The Sierra Western and Santa Fe RR evolved from my affection for my previous layout (most of the old layout's main yard will be used on the upper level) and for my favorite railroad, the Santa Fe (how could anyone not love that beautiful Warbonnet paint scheme?). Both are being incorporated into this new layout. The layout room is 28ft x 47ft and was designed and built for this layout. The adjacent 11ft x 22ft 'crew lounge' was added on at the same time. Layout construction began immediately after the room addition passed its final building inspection in July 1994.

The layout is designed for operations and long trains, and follows the 'linear' style of layout design popularized by David Barrow. All track configurations are intended to be as realistic as possible. The mainline will support up to a dozen trains at a time. Up to four switchers can be operated in the Chico yard areas alone. Switching areas have been designed for efficiency, not 'time-saver' type challenges. All passing sidings and main staging tracks will handle trains with three locos and 35 cars. Most benchwork is less than 2 feet deep, and crews will be only a foot away from their train almost everywhere on the layout. Interchange activity will occur at five locations. Additionally, there will be 10 staging locations. There is no hidden track along the mainline between end staging yards, and minimal hidden track at mainline staging areas. Full signalling is planned along with full CTC operations.

The Santa Fe never built a route to compete with the Southern Pacific northward beyond Richmond, CA. If they had, it might have looked like this in the early 70's: Two new routes, one from Richmond, CA, and one from Stockton, CA, join at Chico, CA. From there, the tracks continue north through Los Molinos, Anderson, Red Bluff, Redding, and McCloud, CA., and up through Klamath Falls and Eugene, OR., to the end of the line at Portland, OR. We're actually modeling only the portion from Chico to McCloud, however. The lower level Valley Staging Yard represents all track south of Chico, including Sacramento, Stockton, Bakersfield, the famous Tehachapi Loop and Cajon Pass, Los Angeles, Barstow, Kansas City and Chicago. The hidden lower level Richmond Staging yard represents the route to Richmond and the Bay Area. And the upper level Klamath Staging Yard (still a couple of years away) will represent all track north of McCloud.

Several field trips to Chico, Los Molinos, Anderson, Red Bluff and Redding were made well before the plan was finalized. Using US Geological Survey maps, 3-dimensional topographical maps, AAA road maps, and a variety of books and articles on the railroads of the area, each location being modeled was visited to determine whether our route could conceivably have gone through these areas. Open areas around the towns to be modeled were surveyed to determine the possible location of tracks and yards, focusing on the year that they would have been constructed, and the use of the land at that time. This surveying also considered the requirement for minimum grading and filling, and minimum disturbance to residential areas and streets and highways that existed at that time. Industry types were determined, and scenery, including soil colors, vegetation, fence types, road profiles and pavement colors were noted.

In some instances, the proposed route was adjusted slightly to incorporate actual land profiles and features such as existing hills and cuts to determine the location for overpasses, etc. An example is the layout's Santa Fe bridge over the Southern Pacific at Red Bluff, at a place listed in old SP timetables as 'Glade'. There we found a cut through a hill with the right assortment of surrounding hills that could provide an approach for the Santa Fe's overpass with a minimum of fill work. This was subsequently incorporated into the layout. A study of the Southern Pacific through other portions of this area also provide valuable ideas and information.

At that point, final tweaking was done and the lower level master plan was finalized. This plan has been closely followed, only modifying it by less than 5% so far. The upper level designs have been started and will be finalized when we are closer to building them. Further field trips will be done in the Dunsmir, Redding, Lake Shasta and McCloud areas to provide information about prototypical scenery, features and land profiles to help finalize the remainder of the plan.

The Santa Fe will have the most track modeled with about 650 feet of mainline track, plus an additional 350 feet of double track and passing sidings, for a total of almost 11 scale miles of mainline track. None of the mainline will be hidden except for a few short tunnels on the upper deck and the Richmond Staging yard which will be located under a part of the lower level. The Sierra Western will connect and interchange with the Santa Fe at Douglas, on the upper level. This mountain railroad will climb to the highest point on the layout (70") at MacDonald and will continue downgrade through a valley and end at an 8-track yard and engine facilities at Heldatt, creating a 3rd level over a portion of the layout. It will be about 110ft long, none of it hidden except for a few tunnels. There will also be two Santa Fe branchlines: one an industrial branch from New Chico Yard with a hidden reverse loop under the roundhouse area on the lower level, and the other extending from Los Molinos on the lower level to a hidden 3-track staging yard, including a run-around track. Although the layout is designed as a 'point-to-point' and will be operated that way during operating sessions, a hidden helix will allow continuous running if desired. A reverse loop at each end will make turning entire trains between operating sessions easier. The loops and the helix will not be used for operating sessions. Instead, the lower and upper ends of the helix will be used as additional staging tracks. (There will be over 10 scale miles of staging tracks on the layout!)

Other railroads interchanging with the Santa Fe are: the Sacramento Northern (a part of the Western Pacific in the 70's) - 45ft of visible track and a hidden 4-track staging yard; the Southern Pacific - 110ft of visible track with a hidden 3-track staging yard & reverse loop at each end; the McCloud Railroad - 50ft of visible track and a hidden 4-track staging yard; and the Southern Pacific - the lower section of the helix. Additional interchange will occur 'beyond the layout' with the Union Pacific and the Great Northern.

All track will be handlaid except for the hidden staging tracks. SystemOne was chosen for locomotive control because of it's extensive mu'ing capabilities, large number of locos supported at any time, ability to use loco numbers for decoder id's, and ease of. A dispatcher's desk is located in a corner of the crew lounge. A fully operational Santa Fe type CTC panel is being planned that will allow us to direct all traffic on the Santa Fe's mainline during operating sessions. Additionally, there will be at least three interlocking towers where operators can be assigned to control all routing into and out of congested yards and tracks. For maximum flexibility, we will be able to operate the layout without the dispatcher and tower operators if desired. A computer will be used to simplify the wiring necessary for full signaling and CTC panel emulation.

We are currently writing 'user-friendly' and easy to use Microsoft Windows based programs that will maximize the flexibility of the new DCC technology. With these programs the operators will be able to use the computer keyboard and mouse to reprogram digital loco decoders, change loco lighting effects to simulate strobe lights, rotating beacons, Mars lights, etc., consign locos to consists, assign locos or consists to handheld cabs, and monitor loco runtime hours and maintenance schedules. We'll also generate and print switchlists, train schedules and other railroad documents. Future possibilities being considered include programming the computer to run mainline through-trains while crews perform switching chores in between the passing trains, to randomly power down a locomotive to simulate an engine failure, to automatically adjust the loco response to simulate going up or down a grade, or set off hot-box or dragging equipment detector alarms, etc. Many more 'state-of-the-art' ideas will be incorporated as we progress.

This story of the Sierra Western & Santa Fe could not be complete without my heartfelt thanks to our Friday night crew for their dedicated help on this layout: Rod Baxter, Phil Jensen, Mark Kosenski, Al Massi, Ray Mayle, Larry Moseley, Ron Orlando, Sam Romerstein, Bob Stern, Ken Levy, Rich Sachen, Keith White, Pete Williamson and Gary Zaro.

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These pages implemented and maintained by: Larry Moseley
Please send all comments to: Rick Fortin