"Howdy Folks! Welcome to the little mining town of Rainbow Ridge, the gateway to Nature's Wonderland"

This is my documentation of my miniature re-creation of the long-gone Disneyland attraction: Mine Train Thru Nature's Wonderland. This is a selectively compressed model railroad, in On30 scale at 5' X 7.5' that has been in progress since September 2005. In May of 2016, I finally got the layout to a point where I declared it "finished".

I started the layout when I was a sophomore in high school with basic skills and over the years the layout has been improved and reworked in drastic ways to match my ever improving model making skills. In fact, since I started rebuilding the sections to better quality and standards, I've actually created a whole new layout, piece by piece.

This is a stand-by basis project without a deadline, so it tends to hit the back-burner a lot due to other things with higher priorities. But whenever I can, I'll give an update when there is something worth talking about. All of my updates since day one are here, which include photos, videos, and plenty of rambling notes and descriptions.

December 2009 Update

After completing the massive project below the layout (www.20kmodel.blogspot.com) I'm finally getting back to doing some progress on Nature's Wonderland. The main focus now is to get the track locked down and left alone as I don't want to do anymore track work in the future, it should all be scenic work from then on.

Yesterday I finalized the height of Crossover Point. Crossover Point is the point in the track where it crosses over itself (makes sense!). This is the highest point that the train has to climb and also the lowest point where the train has to duck under it's own track underneath in the Rainbow Caverns.

I set the height of the track above at Crossover Point to the absolute minimum--just a 1/16th gap between the train crossing under and the track above. That shouldn't be too much of a problem, eventually the train I have now will be retired and replaced with one that is shorter in height so that will clear very easily.  The height for Crossover point is at 2.75 inches and so everything has to match that height, mostly in that corner of the layout as shown in the picture above.  Since the track around the geysers and the paintpots is slightly higher than Crossover Point's new height, I knocked out the supports and lowered it about 1/2".

It may look like an earthquake fault line, but here is the newly lowered track in relation to the scenery. I cut that "fault line" so when I lowered the track, it didn't angle outward like a piece of super-elevated track reversed. I lowered that section of scene to match the new height and now it's just some patch work in the crack. The ground of the scenery slopes every so slightly but it's hard to really notice.

Now that the highest point in the layout it locked down, it's time to work backwards down the line all the way to Rainbow Ridge.

Rainbow Ridge is currently a piece of plywood with some flex-track temporarily tacked down with some screws so I could figure out the arrangement. Unfortunately, the spur line that I had planned to go in the Caverns had to be eliminated; the curve was simply too sharp for a turnout in the desired location. But,  I've got an idea on adding another spur line in the desert that I'll get into in another update. Since I'll only have two trains max with only one train at the moment, the double track Rainbow Ridge will do just nicely for now.

As you can see in the photo above, there is plenty of space for a much better Rainbow Ridge. The blue line hovering above the plywood indicates the original edge of the layout before the expansion; anything that wasn't on the table wasn't on the layout!

But before I even get to Rainbow Ridge and all that fun stuff, I have to deal with the track. The grade going into the Desert and over Crossover Point is being a troublemaker again and the joints before and after the Bear Country trestle are making the train stall. I thought it was time to solve this grade/stall problem once and for all. The track from Rainbow Ridge, around Cascade Peak, through the Living Deser and over Crossover point is made up of track that is raised at different gradients (sections here and there were changed over the years and that resulted in different gradations). Before I get to Rainbow Ridge, I want to regrade the entire track from Crossover point, through the desert, over the trestle, around Cascade Peak, through Beaver Valley, and Rainbow Ridge. I want the route through these areas to be absolutely smooth, gradual, and consistant. This way, the train should have no problem at all on any section of that track on it's way upgrade.

So, the last few days I've been doing a lot of math, measuring, and testing to find the right grade to raise the train without causing it to stall out. There 3 main factors in these calculation: Whether or not Rainbow Ridge would have a slope to contribute to the grade; the height of the Bear Country Trestle that results from the grade, and the steepness of the grade itself. The track will raise in increments of 1/8" and the  space between these increments is what establishes the steepness and the other 2 factors.  The train will have to negotiate a height distance of 2.25" (even though the height of crossover point from the base is 2.75", the grade will start 1/2" from the base on that new piece of plywood). From all of my calculations and testing, I came up with 2 plans, each with it's own pros and cons:

Plan A 

  • The grade will start from Point A  and end at Point C/Crossover Point (refer to photo above) and will rise 1/8" every 10.25".
  • Pros:
    •  This is the most subtle and gradual grade which makes it the easiest for the train to climb. 
    • The height of the Bear Country Trestle remains at it's current height of 2" (I want that trestle to have some height; otherwise it'll look lame and un-prototypical).
  • Cons:
    • The entire Rainbow Ridge will have to have a slope as the section is part of the new grade; this isn't easy to hid or build with the number of platforms and buildings that can look odd all leaning to one  side). 
Plan B
  • The grade will start from Point B and end at Point C/Crossover Point (refer to photo above) and will rise 1/8" every 7.7".
  • Pros:
    • Rainbow Ridge will remain perfectly level and flat, which makes it much easier to build with all the platforms, buildings, turnouts and track. Won't have to do any visual tricks with the slope. 
  • Cons:
    • The Bear Country Trestle has a disappointing height of 1 7/8", I don't want the trestle to look lame and un-prototypical. I could "dig down" 1/2" to make it appear taller, but that's nearly impossible to do with the layout screwed down into the table already making it impossible to cut. 
    • The grade is steeper than in the plan above; although the grade from under Crossover Point in Rainbow Caverns to point A is steeper than rising  1/8" every 7.7", I'd rather have the majority of the layout be subtle in gradations. 
I've been testing the two plans above a lot with some pieces of straight track set at those increment distances with a train full of weight (I also testing the train with a 3X the weight and an underweight locomotive, since the newer train I have planned will weigh a little less than my current locomotive). Obviously, the grade in Plan A is easier to climb, but the train was able to do both grades with double the weight of the total future passenger load. I was indecisive with which plan to go with, but I reminded myself why I'm re-grading the track--to make the train run easier.

With that in mind, I'm choosing plan A. Although this plan will make the train run better, it makes construction of Rainbow Ridge a heck of a lot hardre to do; since the track is sloped, I have to figure out what will run parallel with it in terms of the raising height, what will stay level, and what building will have to be level corrected. That's what I'm up to now. Once I figure it out, the track will be re-graded and installed, and I can finally have a trouble-free train completing a full loop.

Progress Report: 10/30/09

At this point, the entire Rainbow Ridge area has been cleared out, as well as a good section of Beaver Valley and Rainbow Caverns. From there I'll install a plywood base along the front to bring everything to the proper height and give the future trackage and scenery a good base to work on. Once the plywood is screwed down, the next thing to be done is figure out the track layout and get that installed. Then it will be construction of Rainbow Caverns (version 4) and then Rainbow Ridge.

Progress Report: 9/17/09

"The Mine Train model will never be complete, as long as there is always something to improve, modify or change"
(a play on Walt's quote)

That certainly is true. What was once a small project of adding a spur line, has now turned into a massive rebuild. It opened up a big can of worms.

But before I get into that, I'd like take a look at what's been done in the desert; the lighting. Since the grade in that section was redone, most of the lighting that was mounted along the track got all screwed up. Having the lights at that low vantage point didn't really help as scenery easily blocked the beams of light. And since I needed to put the ground work back in after I fixed up the balancing rocks, I didn't want to do scenery gingerly around every light. I came up with a solution to fix all of that, using "light towers".

These are, in simple terms, blocks of 2 X 4's with LED's glued to them. This way, I can streamline the lighting by having them all in two areas and not in the actual scenery. I can adjust them easily too without having to dig up the scenery too. These "towers" will be hidden by trees in the future. The amount of light being thrown from these towers has actually been improved since part of the light isn't being caught by the ground anymore.

Perhaps the biggest news this week was this ambitious undertaking that I decided to go with a few days ago, on pretty much the same scale the the big desert redo of last winter. It all started with a spur line:

On the side of the layout I have this space where I've always wanted to put in a spur line to pull a train off onto. This makes it easier for a two train operation, or if I just want to test a non-NWRR locomotive without taking the whole train off the track. The turnout would be located in the caverns, as with the real thing and the spur would exit onto the side of the layout. To install the switch, I had to tear out that wall in the foreground of the caverns. No big deal, it really had nothing on it and it's an easy fix.

Realizing I needed more work room, I tore out more of the cavern walls and eventually sections of the rock works and waterfalls. Pretty much half of the caverns were exposed to daylight now. No big deal, I was going to expand the caverns anyways and the walls were going to be replaced anyways. Suddenly, an idea popped in my head.

Why expand the caverns when I can expand Rainbow Ridge instead?

For years I've been disappointed with the space alloted for the little mining town of Rainbow Ridge. There wasn't enough room for all the buildings and the general spacing of everything was pretty tight. My original buildings were built too small, and new more detailed buildings at a slightly larger, yet more correct, scale were slated to be built at some point. The Rainbow Ridge area is probably one of my favorite, if not the most, section of the whole attraction. With a desire to have a larger town, I began to plan the new Rainbow Ridge (mind you I have yet to finish my little spur line project).

After reviewing some aerial photos and several vintage photos, I was able to determine the amount of space I needed for an entire Rainbow Ridge. The new space for the town would be double of what the old space was. That would allow for a correctly proportioned town with all the buildings and best of all, room for the spur line out front in the load area. (That would make two spur lines to be made; one in the caverns and one in the town; could have a three train operation now!). After some research I decided to go for the expansion. At this time, Rainbow Ridge is already stripped down and ready for it's rather small redo that was originally slated before this craziness.

But expansion comes at a price; Rainbow Caverns would need to be cut down-- a lot. Almost half. It wasn't a big deal after I thought about it; Rainbow Caverns really had a lot of wasted space. The scene could easily be condensed and still have the same effect. However, I've decided to move the viewing window to the side, so I won't have that picture-esque composition with the train making that curve anymore (it's just going to pass in front). There's also some space underneath the future Rainbow Ridge hill where I can expand the caverns and make it deeper. (So essentially, it'll be the same size, just that the volume has moved around).

Also, I will be switching from using a tube blacklight to some UV LED's by Lemax that I picked up from Michael's last year ; these "near-blacklights" are small LED's that give off a nice deep violet glow and make any fluorescent paint glow nicely. It isn't exactly the same effect as a tube UV light, but it's pretty close; as long as the viewer goes "ooohhh!" when they see it, I'll be good. The pack comes with two spot lights made up of 3 LED's each (six in total) that I will dissect and rewire for my own practical use (they'll be hooked up to a transformer too) . Each LED will have it's own mount so I can adjust and point them wherever I want. By using these, I won't have to worry about the bulb burning out (they don't last long) or the batteries going out if I forget to turn it off, which has happened a few times.

So, here's my plan of action:

The yellow line represents the current track (or what use to be the current track) and the red represents the planned new track. The green portal represents where the town starts after the train comes out of the tunnel. The caverns spur line route is also visible.

My to-do list just got longer.

Progress Report: 9/5/09

At this point in time, Rainbow Caverns is undergoing a lengthy refurbishment. The main bulk of the job will be the installation of the new spur line where I can park one of the trains off if I need too (I'm preparing for a future 2 train operation). In addition to that, the caverns will be expanded due to the larger base the layout got over 6 months ago. Then there will be smaller aspects to the refurb, including more stalagmites, more rock work, a new roof to match the real thing now that good photos have surfaced, and a bunch of other things.

As mentioned, I am preparing for a 2 train operation. It's not official yet, but I'm just prepping the layout so if I do decide to add another train, the addition will be easier to bring in. That will include the installation of a block system with 2 tethered throttles (in reality, are only dimmer switches for the transformers; I've been using this kind of operation for over a year and it works great) since I'm not going into DCC anytime soon. I've come up with a genius way to create an automatic operation too if I just want to watch the trains do there thing, with only some relays and reed switches.

Basically, if my idea works out, as one train enters a block, a reed switch triggers a relay that turns the last 12" of the previous block off, forcing the train behind that's about to enter occupied block to stop. Once the train ahead moves into the next block triggering another reed switch flipping the relay again, the previous block will clear and the train stuck in the powerless section of track resumes it's journey once power has been restored. Every block will be this way, so that even if the trains are going on their own without any human control, they won't run into each other.

In addition to that, I've also found a use for that timer relay I posted a while back. I'm planning on using that for the Rainbow Ridge section for where the train stops. The train will trigger the timer relay to shut of the power where the locomotive stops at the station for a certain amount of time. Once all the pick-up wheels enter the dead section of track, the train stops, as if it were loading and unloading. Once the timer expires (up to 45 sec) power comes back on, and the train starts the journey into Nature's Wonderland--without human control, something I've been wanting to do for a long time!

"Publicity" shot

Progress Report: 8/30/09

As of late last night, I'm proud to say that my Balancing Rock Canyon is now controlled entirely by reed switches! I have a magnet in the third car trip the first switch, activating the relay which turns on the rocks as the train starts to enters the section. Then once the entire train enters the Caverns, another reed switch flicks the relay, turning the rocks off.

Even though I did get an Atlas Snap Relay, I ended up making my own relay from an old Life-Like turnout. The snap relay didn't really operate to my satisfaction, since it required a lot of power (more than most of my transformers put out), buzzed quite a bit, couldn't switch completely sometimes, and heated up a bit.

Using the same idea with the solenoid controlled switch, I took the old automated turnout I had (since I wasn't going to use snap track anytime soon again) and turned it into a relay. I soldered one wire to one rail and the other to one of the switch points, so when the two touch, a circuit is made. To my surprise, it works! It doesn't just work, it works GREAT! The neat thing about it is that it doesn't take much power (so I can run it off the same transformer that's powering my rock motors) it's quiet, doesn't buzz, doesn't create heat, and is reliable every time. It was one of those situations that was kinda like "whatever floats your boat"; I'll be using my makeshift turnout relay for as long as I want, as long as it works every time.

Progress Report: 8/30/09

Here's the craziness going on the desert, replaced the final few axles today. All the rock are getting a refurbishment, which means replacing glue joints and lubricating rods and such. I've also ordered some reed switches and a relay to got with them, so I'll be experimenting with that. I've got a circuit that looks like it'll work so when I draw it up, I'll post it (and maybe even animate it!). At some point I should be back where I was before the fiasco with the mechanical issues and the grade issues started.

Progress Report: 8/28/09

The balancing rocks have been pretty much finished--mechanically. Appearance-wise, not so much. All the gears have been give new axles and much of the rocks given replacement parts and an overall refurbishment. I added a second motor to the gear system, giving the mechanism quite a bit more power. I placed it on the other side of the tracks where the "gear chain" pretty much ends. (The gear system starts with the spinning rock, travels parallel to the tracks, crosses under the tracks, and travels parallel to the other side of the tracks towards the tunnel).

Since there is a motor on either side of the tracks powering the "gear chain" I can either have each side operate independently if I take out a gear, or the motors help one another if the gear is left in. The blue areas indicate where the future access hatches will go. The one in the top-left is already there, but it needs a new cover. The large ones at the bottom will the large buttes as hatches. The next phase is to patch up the area and make it nice, pretty, and presentable!

Now I can be confident that the propulsion system will keep the rocks moving for years to come.

I picked up one these neat pulse timers  which are really timer relays for circuits. Using the adjustable timer, you can either turn off a circuit for a certain amount of time, or turn on a circuit for a certain amount of time, or both which makes this gadget really cool. All it takes is a quick pulse of power to the trigger wire and the timer starts. Really useful. I'd use this for my balancing rocks if I take out my light sensor, but I've got some reed switches coming to replace that.

Progress Report: 7/29/09

I Picked up a Sensor Switch from Lowe's the other day, and I've been doing some testing night and day to get the optimum operation in different variations of angles, positions, amount of light, and how much of the sensor can be covered up.

The main drawback being that it's an off-the-shelf part is that the setting don't work with what I need. It's got intervals to set the ON timer to; 5 seconds (Test) 1 minute, 2 minutes, 5 minutes, 10 minutes, and 20 minutes. A 20 second interval would have been perfect, but I can't ask for too much out this little switch. 5 seconds would work if the entire train was picked up by the sensor (which is rather odd, only the locomotive trips the sensor and non of the cars, even if full daylight. I guess it's the motion of the side-rods).

So right now I've got it set to 1 minute, and the train trips the sensor just before the first balancing rock column and the motion of the rocks stop when the timer expires just as the train comes to a stop at Rainbow Ridge (that's if I run it at minimum speed, 1" a second). It actually works surprisingly well in the dark, which is good for when I do night time operations.

The only other drawback I have with the sensor is I need to wire a couple of "night light" bulbs to it to "soak up" the extra current going through, otherwise the rocks would still turn slowly even when the sensor isn't in ON mode.

Despite that, hopefully the sensors keeps the wear down and lets my rocks run a little longer before they need another refurbishment.

Progress Report: 7/14/09

Well, Nature's Wonderland has had yet another set-back--Balancing Rock Canyon. I hoped the day would never come, having to dig up scenery to fix gears and such. Apparently, after having the rocks turn and move for pretty much half a year has put some wear and tear on the mechanism. The axles drenched in lubrication, stress and even the changing weather has affected how the rocks operate and they eventually they stop moving. But that is something that is suppose to happen; when something gets caught in the gears and causes them to stall, I've got a gear that will slip on purpose so that the obstruction doesn't stall out the motor. so when something stops the rocks, the motor keeps running. Now it's gotten to the point where the rocks don't want to move anymore because they're putting to much stress on the slipping gear. And to make matters worse, the axles for a couple of gears and rock column gears gave way because they were surface mounted with hot-glue, and you through in over-lubrication, time, weather, stress and weak points. Also, once the hot-glue finally loses it's grip (what was I thinking using hot glue!), the gears start to shift a little which results in gears binding more, putting more stress on the motor.

So now I've gotten the whole area pretty dug up, with holes cut in the scenery (I've kept the "plugs" so I can make them into access hatches) and a lot of gear axles being replaced. This time I've actually drilled into the wood layout base and inserted longer axle rods, instead of gluing a shorter rod to the surface of the masonite. This way, the gears won't move at all. I've had to remove some of the rock columns, which was a bit painful to do since sealing around them into the surrounding scenery took a lot of time. One column is getting a total refurbishment. Now that I've replaced most of the axles, the whole mechanism runs a little smoother and quieter, so I know the work made a difference.

Hopefully I'll be able to patch the area back up in the next week or so, I've also need to do some patching from the re-grade I did a couple days ago. In the meantime, while everything is still kinda dug up, I might install a sensor used for security lights so the rocks will start moving automatically when the train hits a certain point. I'll have to do some experimenting.

Progress Report: 7/10/09

Well, not really any progress, my 20,000 Leagues under the Sea project is soaking up pretty much all of my time and I'm at a point where I need to do a big supply run, so can't really do much until I have everything I need.

Unfortunately, compromises are great once you figure them out and put them to work. But eventually, they'll come back to bite you in the rear--hard. I've had a couple of setbacks in Nature's Wonderland, but I've overcome a hurtle that I've been wanting to avoid for some time now.

I'm talking about the re-grading I did as part of the great Desert Redo of Winter 2008 (go back a bunch of pages). I raised the grade of the track so the train could pass over itself. Everything worked great in the tests and in the following weeks as scenery went in. Occasionally, the engine's wheels would be on the verge of slipping and that'd be it.

Though now it's gotten ridiculous. I've had a few episodes like this before; the train can't even make it up the grade without slipping. It'll stall out once all the cars are on the inclined track, and this is with an empty load of cars! There's no way it'll be able climb the now nicknamed "Devil's grade" with a full load of resin passengers. It's very frustrating knowing the train can't even make it over the hill and finish it's run.

I've tried everything to correct this, using Bullfrog Snot -- which works great on other locomotive BTW-- cleaning the track constantly, checking for any stuck/sliding wheels, and trying to add more weight to this petite locomotive which is nearly impossible (if you want it to be accurate and look good!).

Then I decided to look at what's causing the problems--the track itself. The only solution would be to re-grade the track again, but that was an option that I really didn't want to carry out. But after some inspections, I found that it could be possible, lowering the track just enough without any major work so that it makes it easier for the train to climb the grade but not necessarily eliminate it.

So yesterday, I pulled back the Rainbow Ridge hill (luckily I didn't scenic it yet!) where the track borders the scenery. I knocked out the roadbed supports and slowly forced the track and roadbed down, careful not to warp the track itself. I managed to lower the track about 1/2 and an inch in one spot and a 1/4 inch where the track passes over the Rainbow Caverns track. I secured the right-of-way in it's new position for testing.

I tested the train loaded with weights to simulate the future passengers. I tested the train with maximum weights and the most the train can pull without slipping is 5 oz. (with 6 oz. on the verge of slipping). That is great improvement considering the weight of the future passengers will only total at about 1.5-1.8 oz. and the fact that the train before couldn't even make it up the grade with no weight at all. I did have to sacrifice not having a whistle on the locomotive so it can clear the overpass in the caverns, but hey that's a detail I can live with out (I could always make a removable one for Photo OP's!). Although I still have to do some rockwork and scenery touch-ups, I think the effort was well worth it.

Problem solved!

(What still puzzles me is how the train was able to do the grade for about 6 months with only a few problems every once in a while. But after thinking about it, here's my theory: when I tore out the old desert, I think that an extremely fine layer of dust settled on the track and allowed for traction when I was doing the first couple of tests. After a couple of runs, I confirmed to myself that it works and it was time for scenery and no adjustments were to be made. I did the tests without weights thinking that the future passengers wouldn't really weigh anything (only to find out that the weight adds up and is enough to affect performance!). Once the dust went away, the train slipped and a new layer of dust from sanding or from outside formed, the train worked again.

From the initial construction, everything worked great. Fast-forward a couple of months and the train starts slipping. At this point I think that dust layer wore off and it's just bare track. Strangely, for some reason, the train starts working up the grade easily a few days later. (could be dust from the changing weather outside)

Fast-forward a couple more months and the train starts slipping again. At this point, I'm trying everything I could and I just set the problem aside and started working on something that doesn't induce headaches and frustrations--working on the arch bridge. I grinded and sanded some areas on it and when I was done, I blew off the dust; but not all of it (invisible stuff). I ran the train through the bridge, knowing it would start slipping in a few seconds and miraculously, the train chugs up the hill once again.

Fast-forward a few more months to 2 days ago, and you guessed it, the train slips on the grade and stalls. At this point it's getting ridiculous and I'm not going to purposely spread dust on the track for traction. As explained above, I successfully adjusted the track and I can now breathe a sigh of relief that I won't have anymore problems in future (or so I thought...) )

Progress Report: 6/14/09

More night time lighting has been installed, desert lighting is pretty much done, though I'm probably going to add some bright 12 volts here and there to kind of brighten up the scene a little more, "exaggerate" the lighting a bit (I'm sure NWRR wasn't lit up this much, but it's kind of my own little touch)

The white bulbs are still awaiting colored gels at the moment. Also, I rigged the lights on a timer so they'll click on at sundown and shut off when I hit the sack, and then they turn on again in the morning for an hour or two as if the lights were on all night.

In other news, I gave my locomotive some "Bullfrog Snot" to improve traction. I'll do a full review of it later in another thread

This is the current area that's being worked on, the back of the desert:
(this is a supersize image, so click on it to see more detail!)

The little section on the right where the two LED's are is where the Dinosaur bones are going. I'll probably have to sculpt it, since I couldn't find any kits that were the right size or quality (or even the right dino!)

Beaver Valley and Bear Country were ripped up today, or rather the beat-up, torn, and yellowed newpaper forms that were there were ripped out. This area has been considered the "trash dump" because whenever an area was redone, all the debris was dumped into there to clear the space. Once Rainbow Ridge is complete (once the desert is complete!) progress will move into this area. It'll be interesting to figure out, considering Rainbow Ridge, Beaver Valley, Bear Country, Cascade Peak, and Natural Arch Bridge are all in very close proximity with each other unlike the real thing. I have to kind of separate the areas to a certain extant. I'll have to get creative with trees...

(Another SuperSize image!)

Progress Report: 6/9/09

This back corner is starting to shape up very nicely. The geysers are complete and colorful swirls in the sand from the paint pots appear. The "spur line" tunnel is also complete.

A POV shot from the train; I can't wait until I get a backdrop in!

Progress is going to move towards the back of the desert, towards the Dinosaur remains and the small pond that is there right up to the Natural Arch Bridge. Tonight while it's dark, more night-time lighting will be installed, and eventually I'll be able to put in the stretch of DLRR!

Progress Report: 6/3/09

Taking a break from the Arch bridge (I have to let it dry for a day or two!) I went over the Cactus Forest. I bought one of Woodland Scenic's 'Scene-A-Rama' kits, the Desert Plants pack. Included are a variety of plastic cacti that were just right for my model. They were about the right size and all they needed was a coat of painted and their "flower" applied. I gonna get some more of these packs, I might even mold the next set of cacti I get. These packs are great for beginner modelers or modelers that just want a variety of materials for a section of their layout.

Progress Report: 6/2/09

Progress slowed just a tad, but stuff is still going on. Worked on the Natural Arch bridge. This is the fourth incarnation, with the first one built on the original layout in 2005, rebuilt in 2006 for the added mule path, torn out and replaced with the big Desert redo of winter '08, and then replaced yet again with the current one (the one before it, even though was brand new, gave me some envelope clearance issues).

The new Natural Arch Bridge is made out of a rigid wood structure draped in aluminum foil and then covered in a layer of celluclay. Celluclay is dry papier mache type material that turns into a malleable wet clay when water is added. Even though it take a few days to dry, it forms a very hard and appropriately textured surface. Here is the bridge already with a layer of set celluclay on it--the light colored stuff-- and some fresh stuff applied today--the dark. (Look you can even see the big 'ol bag of dry celluclay in the back; this stuff ain't cheap--$25 a bag! But hey, it works pretty good)

Progress Report: 6/2/09

Progress slowed just a tad, but stuff is still going on. Worked on the Natural Arch bridge. This is the fourth incarnation, with the first one built on the original layout in 2005, rebuilt in 2006 for the added mule path, torn out and replaced with the big Desert redo of winter '08, and then replaced yet again with the current one (the one before it, even though was brand new, gave me some envelope clearance issues).

The new Natural Arch Bridge is made out of a rigid wood structure draped in aluminum foil and then covered in a layer of celluclay. Celluclay is dry papier mache type material that turns into a malleable wet clay when water is added. Even though it take a few days to dry, it forms a very hard and appropriately textured surface. Here is the bridge already with a layer of set celluclay on it--the light colored stuff-- and some fresh stuff applied today--the dark.

Progress Report: 5/29/09

Here's a quick video I did of the layout, showing progress so far, but mainly to show everything's locations in relation to one another.

Progress Report: 5/26/09

More rocks and more ground-cover went in today; now that is a desert!

Progress Report: 5/24/09

I'm really starting to haul on this project! I don't think I'm stopping anytime soon! Last night I started installing colored gels for the night-time lighting:

The shot is a bit blurry, since the rocks are moving

Here is a pano shot of the current focused construction area, the geysers and paint pots. The geysers are plexiglas rod with some Halloween stretchy web stuff on them. The only problem is, unlike the real geysers. is that this stuff is green and glows in the dark! I might try and spray them with some white, to change the color and stiffen them up a bit.

I still might mechanize them in the future, but since I need to get a motor for them, they'll just be static for now.

Progress Report: 5/24/09

Despite saying there hasn't been much progress, in the last two days there HAS been progress! The gears in Balancing rock canyon have been sealed up, which looks neat seeing the rocks move in way without seeing the gears turning. The gray stuff is celluclay which should harden up in few days and will get some earth tones soon.

Ground cover is starting to go in and Devil's paint pots of sculpy were made.

The geysers were also made of sculpey, here they are awaiting paint. I had a little mishap with the oven (I had it set to 'toast' rather than 'bake') so two of the geysers were a little burnt. The geyser in the rear is bright orange because I switched to a cheaper clay when I ran out of the other stuff (the orange stuff glows in the dark!)

Progress Report: 5/20/09

Not too much progress, been busy working on my On30 Marsh and a 20,000 Leagues under the Sea project below Nature's Wonderland. But so far:

• Locomotive got a mechanical tune-up, though an appearance overhaul may be needed--the wheels are looking a little shabby.
• A prototype mechanism for jumping fish was created, though that little project quickly lost momentum once I realized how small 1/48 fish really are. ( basically they'll be a little chunk of styrene, very disappointing)
• The styrene rod drive shaft for the spinning rock finally snapped and a brass rod was installed; I guess a styrene rod flexing every second per revolution, multiplied by a quarter of million times, is bound to snap!

Progress Report: 3/5/09

Here it is, the time lapse construction of the Rainbow Caverns!

This is probably the last one I'll do, since having a camera in your way while you work is not helpful! Plus, I'm not sure what else I would document that would look good sped up. We'll see.

Progress Report: 3/4/09

Started installing some night-time lighting:

I'm using up leftover strands of white LED's that I was going to use for the Christmas tree base, but canned that at the last minute. I will put some red/orange gels in front of the lights, to give off a glow like how Big Thunder is lit today. Through some Photoshop, it might turn out like this when I'm done:

Progress Report: 2/28/09

Here's what the caverns look like outside. The caverns are housed in a large hill, with a window on the side looking into it, like a cut-away view.

The flat roof on the top is removable, and it will soon be covered with miniature AC's, piping and vents--to give a sense of reality that Rainbow Caverns was once in a large show building.

Progress Report: 2/27/09

Rainbow Falls--

The train making its way through, with a long exposure

The Rainbow caverns is pretty much complete, the water of 'Mod Podge' will clear up and glow in a few weeks (I put on a thick layer). In the mean time, I'm cutting together the time lapse construction--over 10 hours of it; gotta make it so it's under 6-10 minutes!

Progress Report: 2/17/09

Work is getting done in the caverns:

Everything painted black, ready for the next step:

(painting would have been a lot easier if I would have installed pre-painted foil, instead of having to paint already installed foil in a cramped, small area with spots that can be easily missed!)

The intent is to make this area look almost exactly like this photo:

The only difference is that the column shown in the pictures above is actually a support for the roof, so compromises will have to be made. But overall, it should look very similar to the photo above.

Progress is being documented with time lapse again, like my last video, so it'll be neat to see it get built in a couple of minutes from start to finish when I'm done.

Progress Report: 2/8/09

I've got a time lapse video of the construction from the ground up of the tunnel entrance leading to the Rainbow Caverns!

(I wish I could actually work that fast; I could get the layout done next week!)

Progress Report: 2/3/09

Nature's Wonderland is now in a different room! This is the second move for the layout, and through negotiations with other members of the house, I was able to obtain a larger room for the layout (and eventually, a larger table twice the size of the old will be underneath the layout and will house a new "crawl-through" attraction in the future). This will allow for extra expansion room around the layout, so that will give me plenty to do.

But in the meantime, the rocks have been painted:

The train heading through the canyon. "Now folks we gotta get through balancin' rock canyon, look out they're startin' to tumble!"

I'm planning to do a time-lapse video of the construction of the rocky portal tunnel show above, to show all the steps that go into these rocks. Also planned is an ambitious time-lapse video of the entire construction of the Rainbow Caverns from blank masonite to finished black-lit cave. So those will be neat if I get to them and actually do them. I'd do more video documentation, but that is almost twice the work for a project for one person. But we'll see.

Progress Report: 1/20/09

Been doing some MAJOR work in the Balancing rock area. Got all the rocks made and installed, and they all move!! I pulled back some of the paper mache and installed some K'nex gears all powered by one Lego motor. All of these gears, 18 of them, power seven columns of rocks, each with a piece of flexible plastic tubing in them. In this plastic tubing, a metal rod bent at different angles is driven by the gear and the different bends in the rod as it turns moves the rocks. The plastic tubing basically protects the inside of the foam from the metal rod and it keeps the foam rocks from spinning with the rod

Here's a video of the rocks in action:

They are a little shaky, but that is because they haven't be permanently installed, they will run a little smoother when they are installed permanently and the "ground" is put back in.

Progress Report: 1/18/09

Been working on the back corner of the layout yesterday. I still need to make some adjustments on it after reviewing some photos though.

Shot with the train making the curve.

The next step after this is to start on the balancing rock canyon. I'm probably going to start on a prototype today to see if my technique will work (Each teetering column will have a rotating vertical rod with bends in it; as the bends move through the rocks, the rocks will move in a sorta random way, resulting in more animation than more older ones with the string and the spring movement)

Progress Report: 1/14/09

Rock formations are in place, temporarily, and the papier mache is patched up. They are sitting are specially cut platforms that follow the contours. Makes it easier for removal for painting.

Painting might be the next step, but I think I might want to go somewhere else on the layout this week.

Progress Report: 1/11/09

To show how these formation are created, I've documented the making of the Natural Arch.

First I stacked a bunch of thin blocks to get a very rough shape. I glued all the blocks together in the middle with hot glue. Then I drew a rough top view on the top of the block.

I cut the whole block on the band saw.

Next I carved and smoothed out corners and edges using the same kind of tool shown in the photo in the post above.

Then I carved out the indents and details, and later took a wire brush and carved some subtle horizontal lines. Also, I hit it with a real rock to give it a little bit of that rock texture.

After that, a layer of paint should seal it up.

Progress Report: 1/10/09

Did some carving today:

Much better than the original papier mache versions. Studied the heck out of those formation through old photos. The amazing thing is is that these rock formations are still at the park today.

The aluminum sheets have been covered with a layer of Papier Mache (Paper towels dipped in 50:50 ratio glue and water). Still need to do a bit more and patch some areas (where the structures for the mesas/buttes use to be, before I decided to do them out of foam).

Gonna work on the 2nd natural arch bridge tomorrow! (The one that the train doesn't go through nor the mules go over)

Progress Report: 1/08/09

Sorry for the blurry photo, but the frame work has been wrapped in aluminum foil. This will help support the paper mache layer, so that the material doesn't droop between slats and holes.

Feels like some weird low-budget sci-fi miniature movie set!

Here's an "artsy" shot, taken from the tunnel to Rainbow Caverns:

Progress Report: 1/6/09

I've got the basic, rough form of the land forms built up; the new desert is starting to take shape. I still need to add the two mesas and a few other things then I can add the aluminum foil to start blocking in more details. At this point, I feel like I'm working on a Frank Gehry project...

Approx. 600 popsicle sticks have been used for the frame work (No, I didn't eat every one of them from a box of popsicles! If that were the case, I'd eat three, then resort to the heat gun. I bought a box of 1000 from Michael's, which should be enough)

You can also see the "show building", which will house the new Rainbow Caverns, made from some old sentra signs. The roofs pop off so I can access the inside, and will eventually be dotted with some miniature air conditioners and piping.

Progress Report: 1/4/09

With school starting back up in the next week (AHH!!) I though I'd get a big chunk of Nature's Wonderland worked on before the week is out. Before I know it, my free time won't be much soon.

The biggest part of the project for the week is the redo of the Living Desert and Rainbow Caverns. This started with a complete tear out of the areas last Thursday.

As I stared at the rubble after demolition, I felt like Tony Baxter tearing down the old Fantasyland in '83 and thinking "what have I done!?".

I soon pressed on, forgetting about the old desert, which wasn't much at all; just a bunch of painted yellowed newpaper paper mache (this is original stuff; from 4 years ago) and some mediocre balancing rocks.

I didn't miss the caverns either; A bunch of over-painted stalagmites and water features that can be significantly updated and done better. Also, the non-removable roof was a major design flaw, something that is a requirement in the future. I also want to change the layout of the water features, making it look more like the real thing; more specifically, like this shot:

I cleaned up, and got ready for re-grading the track.

Now I no longer have that annoying 90 degree cross! This allows for a smoother ride (for the miniature people of course!), a possibility for a two train operation, and its more accurate to the real thing.

Most of the Desert track loop stayed, the only brand new sections are the grade from the trestle to the top of the new tunnel, and from the bottom of the Balancing Rock Canyon, and through Rainbow Caverns to Rainbow Ridge.

Just for kicks, here's the same angle, but from December of 2005:

Both of those shots were taken from the top of Cascade Peak (quite a good tripod if you ask me!)

Despite the new and steeper grades, the train chugs up the hills without a problem, which was a major concern for me. In addition to that, the train now runs a lot smoother, thanks to the extra electrical contacts in the trailing mine cars. (I only electrified two cars even though I was planning on 6 cars to pick up power; I changed that once the two worked well and discovering that installing pick up shoes is a lot of work!)

For the next week, I will be creating the new rock formations and land forms, but mainly starting on a foundation of popsicle sticks, aluminum foil, paper mache, and celuclay. I will soon be back to where I was before the tear-out.

Hey, if Walt can redo his desert in 1960, why can't I, right?

This time, I took more time in researching and figuring out where everything goes (something I didn't do when I first built the layout) It may not look like much, but here is my plan of action at this point.

(The yellow represents the new sections of track, the red represents the old/current track)

In other, more "constructive", news, the new fleet of mine cars are complete, and I am pleased by how they came out.

At the time these shots were taken, the coupler pockets on the cars were not painted, neither were the drawbars.

A close up of one of them: