"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 2005; even after almost 10 years of work, it's still not 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.

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...) 

Summer 2014 Update

Since updates are gonna be sporadic, I've decided to make "seasonal" updates, since I can't seem to get the monthly thing back in routine. An update is an update, nonetheless!

One of the most common things about the layout is it's ability to make progress, but at the same time, go back and have things redone. Most often the case is making things aesthetically better, whether it's the sculpting or paint job, or accuracy or detailing. But this time around, it was just ease of maintenance and mechanical efficiency. 

As with anything mechanical, It was inevitable that the Battling Elk would go down for some sort of issue. Unfortunately, I didn't think it would be the issue that it was, and this case it was a motor that went 101. 

When I originally installed the Elk, I put in a hatch so I could access the mechanism. While it was fine and dandy, really all it provided was a visual access port, to confirm that the mechanics were working or not. Since it appeared the gears were no longer spinning, I shut off the motor and tried to diagnose the issue. From my little "viewing port" I determined that it was a gear getting out of alignment and also the motor having issues turning. It was clear that I had to dig up the scenery and perform an extensive rehab. 

For pretty much all the mechanisms on the layout, I've used AC 3 RPM synchronous gearmotors from Micro Mark. While they worked for most of the time, occasionally they would get really loud, get really hot, or quit all together. Since the Elk were the latest mishap regarding a motor to occur, I decided to switch the motor type with the rehab.  

After many experiments over the years with different motors, ranging from different sizes, voltages, and RPM's, I was able to determine the proper motor for animation on the Nature's Wonderland. The criteria for the motors that I needed were they needed to be ultra quiet, low voltage, little heat, and most importantly, reliability. I found one such gearmotor that I can run off my 12V power bus. It was a DC motor, so there was no chance the rotation would change when started up, which was an issue I had with the synchronous motors. 

What's nice about the DC gearmotors, I can get one with a decent RPM for animation, and then dial down the voltage so the motor would turn slower for the speed that I needed. This also makes the motor a LOT quieter, which is a major plus. The motor I used matched the same RPM as the original Micro Mark motor, so I was able to keep the same gear ratio, and animation cam. 

While it would have been nice to be just a replacement rehab, it was clear that the entire mechanism needed a rebuild. For it's time, the mechanics that I built for the battling elk worked well at installation, overtime some of the flaws I didn't expect or anticipate began to pop up. I needed a more solid system. 


I built a new motor mount and mechanical infrastructure. I eliminated the counterweight and pulley portion and replaced that with a spring. This way, the return pull was guaranteed, since the counterweight would snag sometimes. Every part was either screwed together, or glued. In some cases, like the brass portions, the parts were welded. The main focus of the rehab was reliability, so building something that had little play tolerance and mechanically solid was mandatory.

Here's a video of the new mechanism in action

Another requirement, which started this whole rehab, was maintenance later on. The layout for the mechanics was revised. Rather than having the motor and gears under the elk themselves, I offset everything so the motor, gears, slides and springs would be located under the access hatch, all in plain view. This way, in the event of another issue, or just routine checks and lubing, anything could be looked at with ease.

When I got the position of the mechanics properly, I screwed down the entire module into the layout. From then on, I took existing portions of the scenery and pieced them together to match the new mechanics without having to start from scratch completely.

I made a new maintenance hatch that is ingeniously attached to magnets to the layout. This provides a secure mounting for the hatch and there's a perfect alignment every time. 

As part of the rehab I added a new LED light for the elk. The original incandescent bulb hidden in a tree that I had was always odd to be, so I was glad I could retire it. As a replacement I took a warm white LED and drilled out a tunnel in the natural arch bridge. This way the bulb is completely recessed, out of the way, hidden, and yet it lights up the whole scene. You can see it on in the picture above. Running the wiring was a little tricky, but wasn't impossible. I ended up cutting a trench in the bridge for the wiring to the closest bus bar and patched over it later. 

Instead of completely sealing the mechanism, I opted for an exposed one, to a certain extent. The original mechanism worked on a slot that overtime created a lot of friction. This time around that isn't the case and the open set-up make inspections and adjustments quick and easy, and usually without opening the access hatch. 

Then it was a matter of patching up all the scenery around the elk, and just like that, a scene is fully rebuilt and improved. 

Rainbow Ridge FINALLY got it's first building in years since the very first ones were built back in 2005. After doing scenery work on the layout mostly, I thought it was time to change gears and start getting some buildings made for Rainbow Ridge. I also wanted to make sure my skills were still up to par, since it had been some time since I've done actual styrene modeling. 

The first building I started with was the Assay Office, right between the Opera Hose and the Miner's Hardware store. 

Based off drawings I did back in 2012, I constructed the building out of styrene. I eyeballed all the measurements based on the elevation view I drew

So far, the building is just a primer gray. I'm thinking of keeping it unpainted until all the buildings are constructed, then I can knock out all the color palettes and the decals that go with them

March 2014 Update (That's right, an update finally!)

So yeah, it's been awhile. Mostly life has gotten in the way, but a few other projects stole my creative time. The layout itself also hit a few snags too.

I had a few issues last year that kind of put off my interest in working on the layout:

  • Part of it was Rainbow Ridge. While it was really promising when I developed it, the flickering circuitry for all the buildings and lanterns turned out to be more of a headache than a cool effect. Also, the amount of wiring: Holy crap, it's a lot of wiring. Just running cables under the decking for the load/unload platform was a lot to do and I had a big mass of wires I had to deal with. And that's just a handful of lights. The main platform with all the buildings is gonna have more!
  • LED conversion: This was a project I started last year for changing all the incandescent lights to LED's. Mainly for brighter and more vivid color,  but also better power consumption. The problem I have with the flickering circuitry is the fact that it's not very power efficient. It soaks in a lot of power to get all the lanterns to flicker and requires another power supply separate from the rest of the night time lighting.
  • Access: The only real way to get to the wiring for all of this is in the hill between Rainbow Ridge and the Living Desert. Trying to develop ways to maintain--but also build-- Rainbow Ridge is becoming more impractical the more I think about it, in terms of getting other areas worked on.
With those things in mind for just a simple lighting effect, that really stalled this project as a whole. I've decided now that I'm going back to square one a little bit with Rainbow Ridge, and keeping things simple. For now, there won't be any flickering lanterns except for a few key lights. While it seemed like a cool idea, having every single light on it's own flicker pattern was a bit too ambitious of an idea. While it still can be done, there are better ways of doing, with more power efficiency and simplifying of the wiring. I've started to use Arduino a bit, so maybe that may be an option.

Now before I deal with Rainbow Ridge, there's another area I need to get finished up while I'm at it: the Living Desert.

Because of it's proximity to Rainbow Ridge and it's mass of wiring, and because I have to lean over Rainbow Ridge to work on it, Living Desert was the focus before and more major work could be done. 

The Living Desert was the first section on the layout to go LED. Right now it's in the process of being completed converted over from incandescent bulbs, which were installed a few years ago. Since the conversion process requires ripping out the old bulbs and installing the newer, bright LED's, quite a bit of touch-up work and patch work is needed to be done. 

Here's a look at the LED's installed. So far the total is over 25 individually wired orange diodes

Since there was a considerable amount of painting---and re-painting-- that had to be done, I took a look at all the nearby rock features. Over time they've begun to look a little dull. Part of that is the dust in the room anyways, but I've felt the paint job could have been a little more punchier, especially after looking at Carsland and the recently refurbished Big Thunder and how vibrant the colors are. Of course Nature shows much more colorful hues than I previously observed. So while I was painting up the sculptamold patch jobs, I took an airbrush to the existing structures and cranked the saturation up a bit. 

And here's the desert from it's recent rehab. 

As well as doing some repaints to a lot of the desert, I went in and did some scenery work I hadn't done, mainly with more rocks around the crevices in this section. Just some small little detail areas


And now, for some psychedelic night shots! (The exposure got really funky when I uploaded them)

But here's a more proper shot, showing off the now FULL LED Living Desert

That will do for now. Since most of the heavy work for the Living  Desert is done, I no longer need to lean over the Rainbow Ridge area for prolonged periods of time. We're hoping that's the next focus! So long folks!

May 2013 Update

I wish there was more to post for May, but being the end of a hectic semester, other stuff takes priority. However, being that it is May, traditionally in the last few years, it's "Aerial Update Month". So here's what the layout looks like as a whole as of May 2013.

This photo has also been added to the "Aerial Photos" page, where you can see the progression over the last few years. Some things to note between this shot and the one before is the addition of water to Bear Country and Beaver Valley. The waterfalls have been updated with the latest technique, and Rainbow Ridge is receiving it's decking. The Pack Mule portion of Rainbow Ridge is taking shape as the big hill in the middle. 

And here's a video from above as I've done in the past showing the entire layout, which shows off a lot more than the photos.

April 2013 Update

A brief update for April, as the layout is on the back burner under a backlog of other side-jobs. However, the photography is quite good, so hopefully it's enjoyable.

Although installed over a year ago, I finally got the geysers spruced up enough to be filmed for YouTube. Blew off the dust and added a coat of Mod Podge to make them appear "wet" once again.

When it got dark out for night shooting to show of the lighting effects, I took some real great long exposure shots

And here's the video, seeing the geysers in action!

Something a little more new, over in Rainbow Ridge: Performed the first lighting test for the Load area lanterns. This was done by just crudely tying the wires together to the LED flicker controller I built two updates ago. Everything seems to work pretty well, so more should come with few bumps.

I've also begun the process of adding the railings to the deck made out of strip styrene. 

The lanterns at night, via long-exposure shots. 

To show off their flickering, here's a video of the lanterns under power. 

February/March 2013 Update

A few things caused a delay for February's update, so it's being combined with March. Since March hasn't ended, this post is likely to be updated as the progress moves along.

Rainbow Ridge continues to take shape and the rough forms give way to finer details. At this point, knowing those finer details now are critical, as going back to fix any mistakes would be a headache and bothersome to fix later. This is the second time Rainbow Ridge has been redone and I plan on not scheduling any rehabs in the future!

This section of the layout is being planned very meticulously from the ground-up, most notably for this month was the wiring for all the lighting. As mentioned in last month's update, the lighting for Rainbow Ridge will have a special difference compared to the rest of the layout. That difference being the flicker effect, generated by some custom circuits utilizing tea light flickering LEDs.

Unfortunately, these circuits require a LOT of extra wiring, as parallel wiring wouldn't work for randomly flickering lights. Each light needs it's own wire running to one of 16 flickering LEDs. They can share the same ground wire. For example, the Load/Unload area for Rainbow Ridge requires 7 flickering lights. In traditional parallel wiring, I would only need two wires if they were constantly lit, or all on the same flicker circuit. Since I want each light to have a unique flicker for a more realistic appearance I'm running 8 wires to the Load/Unload to drive the lighting. 

This results in a couple bundles of wiring being fed up, around, and under Rainbow Ridge. Putting in that amount of wiring in now while in this state of construction certainly will make construction much smoother than putting it in later. 

While the wiring infrastructure was installed, I finally developed the lights themselves. 

While I would have loved to just buy perfectly scaled ready-to-go On30 1800's lanterns, like everything else on the layout, they have to be scratchbuilt. Looking at photos and even existing lights around Big Thunder at the park, I was able to figure out a way to make fairly decent looking lights with scrap material. 

The process starts with feeding the wire leads through a piece of .125 square styrene tubing to serve as the post. To give the bulb a slightly more bulbous shape, I applied a drop of super glue, while the bulb was spinning in my drill, for equal distribution. Next I flattened a #6 lock washer and glued that to the top to form the "hat". For the top section I cut a piece of brass tubing. I could have used styrene, but I wanted the metal parts to absorb the heat from the bulb away from the glue. The support arms on the far right light in the photo were formed from a standard office staple. 

Next a coat of black paint completed the light. 

And heres a test fit on the platform. 

The platform itself is the masonite base that was cut in the December update. To create a scaled down wooden appearance, a sheet of styrene wood planking was spray adhesive'ed on. I made sure to keep the plank direction pointing towards the track, as with the real thing. 

To make styrene look like wood, countless paint tests were created. Many refinements later, I developed a quick, easy, and very realistic way to make plastic look like timber--using only three colors. 

When I get onto the deck sections on the other sider of the tracks, I'll do a tutorial on this paint technique. 

When the main section of the platform was complete, The two Load and Unload ramps were made, as separate pieces and attached. 

The Unload was a little trickier to do, since the ground was sloped, leading down to Mineral Hall. Before adding the ramp, the masonite ground was put in and the joints filled and sanded. 

Here's the unload ramp, given a coat of primer. Unfortunately, despite going slow and careful with each step, I goofed with the main platform, creating an indentation where the two pieces meet. Rather than a continuous curve, there's an inward dent. Luckily, since there is a planter right in front, I'll hid this mistake with a decent size shrub and won't have to redo it. Even with my accuracy  and quality anal-ness, sometimes it's not a big deal to let something like this go. 

An interesting fun fact: This ramp was later removed and replaced with a section of stair in later years on the real attraction. This was presumably done to increase seating for Casa de Fritos. 

Here's a sample railing made of strip styrene. The only revision to be made is the middle horizontal beams, which were made thinner, despite being scale accurate, for aesthetic balance. 

That'll do for now. As mentioned early, if more is done for March, it'll be added. "So long!"