On the eve of the layout's 6th anniversary on Sept. 25, I thought it was time to get something done. While Bear Country and the other forest sections are progressing on the west side of the layout, over in the opposite corner, the geothermic area of the Living Desert has been on hold for some time.
This area was spruced up and rebuilt after the Big Redo of Winter '09 when the whole desert was elevated to accommodate the underpass to the caverns.
Since then, ideas of having animation, spurred after adding movement to Balancing Rock Canyon, to the geysers was always something in the back of my head.
For some time, the acrylic rod and spider-web material looked pretty good, the only thing that it was missing was movement. In February of 2010, I figured out a way to make air powered geysers that worked by means of a pneumatic actuator.
"I was initially thing of using a screw type with a motor and bolt, but I later figured out a way to do it with pneumatics. I started playing around with a few short lengths of small brass tubing and an aquarium air pump (the ones that are about 2-3 psi) to my surprise, it actually works quite well, more than enough power to push up a rod of plastic (I might even be able to power all the geysers off of the same pump).
I built a prototype and I've been playing around with it, adjusting the amount of air pressure, location of overflow holes, and a bunch of other things. Basically, with my brass tube pneumatic actuator, when the air pump is turned on, the column rises, when power is off, column falls. I can control the amount of air pressure by using a dimmer switch on the air pump (a 3-way gang with adjustable valves is probably ideal). Since it's all aquarium equipment, it's virtually silent, aside from the very slight rumble of the air pump. The next thing to figure out is making the column fluctuate and vary in height, probably with a valve on a cam."
While the prototype worked at my work table, the main issue was the size of the mechanics involved; in order to have the acrylic rod fully retract and have the actuator, the overall unit would have to protrude down several inches-- almost a foot if I recall-- into the table below (and my 20,000 Leagues Project, namely the squid fight scene).
Another issue with that prototype was the idea that the whole layout would become portable and break into two parts, thus scrapping that plan.
I went back to ultrasonic misters for my next idea. This one seemed promising due to the fact that it didn't go beyond the dimensions of the table, namely through the bottom. A few days of tonsillitis revealed my next idea-- an ultrasonic humidifier.
"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.
The humidifier did look really good in the video, but as I studied it more, the effect was something hard to look at without the proper lighting all the time. What the moisture would do to the scenery besides attracting more silverfish, concerned me slightly, and visually, this solution did really do it and it was scrapped.
Earlier that same year, the Devil's Paint Pots were also looked at for potential kinetic energy. Digging right into the scenery, I started experimenting:
"I've also been looking at making the Bubbling Mud pots actually bubble. The basic premise here is to make tube full of water, and adding an air line to make it bubble like an aquarium. I built a few prototypes right in the scene, and so far, things haven't been that successful. Since I'm using 1/4" tubing, the water tends to get sucked out of PVC pipe mud pot when the air pump is shut off, and controlling the amount of air flow to get the right bubble interval isn't easy. Plus, in some tests, I found that the bubbles weren't popping easily (maybe the painty water that I used did that). I'm still working it out, and this element might need to end up being static."
At the same time, I tried to get more "authentic" with the faux turnout at the "mine tunnel". In theory all I had to do was splice in an Atlas turnout and it would look a lot better than what I had before. In the end, all it did was roughen up the curve and kink it out of shape. The turnout is also too wide and shouldn't have been put in at all in the first place. My mistake. After that failure, this corner of the layout sat untouched while the rest of the layout expanded with progress, abandoned with unfinished ideas and effects that didn't work.
Fast forward to a month ago. A trip to Lowe's reignited my interest in geyser animation with their fog machine. While I did already have a fog machine, what intrigued me with this one was it's dimensions; if I wanted to use it for the geysers like the ultrasonic mister, it can fit perfectly below the surface of the scenery, without protruding through the table the layout is sitting on (remember, the layout has to be portable ). I bought the fog machine and began experimenting. Despite it's ideal size, the results from the fog machine were hard to achieve because in order to have the fog come out that tiny hole at the geyser, the container that the fog and machine would be in would have to be perfectly sealed-- which doesn't help when the machine needs to breathe with all the heat it generates. This fog machine also produced an oily film from the fog, despite using water-based fluid, which was something I didn't want to deal with when it comes to maintenance. So, while it excited me at first, like the ideas before, this one was scrapped.
While trying to brainstorm various ways to get geysers to materialize, one idea kept appearing-- or more appropriately, reappearing-- the acrylic rod. The very first geysers always looked the best visually, it was just getting them to move that was the tricky part. After numerous sketches, I found one that looked very promising and ended up being the simplest one.
As in the video below, the acrylic rod is contained in a styrene tube while in the down position. When the geyser "erupts", a thread pulls the acrylic rod up from it's base. The water column-- with an appearance like the Enchanted Tiki Room's "Enchanted Fountain" at this point-- drops when slack is given in the thread.
A few coats of Mod Podge gave the rod a more organic look. At night, a bright white LED illuminates the water column from below. Cool!
It's not quite as "airy" as the first static ones, but I think the motion of them bursting out of the ground will make up for that.
While looking over reference shots of the geysers, I noticed that three of the four spewed quite a column of water. The fourth, however, was a little different. This one had more of a "spray" appearance, and was not as "persistent" as the other ones. It was on most of the time, while the others varied in hight and this one stayed constantly at the same height.
When designing the mechanism to control the geysers, I thought this smaller "spray" geyser could use a different approach, since it had a different appearance and performance. While I could use a little fluff material to represent it, a little movement would help it fit in with the other geysers, which are bobbing and fluctuating. So far I've come up with a very thin rod, wrapped in spider-web material (which is very abundant this time of year). The rod is on a motor, which spins at a fairly moderate speed. Haven't decided on whether to use it or not, but it looks pretty neat.
Meanwhile, still on my experimenting kick, I took a look at the mud pots. After the mess with bubbling painty water, I took a different route and instead of actually using liquid, I decided to simulate it. Using a piece of rubber from a dishwashing glove, I cut out a disk and glued it right onto the original prototype and gave it a coat of paint and mod podge.
In the test footage, it looks pretty good, so I proceeded to build the mechanics to do this.
With all the things being thought of and requiring a substantial amount of overhaul work, the only time to really get them done was at the same time. So when I was ready to install the geysers, mud pots, and a new stretch of track, I ripped up what was there leaving a gaping hole. Doing everything now reduces the amount of stuff I need to replace or rebuild (which I'm sick and tired of doing).
Above left is the hole cut into the scenery and entire chunk removed. That chunk was on a piece of particle board which made any renovations such as this one difficult. A jigsaw changed that. At right is the new piece of flex-track, perfectly smooth with no kinks or bumps like the mish-mashed track before it.
On to the mud pots, I had to figure out the position of each colorful bowl mainly so I could determine the mechanics orientation, but also so I could be accurate to the real thing. In the past, I simply made up a composition of the Devil's Paint Pots, a sort of random pattern. This time around, I actually studied the real ones from numerous photos and drew up a map of the cluster. This map made it easier to determine which mud pots I would animate and which ones would leave static.
The actual mechanism would consist of my usual cam and lever operation. Basically, the cam would slowly push down on a lever, raising a rod to push up on the bottom of the rubber disk-- giving the illusion that a "bubble" is rising to the surface. A notch in the cam would release the lever, dropping the rod, creating the illusion that the bubble "popped". Below is the mechanism in action, before the "surface" was put on top.
When the mechanism was finished, I cut a piece of masonite for the ground surface and the mud pots themselves. The ones that would actually be working have a piece of PVC pipe to support the rubber disk. After cutting the actuating rod to the proper height, I glued down the rubber disk.
After doing three of these, seen below (two of them have a test coat of red paint), I let the mechanism run for a while to break-in. However, even after a few hours and few tweaks, the overall effect just wasn't that satisfying, after many adjustments; every time a bubble "popped" if made a loud clack noise, which is the sound of lever dropping. The sound can be dampened with a piece of foam, however at the cost of having the visual illusion diminished. After sound dampening the three I had, the minimal movement of the mud pot bubbles made this little project seem unnecessary; was it really worth it to have these barley noticeable tiny "bubbles" that raise no more than a 1/16th of an inch?
Not really, at least at this point. I've changed gear and I'm working on the geysers. Maybe if I find yet another solution, I might try. For now, Devil's Paint pots project is shelved. Who knows, I might go with what I predicted when I did the first prototype-- might make them static and just look good.