ATSF – San Jacinto District in S

This is my shout-out to Andy Sperandeo, for contributing one of the most ground-breaking – if under-appreciated – layout designs ever published in a major hobby magazine.

Of course, I’m referring to the ATSF San Jacinto District – an HO scale walk-in, walk-around layout featured in the February 1980 issue of Model Railroader.

I mentioned this layout as a postscript in a previous posting, in which I wrote:

It would be relatively straight-forward to resize this layout for 1:64, adding broader curves and longer switches if possible.

I’ve now done this – plus made a few other, minor modifications – to offer up an S scale version designed to fit in a 14 foot by 22 foot space. This is actually smaller than a standard “California Basement” (otherwise known as a “garage”). Here’s my S scale version of Andy’s layout plan:
 photo SanJ-RedrawnInS_zps832b6084.jpg
(Click on the plan for a larger version)

Some notes:

– Those familiar with the original will immediately recognize it, I hope. The peninsula received a dogleg to accommodate the #8 track switches and 42″ minimum radius curves I set as standards for my personal planning challenge. (These are much more generous than the HO equivalents used in the original design. In practice, I would probably build such a layout with a mix of #7 and #9 switches built in Fast Tracks fixtures. I’d choose the switches when laying out the track centre lines, using full-size templates available from the Fast Tracks website. But #8 are quick and easy for me to draw.)

– The original article does a great job of describing operation, etc., so I won’t duplicate that. Buy a copy of the issue from Kalmbach. Find it in the Model Railroader DVD. Or find it in one of Kalmbach’s layout planning special issues – it’s been featured a few times.

– Instead of a traditional three-track stub-end staging yard, I’ve drawn a sector plate – similar to what I have on my own layout. While I’ve given it three tracks, I would suggest building the benchwork and then figure out how many tracks you can squeeze onto the shelf. As with Andy’s original design, this could be hidden behind sliding doors – or a curtain.

– If one had more than the 14-foot width I used for this plan, I would cut the main between Perris and the switch to the Hemet Industrial Area, and lengthen the mainline here to widen the aisle at Perris. At the left side of the plan, one could replace the sector plate with a conventional yard, feeding all the tracks onto a 12-inch (65-foot) turntable at the far end of the shelf. This would accommodate small steam or diesels, and reduce handling of the equipment.

– Regardless of the style of staging area one uses, some extra shelves on the wall above the staging area could absorb a tremendous amount of equipment.

– I’ve made no attempt to accurately draw the structures – just suggest their locations. I did move the water tank in San Jacinto, putting it closer to the turntable from its original location near the station.

– Certainly, this layout doesn’t have to be the San J district. For example, one could easily substitute Southern Pacific standard stations, freight houses, water tanks and other facilities for the ATSF designs. It would then be an ideal plan on which to set loose a couple of the S scale Southern Pacific 2-6-0s recently announced by Dan Navarre at River Raisin Models.

Andy – In 1980, this plan was decades ahead of its time. It still works, really well, more than 30 years later. And it did more to influence how I think about layout design today than just about anything else I can recall. Thank you!

UPDATE: I learned yesterday (October 3, 2015) that Andy has passed on. I knew he had a number of health issues but it still came as a shock. His time at the helm of Model Railroader is, for me, a high point in the publication’s history. I had the opportunity to see him a few times over the years – notably, we shared duties in the yard on John Armstrong’s layout at an operating session in 2002. His knowledge of the hobby was extensive, and he was always willing to share it. Most of all, he was a fun person to hang around with. Relationships are the most important part of this hobby – more important than the stuff. He’ll be missed by many – including me.

23 thoughts on “ATSF – San Jacinto District in S

  1. Trevor,
    Amen on Andy leading a new way back then. I first enjoyed his layout design because I was very familiar with the area and realized he had really captured the feel and flow of the area. His plan included Perris which of course is the home for the Orange Empire Railroad Museum. My father-in-law was the president of one of the local banks and when I showed him the design, he was identifying the land owners and the products that Andy missed in the article, but he had no problem in telling me tales of each location from the end of WW II until then.

    • Hi Kris:

      Glad you like the adjustments. There really wasn’t much to adjust – some minor things to make it work for S. the biggest issue with the original, I think, is the tight curves and switches. Pretty standard for 1980, though.

      Yes, as a plan this one has only grown more impressive with age. I think the original is a much better choice than a 4×8 as a first time layout, too. Much of the appeal is in the story that Andy S. wove in the article so I encourage people to find a copy.


  2. The original HO scale layout design was the basis for the first layout I built in this house when we moved in 17 years ago. It fit perfectly into the middle bedroom. At the time there was doubt as to whether or not I could use the basement for a layout. A little too damp.
    Andy’s design was clean, simple and a delight. The basic design could be used for a freelanced layout just as well as a prototype layout.
    When faced with the prospect of cleaning the 2 scale miles of track I now have, I sometimes miss the little thing. 🙂

    • Pierre:

      I had no idea. That’s so cool!

      You have enough space to do the San J in O scale. I have the locomotives and rolling stock…


  3. It is a great plan and I’d like to adapt it for a home layout sometime too.

    I remember another similar plan Model Railroader published during one of their planning challenges that was based on a Maine Central coastal branchline. Same design theory, still great, just more water.

    • Hi Chris:
      As you suggest, it can be adapted to almost anywhere and the fun of the layout would still be the same.
      I think the only thing one would have to be careful of would be to choose suitable industries. Andy’s plan feels “right” in part because it’s not a mixed bag of one-offs – there are several packing houses on the layout, and the refrigerator cars that serve them need to be iced at the dock.
      But that’s pretty flexible: A Maine-themed layout on the waterfront could feature fish-packing plants instead of citrus packers. An Ontario-themed layout could be set in the Holland Marsh area north of Toronto, with all sorts of perishables loaded. And so on.

    • Hi Simon:

      It sure would. One could station the 0-6-0 in San J. It could work the yard and Hemet Industrial Area, and build the train for the 2-6-0 to haul to staging. The crew of the 2-6-0 would also switch Perris, of course.

      Such a scheme might require an additional track – adjacent to the fuel tank in San J – to use as a loco pocket.


  4. The San Jac branch plan has long been a favorite of mine, and if I was to ever build a “project layout” again I’d start with this plan or one very similar no matter the scale.
    It’s truly an operator’s layout even in it’s small footprint. And while it will fit in a 9 x 12 area, imagine building it in HO scale in the 14 x 22 foot area shown. The result would be a simple, stunning, and fun to operate layout!

    • Hi Marty:

      Very, very true. One could take the plan as I’ve redrawn it and simply squeeze the parallel tracks closer together (and substitute a smaller turntable) for a great HO layout.


  5. What would you change if you had additional length? I have a 14′ x 29′ space and have been drawing designs that strongly resemble Andy’s plan.

    Do you see any way to incorporate a wye? Down south we had many more wyes than turntables (especially on shortlines).

    • Hi Rhett:

      Good questions. For a 29-foot space, I would add mainline distance to the right of Perris (as you look at the town from the aisle).

      As for a wye, it would probably be tough to do. It’s tempting to turn the spur into Hemet into a wye, except for two things:
      – I think it would wreck the feel of switching the industrial park area because it would become part of the yard area.
      – The only physical way to put a wye in along the 14-foot wall would be a scissors wye (with the two legs crossing each other). A scissors wye might be appropriate in a downtown terminal, but not on a short line.

      You might be able to squeeze a minimum-radius (36″, perhaps?) wye into the end of the yard, with the third leg sticking into the aisle on another peninsula. But Hemet might have to be cut back in that case.

      So here’s a better solution – one that also works for the plan as drawn, if one does not want to build a turntable: Just run the locomotives without turning them. With small locomotives – branch line power – this was a lot more common than we think:

      – I’ve just been reading about the Grand Trunk (New England) Lewiston-Auburn branch. A GT 2-6-0 was assigned, and the shops replaced the footboards on the tender with a boiler tube-style pilot, because it spent half its career backing up.
      – I have a photo of a train on the Boston and Maine Claremont Branch with a 2-6-0 running tender-first.
      – The CNR Waterloo Sub to Galt ran under steam with no turning facilities.

      Why don’t we think about this more often? I suspect the high cost of film and developing back in the age of steam had something to do with it. Railfans would be less likely to take a photo of a steam engine running tender first because the image doesn’t fit with what we think of as the “correct” way to run a railway.


  6. Trevor
    Also like your plan but would have Hemet on the main between Perris & San Jacinto rather than off a spur. It could be done by continuing the Have the ATSF CLIC (9/1/1985) for the “San Jac” (as per Santa Fe employees) but don’t see a way to attach them here. If you email me will send them to you thru my email..
    Andy Jackson
    Bellflower CA

      • Hello Trevor

        I’ve had a fascination with this plan for years. Im just wondering what you might change on this plan to fit in a 10 x 20 foot space in ho scale. Not sure if its possible to incorporate a Wye to one side of the peninsula. This would increase the realism of the San Jac branch imensly.

  7. Hello Trevor,

    I have to admit that the original San Jacinto track plan has fascinated me for years. Now that I have the space and time to build the “San Jac” I was wondering what you might do to improve the layout to fit in a 10′ x 20′ room in HO scale. Is there a feasible way of incorporating a wye possibly to the far end San Jacinto past the peninsula?

    • Hi Mark:

      Good question. Wyes do take up a lot of space, but I’ve love to put one into this plan instead of the turntable. I find the terminal area a bit contrived, design-wise. It’s fine, really – but not as good as the rest of the layout in my opinion.

      Given more space, I’m sure a wye could be added. (I’ve offered some suggestions on how to do that in a previous comment.)

      Beyond that, the first thing I would do to this plan in more space is broaden the radius on the curves. I would also add mainline distance between Perris and the switch that leads to the Hemet peninsula.

      I would resist the temptation to add more spurs or towns: The layout would work beautifully as Andy Sperandeo conceived it, especially if one used prototypical operating procedures to stretch out the ops sessions.


  8. How about making mainline continue around wall putting Hemet on bottom wall then continue mainline to San Jacinto on to peninsula down middle of room. As far as having a wye the CLIC book shows two -one at March Field & another at Metro Water both east of Perris.

  9. As I’ve been doodling several concepts for an HOn3 layout based on the D&RGW’s Chili Line, it struck me that Andy’s magnum opus might be well-suited for a proto-freelance effort. Three reasons: 1) short mixed trains; 2) seasonal traffic rush (in this case livestock in the spring and fall); and 3) it fits my space whereas modeling the Chili Line between Barranca and Espanola, NM, would require double-decking, narrower aisles and a helix, making for an uncomfortable operating area.

    I liked this plan from the moment I saw it in 1980. It’s stood the test of time, Andy!

  10. Personally, I would eliminate Perris as it has low operational potential in opinion, an expanded Hemet and orange groves would occupy the space, this would increase running distance and provide room for a wye and some packing houses at San Jac, also on my hit list would be the ice dock, as appealing as they are it’s not protptypical for this location as cars were forwared to San Berdoo for icing,
    It truly is a timeless design.

    • Hi David:
      An interesting idea. I would be reluctant to eliminate Perris simply because the station there is such a signature element. It – more than anything – helps anchor the layout in a specific place.
      But of course one of the great things about this plan is that it is immensely adaptable. I can see it being relocated to the SP (with SP-appropriate structures and details), or even put under wire and operated as the SN. And if one replaces the orange groves with apple orchards, it would do a good job of representing a line in the produce-growing regions of the Pacific Northwest.

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