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…

21 thoughts on “SN – California Juice Jacks

    • Oh, you’re no fun anymore.
      No worries, Pierre: I worked on an O scale plan for my space and it didn’t work. That’s what got me into S in the first place.
      The SN will stay shelved pending a differently-shaped layout space (ie: another basement).
      Frankly, I’m having so much fun in S it may never happen, but I enjoy sharing ideas for others to pursue…

  1. Careful where this leads to, Trevor! Next thing that you know, there’ll be some overhead wire strung up, and then…it’s easy to get distracted, especially as I look at that OO scale British Railways’ mineral wagon kit that I picked up on the weekend! πŸ˜‰

    • Hi Steve:

      For a guy without a Proto:48 layout I have a stupid amount of P:48 equipment – including steam and electric locomotives, freight cars, cabeese and non-revenue equipment.

      The fact that I did not build a Proto:48 layout means I’m probably safe – at least in this house. However, as I noted in my response to Pierre, I do like to throw these “good” ideas out there and see if they resonate with anybody.

      I’m pleased my musings on the CNR Waterloo Sub in Galt helped someone get out of the armchair and start building something – and would love this idea to go somewhere too.

      As for Port Rowan…

      It’s safe. I’m working on lots, but nothing is ready for blogging yet. Assembling tobacco plants takes time, and the tobacco kilns will too…


  2. Another really interesting post. I definitely agree that a single spur serving multiple customers seems to occur frequently on the prototype but is rarely modelled; we model railroaders insist on giving every industry its own spur.

    • Hi Karl:

      It’s a good point – and why I like to work from prototype track arrangements even if designing a freelanced layout for someone.

      I guess a single long spur is cheaper to build and maintain. No need for those extra switches and the headaches they can cause. In reality, too, I’m sure only one or two cars might be spotted at any given time along that long spur serving five customers in Concord, whereas on a layout operators would be tempted to switch every industry on every trip.

      Thanks for joining the discussion. Cheers!

  3. Traction has always been a favourite of mine, too. I believe Model Railroader did a Railroad You Can Model article on the Sacramento Northern sometime in the late 60’s/early 70’s. I remember buying the issue on a visit to my Mum’s cousin in Collingwood at the corner store near their house and the station. The S&A was a traction line at one time and I’m hoping to include elements of that history in my CNR fiction for this line. One of the substations still stands and is a house, as is the Schomberg station. The yard in Schomberg also included one of those long spurs with more than one receiver on it. Unfortunately no street running though. Can’t have it all I guess.
    Steve 00 ????

    • Hi Daniel:

      You’re right. The article you’re thinking of was by noted traction historian William D. Middleton, and was in the July 1970 MR. It did not offer a complete layout plan. Rather, it offered vignettes – the yard in Oakland, the car ferry operation, and so on – then suggested some ways these could be linked. The track arrangements, unfortunately, are only approximations of the prototype.

      The SN appeared in MR much more recently too. In the June 2009 issue, John Williams designed a plan for an 11 x 19 foot room. This was a 2nd place winner in the magazine’s 2009 layout planning contest. Like the earlier article, it featured Oakland and the car ferry. It also features Concord, but with little relation to the prototype track arrangement.


    • Hi Mike:

      I’ll use your comment as an opportunity to plug the podcast I produce and co-host πŸ˜‰

      Seth Neumann was my guest on Episode 9 of The Model Railway Show, to talk about why he decided to devote such a large portion of his layout to a single industry – the joint GM/Toyota NUMMI auto plant in Fremont, California.

      I think it’s a really interesting idea and enjoyed interviewing Seth about it.


  4. Great post and I really like the trend toward prototype-based yet still smaller and very acheivable layout ideas. I subscribe to your blog and when I saw the subject line for this post I immediately thought of Andy Gautrey‘s “Wiley City” layout based on the Yakima Valley interurban; a layout which really spoke to my own passion for interurbans. His little layout does a superb job of communicating what is so appealing about it’s prototype and to someone watching the layout operate it quickly conveys why the railroad was there in the first place and what it’s all about. He’s doing this in such a small space and with a very simple track layout. I see there is a Youtube video of his layout in action. I’m not sure about posting links so just search “Wiley City” and the layout should appear early on in the search results.

    Keep up the trend in inspiration. It’s really enjoyable.

  5. An article on Bob Hegge’s crooked Mountain Lines was the thing to switch me on to North American railroads. That and early Holywood comedies involving the PE!

    Thanks for the RMC reference: will try to get hold of that issue.

  6. Reviewing the drawings again it occurred to me that this would make a superb set of FREMO style modules for a club build. Alternately for the modeler tight on space, the same modular approach as each section could be a satisfying element supporting both modelmaking and operation.



  7. Does anyone know what the street names are? could one look at these intersections on Google earth (if they still exist?) It would be interesting to see what other buildings and businesses are present.

  8. A friend of mine has a P:48 Sacramento Northern 650 class steeple cab and runs it on his layout. He comes to O Scale West every year and has had it engine there several times.
    Doug MacLeod

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