaded with supplies for the mines is spotted there.

That'll about do it for this week's update. Thanks to all who checked in, and an extra special thanks to those who take the time to comment. Adios for now!

Friday, March 21, 2014

Rainbow Desert Freight Lines

Located next to Thunder Mesa Depot, Rainbow Desert Freight Lines provides express wagon service to many frontier outposts not served by the railroad. This graphic is one of the signs created to help transform an old B.T.S. Red Eye Saloon kit into an office for the freight lines.

From Saloon Kit to Freight Office 

After finishing up Big Thunder Saloon I was inspired to keep things rolling with another structure project. This time it's a kit-bash of an old B.T.S. Red Eye Saloon. It's a nice kit with great period architectural details and a small size that's a perfect match for the other diminutive structures in Thunder Mesa Town. Looking at the kit, I realized that with a little creative imagineering it would be perfect for an empty spot next to the depot.

This is what I started with. I built the Red Eye Saloon kit for another layout years ago but never got around to finishing it. Luckily, the roof was never glued down and that made it easier to bash and detail the structure now.

And this is the final product ready to be installed on the layout. New signs, a new front porch, loading dock, roof, lights and interior details are just some of the modifications made to the structure.

The loading dock with miscellaneous freight, Grandt Line freight doors and a wall mounted oil lamp.

Step one was carefully cutting through the scribed basswood siding of the model to create an opening for the Grandt Line freight door.

The freight door and frame were primed and the door was airbrushed in a two tone scheme to match the structure.

The freight door was cemented into place with ACC and the transom windows glassed with frosted acrylic. A new foundation was created from 1/4" thick MDF with the edges scribed and carved to resemble 12" x 12" scale timbers.

A wall mounted oil lamp was created for the loading dock by assembling the pieces above.

The finished lamp. The protruding diodes were bent back at right angles to the lamp, extending through holes in the structure and connected to the interior wiring.

The oil lamp in place on the structure.

An awning for the loading dock was constructed from illustration board and I made these decorative brackets from scale 6" x 6" stock to hold it in place.  The balls are dress-pin heads.

The awning roof was covered in hi-res printed photo-textures of actual tarpaper roofing. Scale 12" stock was used to deck the platform and front porch.

Interior walls were laid out in Adobe Photoshop using wood plank photo-textures and a door from, along with various signs, posters and pictures. The print out was laminated to 1/16" thick illustration board using 3M 45 all purpose spray adhesive.

When cut out and assembled inside the structure, it is very difficult to tell that the interior walls are merely printed paper.

A counter, chair and oil lamp complete the interior detailing. The lamp was constructed around a 2.5mm yellow LED. The lion's share of interior space holds wiring for three LEDs that light the structure: the counter lamp, the flickering platform lamp, and a hidden 5mm yellow LED to illuminate the back room windows. Power enters from beneath the floor.

The counter lamp provides a steady, warm glow.

Testing out all the lights.

The original stove pipe from the B.T.S. kit was a bit oversized for such a small structure and I ended up replacing it with one from Grandt Line. The weathering was done with chalks and dry-brushed acrylic paints.

To finish the structure, I added a few crates and barrels to the platform, including one open, scratch built crate filled with packing straw (actually finely cut Woodland Scenics dry grass). A new, better fitting roof was built from illustration board and covered with photo-texture tar paper.

Rear view. The rafter ends are illustration board.

One Thing Leads to Another 

Finishing the Rainbow Desert Freight Lines has inspired me to get back to work on the entire depot area, a spot on the layout which has remained untouched since the depot was completed back in September of last year. In the coming weeks I'll be filling in the scenery here, ballasting the rails, adding details and a couple more small structures to finish things off.

The space between the depot and the freight office will soon be a busy wagon loading scene. I also need to do something about that tunnel portal.

That about wraps it up for this project but there's much more to come in the town and depot areas. Thanks for checking in. Adios for now!

Friday, March 14, 2014

Building Big Thunder Saloon: Part III

Click here for part I of this series.
Click here for part II of this series.

Here's my Big Thunder Saloon, all finished and photographed outdoors in the brilliant Arizona sunshine. In today's post I'll cover the wiring for sound and lights, the interior details, roof and finishing touches.

Right side rear view.

Left side rear view.

Lights and Sound

Nothing brings a model structure to life like the addition of lighting and sounds. For the Big Thunder Saloon I used an #HQ640 Honkey Tonk sound module from ITT Products. The lighting effects are achieved with five separate LEDs; two, 5mm yellow LEDs for the interior, and three 2.5mm yellow flickering LEDs to represent lanterns on the facade and under the eaves of the side porch.

A simple black box was created from illustration board to hide 1.5" speaker and wiring. The speaker was mounted to the side wall with 3M foam tape. The main power bus comes in from beneath the floor, a red wire for positive and a black for negative. Keeping the polarity straight is important when working with LEDs since they are polarity specific.

The ITT Products sound module fits perfectly in the attic. It was wired according to the manufacturer's instructions to run as a continuous loop. Both the sound and lights are on the same circuit so everything will be powered from the main power bus. 

The wiring from the two flickering lanterns out front runs through the wall and into the attic. Every LED must have its own resistors when wire in series.  510 Ohm 1/4 watt resistors were soldered to the positive leads and black wires soldered to the negative. I also doubled up on the resistors to lower the LED's output a bit. To see how I created the lanterns themselves, check part II of this series.

As the final course of logs was being added, another 2.5mm flickering yellow LED was installed within the framework of the side porch roof.

Two, 5mm yellow non-flickering LEDs were installed in the saloon's ceiling to provide interior lighting. The ceiling is 1/16" thick illustration board and snugs down between to the top course of logs, preventing light leaks.

With leads and resistors soldered into place, everything was isolated and covered with electrical tape to prevent shorts.

With the sound module, speaker and all of the lights in place, there was a real bird's nest of wiring to try and fit under the roof!

Here the speaker is wired to the sound module, all of the red wires are soldered to the positive bus and all of the black wires are soldered to the negative bus. Easy peasy.

To finish up the wiring, the main power bus from beneath the saloon was fitted with a mini plug, with the female end leading to the layout's lighting and effects panel where a 9v transformer supplies the power. This makes it easy to unplug and remove the structure from the layout if necessary. Heat-shrink tubing keeps everything tidy and the white dots keep the wiring polarity aligned.

Interior Details

The saloon's interior is visible through the front doors and windows so I wanted to pack it with detail. The Honky Tonk sound module gives the impression of a raucous Saturday night with a piano, banjo and laughter from the crowd. I did my best to make the interior details match those sounds.

I found this nifty laser cut piano kit on ebay. It does a great job of representing an 1880's era Steinway.

Just about every saloon in the Wild West had at least one tasteful nude behind the bar, as well as the famous Anheuser Busch lithograph of Custer's Last Stand. Interior signs and paintings were mocked up in Photoshop and printed out on heavy inkjet presentation paper.

The interior has a total of ten figures. The banjo player is from Woodland Scenics. The bartender and gamblers are from Grandt Line. The piano player is from People Scale. The bar was created from basswood planks and three Rusty Stumps barrels. The mounted buffalo head is from and HO scale critter.

The poker table was created in photoshop and the bottles on the bar are carved graphite pencil leads.

The view through the front windows.

The view through the front windows.

The side porch was finished off with some old white metal castings from my scrap box, a Banta Model Works wooden chair and a broom from Wiseman Model Services. The roof is painted and textured illustration board.

The Roof and Final Details

The roof of Big Thunder Saloon needed to be both removable and sturdy. Here's how I built it from Illustration board.

A very convincing illusion of weathered wood can be created with illustration board and watercolors. Wood grain is scribed into the surface with a fine-toothed razor saw and individual board are delineated by scribing every 12 scale inches with a sharp hobby knife.  Burnt Sienna and Ultramarine Blue watercolors are mixed together to create varying shades of warm and cool grays. The color is then applied with a soft brush, varying the tone here and there to enhance the illusion of woodgrain and individual boards.

Roof panels and rafters were cut from illustration board and only the parts that will show were painted. The rafters were glued in place on 24" centers with Aleen's Tacky glue. This made for a very rigid structure.

The roof was finished with Bar Mills laser cut shingles. I chose a weathered warm gray to contrast with the dark browns of the saloon walls. The smoke stack is a Grandt Line casting with guy wires made from music wire. The roof was weathered with brown, black and gray chalks and then sealed with a light spray of Testor's Dullcoat. The roof simply sits in place atop the structure and is easily removable so that wiring and interior details can be accessed. 

With the roof completed, I moved on to the rock and dirt area on the right side to do a little landscaping. Full strength matte medium was brushed over the entire area.

Real dirt and rocks from Sedona, Arizona were sprinkled and pressed into the wet matte medium. More dirt was added and a little rubbing alcohol held it in place while more diluted (1:1) matte medium was drizzled over the top.

Once the matte medium dried, an assortment of high desert plants were added: tall grass from Woodland Scenics, Spring flowers from Scenic Express,  a prickly pear casting, and my own special recipe Manzanita bushes.

The Finished Model

Big Thunder Saloon was a fun and rewarding build, definitely my most complex model to date on the TMMC and I really enjoyed putting it all together. Here it is in its new home on the layout with the wiring hooked up and the power on.

At home on the layout. There are still lots of structures to be built in Thunder Mesa Town.

Here's a quick video showing the lighting and sound effects.

Friday Updates

There are a lot of projects underway on Thunder Mesa these days and I'm  going to do my best to post a new update at least once a week on Fridays. Please don't hesitate to add comments or questions below. Thanks for checking in. Adios for now!
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