Planning a Model Railroad: Sacramento Southern in N Scale – Introduction

Planning a Model Railroad: Sacramento Southern in N Scale – Introduction

Planning a model railroad can be considered a hobby within a hobby. There are many railroaders who specialize in planning tracks and layouts and some even make a living out of it. I believe out of many great model railroad planners my favorite are Iain Rice and Byron Henderson. As many of the visitors to my website know, I’ve been making layout plans for myself and for others for a long time – mostly small and medium size ones because that’s what my friends and clients need. But that doesn’t mean that the plans cannot have potential. So, in this series, I will talk about my methods of planning a model railroad with a live example of a work that I just finished.

I visited the California State Railroad Museum for the first time in 2017 and then again in 2019. The Old Sacramento District has since become one of my favorite places, so much so tha the second time I actually stayed at the Delta King Hotel for an immersive experience of the place. Among the many attractions of the place which includes the CSRM I took the opportunity to study the Sacramento Southern Railroad which is a heritage railroad owned by the museum which operates excursion trains on it. you can find my blog post on the visit to the museum here.

The 6-mile, 45-minute round trip in a historic train pulled by an oil-fired, saddle tank steam locomotive that was built in 1942 was indeed a real ‘trip’ for me, even more so since this was my first real encounter with American trains and railroading. I have been a fan of American Railroading and its fascinating history for a long time. The rise of the internet and modern technology did help me learn and understand more about this wonderful and integral part of the American culture from halfway around the world, but the seductive smell of oil and steam, going aboard a coach that was built in the 1920s and witnessing the forgotten art of steam railroading first hand is not something you can experience on the internet. I believe California State Railroad Museum and California State Parks are doing a great service to the American and World history by preserving the bygone days in a living, breathing way and not just in pictures, stories and memorabilia.

A brief history of Sacramento Southern Railroad

Sacramento Southern is deep rooted in history going back to the inception of the Transcontinental Railroad. On January 8, 1863 California’s then Governor Leland Stanford turned a ceremonial shovel of dirt commencing the start of the western leg of the epic construction right at the end of the Central Pacific Railroad Depot that is in front of the museum. Owned by Southern Pacific back in the day, Sacramento Southern was carrying fruits, vegetables and other farm produce in huge quantities at the turn of the 20th century along with conducting regular passenger service. Then came the great depression, whisking away most of it’s shine like many other railroads in the country. But the railroad not only survived the great depression, it bounced back to do better in the ’50s and ’60s, however, it couldn’t cope with the devastating flood of 1971 which destroyed most of the track and infrastructure prompting Southern Pacific to leave the scene.

The Museum

After its inauguration in 1981, California State Railroad Museum took the 3-mile stretch of railroad under its wing and started the excursion ride service from the old Central Pacific Railroad Depot running south till Baths. Sacramento Southern is back on the map ever since, handling over 80000 joyful riders every year and generating revenue for the Museum Foundation, but most importantly keeping a piece of history alive. For me, the visit it was not just about enjoying the ride or going back in time though. Here are some photos that I took during my visit:

Old Sacramento and Sacramento Southern

All the while that I was sitting inside the train or taking photos and videos of both the train and Old Sacramento district around me, a voice in the back of my head kept saying ‘This would make such a wonderful model!’ Some of those buildings are right out of popular Walthers kits, the scenery is so fantastic yet easy to achieve in a model form. And that beautiful Sacramento riverfront – Oh! How wonderful it would look if done right. So, after I headed back home, I started looking at options to design a model train layout which is achievable in size but can follow the prototype to every last detail for those who can handle it. This is what I will talk about here – how I took this prototype and turned it into an N Scale shelf layout. I have definitely used my real-life experience, and the photos and videos that I took as a source of information, but I am going to show how I used Google Maps and Google Earth – tools freely available to anyone with an internet connection, to drill down to the finest details which complimented my visit greatly and helped me arrive at the final design. The techniques used here can be used for any prototype, big or small, and depending on the space available to the modeler, a model railroad that is true to the prototype can be designed with ease.

Join me in the next blog post where I explain in detail how to analyze and understand the prototype before jumping into designing a layout.

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