WHEN I FIRST BEGAN MODELING THE YOSEMITE VALLEY RAILROAD IN 1967, the only available YV scale model was a Ken Kidder RPO car. I fully expected to eventually scratchbuild all of the YV models that I would ultimately need. However, over the years, various YV engines, passenger cars, freight cars, and decals have since been released, making modeling the Yosemite Valley Railroad much easier. The following is a summary of available locomotives and freight cars, books and videos, etc. for modeling the YV in HO scale.
The prototype YVRR had ten locomotives over its lifetime. Their first engine, 4-4-0 No. 1 (renumbered No. 20 in 1906), was purchased second-hand in 1905 and sold in 1925. An ex-PRR/NP 2-8-0 No. 11 (renumbered 26 in 1906; the number was reused after this engine was sold) was also purchased second-hand in 1905 and then sold in 1917. Another 4-4-0 (No. 21) was purchased second-hand in 1906 and retired in 1932.
All of the other engines were purchased new and lasted until the end of the railroad in 1945. A pair of Alco 4-4-0s (No. 22 and No. 23) were purchased in 1907. Five 2-6-0s (Balwin Nos. 25, 27, 28, and 29 and Alco No. 26) were purchased between 1913 and 1925. The 2-6-0s were used generally in freight service and summer passenger service (when Pullmans were run), while the 4-4-0s were generally used for the winter passenger trains with the RPO and Observation.
Modeling the 2-6-0s is easy but can be relatively expensive. All five of these engines were imported by Beaver Creek Models (no longer in business). I worked closely with Beaver Creek Models on the release of these five 2-6-0s to ensure their accuracy. The piston value locomotives (No. 25, No. 26, and No. 29) were released in 1988, and the slide valve engines (No. 27 and No. 28) a year later in 1989. All of these models were built by Samhongsa. They are extremely accurate models of the prototypes and run quiet and smooth right out of the box. The production run for the 25, 26, and 29 release was 255 units total for all three engines, while the 27 and 28 release involved 225 units total. These models originally sold for around $645.00 each.
These models were also imported by Beaver Creek Models in their limited-edition Heritage Set collection. The Heritage sets were factory painted and lettered and came in a velvet-lined teak box. Each set was numbered, with the number included on a photo-etched nameplate on the box and on the underside of each engine. A total of 35 of the Heritage sets were released for the 25/26/29 and for the 27/28 sets. These sets sold for around $1200-1400 for each set of three or two engines respectively. These engines are factory lettered correctly but the importer chose to have the smokeboxes painted silver (ala the SP) which is incorrect.
Gunnings Hobbies is a hobby shop in the Bay Area that seems to have these used brass models more often than others. You can also watch for them on eBay. They will most likely be in the range of $700-800 each for the unpainted models. Other brass dealers may occasionally have these locomotives.
Modeling the early 4-4-0s No. 20 and 21 would be a kitbashing project. I kitbashed the AHM Reno into the No. 21 back in the 1970s although that model was not a very good performing engine at least at that time. Bachman now sells basically the same engine; a search for "51101" under Product Search will result in an HO scale 4-4-0 with Union Pacific #119 lettering. To use this engine as the basis of a model of the No. 21, it would need a new cab, new trucks, conversion of the tender from wood to oil, etc. I’m not sure how well this engine runs. It is also available through Walthers.
Another alternative for modeling the No. 21 is to use a brass PFM 4-4-0 Reno or United V&T 4-4-0 model. I have a couple of these brass models to rebuild into YV engines one of these days. Again, these engines become available occasionally on eBay and through brass dealers.
Modeling the YV 4-4-0s No. 22 or 23 was once much more difficult since these were relatively "modern" 4-4-0s which were rarely, if ever, produced as models. This situation has changed now that Bachmann has introduced their Ma and Pa 4-4-0s under the Spectrum label in a combination of plastic and cast metal. The Ma & Pa 4-4-0s have straight boilers while the YV engines had tapered boilers. There are other differences but most are minor. Here is a size comparison of the Ma and Pa 4-4-0 and to YV 23. These engines run very well and are nicely detailed. By making a number of changes and upgrades, the Spectrum engines will work very well as stand-ins for YV No. 22 and 23.
I have written up a description of the changes I made to these two Spectrum engines to make them more closely represent the YV engines.
The only 2-8-0 owned by the YV was an ex-Pennsylvania Railroad H1A. A brass model of this engine was imported by Empire-Midland many years ago. Since this engine represents the engine circa 1874 on the PRR, it would need a new cab and other details to duplicate the engine on the YV.
As an interim solution, note that the YV leased some SP engines during the construction of the Exchequer Dam in the mid-1920s. There are brass models of these engines available but International Hobby Corp also sells a plastic version which is available through Walthers.
I have decals available for sale to letter all of the YV engines in any of the various lettering schemes.
One of the reasons that I originally selected 1939 to model was the availability of a brass model of RPO 107 which was purchased by the YV in 1937. That model, from Ken Kidder, was crude by today’s standards and has been supplanted by three newer brass imports. Precision Scale Co. imported a Harriman “Common Standard” 40’ RPO/Baggage Class 40-BP-15 #15786-3 which was available factory painted for the YV but the lettering style (or font) is incorrect. An unpainted Precision Scale Co. RPO sold on eBay in April 2007 for $171.00. The Original Whistle Stop also imported a 40’ Steel Harriman RPO 1911 Version with Baggage Doors which I feel is a better model than the Precision one although it is not factory painted or lettered. Finally, Overland Models, Inc. imported a 40Ft. Harriman RPO -- SP-TNO/Virginia and Truckee. This is the best model of those available since it includes the most correct underbody detail.
Note: This Ken Kidder model above was painted by Gerald Gresham for Hank Johnston and is shown on Page 191 of Hank's Railroads of Yosemite Valley.
Note that none of these HO brass models includes the roof-mounted Baker heater water tank which was a feature of the car while it was in service on the YV. Southern Car and Foundry has developed an HO pattern for this tank from a CAD drawing I prepared based on prototype photos for this detail. I have resin castings available for this tank through Yosemite Models as a service to Southern Car and Foundry; it is near the bottom of the page.
These brass RPO models are in HO scale. Southern Car and Foundry sells an excellent O scale resin kit for this car which includes a one-piece body casting, laser-cut windows, underbody detail, and the roof-mounted Baker Heater expansion tank. Here is their kit with some added details:
One detail unique to the YV which is not included with the SC&F kit is the Baker Heater smoke stack. I have resin castings available for this stack through Yosemite Models.
Here is a page of additional information on RPO 107 to help assemble the SC&F kit or detail the available brass cars. It includes photos of the prototype both while in service and as it exists today.
Beaver Creek Models also imported a three-car set of passenger cars for the YV which included models of combine 105, coach 302, and observation 330. These were not available factory-painted. (Painting and lettering information is available on my Resources CD.) These are accurate models of the prototypes but are not really good operational models. They are very heavy due to their brass construction (including brass interiors) and have poor-running trucks which could be changed. They occasionally show up at brass dealers and on eBay. I do not know the original cost of these models but a set sold on eBay in August 2006 for $833. I have decals available for sale to letter all of the YV passenger cars and an O scale set for the Southern Car and Foundry kit.
Another alternative to the brass coach and observation cars from Beaver Creek Models is to kit-bash plastic models from Palace passenger cars once produced by Roundhouse. Although these cars have been discontinued, there are still available via the Internet. You will need one of the observation cars and one of the diners to kit-bash a model of the 330. There is more information at this website on the steps necessary.
Tomar has YV drumheads (#985) in N, HO, S, and O scales based on artwork that I developed using prototype photos. This same artwork was used to produce a full-size drumhead for YV Observation 330, now being restored.
The typical YV summer passenger train consisted of an RPO car, Pullmans, an SP diner, and a YV observation car. Nice Pullmans models are now available from Walthers and Branchline. The 10-1-2 Pullman Sleeper was typical of the Pullmans which ran over the YV. Walthers has announced a fully assembled version of this car. Branchline also has a very nice kit for these cars.
Note that the Pullmans were all owned by Pullman during the life of the Yosemite Valley Railroad although certain cars were assigned to different railroads. Therefore, you should select models which are lettered with Pullman on the fascia letterboard rather than an individual railroad such as the Southern Pacific.
YV Caboose No. 15 has been the subject of two importers. Westside Models released a brass model of Caboose No. 15 in November 1973. It was manufactured by Micro Cast of Japan and sold originally for $29.95. A total of 500 were imported. It is reasonably accurate except that toolbox on the right side of the car is not tall enough and there shouldn’t be a cap on the smokejack.
Beaver Creek Model Company released their version of Caboose No. 15 in 1986. It was built by Samhongsa of Korea. It is a better quality model than the Westside import, typical of the growing expectations for brass imports. It is accurate except that the queenposts on the left side are too tall; this model also has a cap on the smokejack (the National Park Service added the cap when they put the caboose on display in El Portal). A total of 300 of these models were imported. I don’t know the original cost of this model. (Both of these models failed to note that the prototype had taller queenposts on just the right side in order to clear the toolbox.) These models regularly appear on eBay and on brass dealer sites.
In O scale, Mullet River Model Works has a 1/4" scale wood laser-cut kit for caboose No. 15 (below).
Note that, although Caboose No. 16 appears similar to the No. 15, it was actually of a slightly different design and shorter. However, one could use a No. 15 as a stand-in for the No. 16 if desired.
Caboose No. 18, which only operated between 1920 and 1938, appears to be either an ex-SP CA or CS-15 caboose. Walthers has a plastic version of a SP C-30-1 caboose which can be a starting point for a kitbash of the car but the cupola would need to be replaced to get the right proportions.
The other cabooses used in later years would involve scratchbuilding. The unusual trucks on the second Caboose 17 were typical of those used on the New York Central and Hudson River Railroad, Wabash Railroad, Grand Truck Railroad and Canadian Pacific Railroad. BC Models (no longer in business) once had these old Red Ball trucks in their line as part number T-13. You might be able to find them at model railroad flea markets.
The earliest cabooses were built from box cars. The Model Die Casting/Roundhouse 30’ Blind End Side Door Caboose (3420 undecorated) available from Caboose Hobbies can be used as the basis of the second Caboose 15 which was used between 1914 and 1922.
I have decals available to letter all of these cabooses.
Westerfield released resin kits to model the YV’s 51 hopper cars (called “rock cars” on the YV) in 1987. These kits are still available. Kit 3452 is for the Pressed Steel Car Company (PSC) Ore Car Modern Sierra/Yosemite. This is not an easy kit to assemble. It comes with YV decals. The kits don’t include trucks but PSC arch bar trucks (#135) are available from The Bethlehem Car Works.
An easier but more expensive alternate for the rock cars are the brass hopper cars imported by Beaver Creek Models. These are also accurate models of the prototype YV cars. I suspect that around 100 of the three-car sets were imported. However, I rarely see them for sale. I don’t know the original cost of these imported models.
Rio Grande Models has kits available for modeling the YV’s 175 log cars. These kits, less trucks but including decals, are currently available and are relatively easy to construct. If you chose to scratchbuilt one of these cars, I have decals available for these cars. Kadee arch bar trucks would be appropriate for these cars.
The YV had four ex-Harriman box cars, Nos. 610-613. Nos. 610-612 were B-50-1/2/4 and Westerfield makes a resin kit for this car; it is Kit No. 1751 although you need to add end doors. (No. 613 was a B-50-5 and is not yet available from Westerfield). Nos. 610 and 611 had arch bar trucks while 612 had Bettendorf T-section trucks and 613 had Andrews trucks, all available from Kadee.
I have decals to letter all of the box cars owned by the YV.
Maintenance of Way Equipment
It might be possible to model some of the maintenance of way equipment using Model Die Casting/Roundhouse early-day box cars and flat cars although these cars tend to be somewhat lacking compared to current-day expectations.
Model Engineering Works had a kit for a side dump car back in the 1970s which might be appropriate to model YV M of W 010 after changing the kit’s metal sides for built-up wood sides. I have one of these kits and the car is generally the correct size but the air piston is too large and the body too high.
The Irish Tracklayer has laser-cut wood kits for the ATSF tower in Merced where the YV crossed the ATSF mainline. These kits are available in HO, S, and O scales. This kit is based on my drawings.
NorthEastern Scale Models has a laser-cut wood kit for Angelo's Place, a tavern which was located just east of Merced Falls and frequented by lumber company workers. This kit was developed from my plans for this building.
While there are no kits for YV structures, Grandt Line produces windows which duplicate those used on the stations at Snelling, Merced Falls, Barrett, and Bagby. Parts 5208, 5209, and 5210 duplicate most of the windows on these stations.
If you have a large layout and want to model the Yosemite Portland Cement plant which was served by the YV just east of Merced, check out the Walthers Cement Plant. Pieces of this kit can be used to replicate the cement silos, rotating kiln, etc.
I sell a CD with plans for all of the stations and many other buildings along the YV.
BOOKS, MAPS, AND MORE INFORMATION
There are two main books on the Yosemite Valley Railroad. My own book, Trains to Yosemite, is the most accurate and complete. Hank Johnston’s Railroads of Yosemite (available through the Yosemite Association) was written in 1966 and has some additional photos not in my own book. It also covers the logging railroads. Jim Law’s Memories of El Portal will also provide information for modelers. Hank Johnston’s Whistles Blow No More, although it covers a number of Sierra lumber companies, has some additional photos of the Yosemite logging operations.
Before publishing Railroads of Yosemite, Hank Johnston wrote a short book entitled Short Line to Paradise. The original horizontal version of this book includes a few photos not in either of the above-mentioned books. It occasionally shows up on eBay. It was later reformatted into an 8-1/2x11 book and, in the process, many of the more interesting photos were removed. It is still available.
My book, Trains to Yosemite, includes maps of the general route together with detailed maps of each of the yards on the railroad. I also sell a CD with route maps of the entire railroad.
A very nice B/W home movie was once made by a YV fireman, Virgil Boyer, entitled Sunrise to Sunset. It was released as a video about 20 years ago by his son, Gary Boyer. While it is no longer available, copies might show up at model railroad flea markets. Unfortunately, the original VHS version suffered from a misguided attempt to create a “sepia” tone to the movie. Gary Boyer plans to re-release the movie sometime in the future.
A few years ago, some historic movies showing operations of the Yosemite Sugar Pine Lumber Company were donated to the Sacramento Railroad Museum Library. Most of this footage is in color and all of the footage appears to have been commercially photographed. These movies have been remastered to video and VHS copies may still be available from the Library.
Louis Stein shot color home movies during the two YV fan trips. This footage, together with some of the YSPLCo. color footage will be part of a Sierra Shortlines video currently being developed by Catenary Video Productions. This video is expected to be released in 2009.
In 1996, an interesting (but strange in some ways) B/W art movie was released entitled Color of a Brisk and Leaping Day. The film won an award for cinematography at Sundance. It basically tells the story of what might have happened if the YV had been sold to 18-year-old John McFadden rather than being scrapped, although the writer/director took a lot of artistic license with the premise. A review of the movie is on the web while the movie is available as a DVD from Amazon.
If you are modeling the Yosemite Valley Railroad, you might want to join our YV Yahoo group:
Click on the above link to join this group/chat list. There are about 150 of us on this list and it is a good place to ask questions, share information, etc. We occasionally send new photos around for comment plus share layout plans, modeling projects, etc. We also have an annual YV Symposium each year (the weekend varies) in the Bay Area. The activities vary from year to year. In the past, we have typically had field trips to explore portions of the YV route and the logging inclines, worked on the reconstruction of YV Observation Car 330, operated on the two YV layouts here in the Bay Area, etc. The Symposium date is announced only on the Yahoo list.
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