Friday, September 26, 2014

The Never Mine: Part I ~ The Shaft House and Head-Frame

The Never Mine. Abandoned to the elements back in '85, some folks claim the old place is haunted.


Legend of the Never Mine 

High above Big Thunder Creek, on the rugged slopes of Baxter's Butte, rests the Never Mine. This is old Badwater Baxter's original claim, the oldest developed mine in these wild canyons and the same rich find that started the gold boom in Thunder Mesa Country. According to legend, when Baxter first set out from Fort Wilderness in 1865, the naysayers and local know-it-alls at the fort canteen told him he'd never find anything prospecting in that weird hoodoo country. Old Baxter just grinned beneath his big mustache, slapped his burro on the rump and said, "Never say never!" And the rest, as they say, is history
Though it was undoubtably a rich find, misfortune and strange goings-on seemed to plague the Never Mine right from the start. Mysterious cave-ins, inexplicable equipment failures, frequent accidents and more than a couple of grizzly fatalities soon gave rise to rumors that the claim was cursed or haunted. Evidence of an old Indian burial ground had been found nearby and it was commonly known that the local Ute people held the entire Mesa as sacred. It's no small wonder then that Baxter became a little addled by all the misfortune and eventually sold the claim in 1877. He drifted west to Discovery Bay where the remainder of his years and his fortune were spent experimenting with outlandish airships. The Never Mine was taken over by the Rainbow Ridge Mining Co. which was later acquired by the TMMC. By all reports, the strange happenings continued until the rich ore finally played out and the mine was abandoned in '85. 
Today, the dry desert wind whistles through the timbers of the old head-frame and the mine opening has been boarded up to keep out the curious. Or perhaps, to keep something in. Rumors of hauntings persist. Some foolish mortals say that on certain nights, when clouds obscure the stars and the zephyrs howl down the canyons, strange apparitions and ghostly voices seem to emanate from the long abandoned shaft house and the dark, gaping drift of the Never Mine.

The Model

The shaft house and head frame of the Never Mine; a little less spooky when photographed outdoors in the brilliant Arizona sunshine. The crooked smoke jack is a nod to the original Rainbow Ridge Mine that helped inspire this structure.


Inspiration for the Never Mine came from several sources. The design is loosely based on the Rainbow Ridge Mine, a tiny structure that once stood above the first tunnel on Disneyland's original Mine Train Thru Nature's Wonderland. The overall look and weathering was inspired by scouting trips to southwestern Colorado's Red Mountain Mining District.  The name, "Never Mine," is a direct reference to a bit of Imagineering humor: A signpost in the queue area for Disneyland's Big Thunder Mountain Railroad points the way to several local landmarks, including Dinosaur Gap, Coyote Canyon, Busted Flats and Never Mine.

A signpost at Disneyland. 79 miles to the Never Mine? I think it's closer than that.


I began the structure with no real plan, just modeling by the seat of my pants. Generally, I wanted a small and interesting looking abandoned mine to help round out the scenery near Big Thunder Creek. I had long thought that something which looked a little spooky and haunted might be just right for this spot and a paper model mock-up of a generic abandoned mine held the space for a couple of years. Follow along with the photos and captions to see how the shaft house and head-frame for the Never Mine went together.

The available space for a mine was pretty tight, only about 5" wide by 3.5" deep. Fortunately there was a lot of vertical space to play with and my solution was to simply stack all of the mine elements one on top of the other. A shaft house and head-frame sits on a stone foundation directly above a mine adit, which in turn will sit above a trackside ore tipple. The cliff face with the adit, or drift, was carved from Balsa Foam to match the surrounding scenery and the hoist house was laid out with 1/16" thick illustration board. The door and window are styrene Grandt Line catsings.

The tiny shaft house is a scale 8'x8' with a 24" wide catwalk on two sides. The illustration board structure was spray painted flat black. 

Coffee stir sticks were distressed with an X-acto knife and razor saw, adding woodgrain, splits and knotholes before being stained with a mix of Kiwi black shoe dye thinned with alcohol. The stir sticks are cheap, readily available, and scale out to about 11" wide in 1:48. They were cut to size and then glued in place over the illustration board with yellow carpenter's glue.

A foamcore jig was created to keep the head-frame supports straight and true during assembly.  The head-frame was built up with scale 8"x8" timbers following photos of similar structures I'd seen in Colorado. 

The head-frame was glued in place to the side of the shaft house. For added visual interest, the head-frame sits an inch (4 scale feet) lower than the shaft house.

The problem of where to put the hoist mechanism on such a tiny mine was solved by building this simple shed between the legs of the head-frame.  I guess there's a little steam hoist in there that must draw its water directly from the nearby creek. The sooty smokestack is a painted soda straw.

After assembly, the shaft house was dry-brushed with acrylic Buff Titanium to simulate old, faded whitewash. The Grandt door and window castings were primed and then dry-brushed to match, and signs were printed out on heavy paper to decorate the structure.

Grandt nut/bolt/washer castings were installed in logical places on the head-frame and watercolors were used to further age and weather the boards. Here rust stains are being added with a #1 sable brush. I mix up a batch of burnt sienna and ultramarine watercolors to create varying shades of warm grey. These are then brushed on to simulate age, rust, soot, water stains and other weathering effects. The watercolors soak right into the wood for a very realistic look and if the color gets too heavy it is easy to scrub off and blend with just a bit more water. If you try this technique though, take care, too much water can dissolve the yellow or white glue on your carefully constructed model. 

Here is the rest of the head-frame assembly and the parts hidden by the shaft house roof. The sheave wheel is from a 1:43 Model T truck, turned down with a rotary tool. The brackets holding it in place are painted paper with nut/bolt.washer castings affixed.

Before the roof was installed, lighting effects were added in the form of two 5mm LEDs. A blue LED emits a ghostly glow through the frosted panes of the shaft house window, while a flickering amber LED simulates a mysteriously rekindled firebox glimpsed through the roof of the hoist shack. The LEDs are wired in series with 510 ohm resistors soldered to the positive diodes of each bulb. A pigtail of wires protrudes from the base of the structure to connect to the layout's 9v DC accessory buss. 

The shaft house roof was made from illustration board with paper corrugated roofing. The roofing was cut into scale 4'x8' panels and painted with red oxide primer before assembly. Weathering was done with watercolors and brown, black and rust colored chalk powders. 

Rafters and rafter ends were created from scale 1"x8" stock. The crooked smoke jack is a Grandt Line casting with the crook created by sawing off the uppermost section, filing at an angle, and then glueing back in place. The jack was airbrushed silver and black and then weathered with powdered chalks.

Another view. The hoist cable is black painted elastic thread.


With the shaft house and head-frame complete I can now turn my attention to the mine adit and ore dump down below. There will be a lot more on how I built those coming in a future post. For now, thanks for checking in. Comments and questions are always welcome. Adios amigos!

Click here for part II
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