Juice Jacks at the Train Show

Earlier this month I spent a Saturday with my good friends Chris Abbott and Mark Zagrodney at the annual Greater Toronto Train Show. This show has grown over the past several years to take over three buildings at a fairgrounds north of the city. There’s always something interesting to see – and an opportunity to catch up with fellow modellers from around southern Ontario. (I was so engrossed with the show, I forgot to take pictures – if only there was a handy camera that I could fit in my pocket – but my friends Stephen Gardiner and David Woodhead came through with photos for me: Thanks guys!)

SN 650 - Train Show Test Run
Test-running one of my two Proto:48 Sacramento Northern steeple cabs.

A highlight for me was spending a bit of time (not enough time!) with David Higgott and Mark Hill – two talented modellers I’ve known since we were all in the Canada Southern Free-Mo group about a decade ago. Dave and Mark decided to work on an exhibition layout in Proto:48 (finescale O) and now have a classic “through station to double-ended staging yard” display measuring (at a guess) 20×50 feet. There’s still a lot of work to be done on this layout but the potential is huge, and it was great fun to run some 1:48 trains.

Proto48 - Toronto Train Show 2019
Dave Higgott – at right – talks with another Proto:48 enthusiast, Robin Talukdar. Mark Hill is third from right talking with another show visitor.

Dave and Mark even let me bring along and test my Proto:48 Sacramento Northern steeple cabs. At home, I have only three feet of test track in Proto:48 – not really enough to put these lovely models to work – so it was wonderful to let them stretch their legs. The layout is about four feet off the floor, so these O scale models were right up at eye level, where I could appreciate their mass and their detail.

(I wrote about this Proto:48 layout when Dave and Mark debuted it two years ago.)

While the layout is large, the plan is simple enough that two guys (with some help) are able to build it and exhibit it. They’ve focussed the details, such as their hand-laid track with tie plates, on the visible front section – and have used flex track (yes, in Proto:48) for the staging areas to speed construction.

Another highlight was seeing a small 7mm scale (British O – 1:43.5) layout based on the narrow gauge railways of India. The exhibitor – Lloyd Pierce – had a Darjeeling Himalayan Railways steam engine built from an EDM Kit, plus a wonderful collection of scratch-built diesel locomotives, passenger carriages, freight wagons, and other goodies – even a rail bus.

Darj layout - Toronto Train Show 2019

Darj layout - Toronto Train Show 2019

This layout was quite small, but obviously very satisfying for the owner – and is an excellent layout for showing off his exquisite models of a prototype that really stands out from the crowd at a Canadian train show. Lloyd and I talked about the challenges of modelling a prototype that’s so far away, about how he gets his information and about the state of railway preservation in India. I learned a lot in a very short time.

Both layouts on display are still works in progress, but more progress is evident each time I see them. I can’t wait to see what’s new next time!

About those Juice Jacks…

I’ve been going through old projects that are half-finished, and finishing them. It feels good.

I recently wrote about updating my O scale model of the 1921 Mack Switcher. Here’s another project I’ve been working on: two O scale Sacramento Northern steeple cabs. I now have DCC+Sound in the first one:

(You can also watch this video directly on YouTube, where you may be able to enjoy it in larger formats)

These are important models to me. I have a lifelong fascination with traction and interurbans, heavily influenced by the writings and photos of Robert Hegge. I’ve written about that on this website before – see California Juice Jacks for more.

Given that history, it feels really good to be working on these…

SN – California Juice Jacks

I’ve always been fascinated by interurban lines – for a couple of reasons.

I grew up in a city that has an extensive streetcar and subway system, so my earliest impressions of railroading are closely associated with electric-powered trains.

But I also must credit the late, great Bob Hegge, who wrote extensively about his O scale Crooked Mountain Lines for the popular hobby press:
Bob Hegge's CML photo Hegge-CML_zps6cd235c8.jpg

While many of my contemporaries were going gooey over Appalachian coal-hauling railroads, my imagination was sparked by Hegge’s beautiful models working their way – under wire – through spectacular mountain passes in Oregon and Washington.

Apparently, many others were similarly influenced, as Hegge’s CML is honoured as NMRA Heritage Car #14:
 photo CML-1952-Finished_zpse99c7a01.jpg
(The S scale version of the NMRA heritage car, as seen on my Port Rowan layout)

(Those looking for more information should seek out the October 1977 issue of Railroad Model Craftsman magazine, which includes a layout plan and tour. But I digress…)

I’ve considered building an electric empire but have never felt up to tackling the catenary. That said, I do have an extensive collection of books on interurban lines, and one of my favourites is California’s Sacramento Northern. I even have a pair of O scale SN steeple cabs, imported several years ago by The Car Works, which I had converted to Proto:48:
Juice Jack Chop Shop photo SN-SteepleCabs-2011-01.jpg

Some day, I might tackle the SN project. And if I do, I already know what area I’d like model: The line from Walnut Creek north to Concord in California’s Contra Costa County.

Since somebody else might also be interested, I’ve drawn up three track maps based on info from various sources.

For a manageable layout in O scale, the Sacramento Northern at Walnut Creek offers interesting modelling and operating possibilities. There’s a depot, an express shed, and four industries – including several spotting locations at the Walnut Growers Association and a switchback spur to serve a cannery. The passing track is nice and short, too – a reflection of the line’s interurban heritage, and the short passenger trains the SN would’ve operated. And the numerous road crossings would require careful switching:
Sacramento Northern - Walnut Creek CA photo SN-WalnutCreek.jpg

With more space – or, by working in S – one could choose instead to model the Sacramento Northern at Concord. Here again, we find a short passing track in front of the depot, plus some related railroad buildings like MoW sheds and a substation (a nice touch on an electric line). There’s a fair bit of switching, too, with nine customers. These include many of the rail customers one found just about everywhere in the early part of the 20th Century – such as fuel dealers, lumber yards and stock pens:
Sacramento Northern - Concord CA photo SN-Concord.jpg

Note that five customers are strung along a long spur that parallels (then enters) a street to the southeast of the depot. This is a common arrangement, but one that’s rarely modelled it seems. That’s too bad because it would be great fun to switch, as a cut of cars would have to be sorted into spot order before shoved into this spur. I think it would be fun to put this spur on a peninsula jutting into one’s layout room…

As with Walnut Creek, there are a fair number of road crossings to contend with in Concord.

Of course, if one had sufficient space or was working HO, one could model both Walnut Creek and Concord on a layout. For a bit of variety, one could even include the Sacramento Northern’s crossing and interchange with the Southern Pacific at Sparkle (Las Juntas on the SP) – located just a couple of miles north of Walnut Creek on the way to Concord:
Sacramento Northern - Sparkle CA photo SN-Sparkle.jpg

Those big GE steeple cabs would look right at home on a layout like this, and with only a modest amount of track to build one could focus on getting the overhead wires just right…