Extra 1736 moves a refrigerator block through under-construction vineyards en route to Clovis
On Saturday, my friend Pierre Oliver hosted the first formal operating session on his HO scale model railway, based on the Southern Pacific Clovis Branch between Fresno and Friant, California. Pierre invited four guests – myself, Stephen Gardiner, Robin Talukdar and Hunter Hughson – to take part in the Clovis Branch shakedown run.
It went well. Very well indeed!
The day starts in Fresno – represented by this scenicked staging area. Pierre powers up the engine service tracks at the far end while Robin and Hunter check their paperwork
Two views of the engine service area in staging (Fresno). I brought along my Southern Pacific SW-1, which I described in the June 2019 issue of Railroad Model Craftsman magazine
Pierre had set up two trains: the regularly-scheduled way freight would work the entire line, while a seasonal special would switch the various produce-packing houses in East Fresno and Clovis. Robin and Hunter had run a reefer extra during an earlier visit so they took the way freight, while Stephen and I teamed up on the packing house job.
The session ran just under four hours and was impressively trouble-free for a layout that’s so early in its operating life. Pierre gave us a quick pre-session briefing – explaining the throttles, the car forwarding documents, and the very simple traffic control scheme – and then we got to work.
Robin ties his 2-6-0 onto the way freight in Fresno
The way freight rolls through East Fresno, between packing houses and the small interchange yard with the Fresno Interurban
Hunter and Robin switch Las Palmas while Pierre hovers over Tulare Avenue (on the far side of the backdrop)
The schedule called for the way freight to leave Fresno first, switching Las Palmas and Tarpey en route to Clovis, where it would leave a block of cars to work on the return trip. The reefer extra would be held until the operator at Clovis reported in that the way freight was headed out of town, then head out to East Fresno to switch a row of packing houses there before travelling to Clovis. Once at Clovis, the reefer extra would own the track: the way freight would be held in Friant until the reefer extra was headed back to Fresno.
With the way freight clear of Clovis, the reefer extra has rolled to East Fresno. Stephen is the engineer on this train, while I took on the conductor’s duties. Here, Stephen is backing a string of reefers towards three packing house customers
Meantime, having switched the gravel pit at Rockfield, the way freight has arrived in Friant. Robin is weighing the gravel loads on the scale, located to the left of the station
A look at Friant – including a section house, the scale track, and station. I scratch built the scale for Pierre
There was plenty of time in the schedule for each crew to pause, take photos, and watch what the other crew was up to. The trains were respectable: I didn’t count cars on the way freight, but the packing house extra for which I donned the conductor’s cap had 16 reefers in each direction. Even so, the trains were dwarfed by Pierre’s large but simple layout: there was a real feeling of going places as we trundled past line side structures, down the middle of Tulare Avenue, across grasslands, and through vineyards on our way to Clovis.
Our switching finished in East Fresno, the reefer extra exits Tulare Avenue and rolls into Maltermoro
Our work – mostly in Clovis – was challenging without being artificially complex: There were no puzzles or “gotcha” moments, providing one planned one’s work. (With about 20 identical-looking reefers to move about in Clovis, I wrote a switch list on a scrap of paper taped to a piece of styrene sheet and that kept me out of trouble.)
On arrival in Clovis, we drop our cut of empty reefers in a clear track and grab the caboose. We’ll take it up the line to spot it out of the way at the station
Towing one empty past our caboose and the Clovis station, en route to United Fruit. This is our only trailing point switch here, so we’re getting it out of the way first
We’re hauling a cut of loaded cars down the Clovis main, between packing houses and the ice deck. The real Clovis did not have an ice deck but Pierre wanted the modelling and operating challenge of one so we included it on the plan. It’s a fine addition!
The switching in Clovis proceeds apace. Stephen and I designated the left track – in front of the packing houses – as the place to collect loaded reefers that will need to be iced. The ice deck siding holds our empties, destined for the packing houses. Once we’ve emptied that track, we’ll grab the loads and spot them for top icing. We started with 10 reefers for Clovis, so it looks like we’re halfway done with today’s work
While the loads were iced, we retrieved our caboose and tucked it onto the far end of the cut of reefers. Here, we’re all done in Clovis and Stephen is starting our journey back to Fresno. We’ll pick up a cut of reefers in East Fresno on our way back to the yard
This is what an operating session should be. It was fun and engaging, challenging without being stressful, and at the end of the day I felt like I’d experienced a day in southern California in 1951. On a personal note, having had a hand in designing this layout, I was very pleased that it performed as I expected it would.
Stephen and I enjoy some railfanning as Hunter and Robin arrive in Clovis from Friant, with their train of weighed gravel
Stephen has our reefer extra headed towards Las Palmas (left side of the aisle) while Robin and Hunter (barely visible behind Robin) ponder their work in Clovis
Hunter and Robin switch a customer in Clovis
As the photos show, Pierre is making excellent progress on a large (although simple) layout that he started less than two years ago. Already, the scenes are coming together and they’ll only get better as more structures and ground cover, trees and details are added.
Running tender-first, the reefer extra trundles past the under-construction homes on Tulare Avenue en route to East Fresno
Hunter and Robin switch the future home of Gallo Winery in Las Palmas
We’re home again! Putting on our yard crew hats, we will pluck the caboose off the end of our reefer block and spot it on the caboose track before heading to the engine house in Fresno
Thanks to Pierre for hosting… to Stephen for being my engineer… to Robin and Hunter for the company… and to Kate for the wonderful post-session dinner. That was a pretty grand way to start the year – we’ll have to do this again!