"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.

Summer 2015 Update

Howdy all! Things have been slow around here you've probably guessed. So here's an update for the sake of an update!

Power Struggle

Something that always seems to be in development on the layout is the power units that actually drive the train around the route. From the early beginnings of the layout, the scale was actually dictated by what was available for locomotives of the same porter type. In 2005, there wasn't much out there when it came to locomotives close to the Nature's Wonderland engines. The closest thing however was a Bachmann On30 porter. Other than a big ugly saddle tank, this was the best option and it was the first time I entered the On30 world.

The porter was purchased second-hand and was  an older version. My mechanical skills at the time couldn't quite keep it maintained and so when I had enough pennies I bought another one, brand new which ran silky smooth.

It wasn't until a year or two later I decided to ditch the saddle tank for authenticity. 

I did this by removing the tank and grinding off the support tabs for the tank so the boiler would be flush all the way around. Again, my maintenance wasn't the best so this locomotive was eventually retired when the gearbox conked out and I couldn't get replacement parts (repair budget from the high schooler that I was at the time wasn't much!)

Then the third generation of the NWRR train debuted, this time with brand new cars, cast from a custom mold out of resin. This time it was the proper number of cars: 7, not the usually four or five I've had previously. 

This locomotive I kept pretty basic in terms of kit-bashing. Rather than grinding off the support tabs for the saddle tank, I kept them on and dressed them as running boards as a prototypical way to hide them. I built a new boiler and cab that act like a shell that slips around the frame. A brand new tender was built to scale and the engine has put on several hundred circuits around the layout since; probably thousands! 

Now 7 years later, the train still waddles it's way around the track, it's wheel base slightly worn from carrying thousands of happy plastic people through Nature's Wonderland. Always looking for something better, I thought it was time to upgrade. 

After some decent research--even 10 years later--there still isn't anything close to the Nature's Wonderland prototype out there that would be usable on my layout. Of course, I'm a stickler for detail, so it would be best to scratch build for 100% accuracy. That thought put another technique in my head--what about tender drives?

That would certainly be the most prototypical way to do things, at least by Nature's Wonderland standards! 

The tender drive is tricky, as there are many things to account for:
  1. Small enough to fit in the scaled down tender
  2. Enough power to pull the train up the grade to Living Desert
  3. Enough room (a little) to add weight 
  4. Reliable and durable
  5.  Good power-pickup 
  6. Excellent slow-crawl movement
  7. Affordable (for the most part)

This isn't anything new, in 2011 I looked at tender drive solutions, first one being a cable car power truck. While it fit, it didn't seem that powerful, and the power pick-up was horrendous.  

Several years went by, casually searching for the perfect application. I looked at NWSL Stanton drives, but they seemed to be geared higher for high speed. Nature's Wonderland isn't Big Thunder, so the higher speed threw that one out. I looked at Hollywood Foundry's Bull-Ant drive, while promising, seemed too rigid for the layout. I did like the customization of them, but they were also a little noisy and not exactly cheap; I'm planning on building two trains simultaneously, and the cost would put me over $200 for the power drives. 

I kept searching. I kept getting frustrated with the fact also I kept finding solutions that were meant for HOn3. That was the weird part; perfect tender drives available, for a scale smaller than mine? That's been the challenge, finding something small enough to fit. 

Then I found it.

Kato's coreless motor power truck, developed for the P42 Amtrak locomotive model. The best part, it's self contained and small! After doing some research, I ordered two--about $50 a pop! The nice thing also is that you can order just the trucks--no model to sacrifice and you can replace the unit as needed! 

Once they made a few laps around the track, I was immediately impressed. Ultra quiet and ultra smooth. The flywheel really helps negotiate the tough spots. The really awesome part about this particular truck is that the axles pivot; that way the wheels are always touching the rails, no matter how shoddy some track joints are on my layout, installed during my younger years. The trucks are also powerful, enough to haul the train up the hills easy. 

I started to play with and improve the trucks as I did my heavy cycle testing. The wheels pick up power through the axle points (another cool feature) and transmits power through the frame to the motor. To give the motor the most direct power, I soldered on two small wires directly to the motor, which helped performance significantly. I also put a styrene plug to keep the phosphor-bronze wiper on the axles and pivot joint in the middle. The dime size circle is a magnet to trigger my relay sensors during testing. 

Overall, I was very pleased with how these trucks performed. Now that comes at a cost--accuracy. The wheel spacing is off, and it's a tad long. I can fix the size issues by having the operator figure sit over the front .25 of it and the flywheel end will have to hangout in a stretched out vertically toolbox on the back of the tender. Unfortunately there isn't much I can do about the wheel spacing other than accepting it. I thought about adding faux wheels to cover the real wheels, but there isn't much space to do that. Only time will tell when I get to actually building the tender shells to go over these power units. But with the power drive in the tender, that makes making a totally accurate locomotive to be pushed up front possible! Exciting! 

Rainbow Ridge takes shape

One building at a time, Rainbow Ridge continues to progress. This time around, since the the original 2005 cardstock buildings, things are quite a bit more accurate.

 These are being built out of styrene sheet and strip. I'm using textured sheets for a good majority of the buildings, like clapboard siding and the roofing--all available from Plastruct and Evergreen. Some of the adobe buildings, like the miner's hardware building, are done out of balsa foam and super sculpey for that softer-edge look.

The windows are being done with windows and doors from Micro-Mark. This 200 piece pack has a variety of different windows and doors from Tichy. These certainly help speed up the process and create a cleaner look! 

As I progress down the line of buildings, I'll be sure to post more details into how these are made. Maybe even a time lapse! 

This and That

I've received a LOT of comments regarding my tiki shelf in my last post. The most common being a tutorial. Being that my time is limited, it is possible to do a tutorial. I am however in the process of still cycle testing it and working bugs out, so I want that to go well before I publish anything. I'm also planning on messing around with some other boards to refine the design.

On a personal note, recently most of my model making efforts have been turned into a career, working out of a nondescript building located on 1401 Flower street in Glendale . As much fun as it is to work on Nature's Wonderland, there are other exciting attraction models to be worked on! ;) That should explain the lack of progress for the most part on this project.

That should do it for now, until the next eventual update, so long!

Winter 2015 Update

Howdy! How about an update eh? As you may have guess, things have slowed down out in the wonderland. But luckily there has been a couple developments.

Naturally, as the layout has been progressing over its 10 year (!) construction, other projects and ideas have taken over my interest from time to time. Not because I've gotten bored with the layout, but new techniques and gadgets have provided new ways and ideas of doing things. Take this one for example: Arduino

After many years of hearing about Arduino, I've been interested in what it can do. I've seen many example of how it's been used, such as wifi controlled robots, game controller triggered sound effects. I wanted to give a try at this Micro Controller. I finally buckled down and got the basic one, the Arduino Uno. 

What was my first project? My tiki shelf. One of my many obsessions, my tiki mug collection was slowly growing and I wanted a cool display for them. Inspired by Trader Sam's at the Disneyland Hotel, I was able to program the board to change LED colors and sync with sound to have a rainstorm come in and a volcano to erupt every couple minutes. Whenever I come home late from a tiring work day, I just flick it on, mix a fruity drink and I feel like I'm at my favorite bar. 

The key here was that I was able to get it to run automatically; no interaction at all-- which is a feature every Arduino example seemed to have, such as controllers and remotes. I had to teach myself all the coding to do all of it to do that. 

In addition to learning Arduino, I acquired another board to play with: Mp3 Trigger. 

This board from SparkFun solved a lot of my problems; being able to playback quality sound instantly without a CD player and without special chip programming. This is one of the easiest boards I've ever used, as it worked flawlessly with the Arduino and was able to playback the storm and volcano sounds perfectly. 

That was my first breakthrough with "show programming". Up until now it was CD players that probably didn't hit the mark at all, and cam controlled animation and boring, not-so-dynamic lighting on projects. 

I learned more and more about Arduino. I figured out how to make a jar of fireflies for my girlfriend for Christmas, using an Arduino Nano

And just recently, I was able to make thunder and lighting happen for my Dad's studio door entrance, which is Haunted Mansion inspired. I don't have any photos of that, but check YouTube in the future for a video demo of it. That project used another mp3 trigger board and an Arduino Uno with a relay shield. 

This is all fine and dandy you're thinking, but what about Nature's Wonderland?

Well, this is where it gets interesting...

Like I said earlier, the layout gets put aside while I discover (and quite frankly, distracted) by new gizmos. After experimenting withe the Arduino boards, I've cooked up a few things of what they can do for the layout:

  1. Sound: This was a biggest challenge back in June of '11 when I was figuring out how to bring sound to the layout. I ended up hacking CD players that would switch between playing sound effects and the spiel. Those CD players are still sitting on my shelf collecting dust and will continue to do that ever since I discovered the Mp3 Trigger. With the Mp3 Trigger I can have sounds as long as I want, and I can switch to the spiel track quickly without the downfall of one of the CD players skipping or not triggering. And even better, editing is easier to change; should I need to remix something, I just re-upload the SD card, not burn a whole new disk! 
  2. Block Control: Although this is something I won't implement, it is fun to think about. The system I have now is tried and true with my reed switches and latching relays. If I were to start this layout today, I would instate an Arduino controlled layout, with even more blocks, speed control, and dispatch intervals. So many possibilities! 
  3. Lighting: After developing a flickering circuit for Rainbow Ridge, and then deciding that was overkill, I developed some code that would create a realistic candle flicker when I was programming my Tiki shelf. This way I don't need any cumbersome circuits and the system would be electrically efficient. This is very likely to happen! 
  4. Animation: I haven't messed with it yet, but Arduinos are capable of controlling servo motors, which would be awesome for animation. Rather than the less-controllable cam method I've been using for a decade, I could program a routine to a figure that would have a less than predictable movement. How about the mountain sheep on Cascade Peak? The geysers could also use an upgrade.... 
  5. There's so many possibilities! 
So that's that when it comes to what's been distracting me, but also what newfound knowledge could help the layout! The the next update will be about the new power units for the planned new trains, new Rainbow Ridge structures, and more! (hopefully...)