Investing in others: Roweham

Roweham exhibition at 2018 GBTS

Over last weekend in April, I once again joined my friends to help Brian Dickey exhibit “Roweham” – his 7mm (British O scale) Great Western Railway layout. This time, we were at The Great British Train Show – a two-day event held in the spring of even-numbered years in the Greater Toronto Area.

I really like the GBTS because there’s a large contingent of hobbyists in southern Ontario who model British prototypes, but we don’t often see their work at general interest train shows in our area. (Maybe it’s there, but it’s overwhelmed by the Canadian National and Canadian Pacific layouts that dominate the train show circuit hereabouts.)

I’ve written about Roweham many times on this blog, as it’s an ideal example of an achievable layout. (If you haven’t read those posts, follow this link to see them all.) So I won’t provide a detailed show report, except to say things ran well (as they always do) and we received many favourable comments.

Instead, I’ll describe how Roweham has become an example of how one can engage with and contribute to the hobby – even when one does not have the space or time to build a layout of one’s own.

Roweham is Brian’s vision, and he’s done all of the work on the layout. For exhibitions, however, it’s nice to have several people to share the work, keep an eye on things, give everyone time to take in the rest of the show, fetch hot beverages, set up and pack up, and so on. (It’s a measure of how well liked Brian is that his modest layout – roughly 16″ deep by 16 feet long – attracts a huge group of helpers – including John Mellow, Ross Oddi, Pierre Oliver, and myself. That’s more than one operator per turnout!)

We could simply show up. But that’s not how we roll.

It started with vests. Sorry – waistcoats. They’re not vests. I hate vests – those patch-covered horrors one sees at many train shows. A waistcoat, on the other hand, is classic. They’re worn for weddings, for goodness sake.

A few shows ago, Brian appeared in white shirt, black pants and black waistcoat, complete with six brass buttons embossed with “GWR” and a break-away safety tie. He bought his waistcoat/tie at Heritage Operations Processing System – a UK company that supplies gear to the many preserved lines in the country. Since then, others on the team have followed suit:

John-Brian-Trevor in waistcoats
(John, Brian and me at an exhibition in February)

Brian-Ross waistcoats
(Brian and Ross at the 2018 GBTS)

We were definitely dapper fellows. And waistcoats – a modest investment – really kick the presentation up a notch. I think Brian is also flattered that we’ve made this kind of commitment. While all of us have our own home layouts, someone without a layout of their own could make a small gesture such as this as a way to express appreciation to the owner of a layout who regularly lets you play with his trains.

There are other ways to contribute, too. I’m enjoying Brian’s layout so much – and have an interest in British prototypes – so when Brian hinted that others would be welcome to run their own equipment on the layout during shows, I took the bait and bought a locomotive:

GWR 528

This is a Lee Marsh Model Company brass model of the GWR 517-class 0-4-2T. With its open cab and brass dome, it’s out of era for Roweham – but Brian’s cool with that and I just could not resist the antique design and colourful green-red-black paint scheme.

The model came ready to run, with a LokSound DCC decoder. My only updates were to lightly weather it and add a crew to the cab:

GWR 528

GWR 528

I have a set of Slaters GWR 4-wheel coaches to build and finish for this locomotive to pull. Perhaps I’ll get them done in time for the next GBTS…

As an aside, the crew was an interesting modelling exercise. The crew is from Modelu in the UK, which scans real people in vintage clothing and appropriate poses, then uses 3D Printing to create the figures:

Modelu Crew

I gave them a good scrub with rubbing alcohol on a tooth brush, followed by soap, then primed them and painted them using techniques I’ve been practising for wargaming figures. I’m enjoying exploring the use of washes and shading products that aren’t normally associated with railway modelling and will do more of this on future projects.

Granted, buying a brass locomotive was an expensive way to show my appreciation for Brian’s work. But there are cheaper ways – including building a locomotive from a kit, buying a non-brass model, or building some rolling stock. And it’s not on loan: I’ll display the model on a shelf at home when we’re not exhibiting Roweham. Brian has plenty of his own locomotives to enjoy.

Regardless, contributing a locomotive – or a complete train – to someone else’s layout is an easy way to get out of the armchair and more actively engage with the hobby. That said, such a contribution may actually give you the push you need to start building your own layout – the one for which you don’t think you have the time or space. Although I’m not about to embark on a 7mm layout based on “God’s Wonderful Railway”, I am really happy that I have this chance to explore a different modelling subject and I look forward to working on the coaches for my 517-class to pull.

Thanks for being an indulgent host, Brian!

GWR 528

Serving the Golden Empire – one black line at a time

Last Wednesday, I visited my friend Pierre Oliver to spend the day drawing lines on homasote – something that’s become one of my favourite aspects of the hobby.

Pierre Oliver - Clovis - Lines on Homasote
Clovis, California takes shape in the space formerly occupied by Aylmer, Ontario

As I recently reported, Pierre has made the decision to switch focus – abandoning his vision of Time Table and Train Order-controlled Wabash fast freights across southern Ontario for the relaxed pace of a local freight working a Southern Pacific branch in southern California.

For most of us, abandoning a layout is not an easy decision. We are understandably reluctant to tear out what has taken us so long to build. But sometimes, it’s necessary. In this hobby, if you’re not happy with what you’re doing, don’t keep doing it. You may feel that you’re losing your investment in the layout. You’re not. Because the real investment isn’t in the layout – it’s in you. It’s in the skills you’ve acquired and the knowledge you’ve gained. This includes the knowledge of what does not work for you.

Pierre understands this, so he’s not one to agonize over the time and money he’s invested in the Wabash. Instead, he thought about the pros and cons of the transition from the perspective of what he enjoys in the hobby and how a new layout would either enhance that, or diminish it.

Kettle Creek Bridge - gone!
The big bridge at the west end of the St. Thomas yard has already found a new home. So have the 10 pairs of Wabash F7As that formed the backbone of the old layout’s fleet.

Once Pierre decided that the SP Clovis Branch was, indeed, the way to go, he figured out how he could unload the equipment he would no longer need and acquire the locomotives, rolling stock, and structures that would make the new layout possible.

With a new concept and a plan for the acquisition and disposal of stuff in place, Pierre and I discussed how to transform the existing Wabash layout into the new Southern Pacific project. He decided, and I agreed, that it made the most sense to reuse the existing benchwork as much as possible – especially the long peninsula that currently hosts the yard at St. Thomas.

I scanned a copy of the layout plan from Pierre’s Wabash layout article in Model Railroad Planning 2018. I then erased the Wabash in Photoshop – leaving just the outline of the peninsula, and the room itself. This gave me a nice, scale drawing upon which I could lay in the Clovis Branch. To start, I simply scanned the track diagrams from the Joe Dale Morris book, Serving the Golden Empire – Branch Line Style, and dropped them onto the room drawing. Some quick work with a fine tipped marker connected the scenes:

Pierre Oliver - Clovis branch - early concept
A very quick sketch to determine what would fit. The modest track arrangements at each scene make it easy to work from the prototype, with little compromise. We did make some adjustments, as detailed below.

Pierre liked the idea – a lot – so we fleshed out the details and I did a complete redraw of the plan to create something closer to scale that would actually guide Pierre during construction:

Pierre Oliver - Clovis Branch - Concept
An overall concept for the SP Clovis Branch in Pierre’s layout space. The space is generous for the prototype – much more so than it was for the Wabash – which will make the resulting layout feel very railroady. (Right-click on the image to open it in a separate window, to enjoy a larger view.)

Even with such a modest prototype, there are some deviations from reality:

– Fresno is completely made up. It’s a staging yard, so that’s fine. But since it’s also visible, I thought it would be nice to have some railroady things in it, like an engine house and an SP yard tower. The yard tower and adjacent overhead road bridge help hide the end of staging. Meantime, the engine house (the Port Costa two-stall structure: a kit from BTSRR) will be a lovely spot to store Pierre’s much smaller fleet of motive power.

SP 2-6-0s
Two of three 2-6-0s Pierre acquired for the new layout. Pierre equipped them with LokSound decoders and paired sugar cube speakers. He reports these Iron Horse Models brass imports are smooth runners, sound great, and easily handle 25 cars on the flat.

– I flipped Tarpey so the winery is on the far side of the tracks, against the backdrop. This just made more sense for the space: the stub tracks can head towards the corner, and it will be easier to switch this important customer if the winery is not in the way of the operator.

Wine tank car.
Pierre has been collecting brass models of multi-dome tank cars for winery service – something he didn’t need for the Wabash layout. Now, if only someone would offer them in plastic!

– The biggest change is the addition of an ice deck to Clovis. Pierre and I discussed this and agreed that while it’s a major departure from the prototype, the additional play value of icing refrigerator cars for all of the packing houses on the branch was just too good to pass up.

Ice Deck at Clovis
Extra moves for on-layout cars justified this design decision

Icing refrigerator cars is an operation that is unique to railroads serving produce packing areas, and helps define the character of the prototype. This is especially important for those of us who live on the other side of the continent, and need all the help we can get in capturing the character of southern California railroading. (In a further adjustment, Pierre decided the ice deck should go against the wall, and that the packing houses I had replaced with the deck should remain in place. So we added another double-ended siding in this space.)

– The quarry at Rockfield was an important customer for the SP, providing a lot of ballast to the railroad. We didn’t have room to model it, but a couple of spurs in the furnace room will allow Pierre to at least model the stone traffic on the branch.

– We could not fit every track in Pinedale on the layout, but captured the flavour of it, at least.

With a plan in place, construction could begin.

Rather than tear out all of the Wabash at once, I suggested that Pierre start with Clovis. This long wall previously held Aylmer, Ontario – the farthest he’d built the Wabash as he worked his way around the room. By starting here, Pierre could get a switching layout up and running relatively quickly. He could then work his way up the branch to Friant to add some play value. Friant can become a temporary staging area, with trains working to Clovis and back. Meantime, Pierre could scrape off the peninsula and start working his way down the branch towards Fresno. The last piece to build would be Pinedale, which will just be in the way during the rest of the construction.

All of which brings me back to last week’s trip. Pierre had scraped off the rails and ties at Aylmer, spackled and sanded the homasote roadbed, and given everything a coat of medium brown paint. It was time to lay out centre lines for the track in Clovis.

Ice Deck at Clovis.
The ice deck at the left end of the Clovis scene.

It was important to determine the icing facility’s footprint before drawing in the track. Pierre went one better and actually built the model – consisting of three Tichy icing platforms and a Walthers ice plant. The deck is 54″ long and can serve 10 cars at a time. As noted above, it doesn’t belong in Clovis, but will add too much to leave out. Rather than displace some packing houses, we added a track to Clovis for icing.

In the above photo, the main is the track next to the icing track. It’s placed on the standard 2″ centres for HO scale. To achieve the more open look of California, however, the siding for the packing houses (to the left of the main) is offset from the main by 3″. The sheets of paper and kit boxes represent packing houses.

Clovis - planning - centre.
A cluster of turnouts near the heart of Clovis. The hairspray bottle is standing in for a town water tank.

To help with laying out the plan full-size, we employed Number 6 turnout tie strips from Fast Tracks. This made sure that we didn’t fudge the drawing and create turnout clusters too tight to build. The paper template is for a Number 4 turnout: I didn’t really want to use one that tight, but the prototype included a spur that branched sharply away from the main at this point and it was the only way to fit in this spur.

We had the plan pencilled in, agreed upon, and inked with black marker in just a few hours. All in all, a most productive day. Pierre is already gluing down ties so we should be serving the Golden Empire – at least in Clovis – in no time!

(You can visit Pierre’s blog to follow along on his new layout building adventure!)

NS&T Layout Design: Head vs Heart

NS&T Line Car 31 at Thorold

(NS&T Line Car 31 at Thorold, Ontario.)

I’m currently considering tearing out my Port Rowan layout and starting over, with a new prototype. There’s nothing wrong with Port Rowan – I like the design, I like how it operates, and I love how it looks. But Port Rowan was always an intellectual exercise for me: It was my first layout in S scale, and it was as much about learning about the scale – what could and could not be achieved – as it was about the layout.

I picked Port Rowan as a subject to model for purely rational reasons: it was simple enough, and small enough, that I could fit it in my space. I could also find all the locomotives and rolling stock necessary to populate the layout with the prototype equipment that ran to Port Rowan.

But I have no emotional attachment to the place. Port Rowan is a lovely small town on the north shore of Lake Erie. But I’ve never lived there. I have no memories of the place.

Many of the best layouts – the most satisfying – are those that speak to us on that personal level. Port Rowan speaks to me about Canadian branchline railroading in the 1950s, but it doesn’t speak to me about anything I’ve experienced first-hand. But if Port Rowan doesn’t… what does?

When I was a teenager, I lived in St. Catharines – the largest city in Ontario’s Niagara Peninsula. Just up the street from our house was a General Motors component plant that was served by a Canadian National spur.

This line was interesting because the trip to GM included a lot of street running – with good reason: the line was built as part of the Niagara St. Catharines & Toronto Railway, and electric operation that ran throughout the eastern part of the peninsula (with boat connection across Lake Ontario to Toronto). At one time, the GM plant was served by the NS&T, under wire:

NS&T 14 - McKinnons, 1951

(NS&T 14 – a classic GE steeple cab – switches a tank car on Ontario Street, with McKinnon Industries – part of General Motors – in the background)

The NS&T was a remarkable railway – part city streetcar service, part interurban, part industrial switching operation. It was owned by the CNR and ran passenger service until 1959. Electric freight service lasted until 1960, when the wires finally came down and CNR diesels took over.

While I did not experience the NS&T under wire for myself, I did haunt the places where it used to run. I find that the combination of what I remember from my teenaged years, coupled with a lifelong fascination with streetcars and interurbans, is very appealing. It’s much more meaningful to me.

Today, I have an opportunity to model the NS&T in S scale – thanks to the generosity of someone who is already doing that, but at a time in his life when he needs to downsize. I’ve started a blog about this venture – Niagara Electrics in 1:64 – on which I’m currently exploring the railway through images in my collection, with an eye to picking places to model.

The line past the GM plant is an obvious choice for its relevance to my life. But it’s primarily an emotional choice, and I am struggling with the practicality of it as a modelling subject.

McKinnons - Aerial photo 1955

(1955 aerial photo of McKinnons (GM) on Ontario Street in St. Catharines. The main track entered the scene from the east via street running on Louisa. It angled through Woodruffs siding onto Ontario Street. It then ran north to Carleton, turned east to Haig, and ran south on Haig. Spurs also ran behind the portion of the plant on the west side of Ontario Street. Photo from the Brock University online collection.)

There are a number of challenges with modelling this portion of the NS&T:

1 – This would be almost a single-industry layout, with limited car types. I’ve already built a layout where my rolling stock selection is limited – and it would be nice to build something where a larger variety could be justified.

2 – GM was at the end of a spur line, with limited opportunities for other trains to make an appearance. Passenger runs worked through to Woodruffs siding and then skirted behind the GM plant to reach Port Dalhousie – but on a layout, they would make only a brief appearance between two staging areas. Otherwise, Ontario Street would be a one-train layout similar to what I’ve done with Port Rowan.

NS&T at Woodruffs

(NS&T passenger trans at Woodruffs siding. On a layout, this would be the only place where one saw more than one train.)

3 – The prototype track arrangements are awkwardly shaped – the main track curls about a few city blocks, much like a backwards number “6”, with spurs radiating out from it at 90 degrees. This would make it difficult to design into the typical, linear layout space (including mine). At the same time, I am so familiar with the prototype that it will be more difficult to introduce compression and compromise into a layout design in order to make things fit.

So, while there’s a lot of emotional pull to such a layout, it scores poorly on the practical front.

By contrast, a layout based on the NS&T’s operations in Thorold – immediately to the south of St. Catharines – is a lot more logical.

Freight at Thorold depot.
(An NS&T freight motor switches a boxcar near the Thorold depot. The small freight yard can be seen in the distance.)

Thorold has many things going for it as the basis for a layout:

1 – The NS&T’s operations in Thorold were quite compact, and tended to be linear – so easier to fit into a layout space.

Map of the NS&T in Thorold

(Map of the NS&T in Thorold. With an aisle up the middle of the Old Welland Canal, it would nicely fit around three sides of a layout room. Staging would be required in three directions – lower right to St. Catharines, lower left to Niagara Falls, upper left to Welland and Port Colborne. Right click and open in a new window for a larger view…)

2 – Thorold was on the main line – in fact, it was the location of an important junction.

3 – There’s a variety of interesting NS&T facilities to model in Thorold – including a depot, a freight shed, a power substation, a railroad track scale, a section house/speeder shed, and a small yard.

Freight crew with motor 16 working in Thorold yard.

(An NS&T crew switches a car over the scale track in Thorold’s small yard.)

4 – There are interesting scenic features to model – including a portion of an old canal used as a mill race, bridges, some in-street running, and a portion of the main track elevated on trestles behind the downtown.

5 – There are a couple of major industries to generate traffic including a paper mill, plus smaller customers like coal dealers and lumber yards.

6 – I have excellent information about the NS&T in the area – better than I do about its operations elsewhere.

So, Thorold is the practical, logical choice – much like Port Rowan was. And it suffers from the same problem: I have no personal connection to the town. As a teenager growing up in St. Catharines, I never visited Thorold. So if I’m looking to build a layout that speaks to me emotionally, Thorold isn’t it.

The best option, of course, would be to build both places, perhaps on separate decks. Given that St. Catharines and Thorold were separated by the 300-foot rise of the Niagara Escarpment, there’s prototype justification for a (hidden) helix to connect them. But I’m not sure I’ll go that route.

Meantime, I’ll keep Port Rowan where it is, and continue to explore the massive collection of images and other data that I’ve acquired on the NS&T to determine my path ahead. I’ll do that on the NS&T blog mentioned above: If you haven’t already done so, I hope you’ll join me there.

From Wabash conveyor belt to SP peddler freights

This is a story about changing track – in pursuit of an Achievable Layout:

I’ve written on this blog before about the Southern Pacific Clovis branch from Fresno to Friant. I thought at one time that I’d build a layout inspired by this branch in Proto:48 – it’s one of my favourite lines. But it just didn’t fit my layout space – and then I discovered S scale, and the CNR line to Port Rowan.

But a friend was unhappy with his layout, and a recent trip to the La Mesa Model Railroad Club in San Diego convinced him of two things:

1 – He didn’t have enough space or regular crew to model Time Table and Train Order operations effectively.

2 – He really liked California railroading.

And then I told him that in addition to my collection of Proto:48 Southern Pacific steam I had three SP moguls, in HO scale – plus kits for cabooses, a station and an engine house.

Well, I don’t have those anymore – and Pierre Oliver has a new project.

“Well, my work here is done…”
– The Model Railroad Enabler

(I’ve turned off commenting on this post. I encourage you to join the conversation on Pierre’s blog!)

Roweham 2018

GWR Logo on Roweham

Once again this year, my friend Brian Dickey exhibited his 7mm (British O scale / 1:43) layout “Roweham” at a train show hosted by the Burlington (Ontario) Model Railway Club. And it’s a measure of the man that for a four-turnout layout, he had four friends come out to help.

John, Brian, Me ready for the punters
(John, Brian and me looking splendid in our white shirts and waistcoats. I normally don’t wear train-boy apparel – but I make an exception for the always stylish Brian. Note the clip-on ‘safety ties’: John has obviously lost his in an incident but he seems okay with that…)

John Mellow, Pierre Oliver, Ross Oddi and I spent a most enjoyable day running several month’s worth of passenger and goods traffic to this branch line terminal. As always, the three-link couplings were a special treat that slowed operations and forced us to think about what we were doing in ways that semi-automatic couplers such as Kadees do not. Brian is constantly adding details and equipment to the layout, and it was nice to see his progress over the past year, too.

Here’s a sampling of photos from the day…

Brian - auto train
(Brian has an auto train in hand)

John and Pierre at Roweham
(John shunts cattle wagons while Pierre looks on)

Me working Roweham
(I’m working a goods train at Roweham, while Brian prepares the next train up line)

Auto train

Auto train

Auto train
(Three views of the passenger train – a 14xx 0-4-2T sandwiched between two auto trailers. This is the first time we’ve run the passenger train in this configuration)

2-6-2T and goods train
(A 2-6-2 tank engine arrives with a short goods train)

Cattle wagon
(A cattle wagon heads up a string of goods stock)

GWR Toad
(A GWR Toad – brake van)

Crane
(The crane in the goods yard, as seen from the rear. This shot was taken after we removed the backdrop while packing up)

Fire buckets
(The fire buckets are a recent addition to the platform. This shot was taken as we were striking the layout at the end of the day – looking through the space normally occupied by the station)

It was great to see so many friends at the show, too. Some had made a trek that would’ve been more than an hour in nice weather – and I hate to think how long in the snow that fell all day. Thanks for coming out, guys – very much appreciated! I was thinking of you as I cleared snow off my truck for the trip home…

FJ Cruiser in the snow

Brian’s next show is Copetown, in just a couple of weeks. I can’t make that one, but I will join the team again in April for the Great British Train Show in Brampton. Maybe I’ll see you there!

From Paris, to Perris: Philippe Cousyn’s San Jacinto – in 1:64

Regular readers of this blog know that one of my all-time favourite layout designs is the AT&SF San Jacinto District. (If you’re not familiar with it, scroll through the filtered posts under this category link.)

I recently learned that Phillipe Cousyn – a talented hobbyist in the Paris (France) area, is modelling the San J – and he’s doing it in 1:64.

Click on the image, below, to visit his blog and enjoy his modelling:

Philippe Cousyn - San J

(And thanks to my friend Jim Martin for the heads up!)

Scott Thornton’s Milan Branch

This is rapidly turning into one of my favourite examples of an Achievable Layout. Scott Thornton is modelling the 12-mile Milan Branch of the Iowa Interstate in HO scale. It’s a modern branch, with a nice variety of customers, and Scott is taking a thoughtful approach to bringing it to life.

Click on the image, below, to visit his website. You’ll find a menu dropdown in the upper right of Scott’s site, where you can access his blog…

Scott Thornton's Milan Branch

Enjoy if you visit!

Wayne Slaughter’s Dominion and New England Railway

It appears to be the season for Achievable Layouts in Proto:48.

I recently attended a local model railway show at which a couple of friends displayed their work-in-progress Proto:48 exhibition layout… and now I learn via Gene Deimling‘s Proto:48 blog of the Dominion and New England Railway. Wayne Slaughter is building what he calls an Achievable Layout in Proto:48.

Click on the image, below, to visit Wayne’s blog:

Dominion and New England

Those working in finescale O have, perhaps, an advantage when it comes to layout design. The desire to model everything accurately – right down to the nuts, bolts, washers, spikes and so on – naturally skews one’s ambitions towards more modest, achievable, layout designs. Wayne’s work is a perfect example. When you visit his blog, you’ll find a carefully conceived layout plan that offers an opportunity for realistic operation and some interesting scenes. You’ll also find many in-progress photos, showing that he’s quickly moving from an idea to a layout.

Thanks, Gene, for bringing this one to my attention – and thanks, Wayne, for sharing your work online: I look forward to following your progress!

David and Mark build a Proto:48 exhibition layout

My friend Pierre Oliver got in touch the other day, and said, “Are you going to the Brampton Model Railway Show on Sunday? Dave and Mark are exhibiting their Proto:48 layout for the first time…”

Well, I hadn’t planned on attending – I’d just been away for a long weekend, doing train things in California – but I wasn’t going to miss this!

Proto48 layout - overview
(An overview of the Proto:48 layout – still very much under construction – at the show)

I met David Higgott and Mark Hill when the three of us – and several others, including Pierre – were part of a group that modelled the Canada Southern Railway as an HO scale exhibition layout using the double-track Free-mo standard. David and Mark had each tackled a portion of Waterford, Ontario – Mark had built the yard, while David did the unique-to-the-CASO-in-Canada track pans for refilling locomotive tenders at speed. I knew they were talking about Proto:48, but I didn’t know they were ready to exhibit. This I had to see.

Mark and David have built a whopping 40 feet of Proto:48 exhibition layout. This is still very much a work in progress – the track has not yet been ballasted, many of the structures are simply mock-ups of printed paper on foam core, the trees need shaping, and so on. But it’s already very impressive!

Handlaid track.
(The track is hand laid, with tie plates and spikes on each tie.)

Proto48 - mocked up industry
(A mocked-up placeholder for a future customer of the railway. Looking at this photo, it’s hard to appreciate that the boxcar is O scale. That building is huge – as it should be!)

Another view of the big building.
(Another view of the big industry at the left end of the layout)

I particularly enjoy the amount of open space they’ve planned into the layout. They decided to put the main track to one edge instead of up the middle (which is more common on today’s Free-mo style modular layouts) to maximize the space for large structures. But then, rather than fill all of that space, they intend to leave much of it as open field, with trees and grass. It’s going to be very realistic, and give the eye places to rest between the vignettes of activity.

Proto48 - open spaces
(An open space to rest the eye. Those are Scale Trees – no longer made – which Dave and Mark found at a local hobby shop at fire sale prices. They’ll get worked on to be made more realistic.)

Another industry.
(Another railroad customer, at the right end of the exhibit. This is also a mock-up.)

I’m very glad I made the trek to the show. This was a highlight for me. While I’m not ready to build 20 feet of module – I’m already overcommitted to the exhibition circuit with my 20+ feet of modules for the S Scale Workshop – I do have some Proto:48 equipment, including steam engines, that may get an opportunity to turn a wheel at a future show. Meantime, David and Mark have plans to expand their layout – including the addition of staging. And maybe they’ll find some more people to join their effort: I saw at least one other person from our CASO days who spent a lot of time running trains with them…

Thanks for exhibiting, David and Mark – it was great to see you both, and you’re onto something big here! I look forward to seeing your progress at future shows…

Train time.
(Train time – Proto:48 style. An RDC makes for a manageable passenger train in O.)

We’ll always have Perris

Perris CA depot - track side

In September, I was fortunate to attend an NMRA regional convention in Ontario, California. After the convention, I had a couple of days to do some sightseeing – and since it was close by, my friend Michael Gross and I visited the restored ATSF train station at Perris, California.

This is a special place for me – and for other students of layout design. That’s because Perris was the signature scene on the ATSF San Jacinto District – a ground-breaking layout plan by the late Andy Sperandeo, published in the February 1980 issue of Model Railroader.

Byron Henderson has written about this design on his blog as part of his Inspirational Layouts series. Click on the layout plan, below, to read what Byron has to say about the San J:

And I’ve contributed my own thoughts on this plan in a post on this blog about how it would work in 1:64. Click on the image below to read more:

We visited the depot on a Sunday afternoon – unfortunately, the museum inside had closed its doors about five minutes before we arrived. That’s okay – it was a busy day, filled with other activities, and it was enough to see the depot in person and take a few photos before moving onto our next stop.

Perris CA depot - back

Why is this layout so important to me, and to others like Byron? There are many reasons:

– Typical designs of the era tended to be packed with track for running and switching. This layout is open and relaxed – there’s a more realistic track to scenery ratio.

– It’s also a point to point plan with an easily accessible staging area: It was meant to be left open, or perhaps hidden behind hinged panels, and was intended as an active staging yard where the layout builder could fiddle cars on and off the layout between operating sessions. Devoting an entire wall to easily accessible staging (instead of a yard hidden under the visible deck) was a radical concept in the 1980s. Making it an active fiddle yard even more so – at least in North America.

– The layout was designed with a strong theme and purpose. Many layouts of the era – especially smaller layouts like this 9×12 foot design – seemed to have operations grafted on after the fact. But the San J had a clear concept. Andy even introduced the idea of using the changing seasons to add variety to the operating sessions, by describing how the harvest season would change the operations on the layout.

The layout was definitely ahead of its time – and, in fact, still stands up to today’s thinking on layout design. All it needs is, perhaps, larger curves and turnouts (and a little more room as a result) but the basic concept and the track plan remains an excellent choice for a model railway.

While it had nothing to do with the layout design, the article itself also included a terrific 3D sketch of the layout in full colour – it looked like it was done with coloured pencils – to inspire the modeller. Here’s a suggestion of the sketch – note the Perris depot in the upper left corner:

It’s great to see that the Perris depot – an important piece of inspiration for thoughtful layout designers – has been saved and is in good condition. While our stop was brief, it was one of the highlights of my trip. (Thanks for the detour, Michael!)

Perris CA depot - postcard view