Layout Construction Phases
0 is the backbone of the layout, with temporary sections
to create a "dogbone" configuration for continuous running. The
mainline portions are currently operational, and it takes
roughly 15 minutes for a train running at a prototypical speed
to circumnavigate the full plan as it stands.
The layout design elements (LDEs) in Phase 0 start with Colton
Tower at the bottom left, a loose representation of the ATSF+UP
and SP crossing seeing the lion's share of rail traffic in and
out of Southern California. The SP main is a scenic element
only. We then jump north to Victorville, conveniently and
mercifully skipping San Bernardino and Cajon Pass. The
Victorville setting includes the cement plant at Leon and twin
bridges over the Mojave River, one of the few locations where
the river is consistently visible.
On the north side of the river is the sweeping curve at Oro
Grande, where we get a glimpse of "B Hill" which in real life
overlooks the large Santa Fe yard in Barstow, but we instead
continue into sleepy Daggett, where the UP LA&SL line will
split away from the Santa Fe main in Phase 1. On the layout the
ATSF main will become a hidden jump to Salt Lake City and the
plains representations on the right (east) side of the layout.
Passing through what will become Grant Tower in Phase 2, the
backbone main passes by the refinery at Sinclair, then skips to
the junction at O'Fallons and the start of representations of
UP's triple-track across Nebraska. US30 will also be depicted
here, paralleling the mainline the entire length of this
Cozad is the location of a large grain elevator whose most
notable feature is the giant "COZAD" painted on the south side
of the silos, intended to be visible from I-80 one mile away.
The grain elevator and its service tracks are represented here,
albeit highly-compressed, but nonetheless creating operational
interest and a convenient excuse for the fleet of grain hoppers
on the layout.
Gibbon is where the Marysville Subdivision splits from the
triple-track. In Phase 0 we're using the junction for a return
loop which will remain until the Phase 4 peninsula is completed
and can handle the turnaround traffic. The return lobe below
Gibbon differs slightly from the illustration (see Phase 1
image) for easier transition to Phase 4 construction.
There are still several features in Phase 0 under construction.
Landforms and scenery have just started, with emphasis on the
east side of the layout. Ballasting is in progress on this
section of the layout as well. While the many full crossovers
are installed including switch machines, three are functional at
the moment, Colton Tower, O'Fallons and Gibbon. These are
sufficient for running and staging trains. The remainder are
standing by for completion of electronic control assemblies.
benchwork now under construction, the peninsula in Phase 1
is to represent portions of the Los Angeles & Salt Lake
(LA&SL) line through the Southern California desert.
Diverging from the Santa Fe at Daggett, Yermo will provide a
modest amount of train staging with several yard tracks ranging
from 10 to 15 feet long, plus a 25-foot-long siding. The south
end of Yermo quickly transitions into the rugged Afton Canyon
with its steep walls and numerous bridges, intended to be a
Once through Afton, we then pass the gravel pits at Basin,
although this feature currently drawn from the prototype may
instead be freelanced to represent a different industry somewhat
peculiar to the Mojave Desert, one of the three carbon black
plants in the Antelope Valley (near Mojave) on the SP. The
technology of carbon black manufacturing in the era being modeled was a smelly process, and the windy desert
locations were selected to minimize the problem. These plants
all closed in the 1980s.
significant LDE is Kelso, where UP built a large and very
attractive depot as a crew change point and also to support
helper operations over the Cima grade. The depot was notable for
its hotel and lunch counter for train crews, as well as its
operation into the early 1980s. The depot has been preserved
by the U.S. Park Service. A model of the Kelso depot and
depot grounds is almost finished and will be featured on the
Phase 1 buildout terminates with Cima, serving as a transition
to the backbone and the temporary alternate mainline through
Sinclair. Though the tunnel at Cima was bypassed in the 1960s,
its existence was close enough to our modeling era to be useful
as a return path for alternate routing returning trains to the
west side of the layout, and eventually, Los Angeles after Phase
3 is constructed.
2 is a continuation of the LA&SL past Las Vegas and
into southwestern Utah via the Meadow Valley Wash. This
particularly difficult section of railroad was subject to
controversy and dispute during construction in the 1890s as
competitors rushed to get ahead of each other for access and
rights-of-way. Much of the railroad has been rebuilt multiple
times on account of the narrow canyons funneling runoff from
desert storms into rapidly rising and rushing inundations.
After the handoff from Phase 1 at Cima, Phase 2 begins at Moapa,
at the (prototype's) southern end of the canyon. The wash and
the several bridges and tunnels are compressed into a scenic
depiction of heavy railroading through difficult terrain on the
west (left) side of the peninsula. The canyon portion ends in
Caliente, a railroad town featuring a large hot spring which
still supplies the north end of town with hot water. UP's depot
in Caliente is an imposing mission-style structure roughly twice
as large as Kelso, and it is hoped somewhere along the line the
lessons learned with the Kelso depot construction can be applied
to model the Caliente station.
Caliente's siding is compressed into a continuation through the
ghost town of Modena and into Lyndyll, where, on the prototype,
the line splits into the two routes into the Salt Lake City
area. On the layout, the left side of the split is used as
future access to a second level representing a freelanced
branchline, but for the moment will terminate at an iron ore
mine in the hills. The right leg will simply traverse the sparse
and slightly rolling terrain of south central Utah which could
well be the prototype of plywood prairies characteristic of many
personal model train layouts.
Phase 3 is depicting the Los Angeles basin. The ambitious
representation of East Yard will finally add significant staging
and storage capacity to the layout. The mostly channelized Santa
Ana River will provide transition from Colton and Riverside
Junction (at the bottom). Pico Rivera is to recall the Ford
assembly plant located on the Santa Fe and provide a major
traffic source as an operating opportunity. Pomona is a
tip-of-the-hat to a favorite railfanning location of my youth. A
modern and very utilitarian passenger station UP was located
there after the old wooden structure was demolished to make room
for a road underpass. A siding serving a paint manufacturing
facility will add more interest to Pomona.
East Yard is obviously a big project, with its 13 yard tracks,
engine facility, caboose and running service tracks, and the
sub-yard to depict SP transfer operations. The transfer tracks
may or may not provide access to an offline staging area; we are
at least three years away from a decision there.
At the top of the Phase 3 peninsula is "Bandini Mountain". This
location is to represent the heavy industry in and around City
of Commerce. Bandini Mountain itself is a local joke, as the
"mountain" was a 100-foot-tall mound of dried steer manure
stored on a concrete pad for the Bandini lawn fertilizer
manufacturing operation. A short TV commercial, "Ski Bandini
Mountain", became an area legend in the 1980s.
"Completion" of the layout comes with Phase 4,
paraphrasing the facilities in Cheyenne, Wyoming, including the
roundhouse and locomotive shops currently known as the home of
UP's Heritage Operations. While the roundhouse was not an
important part of servicing operations in our depicted period
(circa 1970), the locomotive shop at that time was significant
since the North Platte Bailey Yard diesel maintenance facility
opened a year later.
Not shown is a possible Phase 5, a branchline operation
on a second level above Grant Tower and Sinclair, accessed by a
long grade ("nolix") starting at the split in Lyndyll. Its
intent is to justify a "back in time" portion of the railroad
where small steam operations and early diesels wouldn't be out