by Jay Ducharme
(All text and images copyright Jay Ducharme 2018.)
I began with the Sky Ride station. The machinery was fairly easy to create in Blender, basically three cylinders and a cube. Printing it out at the correct scale was a challenge, since I couldn't actually see what it looked like in place. I knew the size of the footprint on the model, so I took a guess. It printed a bit small the first time, and looked a mess. A second try with a slightly larger version produced better results. But it still didn't seem big enough. I then tried my hand at creating one of the chairs in Blender. It was a more complicated process, but in a couple hours I had one that I was happy with. Printing it, however, was a different story. I had little trouble getting a large version to print. But at the correct scale, it was basically a small lump of plastic. If I printed just the seat, that worked fine; but the printer couldn't make the support bars and top along with it.
So until I could think of how to solve that problem, I turned my attention to the train itself. The park's miniature railroad was built by, appropriately enough, the Miniature Train Company. It was their standard G-16 model, which was a 1/5th scale copy of the General Motors EMD-F series locomotive. I found several EMD-F 3D models online, for anywhere from $7 for an extremely simplistic one to $150 for a detailed one. But given my experience with the Tilt-a-Whirl, I was hesitant to purchase another 3D model. I finally found a free version, downloaded it and tried printing it. But even after several attempts and revisions, it simply wouldn't print at all. I was glad I didn't spend money on it, but that meant I would have to make one from scratch.
While I was pondering that problem, I was pleasantly suprised by an accidental discovery. Cura, the program that "slices" an object so that the 3D printer knows what to do with it, could open JPG images by default. So for the heck of it, I opened an image of an EMD locomotive and Cura placed it on the virtual printer bed in bas relief. It was sort of like the "emboss" feature in 2D photo programs. I tried printing that out, and it produced a reverse imprint of the locomotive. Settings allowed for tweaking of size, and whether light or dark areas were raised. I realized that had the potential to solve a different problem that I'd been puzzling over.
The ramp at the north end of the golf course that led from the ballroom up over the train tunnel and then down to the west side of the course contained one of the course's three waterfalls. (The other two were on either side of the mid-course tunnel.) The water flowed from a trough that sat at an angle above the tunnel and cascaded down over a stone wall and into a semicircular stone pool at the base, to the left of the tunnel. Behind that trough stood a concrete sign rimmed with stone that had hollowed out letters forming "Mt Park Golf". The letter were originally lit from behind by yellow florescent lights, but I don't remember ever seeing them lit. I hadn't any idea how I was going to fabricate that sign until I saw Cura's JPG trick. So I cropped and adjusted the image of the golf course sign, then imported that into Cura and printed it out at 20 mm wide. I was surprised how well it came out at that size. Then it was a matter of creating the rest of that ramp.
So back to Blender. I figured that the ramp shouldn't be all that hard. It was little more than a series of wedges. It had some stone walls above the tunnel entrance, plus a curved wall to the left of the entrance. In the left corner of that wall was a small stone pool that the waterfall cascaded into. So I spend a few hours with Blender creating the model. I wasn't sure how I was going to add all the slate stonework.
I paused in the creation of that tunnel to work on the ramps and tunnel near the center of the golf course. I figured that one would be easier, since each side was a mirror image of the other. I had to create only one side and then I could duplicate it. So using pieces of the other tunnel, in a short time I had finished it. For the slate, I squished some spheres and layered them like pancakes.
One problem is that I didn't know how big to make it. I no longer had the actual model with me and never measured that part. So I took a guess and printed one at 40 mm. It came out looking pretty good, but I had a feeling it was going to be to small. So just in case I made one at 60 mm. I could take both to Heritage Park and see if I was close.
Meanwhile I set about building a Dodgem car in Blender. The Dodgems were built in Lawrence, MA, and the park had different styles of cars over the years. Those in the final years were streamlined and made of heavy steel with a hard rubber bumper. Collisions were definitely felt in those things, thus the ride's slogan: "Dodgem means don't hit 'em". My Blender version came out better than I expected. It was slightly longer than the actual car, but at such a tiny scale it wouldn't be noticeable. I tried printing one out at 3/8 of an inch, which would have made a six-foot-long car in scale. But the printer rendered a small indistinguishable blob. So I upped the scale a bit. The car would have been the equivalent of 12 feet long (a bit absurd, even bigger than the Satellite jets). At that scale, the car printed properly with enough detail. So I decided to go with that. I wouldn't fill the Dodgem building with them, only a half-dozen or so.
A few weeks later I stopped by Heritage Park. I brought the tunnels, the Sky Ride station and a Dodgem car. Charlie said that he was pleased at the number of people who were visiting the Center to see the model. I placed the 60 mm version of the golf course tunnel down. It was the perfect length, but I was surprised to see that the tunnel width was too short by about half.
I placed the north tunnel down and it too was the right length but the tunnel opening itself was short by half. I borrowed a ruler from Charlie and measured each section precisely. I would have to redesign each of the tunnels, a tedious process with all of the stone texture. The one successful fit was the Sky Ride station, which was the perfect size. The Dodgem car would also work fine. So it was back to the drawing board with the tunnels.
I printed out six of the Dodgem cars and painted them. They were painted four different pastel colors at the park: red, yellow, green and blue. But the red and yellow cars were usually parked and rarely used. So I painted them blue and green, three each. For fun I also painted a larger version that I had created as a test. Eventually I decided to add six more cars with yellow and red paint and have those parked on the sides of the building like they used to be on the ride.
I resumed work on the north tunnel. The main task was to expand the tunnel section to 20 mm wide, about twice its original width. I also made the south ramp a bit narrower. Then I added the Mt. Park Golf sign. Although I was going to use the one I printed out earlier, I figured it would be easier just to have the lettering built into the whole piece. It took me a few hours to finish and I was pleased with the result. I printed it out and the scale worked out perfectly. The letters didn't print out, though. I thought of adding that sign I made previously from a photo, but it was much too large. So I decided I'd use a fine-point marker to make the letters when I painted the whole thing.
Next up was a ride at the opposite end of the park, the Bubble Bounce. That one popped into my head because of how simple its geometry was: several cylinders, a cone and a sphere. It didn't take me long to make in Blender. It took a few hours to print it out. The ride had a unique operator's booth, which I also recreated in Blender and then printed. For a color reference, I used a still from a 1987 video of the park. I once again attempted to use acrylic paint, since I was already running low on enamel and I had a lot of area to cover. But it came out looking like a piece of candy. At the same time I also painted the tunnel sections with acrylic. They looked marginally better because the stone color (which ended up more of a muddy brown than a grey) was dark. But I decided from then on, I'd stick with enamel paint.
I knew I had to tackle the train next. So I broke it down into its elemental components (cube, cylinders and sphere) and began shaping it. After a few hours of work, I had the engine and a passenger car done. It wasn't perfect; the front was more like a bubble than the graceful art deco of the original. But I knew that the scale would be so tiny, it really wouldn't matter. I even worked in all the little windows in the passenger car. I created a test print, which was much too large for the tunnel. So I printed another version that turned out to be much too small. Like Goldilocks, I finally got one that was just right. It was only about 2 inches long. I painted it with enamel paint using a toothpick.
While it dried, I create new roofing sections for the rest rooms using card stock. I reconstructed one of the rest rooms as well so that I could size the roofs correctly. They came out pretty nice. I also created an extension for the tunnel, to move the structure further east. Then I printed out a "Mt. Park Golf" sign for the tunnel and glued it in place.
Another detail was how to attach the Sky Ride mechanism to the model base. Glue alone wouldn't hold, since there wasn't enough surface area on those tiny posts. So I used my micro drill set and bore holes into the bottom of the posts, then inserted short bamboo skewers into them. I could then punch holes in the Homasote like I did for the roller coaster and glue the skewers into the base.
On Halloween, I brought all the pieces up to Heritage Park. The Visitor's Center looked deserted when I arrived. Charlie turned on the lights in the exhibit hall and then had to leave. So I took my time assembling everything. The two tunnels fit perfectly. The tunnel extension worked well to space the ramp further from the rest room. Oddly, the two rest room roof sections were too small. I had no idea why. So I would have to install those later. The Bubble Bounce was easy to glue in place, as was the Sky Ride mechanism.
The biggest challenge was inserting the Dodgem cars into the arena. I brought tweezers with me, but even they were too large to fit through the posts surrounding the building. Eventually I was able to gingerly get them all in place, though due to the model's position at that time (against a wall) no one would be able to see them. As more and more of the model started coming together, it began to look more convincing.
Besides the rooftops, there were still a few other details I wanted to add to the north end. There were a lot of interesting obstacles in the mini golf course, but except for a lighthouse they would all be too small to see. I forgot about the golf course ticket booth and the giant golf ball next to it. I also forgot about the elephant statue between the Dodgems and the Sky Ride. So I'd have to add those later. But there was some good progress on the model, and still lots more to come.