"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.

Summer 2015 Update

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

Power Struggle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then I found it.

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

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

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

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

Rainbow Ridge takes shape

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

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

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

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

This and That

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

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

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

Winter 2015 Update

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Well, this is where it gets interesting...

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

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

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.