First up, Rainbow Ridge. This area was recently cleaned out and I started figuring out my complicated grade I need to incorporate into the new trackage as explained in my last post. I'm almost ready to lay track, but Model Railroader mentioned that their next issue will feature an article on laying track (more specifically, HO flex-track) which I'm very curious to see. So I'm holding off on any track laying until then. In the meantime, I've still got more planning to do in that area, and if I want to make any changes, I better do them now because I am not going back to fix any mistakes (again!).
In the planning of Rainbow Ridge, the goal is to get the entire town on the layout and also be able to fit some other areas nearby like the Pack Mule load area and Mineral Hall--if possible. I wanted the layout of everything to be as accurate as possible, so I turned to "satellite imaging".
I photographed overhead the area where I will be working on so I can draw all over it and make drawings that will aid me in the process. From here, I took an aerial photo from the real attraction and overlayed it on my model photo to figure out the position of everything.
I distorted, moved, changed, and tweaked the photo until everything fit on the layout table. The outcome is quite exciting because of all the new things that will be added to the layout. In this expansion I will be able to add an entire Rainbow Ridge town (the one for the mine train load area), almost everything for the Pack Mules (a few buildings will need to be cut), the entire load area for both attractions (barely), Mineral Hall, and to my surprise, part of the Casa de Fritos building with it's outdoor seating area! Before I decided to expand, I only had room for just half of the Rainbow Ridge buildings and nothing else!
The photo below shows the superimposed image over the photo above which shows everything that will be added to the layout as part of this expansion. The green lines represent the track for the model which dictated the layout of everything, and the yellow lines represent the proposed Pack Mule trail.
But before I can get started on the construction of that area, I need to do more planning like making drawings of all the buildings. But I also need to get some other areas finished before, like Balancing Rock Canyon, because once the new Rainbow Ridge goes up, that area will be a lot harder to work on!
Balancing Rock Canyon is located in the middle of the layout, which makes it difficult to work on with everything around it, especially when the new Rainbow Ridge gets constructed. Lately I've been working on getting this area fixed up since I tore it up to fix the gears and I would like to finish it all the way, right down to the ballast on the track (which is something that I usually tend to save for last).
The track in this area has been getting special attention, as up until recently, I didn't really pay attention to the appearance of it. When I originally started the layout, a year or two after I initially layed the track, I ballasted the track with real dirt and the scenery started to grow over the ties, leaving the track looking like a dirt covered area with some rails stuck in it. Today, now that I pay much closer attention to detail, the track is getting a lot of cosmetic care like cleaning the ties up to make them more visible. Unfortunately, the track sits a little lower than the scenery (on the real attraction, and on real railroads, the track typically sits on ballast a little higher than the rest of the surrounding area) and there's really no way to fix it without redoing the track (which is an option that I am not considering). So, I've been extra careful keeping the scenery as far away as I can from the track and the ballast area--which is also good, because scenery too close has been known to derail my trains in the past.
Speaking of track and ballasting, this is the first finished section of track on the layout. I painted the track in the back corner of the the layout and added ballast, near the Devil's Paintpots and geysers, just to experiment with colors and such. It still needs more work (and more ballast).
Back to Balancing Rock Canyon, the track is getting the attention that I described above. In addition to that, I also started wiring that section for the future two-train operation with block control and my experimental automatic train operation (where the last foot of each block is isolated, which will stop a train if there's another train in the block ahead. So, if a train were to go into Balancing Rock Canyon and if there was another train in the next block, the 1 foot dead section of track would cause the train to stop right in front of the tunnel leading to Rainbow Caverns). The wire leads coming from the track are all connected together for a simple single train operation now, but when I do switch to cab control, this prep work that I did will make the switch-over much easier.
The rocks themselves for Balancing rock canyon are also getting some work; I've actually gone back and carved more out of them to make some of the rock towers less blocky and more realistic. I also cut the spinning rock column down so it's a tad shorter and the actual spinning rock was made smaller so it's more in scale. The ground work is going back in and consists of sculptamold with some tint in it so I know when batches of areas were done in terms of drying time. Unfortunately, in the last batch I threw in some celluclay as an experiment (the brown stuff in the right area of the photo below) which didn't work out because the sculptamold set but the celluclay hasn't, so it's this weird kind of spongy surface that I can't really work on just yet. The light yellow areas are the carved areas, which is the exposed foam.
I've also adjusted the color palette and refined my painting process for the desert, which is a little more accurate to the real thing and little more orange than what I've used in the past. This time I'm using paint straight out of the bottle, so no complicated mixes will have to be made (and so patching can be done easily without having to color match). The area below was the first area to use this new painting treatment with Balancing Rock canyon soon to follow.
If anyone is interested, I might post a step-by-step process of painting the rockwork.
Heres a panorama of probably the only finished area on the entire layout and the area being worked on nearby.
I've been thinking about animated the geysers for some time now, and I still haven't found an ideal solution. The obvious one is to have the geysers on cams that go up and down (a solid plexiglas rod will represent the water). But I've also been looking at using mist or fog. I have a fog machine that might work, but trying to fit it in that area isn't easy and it doesn't operate the way I would want it to. It would be idea to have a shot of fog every few minutes for a few seconds, but the fog machine I have doesn't do that. I came across some little fountains that are called "ultrasonic misters" which turns any bowl of water in to a mist. That could work, but I'd have to try it out myself to see how it works and I'm trying to use little to no water at all (and not break my budget in the process). And depending on the model, the actual "geyser" for these fountains doesn't seem to be much so they might not work anyways for what I'm trying to do. We'll see, the geysers are not a priority at the moment anyways.
Lately I've been also planning out the new train for Nature's Wonderland, which might replace the current one or join along side it as #2. This train will be using a new drive system which includes the powered truck from a Bachmann Cable Car and a dummy free-wheeling locomotive in front (just like the real thing!).
I got a Cable Car and I've been fiddling around with it the last week or two figuring out how I'm going to mount it and how it'll work. First off, I couldn't believe how small it was! It was tiny, and it definitely will fit in the current tender that I have for the current train (for consistency the tender and cars will be built to the same specs as the current train)
But small size comes with a side-effect--weight, and no weight= no traction, something that is an issue on the NWRR. Luckily, since the motor truck is small enough I have plenty of room for weight. The tender drive needs to weigh as much as the current locomotive for the grades that I have tested and planned. The porter (current locomotive) tips the scale at 3.80 ounces and the motor truck comes in at about .80 ounces, so weight really needs to be added. I found my answer with tungsten weights. I found these really small weights made of tungsten that are used for Pinewood Derby cars that I will be using. They measure about 7/16" X 3/8" and they weigh about 0.5 ounces each. A pack of 6 brings the total weight to 3 oz. Adding these to the motor truck makes the future tender drive weighing exactly the same as the porter engine I have now! And since they're so small, I can even fit them standing up below the tender deck (and that doesn't include the higher space on top of the tender for the "hatches") as shown below:
There's room for even more of them! I can fit 3 more if I wanted to as shown below (the extra ones would fit between the two rows)
Even then, there's still room for weight on the sides of the motor truck, under the tender frame and all kinds of other places, but that might be overkill (or is it?).
As for the performance of the motor truck, it'll work, but not out of this world great. The porter still has some advantages though. First off, like any other 4-wheeled locomotive, the power pick-up is terrible unless your track and wheels are *spotless*. No worry, like the current train, more power will be picked up from the two mine cars behind it. Speaking of that, the wiring between the cars is also going to be different on the new train; this time everything will be able to disconnect easily for movement and maintenance, this means I can remove the tender for fixing without having to take off the locomotive in front, and the two cars behind it also (The locomotive, tender, and two cars are counted as "one" on the current train). I'll probably use two-pin micro-connectors for this and I won't have any wires going to the locomotive.
The tender truck, when fed power efficiently, runs ok. I have to realize that it's not from a Spectrum model like my porter, so it's not built with total precision. It's a little noisy compared to the porter, but it runs fairly well with plenty of power. My only problem with it is that it can't handle the ultra-slow speeds like the porter; the porter can run half as slow as the power truck's slowest speed. But, from my tests, the slowest speed for the power truck seems to match those of the real mine train after studying how many times the wheels turn per second on the locomotives. I just have to accept that I can't run the train in sync with the lengthy soundtrack and just have to enjoy running it at a slightly higher speed through the layout.
Here's a quick video showing a test of the power truck with the chassis of a former porter in front. The bag on top of the truck is the tungsten weights, which improves it's traction power and even it's electrical conductivity. The video is a little jerky, thanks to the digital point-and-shoot camera, but you get an idea of how it runs.
Speaking of the porter chassis, that will be the new dummy locomotive to go in front of the powered tender. Since there is no motor to hide, I can finally make an accurate model that's the right size (the locomotive on the current train had to have some proportions changed to accommodate the high sitting motor). And since there's going to be nothing to hide in the boiler, and no wires to feed from the track, how am I going to power the headlight? Answer: batteries. If I were to stash a battery in the boiler like a AAA battery or even a AA battery, I could have a 1.5V bulb (or LED) for the headlight on a switch so I can turn it on and off whenever I want to. That could be really neat, being able to stop at the station at night with the headlight still on or keep it off when running during the day with out using DCC!
So far the new train (and the rest of the layout) is looking pretty good on paper; I'm anxious to seeing it come to fruition.