MODEL RAILROADING IS A FASCINATING HOBBY. The construction of a layout can involve wood working, electrical work, painting, model building, historical research, electronics, collecting, and even railfanning and photographing real trains. If you are not already a model railroader, one of the best ways to get more information on the hobby is from the monthly magazines. Model Railroader and Railroad Model Craftsman are good sources of general information while Mainline Modeler and the Short Line and Narrow Gauge Gazette appeal to mainline operations and shortline/narrow gauge interests respectively. A number of other magazines are also published for more specialized niches.
My own layout is in HO scale and occupies a 20'x20' area. As further described in the page on double-deck layouts, it is multi-level, varying from 1 to 4 levels as the tracks circle the room. It was started in 1981 and was therefore one of the early multi-level layouts. It was also one of the early layouts to feature total prototype conformity and room sound effects.
MODELING OVERVIEW AND PHILOSOPHY - I am modeling the Yosemite Valley Railroad as it existed in August 1939 with few compromises. My approach to the hobby is therefore slightly different than most modelers although more and more modelers are discovering, as I have, the rewards of modeling a specific prototype rather creating a generic, freelanced railroad.
When I initially re-entered the hobby of model railroading in 1965, I followed the prevalent approach of the time by electing to model a freelance (fictional) railroad. However, after a couple of years, I realized that modeling a specific prototype railroad could be both more challenging and more fun. I discovered that more satisfaction could be derived from my modeling if I could look at a photo of the prototype and my model of it and feel comfortable that I did my best to duplicate it to scale.
After deciding to follow a specific prototype, I came to the conclusion that I wanted to model a shortline railroad (rather than a first-class railroad such as the Southern Pacific Railroad or the AT&SF) that was reasonably close to my home. After considering several possibilities, I selected the Yosemite Valley Railroad to model. I also picked August 1939 as my time frame. (More information on picking an era or year is below.)
Track - My layout design carefully follows the prototype YVRR as closely as possible, given the space available. All yard arrangements on the layout closely follow the prototype. Period aerial photos and maps from the California State Archives and the Sanborn Insurance Company were used to develop the yard configurations. Stations along the layout are in prototypical order and all locations are within 10% or less of their correct proportional location. All track, including hidden trackage, is hand-laid (Code 70, with some Code 55 and Code 83) on individual ties. All switches are also hand-laid with slow-action, stall motors.
Equipment - In 1939, the Yosemite Valley Railroad operated a total of seven locomotives -- two 4-4-0 passenger engines and five 2-6-0 freight engines (this classification refers to the number of pilot, driving, and trailing axles respectively). Fortunately, I was able to work closely with Beaver Creek Models, an importer of hand-made brass locomotives and rolling stock, and they imported HO scale models of all five of the 2-6-0s. With these engines available, I only need to build models of the 4-4-0s. (Beaver Creek Models also imported brass models of passenger cars 105, 302, and 330 as well as 3-packs of the hopper cars, called "rock" cars on the YV.)
All rolling stock on the layout is either scratchbuilt or constructed from craftsman kits such as Westerfield, Sunshine, or Tichy. Each car is lettered and numbered to correctly duplicate actual equipment operating in August 1939. Each piece of rolling stock includes full underbody detail. Rolling stock is also weathered according to the date of manufacture in relationship to August 1939; older cars exhibit more weathering than newer cars. All freight cars on the layout are representative of the type, size, and ownership expected to appear on the YVRR based on the products shipped on the prototype. Thus, boxcars tend to be from western railroads such as the Southern Pacific and Santa Fe rather than small eastern railroads. I currently have about 75 freight cars on the layout of which 13 are scratchbuilt and 25 are resin kits.
As far as "home" equipment, my ultimate goal is to construct models of all of the rolling stock operated by the Yosemite Valley Railroad in August 1939 with the exception of the 175 log cars. This effort will require building 9 flat cars, 11 boxcars, 3 stock cars, 6 ballast cars, 51 hopper cars, 11 maintenance of way cars, 4 cabooses, and 7 passenger cars. (The YV had 175 log cars in operation in 1939 but I will limit myself to building about 35 of them.) I have built 41 YV cars to date, out of the total fleet of 144 YV cars.
Fortunately, I have been able to work with manufacturers to have some of the representative cars reproduced as kits. Westerfield Models has released a flat resin kit for the 22' long hopper cars (Beaver Creek also imported brass reproductions of this car) and Rio Grande Models has kits for the YVRR log cars and for the YVRR stock cars.
Structures - All structures and bridges on the layout are scratchbuilt and have been constructed from photographs and, in some cases, measurements of the prototype. Many of the buildings include full interior detailing. In many areas, I am including on the layout all of the buildings which existed within a specific location on the prototype. Modeling all of the buildings which existed at a site will more than simply capture the "feeling" of the prototype -- it will duplicate the prototype! There are currently about 80 buildings on the layout with another 20 or so buildings still be to constructed.
While no kits are available for any of the buildings that I need on the layout, Grandt Line has released HO styrene parts for all of the windows needed to build the standard YV stations at Snelling, Merced Falls, Barrett, and Bagby. These parts are Grandt Line parts No.s 5208, 5209, and 5210.
Scenery - I look to the prototype to insure that my scenery closely follows the look of the areas actually traversed by the prototype YVRR. Thus, areas outside Merced are duplicated with rolling foothills covered by golden yellow grass (typical of California foothills in the summer), while areas in the Merced River canyon include typical chaparral shrubs and oak trees.
In some areas of the layout, actual prototype topography and vegetation is duplicated. Thus, not only are track arrangements and structures correct for a scene, but also the general scenery elements and land contours.
Era and a Sense of Time - Many modelers do not try to model a particular time or year, preferring instead to only select an era (such as the early 1960s or late 1940s). Other modelers prefer the "moving target" approach by refusing to pin themselves down any closer than a decade or period of several years at best. However, I prefer the challenge of modeling a particular year and month which, in my case, is August 1939.
I selected the year 1939 to model based on several factors. First, I wanted to model RPO 107 which was acquired by the railroad in 1937. I also didn't want to model after 1941 when vacation travel was curtailed. Those constraints narrowed my choices to 1938, 1939, 1940, or early 1941. Avoiding the start of WWII in Europe and wanting to move out of the Great Depression as much as possible resulted in selection of 1939 as my modeling "year". Since Pullman service to Yosemite was run only between Memorial Day and Labor Day, I selected August from the possible months of June, July, and August; August is traditionally the peak vacation month.
By selecting a particular year, many decisions become simple choices. Trying to decide whether or not to purchase that new freight car kit? The question is simple, "Was it in service in 1939?" How about that new resin automobile or truck detail part? If you are modeling 1939, it has to be a model of an automobile or truck built prior to 1939.
By selecting a particular month, I also know which seasonal changes to duplicate (yellow/summer grass or green/spring grass) and, more specifically, what traffic patterns to model, such as summer Pullman service.
Thus, while some model railroaders may prefer the easy-going, freelanced approach of modeling without the constraints of a specific prototype and time frame, I have found great pleasure in duplicating the Yosemite Valley Railroad as closely as I can. More and more modelers are discovering the same thing.
PUBLISHED ARTICLES AND VIDEOS - Since 1975, I have authored over 90 articles on my modeling approaches and various aspects of the Yosemite Valley Railroad. This abbreviated list provides a general list of some of these articles.
Web page development, design, and content copyrighted © by Jack Burgess 2003. E-mail: Jack Burgess