We’ll always have Perris

Perris CA depot - track side

In September, I was fortunate to attend an NMRA regional convention in Ontario, California. After the convention, I had a couple of days to do some sightseeing – and since it was close by, my friend Michael Gross and I visited the restored ATSF train station at Perris, California.

This is a special place for me – and for other students of layout design. That’s because Perris was the signature scene on the ATSF San Jacinto District – a ground-breaking layout plan by the late Andy Sperandeo, published in the February 1980 issue of Model Railroader.

Byron Henderson has written about this design on his blog as part of his Inspirational Layouts series. Click on the layout plan, below, to read what Byron has to say about the San J:

And I’ve contributed my own thoughts on this plan in a post on this blog about how it would work in 1:64. Click on the image below to read more:

We visited the depot on a Sunday afternoon – unfortunately, the museum inside had closed its doors about five minutes before we arrived. That’s okay – it was a busy day, filled with other activities, and it was enough to see the depot in person and take a few photos before moving onto our next stop.

Perris CA depot - back

Why is this layout so important to me, and to others like Byron? There are many reasons:

– Typical designs of the era tended to be packed with track for running and switching. This layout is open and relaxed – there’s a more realistic track to scenery ratio.

– It’s also a point to point plan with an easily accessible staging area: It was meant to be left open, or perhaps hidden behind hinged panels, and was intended as an active staging yard where the layout builder could fiddle cars on and off the layout between operating sessions. Devoting an entire wall to easily accessible staging (instead of a yard hidden under the visible deck) was a radical concept in the 1980s. Making it an active fiddle yard even more so – at least in North America.

– The layout was designed with a strong theme and purpose. Many layouts of the era – especially smaller layouts like this 9×12 foot design – seemed to have operations grafted on after the fact. But the San J had a clear concept. Andy even introduced the idea of using the changing seasons to add variety to the operating sessions, by describing how the harvest season would change the operations on the layout.

The layout was definitely ahead of its time – and, in fact, still stands up to today’s thinking on layout design. All it needs is, perhaps, larger curves and turnouts (and a little more room as a result) but the basic concept and the track plan remains an excellent choice for a model railway.

While it had nothing to do with the layout design, the article itself also included a terrific 3D sketch of the layout in full colour – it looked like it was done with coloured pencils – to inspire the modeller. Here’s a suggestion of the sketch – note the Perris depot in the upper left corner:

It’s great to see that the Perris depot – an important piece of inspiration for thoughtful layout designers – has been saved and is in good condition. While our stop was brief, it was one of the highlights of my trip. (Thanks for the detour, Michael!)

Perris CA depot - postcard view

4 thoughts on “We’ll always have Perris

  1. Trevor,
    I notice you used a sector plate rather than a switch for your fiddle yard. That is such a good idea and one that does not get utilized often enough. It seems to be you would add as much as one car length to your yard track using this system.

    • Ken,
      Frequency of use of sector plates depends on which side of the Atlantic you are, although Trevor uses one on Port Roman.

      Alignment and power feed are also simple. Make one rail of each road “common”, and buy a pair of brass straight barrel door bolts: they don’t have to be big or expensive.
      One bolt is fixed to the baseboard, and the small keep is fixed to the sector plate. Power from the other rail is fed to the bolt, thence to the keep which in turn is connected to the non-common rail. Track is laid at this juncture using a straight track laying guide. The second bolt is cut up to provide additional keeps, as well as the one which came with it, and extra roads are aligned and wired up the same way. Some bolts come with extra keeps, and slightly longer bolts can be trimmed to provide a couple of extra keeps as we are not trying to prevent a break in.
      This ensures alignment each time and also that power only goes to selected road.
      You can also make your own using brass tube and brass rod:

  2. That track plan has always been one of my favorite of all time! It is on my bucket like to build when, and if I complete my Maine 2 foot endeavor! Thanks for sharing!
    Pete Leach

  3. I spent 7 years building that plan, with moderate tweaks to yard capacity and the center peninsula. It was one of the most enjoyable layouts I’ve ever built, and was a joy to operate, especially with the addition of a lift-bridge past the turntable at San Jacinto to afford continuous running. I kept the Hemet switching district as a stand-alone layout a couple of years after the rest got demolished.

    The sector plate would have solved so many headaches! Seeing that improvement almost makes me want to rebuild it anew.

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