"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.




February 2011 Update: Bits and Pieces.

There wasn't really a focus for the layout this month, it was a lot of, well, bits and pieces.

Battling Elk

After slowly developing Bear Country over the last few months, I found the next big thing to develop and install was the Battling Elk. After working with the Marmot tunnel, it was easier to work on the surrounding features when the piece was put in, rather than finishing off everything and having to rip it all out later if changes need to be made. As with the Elk, I needed to sculpt the fighting duo and put them on a mechanism and then drop the whole unit in. In order to determine the movement and size of the mechanics that will move the Elk back and forth, I needed the Elk themselves.

I set to work with a handful of Super Sculpey and some reference pictures and measurements of real Olympic Elk. After many hours, one was produced and few more hours later, a second. I'm very pleased with the results. When I originally took on the project almost 6 years ago, I wasn't really a good sculptor at all, especially small animals-- which really doesn't make Nature's Wonderland a good project for a 14 year old, especially when the attraction originally boasted having "over 200 lifelike animals". Over time, I realized this WAS the perfect project for me to do, since it forced me to practice and get better at sculpting, and that's shown in this latest example.



When the sculpts were done, baked and ready for the next step, I mocked up the area where they would be placed in order to get an idea of the space I have for the mechanics. Unfortunately, since this is a selectively compressed layout, it's really cramped in Bear Country and Beaver Valley. A piece of plastic represents the size of figures and their orientation. In order to give the terrain a natural look, I had to figure out how much area the hills sloping up to the Elk (they were on a hill on original attraction) and mechanism would eat up. So, as a result, a bunch of markings were made in the Beaver river for potential shifts in the river.

Planning out the Battling Elk. Markings are made for potential shifts
in the Beaver River.
Concerned with how much space the hill leading up to Elk was taking up I came to a sickening realization: I think I made the figures too big.

The original plastic moose that have
been standing in as my Battling Elk
for the last few years
The space for the Battling Elk was originally designed around the size of two plastic moose I had standing in for the Elk for some time now. After some measurements and guesses, I figured the Elk sculpts would be just a little bigger than the moose. As it turned out, a little bigger turned out to be too big. I didn't take into account that the Elk in the ride might have had a little forced perspective and they did look smaller once I looked at some photos of them on the hill on the ride a second time. There was a full-size fiberglas Elk, coincidently, sitting on a pallet backstage behind the Haunted Mansion; I was able to make mental notes and measurements with my arms and it was indeed smaller than what my sculptures represented. The final confirmation that I screwed up the sculpts was when I ordered some Woodland Scenics deer to accompany the fighting elk that would stand in as the cow elk. Sure enough, my figures were way out of scale, almost twice the size as the Woodland Scenics figures (which are O scale).

So the elk figures I made are put aside, awaiting their smaller cousins to be made and implemented. At that point, I decided to change gears.

Wires, relays, reed switches, and more wires.

Since the layout was still in a developing stage, now is the time to do some crazy wiring considering it's going to be a lot harder to do later on a finished layout. When it comes to crazy wiring, I'm talking about the block system and "auto-stop" system I'm putting in.

The layout is divided into four blocks. Each block will be wired so at the flip of toggle switch, the block can be controlled by one of two power packs, thus a two train operation.

The four blocks on the layout
 In addition to that, the last foot or so of each block will be isolated, which will be turned on or off, depending if a train is in the next block. For example: As one train enters a block, a reed switch triggers a relay that turns the last 12" of the previous block off, forcing the train behind that's about to enter occupied block to stop. Once the train ahead moves into the next block triggering another reed switch flipping the relay again, the previous block will clear and the train stuck in the powerless section of track resumes it's journey once power has been restored. Every block will be this way, so that even if the trains are going on their own without any human control, they won't run into each other.

. So, if a train were to enter a block, the block if just left would shut off the last foot, preventing a train behind to enter the already occupied block. The turned off block would be cleared and turned back on once the train enters the next block. This is all being done by reed switches and latching relays for simplicity. I tested this new system with two blocks and the results were really satisfying.

This is what brings the two layout sections together electrically: 15 pin connectors.
15 pins may be a bit much, but it'll allow easy expansion for sound, lighting, animation, etc. 
The "spine" or the main electrical chase along the backside of the Living Desert
Before I can rig up the system, I had run wiring for every block and isolated block segments, as well as wiring for the reed switches and the signal lights (each block will have a red/green dwarf signal light, for ease of operation and aesthetics). Since the layout is now portable, I didn't want to run a whole bunch of wires down to the control panel (which will plug-in to the layout) and have to have appropriate connectors for the number of wires. The easiest solution was to have the all the relays, and most of the reed switches on the large half (Living Desert) of the layout. That way there's less wires to jump through connector plugs. Originally, all the relays and wiring would lead to the bottom right corner of the layout, basically behind Casa de Fritos. Then I decided to change the location to just behind the Geysers and adjacent to the Caverns because it was more convenient and more space (it would take research described later in the post to figure out if there was room). All the wires run up the "spine" of the layout, which is channeled through a pipe under the Living Desert and under the Natural Arch, and then runs across the backside of the layout, about where the SF & DLRR goes (or was going to go, since that space got cut short after the layout got retrofitted). To keep things clean, all wires are screwed to a 20 place terminal block.

"Relay Central". This is where all the relays, signals, and reed switches will connnect
in a clean and organized fashion. The Caverns and Geysers are just out of frame above.
Once everything was screwed together and organized, I began to wire the latching relays together. Each block had a reed switch, and that reed switch would turn on a relay or turn off a relay (which would turn a block on or off). Basically each reed switch was wired to more than one relay. Everything was going smoothly, but once I added a second relay, things got screwy. When testing with a train, some reed switches were turning off blocks/relays that they weren't even wired to! After many hours of frustration and head scratching, I figured out the hard way that I can't have multiple relays share the same reed switch; the coils in the relays themselves were acting as jumper wires for other relays, and thats what was messing everything up. I came to the conclusion that I would have to rig another set of reed switches-- doubling the number from four to eight-- in order to work around this problem. Basically, each relay would have it's own set of reed switches-- one to turn it off, one to turn it on. It means more wires, but it means no shared reed switches with no problems.

Growin' Some Trees

After an article Model Railroader, I started experimenting with making trees out of wire branches, fiber foliage and ground foam. They aren't ready to be "planted" yet, but here they are:



When I get into full tree making production I might do a time lapse/tutorial.


Casa de Fritos PART 1: What's Left?

As mentioned earlier, when I was originally considering putting the relays and terminal block pictured above behind Casa de Fritos on the corner of the layout, I wasn't really sure how much space I'd have. I had never really looked into what made up Casa de Fritos building-wise, which needed to be determined if I was going to hide wires and relays.

An aerial shot showing Rainbow Ridge and Casa de Fritos highlighted in yellow
Casa de Fritos is highlighted in yellow in this aerial above. To keep things simple, I've included Mineral Hall in the complex. Everything above the red line will be built on the model, everything below, I'll just say "I wish". Unfamiliar with what it looked like, I turned to Davelandweb and his excellent source of vintage photos.

Photo Credit for these three photos: Davelandweb

I was also able to stitch together this panorama, from two photos from matterhorn1959.blogspot.com

Photo Credit for the two photos stitched together: matterhonr1959.blogspot.com
All of these photos gave me a good idea of what the area looked like, and once I cross referenced a few things, I became familiar with how everything is laid out. Unfortunately, due to the space constraints on the layout, I can't build the main entrance and patio area as shown in the top photo. Luckily, by shear coincidence when I was planning Rainbow Ridge, the pillar with a bit of blue on it in the middle photos  will just make on the layout, which will help establish Casa de Fritos on the layout since the name is on it.

I knew most of Nature's Wonderland had been destroyed when Big Thunder came to town, but what about Casa de Fritos? That was something I had find out. Once Casa de Fritos dropped their sponsor, the restaurant became Casa Mexicana  and it remained pretty much the same. Then in the mid-90's, the area went under a major renovation and became Rancho del Zocalo. With the large patio right next to Big Thunder out front, it was really hard to tell if any of the Casa de Fritos facades still existed.

Color elevation for Rancho Del Zocalo, which was the first tip that Casa de Fritos might still exist in some form
The first clue that the buildings/facades are still intact was this color elevation from "The Art of Disneyland" for the Rancho renovation. Everything appeared the same after cross referencing. Since this was just a color elevation and many more could have been done, I was unsure of the accuracy of it. Plans do change, especially when it comes to design theme parks, right down to the color scheme.

I had to get a closer look to see what's left and there was only one way to find out: FIELD TRIP!

Casa de Fritos PART 2: A Research Expedition.

When I had the chance, I made a trek down to the park on a mission to find ANY part of the facades left. I knew the Mineral Hall portion still existed and part of the restaurant entrance next to the Shooting gallery was still there, but everything else like the adobe hacienda style buildings I was unsure about.

(Above) Rancho del Zocalo entrance
(Below) Casa de Fritos entrance
Still the same!

Here's the Entrance, now and before, top and bottom respectively. Once your eye gets past the ironwork and overgrown greenery, you can see that even the "bricks" showing through the the surface of the structure survived the renovation. (I really wanted to match the angle perfectly, but planters, railings and other diners prevented me from doing so).

What's all that in the back? Could it be?
Venturing deeper, I see Mineral Hall is still there as it was more than 50 years ago. There's no blacklight rocks, but it's now the departure point for diners after they pay for their meal and exit onto the patio. 

Mineral Hall, still here as well!

Panning over to the right, I was surprised by what I saw: EVERYTHING is still here! 


Above now, before below


There is one major difference though: The facade of the Assay Office has been stretched vertically to meet the height of Mineral Hall, most likely to hide the edge of the facility building. A few doors and windows on the lower floor might have moved around, but other than that, everything is pretty much the same. 


These two shots I tried to match the angle, despite all the clutter and tables around. Even the detail above the doorway still exists. And that pillar with a little blue paint on it that says "Casa de Fritos"? That's still here as well!

The hidden pillar that once had "Casa de Fritos" painted on it.

So now, knowing that most of the former Casa de Fritos is still around, if I need some reference of measurements, I know exactly where to go! 

I never did find that Frito Kid though.....
A Little Photoshop

Did some screwin' around in Photoshop the other day, giving it a slight retro postcard look.


Next Month:

In the month of March I want to get my block system all ship-shape and operational. Hopefully the new Battling Elk sculpts will go well and will finally get mechanized. I'm also getting ready to motorize the turnouts in Rainbow Ridge and Beaver Valley might get more developed.