"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.

September 2010 Update-- The Big Retrofit

The layout took a rather spontaneous and unexpected turn; two weeks ago, I cut the layout in half

Wait, WHAT?!

It sounds pretty crazy, but it'll make much more sense after some explanation, so let's go back in time just a little bit.

Adding on

When the layout moved into the room it is in currently, about two years ago, I had the advantage of getting a larger table to display it on (and below the deck housed my 20,000 Leagues Project). With the various amounts of extra space around the layout, I decided to expand the layout. This grew the layout from 4' X 7' to 5' X 7.75'. This was mainly accomplished by adding more 3/4" plywood around the layout, like so:

How I grew the layout
At the time, this would be the final destination for the layout, so all of the extra pieces and the layout itself were screwed down into the table, permanently becoming part of the table.

As time went on, my needs began to change slightly and a potential studio renovation was (and still is) being considered, which would include a large drafting table and more floor space. Unfortunately, that would include downsizing the table I have now (which would in effect, become the end of the "crawl-thru's") but still keeping the layout (The table the houses my 20k project is 12' X 6.5'; I would be basically cutting off a big chunk of it). However, in order to demo the table beneath the layout and construct the new one, the layout had to move-- which isn't easy if it's part of the table.

So over the period of a few hours, I slowly and carefully found every screw that attached the layout to the table, slowly getting the two separated. Some screws already had scenery on them already, so I had to excavate through many layers of sculptamold, foam, and other materials to get to the screw head. Before long, I got the layout and it's many scabbed on pieces to budge free.

For many weeks after, the layout picked up progress; bears were sculpted and landforms were beginning to take shape. But one weekend, one of the very few So Cal summer heat waves came through and really warped the extra pieces around the layout. Since they weren't screwed down anymore, they tweaked and torqued, creating a very uneven surface, especially near the corners with many junctions.

In an attempt to get the surfaces in line again, I screwed on several brackets along the seams. This corner was especially notorious for warping.

The notorious corner. The brackets barely helped.
Unfortunately that didn't  do much,  and I knew I had to create a more serious solution.  I remembered the idea of moving the layout (again, studio renovation) and I realized these pieces around the layout were going to be a problem if they were barely attached this way. Really what I needed to do was eliminate the warping and make every asset of the layout "one".

Screwing down the layout to the table was the most easiest solution, which is why I did it in the first place, but as I mentioned before, it isn't going to work if I was going to move the layout. Then I thought about sliding another piece of plywood under the layout that would be large enough to support all pieces (which would be screwed down). Again, I still had to move it, and adding another piece of plywood would only make it heavier and harder to move.Then, I came up with the idea to build a frame that would go under the layout.


Building a frame was the best solution as it would be lightweight, ultra strong (depending how it was constructed) to prevent any warping at all, and allowed every piece to be locked down flat. But then another idea popped into my head; what if I cut the layout into two sections, making it much easier to move the layout, by just shifting one section at a time? Moving one piece at a time would make moving the layout super easy, thus making the studio renovation easier. The mobility opens up putting the layout in another room easily or possibly a display at a model railroad show (but I'm getting too far ahead of myself for that).

The frames would be built separate to accommodate each half and would bolt together. It was a ridiculous idea when I thought of it, considering how far I am in construction. But the more and more I thought of it, the more and more practical the solution became. Realizing that the best way to do this was to do it NOW (without destroying more scenery in the future), I jumped on the opportunity immediately.

"And the layout shall be cut in two...." 

So, with the crazy idea in motion, the first order of business was to jack the layout up a few inches and determine the cut line. I could create a perfect halfway cut, but that meant cutting through a turnout, 3 sets of rails and a lot of scenery already in place. I decided to make the cut off center, towards more of Cascade Peak, that way I'd only need to cut two sets of rails and the scenery there was barely even formed (which is easy to fix later).

 I drew my cut line with a laser level, making it perfect. The two layout sections would measure 60" X 53" (Living Desert, Rainbow Ridge, Rainbow Caverns) and 60" X 40" (Bear Country, Cascade Peak, Beaver Valley). This is basically where the cut line is: (this shot was never posted for some reason, but it's an old one from about April).

The red line roughly where the layout will be cut in half; old shot by the way
Before I began cutting, I knew the track would be an issue, especially the curves. To keep the tracks locked down, and no shifting in alignment would occur, I applied some epoxy to the rails and roadbed, and then later cut the rails with a Dremel cut-off wheel (later I found it was easier to get a better alignment with no filing and fudging by inserting a piece of snap track which is rigid and easier to keep in line, rather than forcing a piece of flex-track in place that naturally wants to spring out of position).

With the track sections cut, I started the most nerve-racking part of the operation. Very slowly and carefully with a Bear Saw I cut the layout in half, paying attention to the cut line as I sliced through many layers of wood and scenery. Before long, the layout was officially two pieces.

The layout, cut in two--right through Beaver Valley.
Now it was time to frame the two newly created sections. Out of 3/4" pine I constructed a very sturdy frame, custom fit to each layout section. I recessed large plywood triangles into the corners, not only to make the frame studier and square, but to allow all the various pieces--mainly near the corners-- to screw down into the frame. The two sections can be fastened together with a 3/8" bolt and a wing nut on each side of the frame.

Real sturdy frame for the two layout sections. Can be bolted together in the middle.

Before I slid the frames under the layout, I added some Teflon furniture glides to makes the frames easier to slide around on the table and I went the extra mile and stained the frame. When that dried, I installed the frames and screwed down the layout, permanently locking down the layout. From this point on, there will be no expansion whatsoever. 

Here's what the layout looks like now, with a detail shot of the installed frames. Unfortunately, staining the frame was an unnecessary step since I realized I'll add a fascia around the layout eventually, effectively covering the stained frame and creating a clean edge. Oh well, at least it looks good for now. 

Looks nice, too bad it'll be covered when the layout is finished.
5 Years Later....

As of September 25, it'll be 5 years since I started the layout. On that day in 2005, I got a fresh sheet of masonite, 10 pieces of flex-track from Hobby City, and no drawings at all. Half a decade later, it still isn't finished, but hey, it's getting there. When I finished cutting the layout in half two weeks ago, I just kind of stood back and looked over the work and I had a rather startling realization:

 I'm building a whole new layout, piece by piece, essentially Nature's Wonderland 2.0.

What's really startling is that there is nothing that is original to the initial 2005 construction other than one stretch of track in the Living Desert. Everything else was ripped out and replaced, piece by piece.

Mainly all this redoing is due to my basic model making skills at the time. Half a decade ago, I was just a sophomore in high school who dabbled with modeling here and there. I had never built a "true layout" before-- everything before was just Life-Like snap track on a table and some random trains running. I didn't know all the tricks and tips I know now and didn't have the level of patience I have today. This layout would be my first serious layout, with a focus on natural scenery. With each step, I got better and better. As I changed, the layout changed. There were times were I didn't want to keep the layout going because I wasn't satisfied with the results, but I stuck with it, pushing myself to do better; I've got a little bit of Walt's "stick-to-it-tivity".

Now a junior in college and working at the Park part-time, I've come a long way since the newspaper paper mache scenery and card stock buildings. I would consider myself a proficient modeler, almost at the professional level, but not quite; I say that because I've only scratched the surface of modeling and it takes years of experience to get better-- even now I'm still learning.

It's hard to tell when the layout will be finished, I'm very slowly getting to the point where everything on the table will stay. But there may be something that always needs improving. As Model Railroader David Popp said in November 2010's issue: "do-overs are allowed". I certainly agree.

What's Next? 

Well, the layout is in two, now it's all a matter of cleaning up the debris and start patching up some damaged scenery. I'm hoping to get some fun stuff on the way so I don't get bored with the tedious task of redoing stuff. I want to get Bear Country really shaped up with a few more bears and get the ball rolling on an animation rig for the Battling Elk. I'm looking at redoing (ugh... more redoing) the Natural Arch Bridge for, I think, the 5th and final time since the current version isn't really surviving too well after many modifications. I may make the new bridge out of floral foam to show off how well that stuff carves (which might include a time-lapse video). There may be a few side projects on the horizon that'll put the layout on hold, but as I always say, we'll see. 


Reed said...

Hey Sam, I'd like to let you know that I'm a huge fan of your modeling and Walt-esque ability to tell a story, an original one at that, even though Nature's Wonderland isn't your own idea. I didn't know until you mentioned in this post how young you are. I myself am a senior in high school and, like you (I assume) am striving to be an imagineer. Where are you going to college? My top choice is USC, and I dream of working in the park, particularly of being a Jungle Cruise skipper (but really anything to get my feet wet in the company). I hope to get on the creative side of imagineering through writing, and majoring in Writing for Screen and Television. I'd love to know whatever you can tell me about what you've learned regarding imagineering, college in SoCal, and what it takes to get into Disney and businesses of the like. I didn't know your email, but if you'd like you can email me at reed1993@gmail.com.

Looking forward to more posts! I check every day...


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