"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 2010 Update: Still Nothin', but I got a little Somethin' going

The December update for this year will have as much a last month's update. But, since my Spruce Caboose building was finished, progress did pick up towards the end of the month. I finished off the marmots over the tunnel and that piece was installed. More hills were put in and the whole section of Beaver Valley and Bear Country is shaping up quite nicely since having to be recovered from having the whole layout cut in half. I'm looking forward to some fun stuff for this section coming up, but that'll have to wait until next year's update (Ha! Get it?).

I did some messing around in a composite program called Shake, learning how to do green screen stuff. I did a small clip of my layout, doing the typical sky replacement. I added some steam for fun from Particle Illusion.

November Update: I Got Nothin'

Layout progress was nonexistent in the last month, been too busy with other things and other side projects. So much that I updated the sidebar as "project on hold". Fingers crossed work will resume again later in December.


Although not related, this was one of my side projects during the winter. Every year in December, we set up a small Department 56-esque village that has the usual 2-3 buildings. When the thought of adding a new building came up, I thought it would be more fun to BUILD one, rather than BUY one. Thus, the creation of the "Spruce Caboose Hobby & Craft" shop. I designed this building completely from the ground up, drawing architectural details and color scheme ideas from Disneyland's Main Street, in order to compliment the most outstanding building we have currently, the "Sweet Shop" candy shop.

Colorized front elevation drawing

When completed, the building will have miniature working model layouts in the display windows, with a fully detailed interior. 

The real deal, built completely from scratch out of styrene.
The "Sweet Shop" is coincidentally in the background.

More on this will be posted on my main blog when it's finished.

EDIT: Here's the link:

Spruce Caboose Hobby & Craft

October 2010 Update: Natural Arch Special

Things have really slowed down on the layout in recent weeks, school and work really like to take my time this time of the year. I did get some work done on the Natural arch bridge though. For the fifth and FINAL time, I've redone the bridge to the proper specs and details and it looks better than ever. The previous version had to be adjusted so many times that it just couldn't survive being that it was a just a shell of celluclay. This time around, I decided to make it out of floral foam for a rigid and solid piece, but also to show how well this stuff works for how cheap it is ( 6 bricks of floral foam for $3; pretty good bargain!).

In my usual fashion, this rebuild was documented in time-lapse.

Just for the heck of it, here's a history of all the Natural Arch Bridges through the years:

First Arch: September 2005; nothing fancy, just an arch out of paper mache

Second Arch, (sort of) June 2006: a modified version of the arch above, to accommodate the Pack mule trail (shown here painted in May 2007)

Third Arch: During the big Winter of '09 Desert redo, the arch above was torn out and a new arch was built (look at the bottom):

Fourth Arch, June 2009 :That arch only served as a placeholder for a few months until the previous version was made out of celluclay

Fifth Arch, October 2010: Hopefully the last natural arch I'll have to create. This time out of floral foam with accurate details, accurate paint scheme, and enough path envelope for the train. 

That's it for this month's update; very short, but that's all I got going on, unless the Park's busy season's calm down or the midterms die down-- both of which I doubt will happen with winter approaching. But, as I always say, we'll see.

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. 

August 2010 Update-- A World of Motion

This post was originally published on Aug 4. Any updates added after that date, but pertain to the current month, will be indicated with UPDATE. So check back often!

To be honest, nothing really happened in July, and thus, no update. Things are really slow out in the Wonderland, thanks to the complications of the Bear Country/Beaver Valley animation (as well as real life priorities like work soaking up my time). Since more of my time will be taken away due to another semester of college, I'm going to try and get some stuff done.

The whole layout has been but on hold due to the animation being figured out and installed in the Beaver Valley and Bear Country areas. Since this area of the layout is in it's infancy, now is the time to add in mechanics of various sizes before I start getting crazy with scenic aspects (mainly since I REALLY don't want to go back and add things later which will result in damaged scenery).

I want this area to be filled as much animation as possible; so, I planned out these 3 aspects to have movement and motion:

• The marmots above the tunnel would pop up and down

• 3 bears would scratch various parts of their bodies in Bear Country

• The Olympic Elk will battle it out on a hill, moving back and forth (no decision on the legs this far).

"Them little marmots over the tunnel must be a whistlin' to all you pretty gals, can't say I blame 'em".

At the moment, the most successful animation is the Marmots above the tunnel. I created a mechanism that consists of cams pushing up on levers that lift little sculpts of marmots out of their holes (these marmots are about .5" tall, not very big and not very easy to sculpt!). It was easy to make when I figured it out, but when I was trying to come up with a way to execute this, it was difficult to conceive a mechanism that could operate many marmots randomly with the right motions, as well as leave plenty of room for the train to pass below (that gave the most problems since there was much space to hid the mechanics in the rock work).

This was my initial test I did with the mechanism, with my one and only marmot (I will mold this figure at some point, so more can be added easily).

Lone marmot, but not for long.

I did duration testing on the mechanics and everything seemed to pass quite well. I later carved some rockwork to hid the mechanics and to create the tunnel portal, and now all that's left to do is paint it up and add the remaining figures. 

Marmot tunnel portal; you can still see that tunnel at the park today.
That was the easy animation, now it was time to move onto something harder. 

"All they want to do is lay around, scratch, fish and swim..."

Unfortunately, my Bear island is about half the size it should be if I wanted to be accurate. Since I didn't want to "crowd" the island, I reduced the number of bears down to 3 (plus the one in the tree). The island will be little vignette of bears scratching, much like what this picture looks like:

The real thing. Photo credit:ImagineeringDisney.com
I have seen some old footage showing the motions of these three bears, and the movements are quite easy to duplicate-- problem is, the scale I'm working in is WAY too small to get everything to look and even work right. The bear in the middle there would stand only about 1.5" tall and would have to have his knees jointed. Knees that small aren't easy to joint without getting bulky and unrealistic. 

The bear scratching his bum on the tree on the right isn't much easier. The back legs as well as his front legs, need to be jointed in such a way that his rear moves in a circular motion--again, not easy to to.

I am currently considering making the bears out of flexible material, like latex from a mold that will give the bears all the joints they need without getting bulky with cut-out sections on the legs and such (if I went with a hard material). 

I'm also considering just making them static and saving the gearmotor for another area of animation, that way I could just focus on making it look nice without fussy with mechanics. 

It's a shame they are just too small to make it work easily. Of course, it would be easier to figure out if I actually had the bear figures in my hand. In the meantime, I just need to sit down and focus on making some good sculpts, later on I can worry about the mechanics and the potential need for making a flexible castings.

UPDATE: Aug 10

Bears in clay form.
Still need to scribe in some fur texture, but you get the idea. No animation is being considered at this point; just want them to look good.

UPDATE: Aug 18

Basically, to show how much selective compression I used, this was my reference:

(I wish I had room for ALL of that...) Photo credit: Gorillas Don't Blog
and that turned into this, way smaller (but no less neat to look at, in my opinion)

(....but this is what I got)  Just ignore all the crap on my table.
Rather than fussing around trying to get animation as I described earlier in this post, I decided to do a really nice and well done vignette that I could work on my worktable comfortable (which is important considering the number of miles I walk at work everyday). Right now I can install it on the layout and move on to the next section. There are plenty of bears in the water, so they'll be the next to get worked on. This was also a little scenery test to the entire Bear Country and Beaver Valley areas, determining my color palette and scenic materials. The rocks came out perfectly, mainly due in part to my experience painting a whole mountain (aka Cascade Peak) with the same technique. 

"Now there's a real struggle fer survival - two stags 'r battlin' fer them cow elk"

The Battling elk mechanism is one I still haven't decided on; I want the general movement to be a back and forth motion, but whether or not I want the legs to move is another issue. Again, scale is giving me a problem. The legs would be very delicate, as would the mechanism if I really wanted them to move they way they were in the attraction. At the moment, I am thinking of just giving the elk some very limited movement; basically they would be on a linear track that moves back and forth on a cam of some sort, just to give the indication of movement without anything crazy going on.

Kevin Kidney and Jody Daily

In other Nature's Wonderland news, Kevin Kidney and Jody Daily created a set of tin signs as part of a merchandise event for Disneyland 55th. As soon as I saw the Nature's Wonderland sign, which depicts an Olympic Elk and a stylized Cascade Peak, I knew I just had to have it. On the downside though, I was only after the one but I had no choice since it came in box set of 3 with two other signs (one for Slue Foot Sue's Golden Horseshoe, and one for Disneyland's 1959 expansion with the skyway). I was originally only going to put up the Nature's Wonderland sign, but all the signs were so beautifully made and they looked so good together, I just couldn't not put them all up.

The Nature's Wonderland sign (and the other two) look over the layout
In addition to the signs, Kevin and Jody created a replica of the NWRR locomotive, tender, and one ore car (all on an appropriate trestle display). It looks nice is a good size, but after further inspection, it would have been a better piece if the whistle had been turned around, the crossheads and pistons at the right angle, all the wheels at the right gauge, and the paint not as glossy. But hey, that's just me.

Not my model, but a very nice one (sort of)
So that's basically what's going on, trying to figure out some animation and such. The rest of the layout cannot proceed until these mechanics are constructed and installed, so you'll know what I'm working on.

June Update

With other side projects finished and other priorities out of the way,  construction can resume on the layout on my days off from work. Most of the construction focused on getting the Beaver Valley and Bear Country areas developed, which is exciting and also very challenging since none of these areas have progressed this far (whereas other areas are running fairly smoothly as I had already done them before and I was simply redoing them).

Cascade Peak--"Finished"

First off, Cascade Peak got it's last set of waterfalls, most foliage and trees will be phased in over time, but at this point, the peak is "done". 

Bear Country and Beaver Valley

On the other side of Cascade Peak, Beaver Valley and Bear Country are taking form, and unfortunately, they got the short end of the stick when it comes to space. Basically, from the various expansions from Rainbow Ridge, the Living Desert, and Cascade have left very little space to make an accurate Beaver Valley and Bear Country. Their close proximity to each other and other elements offer various design challenges to make everything fit well, so there will be some serious compromising. 

To Give you an idea of how these areas are all packed together, take a look at the aerial shot, taken from the always trusty, tripod structure, Cascade Peak.

The peninsula protruding towards the currently truss-less trestle is Bear Country, with the grey area at the tip being where the bear figures will eventually be (that end of the peninsula is suppose to be twice as wide to be accurate, but there is no space, and thus compromising). The black pained areas towards the tunnel (which has it's rock face portal, by the way) is Beaver Valley, with sections of the river stepping down at various heights to represent the dams plugging the river. Not to far to the left of that are some moose standing in for the battling elk. Everything is very close together, so I'll have to get creative with natural barriers and trees if I want everything to be separated visually (for the miniature passengers, of course). 

With the tight space, big design problems came up, one of which is the river in Beaver Valley. On the real Nature's Wonderland, the water source for the river in Beaver Valley came out of the hills just beyond Rainbow Ridge. Water started high in the hills and trickled down into the stream that flowed past the trains. Unfortunately, once again, I have no such space for a stream. Since Rainbow Ridge is just on the other side of Beaver Valley, the river just abruptly starts from a wall separating the two areas. 

Since I can't have the long stream come out of the hills, I had to come up with a solution. I considered other alternatives, like having a waterfall come out from the top of the wall (that "wall" needs to be there, to support the pack mule trail) or even a pipe looking outlet, but that just didn't have the right feel. Finally, I found my answer: don't come up with a solution, use visual tricks.

Just have the river disappear into the woods! Basically there would be enough foliage and trees to hide where the river starts and this way, I wouldn't have to "answer" to how the river got there. Genius!  

Since there is so much potential for animation in this area, like the bear scratching it's back, the battling elk, and the marmots popping up and down, I decided to hold off on anymore progress until I get the mechanics built and installed because now is the time to do that; I really don't want to go back later on to add them which would end up being more time consuming and harder.

With that entire area of the layout closed down for now, I decided to back to Rainbow Caverns.

Rainbow Caverns

The last time I worked on Rainbow Caverns was February where I simply lost interest; I can't blame myself for that, this is the fourth version of the caverns and it's much smaller and tad less impressive. But, I pushed myself to work on it and get it done.

If you can recall from my last Caverns update, I'm going for something that just fits in the space, nothing too accurate. The two main water features in the new caverns will be Geyser Grotto and Rainbow falls. The new caverns will utilize UV LED's rather than a fluorescent bulb as I did in the past; this was I can control the lighting and they are far more power-efficient.

Construction of the new caverns was pretty much the same as the previous version, with black crumpled aluminum foil, foam stalagmites/tites, clear plastic water falls, styrene and hot glue geyers, and blacklight paint. One thing new that I did add was the clear silicone caulking to the water features, the same stuff I've been using on Cascade Peak's waterfalls.

So here's a shot of the new Caverns now,  finally finished. A little smaller than I would have liked, but still neat to look at.

The deep purple glow the UV LED's give off is impossible to photograph, so I had to simulate it with a few color adjustments in Photoshop. 

Official first critter in Nature's Wonderland. The smallest sculpt I've ever done--about the size of a dime

Happy 50th Anniversary Mine Train Thru Nature's Wonderland!

May 28, 1960

On this day in 1960, the "E" Ticket Disneyland attraction opened to the public after it's major expansion from it's previous incarnation, The Rainbow Caverns Mine Train.  For those who don't know what the Mine Train Thru Nature's Wonderland was, it was an upgrade from it's former self, the Rainbow Caverns Mine train, which opened in 1956. The attraction covered a very large chunk of Frontierland and featured over 200 Audio-Animatronics and featured themes and scenery from Walt Disney's popular True-Life adventure films. As guests board one of 4 battery powered faux steam locomotive trains, they passed by the sprawling town of Rainbow Ridge which also served as the loading area for the pack mule attraction. From there the guests were treated to views of Beaver Valley, Cascade Peak, Bear Country (not the land known as Critter Country today) the Living Desert, Cactus Forest, Balancing Rock Canyon, and the magnificent Rainbow Caverns. It existed until 1977 when it was torn out for a higher speed mine train ride-- Big Thunder Mountain Railroad.

To this day, it still boggles me why I even have an interest in the attraction, let alone reserching the subject for a half a decade and building a model of it. I was born way too late to experience it. After hearing about a "Rainbow train ride" from my grandfather when I was little, I was intrigued by this attraction and wanted to know more about. It wasn't until the internet where my knowledge about the attraction exploded and I was immersed. I think it was the large variety of elements that grabbed me, some new and never before seen and others done in a new way. This ride had western towns, mountains, tunnels, hills, deserts, sandstone rocks, trestles, lakes, ponds, rivers, glowing caverns, geysers, mud pots, dinosaur bones, jiggling rocks, a variety of animals, it had trains, and it was a Disney ride. It... looked .... awesome.

It's a shame such an example of Walt Disney greatest attractions is not around anymore, it was the victim of progress. Hopefully, someday, it can be resurrected in some form. But for now, for some it'll remain in the memories, for many (like myself) it'll be preserved in countless photos and stories told by older relatives.

The last word in the attraction name sums it up well; it truly was a land of wonders that inspired the imagination and continues to today.


But what's left of this attraction? I pooled together all of my research and created this map that shows where many of the features and nods from the attraction are today. Of course, there are quite a few more, but these are the major ones.

All photo credits go to their respective owners.


But what about layout progress? Not much since my last update, mainly working on the waterfalls. Since then, I've had a very hectic semester finale and a bunch of side projects that have gotten in the way. But, school is out (but work is in!) so progress will resume on the layout shortly.

May 2010 Update

Since it seems like I'm doing mostly monthly updates recently, I've changed the titles of the last few months to reflect the month they were posted.

Cascade Peak

Just after  I posted the last update, Cascade Peak got it's... peak.

The peak was actually quite easy to do, it was a very basic shape, but getting it's size right in proportion in relation to the rest of the mountain was a bit tricky. The next phase was to do another pass of celluclay to get areas I missed or make any necessary revisions and also add more of the finer details. Once that all set and dried, a coat of paint to sealed everything and the real fun began with the vegetation and waterfalls.

Speaking of water, in the foreground I attempted to patch up various pieces of plywood that were added to expand the layout, trying to get a smooth surface for when I put down the water. Unfortunately, the wood grain and the seams (with different thicknesses of wood) are ending up being more work than I expected to sand down and smooth out, so eventually I'm just going to throw down a piece of masonite for a dead-flat surface for painting and pouring the future Envirotex Rivers of America.

Also, in the background you can see a backdrop for the NWRR. No, it's not the official backdrop for the layout, it's just a quickie one I did with some blue paint and a big sheet of masonite for when I shoot some photos/video in the coming weeks so I can hide some clutter and unwanted areas.


While Cascade Peak had it's last bit of celluclay dry, I started playing around in the Living Desert; I got one step closer to getting working geysers.

A few months ago I had a really bad sore throat (Tonsillitis!) and went over to Target to get a new humidifier to help alleviate it. I got one, and as it turns out, it's an ultrasonic one ( unlike the fan and filter ones I've been use to). Since it was suggested, I've been trying figure out how to get an ultrasonic mister to work for a geyser for the layout, through the use of containers, piping, and fans; it would have been trial and error to get it as efficient as possible. Enter the humidifier: it had exactly what I needed; an ultrasonic mister that outputted adjustable mist, but kept water contained-- all done efficiently and with a stylish look!

Rather than lay down and rest my throat, I immediately started pulling out pieces of PVC piping and other bits of assorted tubing to test the limits of this humidifier. I was very surprised with the amount of power it had and the volume output of the mist (it's not really mist, more of fine vapor, like steam). I plugged a length of PVC with four holes to represent geysers, and even through it wasn't at full blast, each "geyser" was putting out a good amount to be called a geyser.

Fast forward to a few days ago (now that I don't have tonsillitis!) I began playing with it again, and this time tried it with 1/4" tubing on the last leg after the mist leaves the 1 1/4" PVC before it actually goes to the geyser. I wasn't expecting much to come out since the 1/4" tubing is pretty much too small, let alone over a foot of it--but, to my surprise, a good size column came out! Again, this wasn't even at full power and I still got a good effect, doesn't really need to get any taller IMO. But, the 1/4" tubing has it's problems-- condensed vapor drops obstruct the tube easily after running less than a minute. No problem, just need a larger, shorter tube, and have it positioned so gravity does the work in getting condensed water out.

Video of my quick and dirty demonstration.

I'm not quite 100% signed off on this solution, but it's a step closer.

Painting Cascade Peak

When it was ready, I began starting to figure out paint styles for Cascade Peak. The color and value of Cascade Peak is extremely hard to match, as both of those aspects seemed to vary from picture to picture I look at. I couldn't use the same method to paint the peak as I did with the Living Desert because it's a different look.  After several samples of different base coats, different washes, different color "temperatures", and different highlight values, I might have found a somewhat satisfactory paint job. I started with a warm gray base coat (Valspar "Rocky Slope"; can't get anymore appropriate than that!) and later gave it a dark brown wash. Once the wash dried, I dry brushed the entire mountain with an off white.  As I did with the Desert, I'm developing a color scheme that's close enough and one I can reproduce easily for patch jobs later on.


When Cascade Peak was finished painting, it was time to add it's signature element: waterfalls. I've had experience making waterfalls before, The Cascade Peak before had them (at least on one side) and while they were good at the time then, they just didn't have the realism that I wanted. 

I came across this fantastic tutorial that uses clear sealant for model waterfalls and they look spectacular. At this time, Model Railroader Magazine featured an article where someone made there harbor scene with DAP Crystal Clear silicone caulk. Intrigued, I went over to Lowe's to get some of this Caulk (luckily they had a buy-one-get-one-free deal!) and I began to experiment. I followed the tutorial pretty closely and I adapted and changed a few things and added some extra steps for the maximum effect. This was my first result:

Extremely satisfied, I proceeded to making the other 13 waterfalls that adorn the rock formation. I completed a full set of waterfalls, Big Thunder falls:

Ballasting and some greenery has moved in also (the trees are temporary though). 

A lot of people don't notice the small waterfall offshooting from the larger falls (even I didn't notice it until recently) so I made sure to include it this time around.

"Twin Sister Falls" cane next (the first time these falls on this side have ever been modeled!)

Since this is such a valuable technique for a lot of model railroaders, I decided to make a video showing exactly how I did it. 

The riverbanks along Cascade Peak are slowly getting some scenery. Tall grass mostly, which unfortunately is a slow and tedious process. (The photo was taken before I vacuumed the trimming I did)

Anyone want to guess what this area could be for?

Just a little scenery sample for Pack Mule trail along the backside of Cascade Peak.

On a rather sad note, those who visit Disneyland today will notice an old friend is gone: the very last of the Mine Train fleet has been removed from the track around the former Cascade Peak. The removal was part of the refurbishment of the Rivers of America which included sprucing up the plant life and adding faux animals (which notoriously become targets of badmouthing amongst the Disney fan boards). The Cascade Peak track looks nicely restored along with the rigging that was use to raise the intake screen for the Cascade Peak pumps. It's a shame the train wasn't restored as well.

Although it got removed, word on the street is that it was sent to the Disney archives for storage. Whether or not it will be restored is unknown, but at least it didn't got the way of the other ones ( cut up and put in a land fill).

I had the chance to photograph the train years ago, on a photography class assignment in 2007. I can't remember what the project was, might have been the final, but I recently started scanning some of the negatives (yes, it was film) because some of the shots were surprisingly good despite being taken by high schooler. So, here are two now rare photos of the last of the NWRR fleet:

April 2010 Update: Rebuilding Cascade Peak

A lot of activity going on in the Nature's Wonderland area, specifically the west half of it, the nearly forgotten half. Cascade Peak is currently undergoing it's long overdue rebuild which will bring more detail and accuracy to the mountain and will look more on par with everything else that has or will be redone in terms of quality.

I should mention that in the sidebar I post what my "current focus"is; I update that more frequently than post, so watch that even if you don't see any recent postings. The date indicated the last it was updated.

 I layed down the track all the way to Cascade Peak, which is a major step to do, which includes all of the track for Rainbow Ridge with it's onstage spur line. As mentioned in previous posts, all the trackage going is being wired for two train operations, so the mainline is separated into blocks and the station has some areas where I can turn parts on and off if I want to only run one train.

This area was tricky to do, since the track had to reach the plywood on a grade, so I came up with my own way of laying track that can be adjustable. The next step would be to fill in the areas underneath with probably celluclay or sculptamold.

Here's an overview of the model which shows what the layout looks like at this point, Cascade Peak is getting it's major rebuild, which will be the main subject of this update.

A very colorful version labels everything, and it's quite obvious how packed in everything is and where areas are located. 

Now, onto Cascade Peak....

For several months, if not years, the Cascade Peak on my layout has been slowly falling apart and needing a major rebuild. My sculpting skills, especially when it comes to rockwork, have greatly improved, and I thought it was time to bring the quality up on the mountain. There are also a number of inaccuracies I discovered on my model, even after redoing my mountain three years ago.

Before I did any work at all, I made sure I documented what I had (would be neat to do a before and after shots when the rebuild is complete).
The old Cascade Peak model, soon to be redone.

This corner is perhaps the most neglected area on the entire layout, totally falling apart here. This is area is so forgotten, I didn't even add the waterfalls to this side when I redid the entire peak! The hill connected to the mountain didn't get very far either.

Perhaps the most neglected part of the layout, this side of Cascade Peak was never "finished" since it's a hard to reach area, as well as hard to see.

In planning the new Cascade Peak, as I did with Rainbow Ridge,  I went to aerial imagery and plot plans to see if I can get a full scaled out Cascade peak-- so proportions and details would be accurate. Unfortunately, as always, I found my space is too small; The mountain needs to be about a foot longer and about 3 feet deeper. I've got a foot to make it wider, but then the track radius gets hard to determine and tighter ; and I have only 17 inches for the depth, in an already squashed Bear country. So I guess I need to compromise yet again!

The track around Cascade Peak has always bothered me, as the appearance is terrible (as it was ballasted prematurely) and the curves are really tight at the ends. Also when I did the layout, I didn't feel like detailing the track with "bridge work" as with the real thing:

The real Cascade Peak, with a track detail I didn't bother to add when I originally laid the track down--the "bridge truss" the track is on as it circles the peak. Photo credit goes to gorillasdontblog.blogspot.com

I decided to go for the bold move and expand the track out a few inches, to ease the curves at the corners and make them less tight as well as add this extra bridge-like details to the track. 

I dug out some old snap track that was in good condition, and I roughly laid out where the pieces would go. I'm using 15", 18", and 22" radius pieces, as well as a piece of flex track for the last turn and the new Bear Country trestle. The advantage with using snap track is that they keep their radius, which is easier to work with than trying to wrestle a piece of flex track into the right position and keeping it there. 

The new sections of track roughly held together in place so I could determine the smoothest curve and widest radius.

As you can see above, sections of the mountain, including Big Thunder falls, have been  already ripped out for this new track. The many advantages for putting in this new section of track is to make the curves less tight, add more authentic track ("bridge look") and the extra space between the track and the mountain will give more room for the waterfalls, which have been pretty pressed up against the mountain. 

Once I was happy with the track, I begin installing it in permanently. I made the truss-work out of styrene square rod and a few pieces out of balsa wood. Since the track here was already at the correct grade (you know how I'm so fussy with the grades) I simply transferred the height measurements over to the new track. 

The new track has been installed permanently, with the truss work and all.  Sections of the old track are still visible, and will be ripped out when it comes time for the new scenery and waterfalls. 

At this point, after several months of having the main line cut up and sections isolated (since I had redone Rainbow Ridge and such) I'm proud to say that a full and complete line is now operational, and I can have a train run on it's own confidently. The full loop is back!

Once the track looked pretty good, and the train ran fine over it, I was ready to tackle the mountain itself. 

The mountain was a difficult thing to figure out how to rebuild. I was stuck between retrofitting the existing structure (just add on to it) or starting completely over which would makes things a little easier, in terms of strength and building. After much thought, I eventually settled on just retrofitting the existing mountain. 

Foam, which do I use.... (and how do I get it?)

For materials, I didn't want to go back to using paper mache as I did with the original mountain. I wanted to work with a material that can carve easily, without using a lot of expensive urethane foam. After reading several Model Railroader magazines, I thought I'd give a shot at using the foam insulation board they always use; it's very cheap for the amount of it you get, and it carves and shapes fairly easily. Problem is that it turns out almost the entire southern California area hardware stores don't carry the foam, and so I'm stuck having to not use it. Avoiding having to do a special order, I ended up snooping around the garage for supplies, just in case I found something that might work.

 I came across some foam that Lowes did have-- the white beady styrofoam sheet-- which I had plenty left over from a Physics class project years ago (we had to build a device that could help you could walk on water--which I failed at; I floated, but a rudder would have helped). I was hesitant using the styrofoam at first since it doesn't give the same quality carving as with urethane foam, but realizing I could get a good texture and strength out of it by covering it with celluclay, I thought it would actually work. I made a few test pieces and after a few days of dry time, I ended up with a satisfactory substitution for insulation board. Although it takes more time, at least I can use up scrap material I already had (styrofoam and celluclay). 

The first thing I did was use the styrofoam to form the new hills for Bear Country. I stacked a few layers and glued them together with white glue. When it dried, I carved a rough form, which will be later covered in Celluclay for a rock hard finish. 

The new land formations for Bear Country and Cascade Peak are being made out of styrofoam. This will be covered in celluclay which is will make a nice solid surface for the future foliage.

I'm also taking the advantage of the new expansion space that appeared when the layout made it's second move to a bigger table last year. I'm expanding the hills into this area, to give more natural space for the mule trail. Here's what the expansion space looks like, the extra six inches:

The 6" of plywood seen in the picture is the expansion space that was created when the layout made it's move to a larger  table. This space is being used for the hills of Bear Country and I'm considering expansing the Desert area into it too. That, however, willeliminate my plans for adding a static Disneyland Railroad. 

I'm also seriously considering expanding out the desert a bit into this 6 inch space, to give the geothermal areas a little more room. That would however eliminate my plan to add a non-working stretch of the Disneyland Railroad line, so I'll need some time to think about it. Should I expand the desert in the future, I have to have a solution for working geysers, as that would be the best time to install them. 

Waterfalls and other features are blocked out in styrofoam. The original track that circled the mountain has now been ripped out at this point to make room for the coming scenery. 

Since they are the most prominent features on the mountain, I blocked out the water falls with styrofoam blocks. Aside from a few adjustments in there position a few inches, the waterfalls are pretty much in the same spots as they had been. I really wanted to move them where they should be in terms of the distances between them, but there was only so much I could do on this already compromised Cascade Peak and making it look good at the same time. At this time, the remaining pieces of the old track were ripped out. 

When I was done with positioning, floral foam came next to block out and shape more details. "Why floral foam?" you say. Well, since this is a retrofit project, I need to be able to shape blocks of foam fairly easily by rubbing it against an existing surface to make a custom fit. Since floral foam is less dense then the usual urethane foam I use, it shapes very easily, yet it allows for intricate details almost like the urethane foam. And the price of floral foam is fantastic too; I bought 12 brick size blocks of it for about $8--not bad!

Once the foam, of both kinds, were shaped to the way that I wanted, I covered and blended many of the unwanted cracks and seams with celluclay. Celluclay is a paper mache type material that you mix with water and will get hard a in few days (or even a whole week, depending on how much water you put in). Recently I had switched to Sculptamold, which has a little plaster in it and sets and dries much faster, but I didn't want to use it on this portion of the project; I usually mix the stuff in big batches and so I want to be able to cover a large area and shape it the was I want it without it setting on me too quickly. Celluclay will stiffen in about 24-48 hours and then a few more days to dry completely, so this seemed like a good way to go, as I want to pick at details as I look at every now and then. The Celluclay also has a neat texture quality to it that makes it appropriate for Cascade Peak, a kind of early Disney rock formation made out of cement look. 

After the styrofoam was in the right position, floral foam was used to make more details and just about all the seams and cracks were blended and smoothed out with Celluclay. In a few days, the celluclay will create a very hard surface, 

The above photo show the "Twin Sister Falls" given a first pass of Celluclay once the floral foam was done being sculpted (I never understood why those falls were called :Twin Sister falls", since they in no way look alike).  The next step after this photo is to move around to the backside of Cascade Peak overlooking Bear Country, as well as the the hillside on the left (the styrofoam). As I worked on the mountain, I would slowly rip out old sections and replace them, so a lot of the mountain is brand new, with a little bit of the old material still part of the structure. 

Above, more foam and celluclay have been added and the backside of the mountain will be next. 

Here's the Bear Country and Beaver Valley areas, dominated by the currently peak-less Cascade Peak. Since photos of the backside of the mountain are quite rare (and when I do find one, the quality isn't great) and there are a lot of compromises already, I basically took some artistic license and made up what  looks good to my eye. Same with the rest of the Bear Country and Beaver Valley; unfortunately, there is not enough room to make an accurate depiction of the land forms of those areas, like rivers and such, so I had to change sizes of the land plots and the widths of the main rivers in order to get everything to fit. Even the Bear Country "island" where all the bears hung out was cut to half the size it should be in order to fit. 

The backside of Cascade Peak covered (mostly) with fresh celluclay. The mule trail is visible as it snakes along the backside of the mountain. Also visible is the tunnel portal to Bear Country, with it's truss-less trestle. This tunnel actually still visible today at Disneyland. 

Here's the Big Thunder falls roughly shaped to form with styrofoam and floral foam. Large gaps are covered with aluminum foil. I didn't realize how many little falls Big Thunder falls had when I looked closely at photos. Unfortunately, this area got pretty squashed and compromised to fit the space, but it looks pretty good and natural.

When I was happy with the shape of the material(s), everything got a layer of celluclay.

Once this hardens in a few days (other areas may take a week) I'll be ready for the next phase which is more details and other areas I missed with the celluclay. The celluclay will create a nice rock solid surface for more formations and details.  The peak will cap off the rebuild (no pun intended) and then everything should get a coat of paint to seal everything.