Saturday, November 8, 2014

Aerial View, Exspansion and the Town of Thunder Mesa

It's been six months since the last aerial view update and a lot has happened on the layout since then. Much progress has been made in the Big Thunder Creek area and new benchwork has been added to the Thunder Mesa section to bring it in line with the new plan. Work has also begun on a new design for the town of Thunder Mesa, along with all of the necessary wiring for the lights and sound effects in that scene. Let's stoke the boiler in our imaginary airship and take a flight high over Thunder Mesa to see what's new.

Six months ago: May 2, 2014. That pesky Calico section was just starting construction. Good thing I didn't get too much further.

This morning: November 8, 2014. Old benchwork for the Calico section has been removed and the Thunder Mesa "island" section moved out 3' from the back wall. 

The new "folded dog-bone" style plan that I'm now working from. As well as a new layout for Calico and the addition of San Lorenzo, this plan calls for big changes in the orientation of Thunder Mesa town. For those keeping score at home, this is the third (and hopefully final) location for the town.

Moving in a little closer we can see the recent work done on the Never Mine and Big Thunder Creek. Replacing the paper model mock-up of Thunder Mesa Mill (to the right of the creek) with a finished structure is high on the list of projects to tackle soon.

Flying around the bend we get a view of the new layout for Thunder Mesa town. Six inches of new benchwork was added to the end of this section where it formerly butted against the wall. This created room for a much longer passing siding and a more visually appealing presentation of the town - while still leaving room for a 30" wide aisle.


Just a Little Bit Bigger

The original, central Thunder Mesa section of the layout is now 8.5' long by 4.5' at its widest point. If I ever have to move, that's about as big as it can get and still have any hope of being able to pick it up with a couple other guys and carry it out the door. It started out as 3' x 6' and just hasn't stopped growing. A 54" x 6" chunk of new real estate has been grafted on to the back end to make more room for the town and vastly improved operations.

Extending the benchwork 6 more inches. The rounded end will be covered by a 1/8" masonite fascia. The turntable will be relocated to a new section at the end of the aisle with an expanded yard and engine facilities. 

Here the old track and roadbed has been removed and everything scraped clean down to the plywood. I use Elmer's wood glue to affix my cork roadbed, making it easy to remove when soaked with water and pealed up with a putty knife.

New 1/2" plywood top in place. This will act as support for the town and sub-roadbed for the new tracks. The turntable hole will be covered by the base of the town module.

Midwest HO cork roadbed has been glued down and some Peco On30 flex-track laid for the new passing siding. I used Powergrab silicone based adhesive to hold the track in place. The parallel tracks heading off the layout at top will connect to the new yard and turntable section.


The Little Mining Town of Thunder Mesa

My town of Thunder Mesa is based on the little mining town that stands above the queue on Disneyland's Big Thunder Mountain Railroad; structures that were once part of the little mining town of Rainbow Ridge on the old Nature's Wonderland Mine Train. I created plans and built paper model mock-ups for the town structures several years ago when first starting this project and those mock-ups have come in very handy over time in helping to visualize the various incarnations of Thunder Mesa town. Some of the mock-ups are now a little worse for wear and tear, and all will be retired as they are replaced by detailed structure models one by one.

WED site plan for Rainbow Ridge at Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, Disneyland. © Disney. The structures at the park are tiny and built in very shallow relief - almost like movie flats. I've tried to stay true to the general layout of structures while allowing for more realistic depth and the operational needs of a model train layout.


The town is being built as a separate module, much like a stand-alone diorama that plugs into the layout. This will allow much of it to be built and detailed at the workbench and will also minimize the risk of damage should the layout ever need to be moved. Sound and lighting effects are also integral to the town's presentation and will be completely self contained within the module.

A base for the town module was cut to size from 1/4" MDF.  A box frame of 1" x 2"s was built on top to add strength and prevent warping.

A power strip was installed to bring current to the LED lights, and to the sound module in Big Thunder Saloon. A mini-plug connects the module to the layout's effects panel and a 9v power source. The red painted screws denote the positive terminal; important to keep track of when working with LEDs.

Here, the contours of town are being roughed in with 1" thick EPF (pink foam) and some foamcore for the more gradual slopes. A retaining wall along the front edge of town will separate it from the tracks below.

Overall view of the town module. A dirt road will cross the tracks at grade and then wind up through the town. Stairs and wooden boardwalks will connect the structures.

Moving the layout out from the wall has created all new vistas and photo-ops. This should make for a dramatic and compelling scene when completed with the backdrop in place.


With the town module roughed in and the new benchwork and track in place on the Thunder Mesa section, I can turn my attention to building the frames and supports for the Calico, San Lorenzo and Coyote Canyon sections. There's also still some work to do finishing up and detailing around Big Thunder Creek and, of course, many, many structures to build. Should be fun! Thanks for checking in, amigos. Adios for now!
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