Zurich: A ghost town you can model

My recent post about the Southern Pacific Narrow Gauge prompted to me to revisit my many books on the three-foot gauge Keeler Branch – and the result is this closer look at what could be done with this prototype in a modest space.

While the SP Narrow Gauge is a small prototype, the two terminals – Laws and Keeler – would require a fair bit of length to model properly. The mid-point connection with the standard gauge Southern Pacific at Owenyo would also be a space-eater. None of them is very complex, however, and I may draw them up … some time.

But let’s start with a more modest undertaking: Zurich, California:
Zurich-1954 photo ZurichCA-1954-BillPoole_zpsa4a85c0a.jpg

That’s Zurich in the early 1950s as captured by Bill Poole and found on the Carson and Colorado Railway blog. Click on the image to visit the blog, and consider donating to help the railway restore SP #18 – a 4-6-0 that ran on the Keeler Branch.

As the image suggests, Zurich was a pretty small town in a dramatic setting. Today, Zurich is a bona fide Ghost Town. Desiccated timber, crumbling concrete and a plaque marking the former location of the station are all that remain:
Zurich-Marker photo Zurich-Marker_zps80b603d8.jpg
(Click on the image to read more about the Keeler Branch on the Abandoned Rails website)

But in happier days – the kind we like to model – Zurich generated a respectable amount of traffic for the SP Narrow Gauge. In Southern Pacific’s Slim Princess in the Sunset, author Joe Dale Morris notes Zurich had a 20′ x 46′ depot, plus the following customers:

Blue Star Grinding shipped Talc, Marble, Clay and other products from its plant. Many of these were in bags, shipped in boxcars.
A loading ramp south of the depot was used to load gondolas with talc and soda ash.
The Standard Oil Company had a facility to receive petroleum for the area in tank cars.
The stock pens shipped cattle and sheep in stock cars.

That’s a great variety of car types for such a small place. Here’s how they look when laid out on a layout that’s fairly faithful to the prototype:

SPNG-Zurich CA-On3 or On30 photo SPNG-Zurich-On3_zpsc28d38d9.jpeg
(Click on the image to view a larger version)

In this plan – designed for the O scale enthusiast (in “n3” or “n30”) – Laws is to the right, while heading left takes one to the transfer yard at Owenyo and beyond that to Keeler. I describe it as “fairly faithful” because the oil dealer spur should actually connect to the mainline between the two double-ended sidings. The way I drew it saves a considerable amount of length without compromising the operation.

Zurich would make for a manageable, but interesting, narrow gauge layout. The modelled portion takes up 17 feet (plus staging to either end, which could be accomplished with a sector plate), which is pretty good for O scale, even O scale narrow gauge. (This same plan could be used for Sn3 in 12′-9″. However, I’d be tempted to keep the layout at 17 feet and add more distance between the structures for an appropriately relaxed presentation.)

I’ve designed Zurich to fit a 24″ deep space, perhaps on top of storage shelves. But if one had more depth then I’d suggest adding 6″ to the back. One could also make the layout 36″ deep, adding 8″ to the back and 4″ to the front. With this kind of depth available, I’d also be tempted to run the main at a slight angle to the front edge for additional visual interest.

And switching Zurich would be interesting too. It’s not a puzzle layout but there’s still plenty to do and not much track in which to do it. Stock cars would have to be moved when switching Blue Star, and in reading about the Keeler Branch I believe that the Laws-bound train would switch the trailing point spurs and leave any pick-ups on one of the double-ended sidings to collect on the return trip to Owenyo.

The wide open spaces and flat terrain around Zurich suggest an high-level layout – perhaps up to the breastbone – while the incredible mountains in the background demand a backdrop with curved corners.

This would be a great layout for the hobbyist who loves to build things. The SP Narrow Gauge is very well documented and the wooden rolling stock and structures lend themselves to scratch-building. What’s more, a high layout with strong lighting would be a great place to display one’s craftsmanship. Finding prototype steam power in On3 will require hunting for a brass 10-wheeler, but Rich Yoder Models has imported the GE 50-Ton diesel “Little Giant” in On3 and On30 – and as reader Bill Uffelman notes, Bachmann’s On30 “Tweetsie” 4-6-0 would work as a good stand-in with some redetailing and the addition of a Whaleback tender from Wiseman Model Services. Backwoods Miniatures also offers a Whaleback tender kit as part of their On30 line.

In Sn3, PBL and Railmaster have done the 10-wheelers (in RTR brass and in kit form, respectively).

Looking for more information? I highly – highly – recommend Joe’s book. It’s out of print, but click on the cover to launch an AbeBooks search:
Morris-SPNG photo Morris-SPNG_zpsa47fd30f.jpg

2 thoughts on “Zurich: A ghost town you can model

  1. Hi Trevor!

    I really like your Zurich plan. Did you ever sketch out compressed plans for Keeler, Laws, or any other locations? I’m considering doing an Sn3 layout and have a 17’x17′ room to play with it.

    • Hi Aaron:
      Thanks – I’m glad you liked the plan.
      No, I have not sketched other locations from the SPNG. You might look at Byron Henderson’s Layout Vision web site (check the “Links” section on my blog’s home page). I recall that he did a more extensive SPNG plan that may include those other locations.
      Cheers!

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