by Jay Ducharme
(All text and images copyright Jay Ducharme 2018.)
In 2017, I was asked to be a part of a team that was planning some changes at Holyoke's Heritage State Park Visitor's Center. The Center was the original building at the park in 1986, at that time featuring a large water sculpture that echoed the history of the city's famous dam and canal system. Charles Lotspeich, the current manager of the Vistor's Center, wanted to re-think how the building, and especially the lobby, was used. For over a decade, it consisted of a few glass cases featuring scattered relics of the city's past. There was a wall of brochures. And there were four large potted trees that took up most of the space.
What prompted Charlie's desire to renovate the space was contact from a local man named Dan Manson, who had acquired one of the Mountain Park midway ticket booths when the park closed in 1987. I was there to watch him load it onto his truck. In the thirty years since then, the original had rotted away. But Dan built a brand new one, identical to the original. He offered it for display at Heritage Park.
Charlie was interested in finding a way to highlight Holyoke's fascinating history, including the vast immigrant culture that built the city. He thought the ticket booth might be a way to draw people over to the Visitor's Center and he asked if I could help create some sort of companion display highlighting Mountain Park. I gave Charlie numerous images which he was going to enlarge to poster size for display. I also began acquiring some memorabilia, such as the commemorative spoon issued at the park's opening in 1897.
But I felt that there needed to be a bigger draw than just pictures and memorabilia. An entire generation had grown up never knowing that Holyoke had an amusmement park. Few remained who knew what it looked like or even where it was. The generation that grew up with the park was dying off. Besides pictures and videos, how else could the park be made real for people?
For over a decade, I had wanted to built a scale model of the park. At the time, I wanted to build it in H0 scale and I wanted it to function. In other words, I wanted the rides to operate and have it fully lighted. I chose H0 scale initially because of the large collection of working H0 scale amusement park models manufactured by several different companies. I figured I would save myself a lot of work by using pre-fab kits for all of the park's stock flat rides (like the Scrambler, Ferris Wheel, Whip, etc.). Unfortunately, building the park at that scale would have required about 28 linear feet of space. So I looked into N guage and discovered that even at that tiny scale the park would have stretched for 18 feet. There was obviously no place to put it at the Holyoke Merry-Go-Round, and the Children's Museum wasn't interested. So I assumed it would be just another idea I had that would never see the light of day.
So I mentioned the model to Charlie and he loved the concept, but obviously its large scale was a problem. He said he could find room for an 8 foot display, though. In retrospect, it would have been insane to attempt a 28-foot model. Eight feet was much more reasonable. But at that scale, the rides would be absurdly tiny. That, however, turned out to be a good thing. Charlie had been playing around with a 3D printer he had acquired, and that would be a perfect way to create small objects like the rides. I would have to learn how to build each ride in the computer. But since most of the rides consisted of multiple copies of a single object (like Ferris wheel seats), that would be a perfect solution.
It wouldn't be until the summer of 2018 that I would find time to work on the model in earnest. It was a struggle to know how to begin. How would I be able to piece the park together in scale, when my memory of the actual park was growing fainter as the years passed. Fortunately, I had a huge collection of photographs. I also had created a park layout shortly after it closed, while everything was still fresh in my mind.
My starting point was an aerial shot of the park taken in 1962 during the construction of Interstate 91. That particular shot was useful because it was taken straight down on the park, with no parallax to deal with. Because of the age of the photo, the resolution wasn't great. It also didn't help that it was a photo I had taken with my old 35mm SLR camera of a giant 8 foot wide photo that hung in the park office.
So I cropped that photo to enlarge just the midway section, then I printed it out landscaped on standard 8.5 x 11 inch paper. I measured it with my architect's rule, trying different scales. I discovered that at 1.5 inch scale, the printout (minus the ballroom and tap room at the far right) could be placed onto a surface that was six feet by two feet. I had been debating about which era of the park I would recreate. Without the ballroom and tap room, I had no restrictions (since they burned down in 1971). Since I really wanted to include the amazing Out of This World fun house, I settled on 1980, the year I began working at the park.
I happened to have a scrap sheet of 1/2" plywood that was 6 feet by 23 inches. So I glued a supporting frame to it with 2x3 stock. Then I glued down some leftover Homasote for the surface, as I would for a model railroad layout. I needed to use two pieces, and one was quite a bit lighter than the other (and slightly thinner for some reason). But I was planning on painting it anyway. The Homasote was a more plyable surface than the unforgiving plywood. Plus, I needed to build up the surface to create an elevation change. The park sat on the side of Mount Tom, which originally had a fairly continuous slope down to the Connecticut River. The park's midway had been built up with backfill to level it out. The east edge of the midway near kiddieland dropped off sharply toward the parking lot. So the added Homasote would allow me to sculpt that slope.
Another thing I did was to add a 3/4 inch lip all the way around the bottom. The model was going to be on exhibit and unmonitored, so there needed to be something to protect it. I suggested to Charlie that it be covered by a plexiglass case. The lip would give the plexiglass an edge on which to sit.
Once everything had dried, I began measuring the photo with my architect's scale. I divided the photo into six sections and marked off the Homasote accordingly. That way I could make sure all of the objects on the midway were lining up correctly. I began with the Mountain Flyer roller coaster, starting on the left edge. I was fortunate in that I had been able to acquire the coaster's original blueprint. I knew exactly how many feet it occupied and where all the structural pieces went. So it was a matter of corroborating that with the tiny rendition in the aerial.
Next I tackled all of the buildings. I started with the largest building in the park, the Clambake Pavilion at the far south end. It was actually an amalgam of three (or perhaps five) separate structures that had been gradually built up with varying configurations and roof lines, and it sat straddling the slope. The pavilion itself (once used for roller skating, but most people remembered it being a large Bingo hall where Larry Chesky's band played polka) occupied most of the area, with the domed stage at the south end. But it also housed another structure at the north end known as The Towers that contained food concessions including beer and pizza. Across from that (to the west) was the Mini Arcade, a long thin cinderblock structure that also included the Gifts and Cigarette games. The structure was capped at the north end by the curved Frosty Joy ice cream concession.
I then drew out all of the buildings that abutted the length of the Mountain Flyer. Originally known as "Arcade Row", the buildings included the park's two dark rides and Out of This World. Most of the buildings housed games, like water guns and Wacky Cats, and also a large arcade. Then I turned my attention to the other large buildings on the east side of the midway, including the Whip, Merry-Go-Round and Dodgems.
That whole process took about a week. Then next week was spent filling in all of the rides. I mostly used a simple compass, since the majority of flat rides had nothing but a circle as a footprint. This is where I needed additional frames of reference. The 1962 aerial was shot in the off-season, when many rides were in storage. I also had an an isometric aerial from 1988 after the park closed, but many of the rides by then had been sold. So I played detective and searched through my images for specific rides and perspectives, trying to visually line up where they all were located in relation to each other. The lines I had drawn at foot-long intervals were a big help in that regard.
The Sky Ride posed an interesting dilemma. Sitting just north of the Dodgems, the ride originally extended off through the picnic grove to a zoo at the far east end of the park. I was cutting off my model just past the main midway. So I decided to include the Sky Ride's station and just two of the carrying posts, leaving the impression that the ride continued off to the east.
The final section of the groundplan was the train and intertwined mini-golf course. I cropped the highest resolution image I could find and applied high contrast in order to recollect the course structure. There were all sorts of objects on the real course, with many novelty features such as nursery rhyme statues (like Humpty Dumpty), turning waterwheels and multiple levels. But at such a tiny scale, there was no way I'd be able to replicate those features, even using a 3D printer. The layout alone would have to suffice.
Before I continued with sanding and painting, I wanted to mark all of the footers for the roller coaster. I had thought of using 3/4" wide plastic toy ladders, but that would have cost over $600. It was too big for 3D printing. So I decided to just mark the footers and deal with the assembly later. I was stunned to discover that from the base of the lift hill to its top occupied exactly 10 inches. The actual length was 160 feet with 20 "bents", or vertical structural members. Bents were usually placed 8 feet apart on coasters during that period. So doing the math on that, it turned out that my entire layout had been drawn at a scale of 1/16 inch to one foot. I measured the Merry-Go-Round building with my architect's scale and sure enough -- the building measured 80 feet across, exactly what it was at the park!
Marking the footers for the coaster's bents was going to be a very tedious process; the ride was constructed of close to 200 of them. But now that I knew the exact scale, I fabricated a coaster jig out of a paint stirrer, drilling three sets of holes spaced at 3/4 inch wide and 1/2 inch apart (assuming I was going to use the 3/4" wide ladders). I left a half-inch at the back end to line up with the last set of holes and I drew a centerline to match up with the coaster's centerline. Then it was simply a matter of placing the jig down and using an awl to punch holes into the Homasote. When that was finished, I dug out the "below ground" area at the base of the lift hill. And with that, the basic groundplan was completed by July 5.
Something that escaped me at the time (and there would be many more such incidents) was the choice to make the bents 3/4" wide. In scale, that would mean that the track was 12 feet wide! It was supposed to be 8 feet, which would have translated to a half-inch. So my jig was 1/4" too wide but I didn't realize it until I had finished the entire set of footers. I would need to go back later and re-punch all of the holes on the outside of the ride's bents. But before I rushed into that, I wanted to wait until I knew exactly what I was going to use for the structure. If my only choice was a 3/4" wide toy ladder, then that's what I would use.
The next step was to sand down the elevation change. I had a belt sander with 36 grit paper. I had never sanded Homasote before. I figured it would grind down similar to wood. But I was wrong. Fortunately I wore a mask, goggles and hearing protection. Dust was flying everywhere. It was as if I had torn open a stuffed animal and dumped all the contents onto the floor. Piles of fluff were everywhere. The belt kept getting clogged. The Homasote did sand down relatively smoothly, but what a mess!
The section that required a different approach was the stretch of grass below kiddieland. There was a pretty severe drop-off, unlike the abutting areas that were sloped up to the midway. I don't recall the actual dimension, but the drop-off was probably twelve feet. The Homasote was a half-inch thick, so I'd be able to recreate only an 8 foot drop (sort of the reverse of my coaster problem). Since I wanted a sharp cliff face, I used a hammer and chisel to sculpt out that area. That took about a half-hour, and the result was a bit sloppy. The Homasote didn't peel up evenly. But the drop-off itself was fairly convincing.
I also needed to sand down the area where I joined the two pieces of Homasote together. One section was slightly higher than another. After another hour or so, I had made progress on sculpting in the slope. The next day I finished it up and used spackling paste to smooth out the rough areas.
Also that next day, I had a breakthrough: while I was tediously hunting through eBay searching for something to use for the coaster structure, I found a vendor that was selling 1/2 inch wide ladders, 8 inches long. Since the coaster height would never get past 4 inches, that would give me at least eight sections of track per package. The vendor had ten available at $4.80 each, and I bought him out. I tracked down the actual company that made them, Horizon Creation 3D, which specialized in war gaming accessories. I was able to purchase the rest of the pieces there (at nearly double the eBay price). So for about $130, I had all the pieces I assumed I would need with which to build the Mountain Flyer!
I bought four quarts of acrylic artist's paint at a craft store: white, red, yellow and blue. That way I could make whatever colors I'd need. I also bought some enamel model paint for when I 3D-printed the rides. Before I began painting, I needed to put spackling over the erroneous footer holes of the roller coaster. When that dried, I created a new jig with the proper 1/2 inch spacing. Then I repunched all of the outside footers. Then I primed the bare wood frame and lip that rimmed the entire model. I planned to eventually paint it grey to match the pavement area.
I also wanted a sense of how much of the grassy areas I would be able to cover with trees. I searched eBay again, and found packs of 20 assorted H0 plastic trees for cheap. So I bought 10 packs, giving me 200 trees. Even though there was a lot of open forested area on either side of the coaster, that many trees would allow me to create fairly dense foliage, meaning I wouldn't have to worry about making the "grass" look real. While H0 would seem to be too large for this model, the trees would actually work out well. The highest hill on the roller coaster would be about 4 inches. There were trees along the Mountain Flyer's course that hung down over the track. The H0 trees were about 3 inches high, so I was hoping they'd work well for that purpose. If I needed smaller trees I could always cut them down a bit. For smaller foliage, I already had a supply of colored lychen from my model railroad stock, and those would make decent hedges for the golf course area.
I began painting the pavement areas, mixing a sort of greyish color and slightly watering it down to thin it out. I didn't want to obscure the markings for any ride positions. As it turned out, even the watered-down paint was too dense. But it covered well and looked good. So I painted around the ride footprints. Since I'd be 3D-printing the rides, I could set the entire piece down over the unpainted area. There were a few rides I couldn't do that with, though: the Tempest, Scrambler and Flying Jets. Those sat directly on the pavement. So in those cases, I used a Sharpie to outline the ride's circumference. When I painted over it, the Sharpie bled through.
Once the pavement was done I mixed up some green paint, tinting it with a bit more yellow than blue, and covered all of the grassy areas. I wasn't concerned with painting over the lines of the coaster, since I already had punched all the holes for the footers. I found that the spacking tended to quickly suck up the paint. So I had to apply more paint to those areas.
Next, I used the green paint to fill in the greens of the mini-golf course, a slow process with a small brush. When that was completed, I then used white paint to fill in all the concrete surrounding the greens. I mixed in other colors to make a sort of light cream and used that for the other concrete areas in the park, particularly the track of the Cutie Caddy.
The last bit of painting was the track bed for the miniature railway. I still wasn't sure how I was going to create the look of the track, but as a base I painted a greyish strip over the entire course. So after a full day of painting, the layout was done.
The next day, I went back over some spots I missed. I also added some texture to the train route. The center of the route was always blackened with soot and oil, so I tried to recreate that. I still wasn't sure how I was going to add the rails and ties. I also painted the concrete pad that held the Sky Ride station. I added the guide rail on the Cutie Caddie track, simply penciling it in. Next to it I added the sidewalk that approached the Clambake Pavilion from the parking lot. Then I cut a tiny piece of wood to simulate the entrance and exit ramp for the Ferris wheel. I glued it in place. When it dried, I'd paint it grey like the pavement (which was its actual color).
I happened to find a coil of stiff but thin steel wire in my basement. I was wondering how to make the numerous railings and fences that surrounded most of the rides; that wire would probably do the trick. A few days earlier I purchased a pack of thin bamboo skewers, which would work well for the vertical posts holding the railings.
Using Affinity Designer, I began to piece together the first building, which appropriately was the oldest physical structure in the park: the Merry-Go-Round pavilion. Originally constructed in 1897 as a dance hall, the building was an impressive structure on the midway, about 50 feet tall and, as I previously mentioned, 80 feet in diameter. The top of the building was held in place by two sets of massive wood trusses, like two wooden bridges suspended in the air. That load was transferred through steel trusses down onto four steel I-beams at the very edges of the building. That created a completely open pavilion which perfectly fit the Merry-Go-Round. I wasn't going to recreate the building's entire interior, since it really wasn't going to show. But I did want the wide garage doors at the front of the building to be open so that the Merry-Go-Round was visible inside in case the public was able to walk around the model. Even so, it was doubtful most people would notice it.
Before I could install the building, I had to paint the interior surface to match the actual floor. Because the building was built on a slope, the front half of the floor was concrete and the back half was wood (above the workshop). There was also a white line encircling the ride, about two feet away from it, as a warning for people to stand back while the ride was in motion. So I drew the circle for the line with my compass. Then I painted the "floor" a dark red. When that dried, I painted a thin white line along the circle I drew.
I then took the image of the Merry-Go-Round and warped it in Affinity Photo so that the ride platform was straightened out. I printed it on card stock at three inches wide and cut it out. I next cut a curved slit into the model base, just behind the white line on the building's floor. I lightly applied glue to the slit and inserted the cut-out. The ride was now inside the building.
As for the building itself, that was a process that took a few weeks. I selected areas of the actual pavilion from photos I had. In Design, I created a grid of half-inch blocks. I knew each side of the building had to be two inches long. So four blocks would make one side. There needed to be two sections, the bottom floor and the clerestory, separated by roofing. The building had eight sides, but I didn't have sixteen-inch-long paper. So I divided each section in half. To give myself two inches of overlap for gluing, I made each half ten inches long. I first layered in strips of light yellow clapboard. It required four strips to build up a building side. Then I sampled a window from the actual building and copy-and-pasted it across the sides. Getting everything sized properly was what took the longest. If I had a photo of a building side taken head-on, I could have just sampled the entire thing. But all of my photos were taken at angles. Once I had the windows in place, I added the "Fireworks" and "Showtime" signs that hung above two of the windows. I also added the entry door.
The most difficult sections to figure out were the big garage doors at the front of the building. I sampled one of the actual openings and cut out everything around it in Photo, making a transparent PNG file and then bringing it into Design so I could copy-and-paste it. But no matter how I resized it, I couldn't get two doors to fit onto a two inch side. It turned out that my windows were actually much too large. When I down-scaled them along with the door, everything fit perfectly. I kept having to remind myself that 1/16" was a really tiny scale. And with that, the sides of the building were complete. I printed it out on card stock. I would later use a matte knife to cut out the garage door openings. I wanted to keep the sections initially intact so that I could crease them first.
Another experimental area would be how exactly to fit the building onto the slope. I built the sections with a lot of extra clapboard below the windows. The model base didn't slope away nearly as much as the actual land did. So I would wait until I put the entire building together. I knew the garage doors needed to be at ground level, but I'd have to guesstimate where to cut the rest of it once I got it in place. That mattered only for the lower level; the clerestory (which I sized at 1.5" per side) would be unaffected. In order to help stablize the large structure, I inserted some bamboo skewers at each of the corners and later would glue the building's sides to them. I would also later add the double doors at the back side of the building, once I knew how it was going to fit.
While I was puzzling over the next step with that, I added the sign for the Sky Ride, and also that ride's supporting posts. I had a nice high resolution image to work with from a park postcard. That probably didn't matter much, though. The sign on the model would span just 3/4 of an inch across, making it about 1/8 of an inch high. Once again, I used the bamboo skewers for the sign's supporting posts. For the ride posts, I used 3/16" thick skewers. The real posts varied in height depending on the sloping terrain. But since I really didn't have much of a slope, I made the two posts 1 inch tall and painted them with red and white stripes, the way they were at the park. I was still experimenting with how to make the crosspiece at the top of the posts which held the cable guides. But for now, I had the beginnings of the Sky Ride. The next puzzle was how to build the roof sections. I assumed there must have been some way to create a peaked octagonal roof orthographically, so that I could cut a flat sheet of paper and fold it into shape. But I couldn't figure that one out. So instead I created a sheet full of triangles that were 2.25 inches wide at the base. I used masking to layer in a grey 3-tab shingle texture similar to the original building. I also created four strips of shingles to use as a sort of tape, adhering the triangles to each other. I could use the same design for the upper roof level by cutting the triangles slightly smaller.
So with that figured out, I set about cutting the building sections with a carpet knife. When that was done, I proceeded to mark off two inch increments on the back of each strip. Those would be the marks for where the octagonal sections would be creased. But to my surprise, when I folded the sections at those points, the graphics were off by about an eighth of an inch. Windows were folded in the middle. I couldn't understand that. I had purposely created a half-inch grid in Design and printed it at actual size. But somehow it printed slightly smaller. So I went back into Design and respaced all the elements by trial and error, printing each attempt until I got everything to line up properly. Then I printed out the sheet again and recut it. I marked off the sections and creased them. Then I had to cut out the garage doors. So I delicately used the carpet knife and within a few minutes had a set of open doors. Then I glued the two ends together and waited for them to dry. I realized the small pieces between the garage doors would be really fragile, so I added two more bamboo skewers to support them. After the glue dried, I slipped the bottom level of the Merry-Go-Round over the skewers. It lined up perfectly and looked pretty good. The only problem was with the slope. At the park, the ground began dropping off just past the door on the right side of the building. But on the model, it didn't drop off until the back of the ride. And even then, it was a very shallow slope. Because of that, it didn't look like the back of the building had a lower level. And there was no place to put the workshop door. It was becoming apparent that I simply didn't have enough Homasote on the deck in order to create the actual elevation change at the park. If PTC used the parking lot as its base measurement, that meant there was a fourteen foot elevation change from the parking lot to the coaster. In scale, that would translate to just under an inch. I had only a half-inch to work with. The only other building affected by the slope was the Dodgems. So it too wouldn't have a lower level. If I really wanted to, I could have re-sanded that section to try to create a more severe slope, then repainted everything. But I didn't think it would matter since there wasn't enough material to sand away. I should have started with two sheets of Homasote glued on top of each other to create the necessary slope. At this stage, I wasn't willing to scrap the whole thing and start over. So that would end up being a pretty obvious (to me) inaccuracy in the model. And for me it was a sad omission, because I spent so many of my final years at the park in that workshop under the Merry-Go-Round.
The roof was the next part I tackled. I cut up the triangles and glued them together with the straight strips. I assembled them in pairs. When they dried, I used a ruler to crease them. Then I glued two to two, and again after they dried I creased them. Lastly I glued the entire roof, and I ended up with ... a flat roof. No matter how much I creased it, I couldn't make the roof slope. So I cut out the center, but that didn't work either. For the heck of it, I made a single slice down one of the creases and I was able to slide one piece under another. Voila! A sloped roof! But it had only seven sides. Then it dawned on me -- I needed a nonagrom, a nine-sided figure. So I found one online and imported it into Designer. I copied one of the triangles from the previous roof into the nonagrom and lined it up with a side, extending the top until it reached the nonagram's center. I copy and pasted it to fill the entire thing. I had my new roof. I had to tweak the printer settings to have it print at the correct size, so that each side was 2.25 inches long. Then it was simply a matter of cutting it out and slicing one section. I also removed about an inch of the center. I creased each section, glued the overlapping pieces and the lower roof was done. That was so much easier! I thought about how to affix it to the walls and settled on adding tabs to the inside of the roof. Then I could apply clear caulk to the tabs and they would grab the sides of the building.