"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.








Finish Line: Spring 2017 Update

Well, some time has transpired since the last update. Some big things have happened with the layout since and this update is merely just catching up. Let's pick up where we left off!

For many years I had thought how fun it would be to participate in the exhibition line-up at Fullerton Railroad days. I've been attending as a patron since it's beginning and have been every year. Seeing other models on display had inspired me to join them with my model railroad. One day I thought, when it's finished, it would be an experience and those who have followed my work can finally see it in person.

For years I would mention this, and my ever supporting lady in my life finally told me to stop talking--and just do it. So in January of last year, I decided 2016 would be the year NWRR would make it's public appearance.

Just one big problem..... I had to finish it!!


So off I went, frantically pulling bits and pieces together and kicking my progress into hyperdrive. If you follow the Facebook page, you probably notice the sudden abundance of updates leading up to the May 1st deadline. Rainbow Ridge had to be built from the ground up, new trains had to be constructed, the massive tangle of wires had to be dealt with, and 1001 other details that needed to be added


ALL ABOARD!



Picking from the last update, the 4th generation of trains were being built from scratch. I would finally have the chance to have more than one train running, and to make things easier (and to save time), the trains were built simultaneously. Construction was staggered slightly so any problems in the first train would be solved, and the fix captured in the second train.




The headlights are LED, and the PVC boilers contain an array of zener diodes that form an H-bridge so the LED can be lit even if the polarity is reversed (in other words, whether the train goes forwards or backwards the headlight is on)


For the cars, I scracthbuilt a master model that was molded in silicone and 14 copies were made. And then they were sprayed with Krylon "Safety Yellow". Upon pulling the last casting, #14, the mold split in half and discarded.



For the first two cars of each train, I outfitted them with power pick-up trucks from Ring Engineering. Through my experience, 4 wheels is not enough conductivity, so 12 should be plenty. 



Then came all the little detailing, times two.




Through a lot of research and cross referencing I found all the names and numbers for each car. Here they are listed, for train one (train two would be listed "201, 202, 203 etc")

101  BEAVER VALLEY
102 CASCADE MOUNTAIN
103 BEAR RIVER
104 OLYMPIC ELK
105 SAGUARO FOREST
106 LIVING DESERT
107 RAINBOW CAVERNS


And a video of train testing in the Living Desert



Rainbow Ridge Returns

Enlisting the help of a few family members to help save time, the laborious task of painting all the buildings in Rainbow Ridge began. Over 20 custom shades and washes were mixed for the colorful town. Decals were either drawn in Photoshop or pulled from photographs. 






Mineral Hall and Casa de Fritos got some color




Then little areas around the town began to wrap up, like the tunnel from Rainbow Caverns


And the hill behind Rainbow Ridge



The silver disc is a speaker to broadcast sounds from the saloon

The distinctive "slurry" of 60's Disneyland went in the pathways



Over on the other side of Rainbow Ridge, The very first structure to represent the Pack Mules was built. To represent the natural look, strands of aluminum armature wire were used to create the shade structure. Unfortunately, to save time, the buildings that would have occupied the load and unload for the Pack Mules were cut to save time. Maybe they'll appear sometime in the future. 





And of course, the Pack Mules themselves! These are actually S scale mules from Aspen models, to represent the smaller scale animal in this scale. For all the figures, I broke apart their legs and with enough super glue and accelerator, I re-positioned the legs and repainted them. These were added just days before Railroad Days so only two trains of pack mules, and only one with people



Mission Control





One of the biggest things to complete for the layout--and the most anticipated by me-- was the control panel. There was a massive bundle of wires coming off the front of the layout, and they had to be dealt with! Like I discussed in the last update, I've had an odd obsession with the control panels used at Disneyland and I've wanted to replicate one on the layout for a long time. I made a list of all the functions I wanted to operate on the layout and I designated the appropriate button that would have be on a "real" panel at the park. Using my knowledge of when I worked at the park (and my girlfriend's expertise, who is an ex-attractions CM) I was able to fabricate a nice console that would control every feature on the layout. 



Of course, for a miniature, I had to take a few liberties and make up my own functions, such as the throttle control for the trains themselves. I hacked apart a MRC TECH 7 ampac 760 transformer, which is an excellent transformer with a great feature of momentum control (with a brake button!!). I wanted all these features to be utilized on the control panel so I took the controller apart and soldered wires to new switches that would do the same operation, just on a different interface. 

Here's a video of train testing demonstrating that transformer



And modified....




For all the buttons and switches, I used what the theme parks used: Allen Bradley. This brand of buttons and switches are  heavy duty and industrial grade meant to withstand grueling conditions and constant operation. And their prices reflected their durability--up to $200 new, a pop! Luckily, after about a month of tracking, I was able to find all my parts for much cheaper  used on eBay. A lot of machine operators list them after they get near the end of their life and get replaced so they don't sacrifice reliability. In my case, they work perfectly fine since these aren't on a full size attraction with real people and real safety at stake! 




One day I will do a video of all the functions, but here's a general description from left to right. 


  • Throttle- Very straightforward, applies power to the track to make the trains move. Green is a nice speed, yellow is Big Thunder mode-- very fast and un-prototypical, and red is danger, derail possible!
  • Brake - as shown in the train testing video, this slows the train down if Momentum Control is Active
  • Direction - switches the polarity in the track to change train direction
  • Dispatch - mimicking whats on Disneyland attraction panels today. Through some complicated circuitry, when a train enters the station, it triggers a sensor that starts a timer and cuts out the track power. The train stops and waits until the "dispatch interval" has elapsed and the button will flash! The operator pushes the button and the train starts its journey into Nature's Wonderland!
  • Momentum Control - this turns on and off the function of momentum on the transformer, demonstrated in the video above
  • Ride Stop - This cuts power to all tracks, effectively stopping the trains if theres an issue.
  • Turnouts - Changes the servo positions for the turnouts, moving the track switches to the spur or main track.
  • Track Status - These indicate where the ride vehicles are, like a real attraction. In this case, it shows if a block is occupied (hooked up to my relay system for the block control; whatever block is red, the indicator for that block lights up)
  • Dispatch Mode - In manual mode, the dispatch button will flash forever and the train at the station will not move until someone presses the button. In Auto mode, once the interval timer is up, the dispatch button flashes once and the train leaves the station, all on it's own. 
  • Dispatch Timer - When it's on, the train will stop at the station and wait out the interval. When it's off, the train will blow right through the station without stopping! This is helpful for testing or cleaning the track. Interval changes how long the train is at the station
  • Zone Override - This turns on all the blocks and lets the trains go through every block without stopping, even if the lights are red. This is mostly for testing or if a sensor wasn't triggered correctly and a train is stopped in front of a red light when the block ahead is actually empty.
  • Animation -  This turns on and off all the animated scenes: Balancing Rock Canyon, Marmot Tunnel, Battling Elk, and Geysers
  • Night Lighting - Turns on the 100+ LED's hidden in the layout
  • Caverns Lighting - Exclusively turns on the LED's in the Rainbow Caverns
  • Sound - Turns on all the speakers, which broadcast 4 channels of audio. This is run by two mp3 triggers with a left and right channel each. Cascade Peak has the sound of waterfalls and the Mark Twain going by every 10 minutes. The forested areas like Bear Country and Beaver Valley have the sounds of running creeks, bears, and other wildlife. Living Desert has the sounds of Coyotes, rock crashes, geysers, and cicadas. Rainbow Ridge has the sounds of the rowdy townsfolk at the Last Chance Saloon
  • Spiel -  This one is pretty cool. It's all the sounds above, but has the Dal Mckennon spiel mixed into it. But not only does it broadcast the original narration, using the panning of the different left and right channels, the spiel actually "follows" the train through the model! Took a couple tries to get that one right! 
  • Mute - Simply cuts out audio. In actuality, the mp3 triggers are playing a blank track.
  • Emergency Stop -  Ah yes, the infamous E-Stop. There was no way I couldn't include this. This stops all trains, and cuts all show effects-- animation, sound, lighting-- but with the extra feature I thought would be cool: play the breakdown spiel for the Big Thunder. "Sorry for the hold up folks, there seems to be a slow train ahead". 
  • Power Disconnect - Basically the master switch for power for the entire layout. 

So as you can see, a lot of thought went into the little control panel. All to make it more fun (for me!) to operate. I worked as a sweeper in the park, so I never got to run an attraction, but once my lady had me go through training (she's the official trainer for the model Nature's Wonderland) I was authorized to run the mini attraction and finally be an attractions CM, unofficially. 



Here's a look inside the belly of this console; hundreds of feet of more wire, slightly more organized then before!



Nature's Wonderland in Nature


A week before the layout was set to make it's journey to Fullerton Railroad days, to shake things out and test it's portability, it was moved outside and set atop it's new table. From here, more detailing would be added and the "big pour" of the resin Rivers of America would happen





The layout actually looks pretty neat in natural daylight!



I finally finished up my Gullywhumper Keelboat and prepared to set it in the scene, right in front of Big Thunder Falls. 



To achieve the water, I dumped about 3 kits of Enviro-tex resin with a few drops of moss green acrylic paint to tint it. Once the "water" started to get tacky, I took an air compressor and started blowing against the surface back and forth to create the ripples until the resin hardened further. I ended up adding some Woodland Scenics water effects to enhance the waves later. 


Just days before the event in Fullerton, I added any little detail I had time to put in. Some of which were homages to my time as a custodial cast member at the park





On the Move

And finally, on Friday April 29th, the layout made it's first trip outside the comfort of home. Using the help of a few family members, the ridiculously heavy layout was wrestled into the back of Uhaul truck and made it's trip down Harbor Blvd. 


Under the big model railroad tent, set-up time began and the layout was prepared for it's first public appearance the following day.



The trains were transported in a custom box since they are technically one piece. A flat piece of styrene on the open end creates a smooth transition to rail so on the straight section in the Living Desert, I can roll the trains right onto the track without picking them up. 


Goodnight model railroad, see you at the big event!


Build it and they will come


And boy did they come. At the blast of a whistle from SF 3751 at 8:00 am sharp, Fullerton Railroad days 2016 was open. Even before the tent was completely open, patrons gathered in droves to see the model, many of whom had been long-time followers of this blog. Visitors got a kick out of being able to see the model up close and in person. 



It got so crowded at times, I was 15ft away from my own model!


Thunder Mesa Mining Company's Dave Meek, center, and  Jungle Navigation Railroad Company's Robert Kurner, far left, were among many that visited the layout. 

It was an experience to see people's memories jogged and many reactions like "I remember this as a kid" were great to hear. Many former mine train operators came by and expressed their compliments to model version of an attraction they were very close to. 




And even the Disneyland Railroad crew stopped by to see a former railroad attraction cousin in miniature form!


Recovery and Retirement (or so I thought)

As exhausting and hectic preparing for such an event was, from figuring out the logistics of moving the layout to actually finishing it, I would say Fullerton Railroad Days was a success. Times got a little stressful trying to squeeze every little detail I could into the layout, but it was a rewarding experience to follow through with an idea I've had for many years. 

I had rushed a lot of things to get the model finished for the event, omitted several details I would have loved to add. But even with those little things-- and once I can get pass my own critique--the layout turned out amazing. I finally reached a point that I felt comfortable saying something I didn't think I would be saying for a long time:

The layout is finished.

 The days following the event, work proceeded back on other projects that had to be put on hold until Railroad Days had passed. Of course, you can never say a model  is "finished"; just like Disneyland, there's always room for improvement, and this layout has definitely had it's fair share of improvements. But when the time comes, maybe some new things will be added. Some day.

Even with some unfinished ideas (and some unfinished pieces on the model), I had decided that it was time to move on from Nature's Wonderland. I had much bigger things on my plate to tackle (and still are) in both life and career. So in the months after Railroad Days, the model went into quiet retirement, tucked away in storage in sunny Rancho Cucamonga. 

But then I got a call....

By Order of the Red Handkerchief

 I was contacted by Scott Fleener from the Order of the Red Handkerchief-- the alumni society of original Cast Members who use to run the original mine train attraction. He explained that the group was hosting their annual lunch in November and he said it would be a great addition to showcase my layout at the gathering. He also mentioned that this would be the 60th anniversary of the Order of the Red Handkerchief and the mine train attraction. As tiring and expensive moving the layout is, this was an opportunity that I didn't want to pass up! 



So after some dusting, track cleaning, and some tuning up, the layout was once again loaded up into a Uhaul truck and whisked away towards the Old Ranch Country Club in Seal Beach, on a brisk November Saturday. 



Even though the layout was intended to be brought upstairs where the lunch was, it's size and weight said otherwise. The model spent it's day in the lobby of the country club while a large group of former operators and cast members from the time the mine train was around dined upstairs. Luckily, until the lunch guests descended downstairs to examine the model, the miniature railroad entertained guests of a nearby wedding! But when the members of the society made their way to the lobby, it was a thrill to see them point to an area on the model and tell stories that started with "I remember one time I was running a train through the Living Desert, and once I made the turn by the geysers, all of sudden...."



Upstairs was a delightful gathering of old friends. Stories that can not be repeated here about the antics of mine train operators were shared, and many memories were reminisced upon. The society treasured their time running this attraction and the bond they made with each other as they grew up since the mine train closed was evident. Some showed their pride in full miners outfit! The group has grown to include other non-mine train cast members from the era. 

 Yours truly, perhaps 30 years younger than most of the crowd, gave a presentation on the history and creation of the layout. I was then presented with becoming an honorary member of the Order of the Red Handkerchief. I was given a name tag with a silhouette of the iconic 0-4-0 locomotive, and was sworn in after reciting the oath: "Clean the track, keep it clear, stay on time". As someone who was a cast member at the park (even from a different era) and had a close connection to the mine train (in a much different way obviously) this was an honor. Despite being from a different generation, I felt like I fit right in!


“Well, I see we’re comin’ back to Rainbow Ridge again. I hope you all enjoyed yer trip into Nature’s Wonderland"

 As of this writing this will be the last update for the layout for quite a while. In terms of updates, this will be the last "construction update". I'm in the process of slowly documenting and filming the model so there will be more of that in the future. But until then, there are so many more things to do and work on, in both life and career at the moment. Nature's Wonderland has really been an incredible journey, starting as a high school student's little model railroad and turning into a professional art piece. The skills and knowledge gained on the hobby have been invaluable and the history of this attraction that I uncovered piece by piece has made this an extremely fun project. The model has opened opportunities that I could have only previously dreamed of. My focus will now move on from the model railroad, going on to much bigger projects (ones that pay!) both professionally and on the side. Hobby time hasn't been much since I took up some large scale work, but when I get a chance I'm still able to do a few home projects. I recently moved to Burbank to be closer to work in nearby Glendale on 1401 Flower St, which in turn has moved myself away from the layout. I still visit and check-up on it every now and then. 

A big thanks to everyone who has been following my work, some from the very beginning of the 12 year journey. Once I found my outlet to show this model, recreating something from history that others enjoy has been a treat. I never got to experience this attraction in person, and as the number of people who share that notion grow, it has been a rewarding experience to share what it would have been like, albeit in miniature form. Showcasing the model has become the new chapter in this layout's history, although it has been rare for it to make it's way outside. The model will be in hibernation until it's next appearance, when I have the means, time, and opportunity. 

I will say though, there are some interesting plans for the layout on the near horizon. I will keep things updated on the Facebook page and here on the blog when possible. Until then, so long! 

8 comments:

Dave Meek said...

Sam, it has been an absolute pleasure to follow your work on Nature's Wonderland all of these years and I'm thrilled at the exciting career path it has lead you to. It's gratifying for old farts like me to know that talented young people like yourself are around to keep an eye on the legacy. Best of luck to you, and thanks for the shout-out.

Paul Evans said...

WELL DONE, Young Son, VERY well done!!
I had the pleasure of seeing this wonderful layout at the 2016 railroad days with my grandson and was SO great to take a step back in time for ME and Him as I tried to explain to him what was happening... Easy for me to remember as I road thru this when I was a kid, some 50 odd years ago!!! He was 13 months old at the time, but I think if we saw this masterpiece again he would remember, :-)
I thank you for your labor of love!!!!

Steve DeGaetano said...

Awesome job, Sam! Truly an inspiration and a treat for the eye. It has been fun watching this project through the years. I didn't realize it's been so long!

Sam Towler said...

Thanks guys! I appreciate the support and follows over all these years!

Pony Horton said...

Sam, I am a big Disneyland fan and railfan, and I love the work you've been doing.

I am planning my own version of a NWRR-themed HOn3 layout, and as I'm a Hollywood visual effects artist, I am planning some interesting effects for the layout. I'd be happy to share some of my ideas with you, if you wish.

In that vain, I wanted to know if there is any way I can get copies of scale drawings from you for the engines, cars, and Rainbow Ridge structures? I've never seen anything like them commercially available.

My email is ponyrhorton@gmail.com

Hope to hear from you!

Thanks,
Pony Horton

iqra said...

nice post

Peter LaBARBA said...

6 May 2017
I went to Railroad days hoping that your display would be there and I was not disappointed. What a wonderful thing it is. I wanted to tell you how much I enjoyed your YouTube posts and introduce myself, but alas. You were talking business with others. Best, Peter

Gregory Wright said...

So happy that this project became so much more. SO thrilled to see you get recognition from exactly the right folks. And as for it's new home...just amazing. Congratulations and thanks for sharing this journey.

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