This layout was conceived as the replacement for the 10'x20' Sierra Western which was built in two adjacent bedrooms after the common wall between them was removed. Although this layout had much operating interest and ran well, it proved to be too crowded for the five or six of us who got together on Friday nights. After about two years of fantasizing about a larger layout, my wife Mary agreed to consider building a 24'x35' room over the garage and part of the house. Every time I met someone who had built up over their house, I'd ask them about the experience and cost. After several such conversations this idea fell out of favor. A chance conversation with a friendly building inspector opened up the possibility that our corner lot could provide plenty of space for an addition on the ground level. He told us that we could go out towards the side street to within 12 feet of the sidewalk and to 5 feet of the back fence. At that point we began to consider adding on to a corner of the house.
After a few more months of investigation by contacting the San Jose building permits department, a couple of general contractors, the mortgage broker we had used to buy our house, and the loan departments at our banks, we decided that this could actually work out. I sketched a 28'x58' addition to the house which was to extend from behind the detached garage and wrap slightly around a corner of the house where the kitchen/dining areas were located. The old laundry room behind the detached garage, the patio and part of the roof would have to be demolished to make way for the new room. The addition would also have the added benefit of providing direct access to the garage from the kitchen area of the house.
The new addition would include an 1,135 sq. ft. train room measuring 47' long and 28' at the widest part, a new 242 sq. ft. den/crew lounge which would include a modernized laundry area, a new direct entrance from the garage into the house, and a separate entrance into the den/crew lounge and train room opposite the front door to the main house. Access from the main house to the crew lounge/den would be through a new double door opening from the breakfast nook area of the kitchen allowing the entire addition to be closed off from the main portion of the house. To heat and cool the train room only when desired, a programmable thermostat was to be installed to close an electrically powered damper in the forced-air duct from the existing house. Considerable storage would now be available in the attic by an easily accessible pull-down staircase. An existing fence would be replaced by a new fence next to the sidewalk to provide enough space alongside the new addition to park an RV or boat, etc. A new carport was also planned next to the garage.
I obtained three bids for the construction. Suprisingly, the low and high bids were almost $20,000 apart! After analyzing the cost of the project, and talking to a neighbor who was a sub-contractor, I decided to assume the general contracting responsibilities myself. This would ultimately save me an additional $15,000 from the lowest bid ($35,000 from the highest!).
We began by refinancing our home. We timed this to take advantage of the lowering interest rates in 1994. The money saved with the lowered interest rate covered most of the cost of the addition - a crucial factor. I then hired an architect to draw up formal plans from my rough sketches and then dealt with the city building permit department (11 visits total). After paying the permit fees (at nearly $8,000, these fees almost killed the project!) and with all the necessary permits in hand I hired my sub-contractor neighbor to remove the patio and laundry room and prep the connecting walls.
On the morning of Nov. 1, 1994, the point of no return was reached with the first sledgehammer blow to the walls of the old laundry room. That evening, when Mary and I came home from work, we stood amidst the rubble that once was the laundry room and for a few minutes felt real fear that maybe this had been a mistake! I grabbed my camera to capture forever that fatefull moment. Three days later the old laundry room, patio and part of the main roof had been removed to make way for the new addition. The same sub-contractor agreed to handle all framing material orders and deliveries after I had established an account at a local lumber supply company. Through him I made contacts with most of the sub-contractors I would need for the project.
The next sub-contractor came in and did the necessary site excavation and poured the foundation. An interesting sidenote was the last minute decision to excavate and pour, now instead of later, a 5' wide by 12' long by 5' deep structure for what quickly became known as 'THE PIT'. The pit was needed to eliminate a future duckunder which would otherwise be required to gain entrance to the room. Here the track level across the entrance doorway would be 46" on the lower deck and 63" on the upper deck. The pit will allow us to build a short flight of stairs down from the crew lounge and then up into the train room. Four or five steps will be necessary to adequately clear the lowest part of the benchwork. During the necessary 'pre-pour' inspection the foundation contractor told the inspector it was to be a vault for storing valuables. Seeing the puzzled look on the inspector's face the contractor said 'I guess he must have a lot of valuables'. Apparently that was good enough for the inspector!
After the foundation - and 'the pit' - hardened, another contractor build up the floor, walls and roof framing. During this time I took a few days off and installed the new laundry room plumbing, including replacement of some problem plumbing under the existing house, and rerouted the gas line for the relocated water heater.
I hired other sub-contractors to pour the cement for the carport and sidewalk alongside the garage, an electrician to install the new relocated service panel at the back of the addition and connect it to the existing house wiring, a roofer to install the roof shingles to match the existing roof, another to install the guttering, and still another to deliver and install the windows. The last week of December the first sub-contractor came back and completed the new fence along the street side of the new addition and two more sub-contractors applied the exterior stucco and the new ductwork and damper for the heating system.
And then on December 31, New Years Eve, the last contractor cleaned up the construction debris and installed the last door and he was done. The addition was now 'watertight', a construction term meaning all outside surfaces were complete and sealed from the elements. At 5:40 I wrote him the last check, and then it was all mine! I stood in my new room and even though it was only a shell with a bare wood floor, without interior walls, ceiling, electricity or insulation, I was ecstatic! With a flashlight I imagined where the tracks would go, following them around the bare walls and mentally running my first train. That is, until my wife came out to prod me into getting ready for what was without a doubt the most unimportant New Year's party I've ever attended.
Over the next several months, on weekends and evenings, and occasionally with the help of friends, I installed the electrical wiring and outlets, the lights, the door locks, the wall and ceiling insulation, the finished sub-floor, the wallboard on the walls and ceiling, the floor tile, and the interior doors. I hooked up the washer and dryer, hung the utility cabinets, installed the sink, and painted the exterior. Then we had a 'painting party' where a half dozen of the train guys grabbed paint brushes and rollers and we painted the room in just a few hours. As soon as the paint had dried, the trim and fittings were installed.
And then finally, after six months of work, the final inspector came out, checked everything he had to check, and signed that final piece of paper that made the project complete (at least in the eyes of the tax assessor!).
Even though I had heard horror stories about remodeling projects, the project went fairly smoothly. A few problems popped up, but were quickly dealt with. Although it took constant attention, I was not traumatic. My secret? - thoroughly research and carefully plan every detail before the decision to build is made, and to religiously monitor every step along the way.
A new track plan started developing when the original room over the garage was first being considered. The plan was for a double deck, around the wall layout with two peninsulas, one each from two opposite walls. The plan included staging yards at each end, and a helix to connect the two ends. Additional staging areas were sketched in for interchange activity. The lower section was planned as gentle rolling hills with a high speed mainline with broad curves. From the halfway point, where the second deck started, the terrain was planned as mountains, with sharper curves, tunnels, a steeper grade, with possible helper action needed. The main yard was near the bottom staging yard and was planned as a crew change point.
The RailCommand command control system was being considered as a replacement for the ONBOARD system which had proven to be troublesome on the old layout. And because I like second generation diesels, and the larger layout would allow broader curves, I decided to model a 15 year span between 1960 to 1975. I could then include the longer cars which were coming into use around that time. No dispatcher desk was being planned at the time, but full signaling was to be included. Operator orientation to the trains had him facing east. Soon after the first sketches were begun I remembered the problems I had while trying to fit an existing freelanced trackplan into a geographical area as an afterthought. I resolved not to repeat that error. After much thought, I decided to take the prototype freelancing approach, with the Santa Fe as the key railroad. I also decided to research the chosen area to be modeled first, and then complete the track plan only after sufficient research had been done.
With this approach I could use prototype practices and equipment, but wouldn't be restricted to modeling exact features such as actual towns or buildings, while at the same time designing a model of a railroad that was plausible and could have existed. I would be able to use my research and ideas to design track arrangements, buildings, etc., rather than to try to model exact copies of existing structures. However, I could also use prototype practices to guide me. I also wanted to model an area close by that I could easily research during weekend visits. Since I wanted to freelance the Santa Fe, I looked to areas near my home where the Santa Fe did not reach.
An area that had appealed to me for quite some time was the Northern California/Oregon area. There are several books and articles covering the Southern Pacific through this area. Collectively, they provide much information about the geography of the area, the reasons why the railroad build there, the goods the railroad carried, the equipment used, etc. Research turned up references to old SP surveys for routes that were considered but not built. In old SP timetables and rulebooks I found information regarding track elevation profiles, grades, sidings and length, speeds restrictions, etc. Information was also available about other railroads in the area such as the McCloud River RR and the Great Northern. This information, along with the availability of detailed data about the Santa Fe itself, would prove to be invaluable in helping me design a plausible freelance railroad from the San Francisco Bay area to the Portland, Oregon. area.
Additionally, the geographic profile is relatively flat from Richmond/San Francisco/Sacramento CA. area up to Redding, CA. From there the terrain becomes very mountainous as it approaches and continues past Mt. Shasta. This matched the original concept for the two decks on my track plan. Pouring through my books and SP timetables I learned that the track grade from Sacramento to Redding was less than 1% and is relatively straight. Above Redding it increases up to 2% and becomes a typical mountain railroad, with numerous curves, tunnels, bridges, etc., to Klamath Falls.
With this information in hand modeling a fictitious Santa Fe route beginning where the Santa Fe now terminates at Richmond, California onward to the central Oregon area became a serious possibility. Add the possibility of interchanging with the Southern Pacific, the Western Pacific (Sacramento Northern), the McCloud RR, and the Great Northern, and incorporating competition for business with the Southern Pacific, the choice became clear - this is the area I would model.
Now that I had chosen an area to model, it was time to get down to specifics. I obtained maps of the areas between the Bay Area and Portland, and quickly realized that this was much too long a route even for a layout as large as this one. I bought 3-D topographical maps of the area between Sacramento, CA and the Oregon border, and studied them for total mileage, geographical features, canyons, lakes and rivers. I carefully followed the path the Southern Pacific takes and re-read the books on the areas I was studying.
As I narrowed the proposed path the competing Santa Fe would take, I bought detailed US Geological survey maps for the key areas being considered and studied those for routes through towns, across rivers and creeks, and through canyons. Fortunately, most of these maps were updated in the late sixties and early seventies, so I had information that related to the years I wanted to model. Several rough drafts and sketches of various 'dream' layouts were done as the months past by. With all the ideas coming together, a fairly complete track plan had been drawn up for the 24'x35' room that was originally planned for over the garage.
While all this research was going on, the decision to build alongside the house was made. This created a few significant changes to the track plan that had been evolving:
Building the room on the same level as the existing house eliminated the luxury of entering the room by a staircase in the center and away from the wall mounted track. I was now forced to contemplate either a removable 'bridge' or have a duckunder, both very undesirable. After much consideration, it was decided to build a five foot deep pit to allow two short stairs, one down four or five steps, and one back up, that would take us low enough to clear the benchwork before stepping back up to floor level. Although not as convenient as a straight through entrance, it would be no worse than having to walk up a full flight of stairs to enter a second story room as originally planned. To allow enough room for the stairs and not crowd the aisle, the stairs had to come up in an area that would not have a lot of activity and be wide enough. This required that the flipped track plan be oriented one way only.
Flipping the plan and orienting it to accommodate the stairs also moved the helix away from in front of the doors, but now it took up valuable space in the narrow end of the room. That was solved by moving it fifteen feet and into the area where the room widened by seven feet due to the way it fit around a corner of the existing house. This would have been wasted space anyway, so the helix consumed unusable area instead of taking up valuable usable area. That turned out to be a fortunate win-win situation.
Now that all the trouble spots had been taken care of, it was time to firm up the plan and start building. I redrew the plan in a larger scale and paid particular attention to turnout angles, dimensions, and orientation. By carefully following the methods outlined in John Armstrong's TRACK PLANNING FOR REALISTIC OPERATION, Layout Design Sig articles and publications, various notes gained from talking to other layout owners, and reading about layout design and construction in the various magazines, I finalized the plan.
Decisions about layout lighting, electrical requirements, control systems, fascia colors, backdrop heights, benchwork construction techniques, etc., were made at this time. Here are just a few examples:
Immediately after the final inspection in June the old layout was dismantled. The new one was officially underway at the beginning of July, 1994.
At the beginning of actual construction we made several trips to the areas to be modeled. With the track plan and various maps in hand, we followed the proposed route, taking pictures and videos. We noted the land profile and imagined what fills, cuts and bridges would be necessary in several key areas. We considered the land use in the 60's and 70's - whether it was grazing, fields , business or housing, and what impact our route would have. We looked carefully for possible areas for yards, especially the two Chico yards and the Redding yard. We followed the proposed Paynes Creek branch to the little town of Paynes Creek. When we discovered that there was no plausible reason for the railroad to go there, we modified the plan and rerouted the track to a more appropriate location - the branch has since been renamed the Massi Branch after one of the crew members. Other adjustments were made when appropriate.
Since the design evolved not as an afterthought, but as a proactive process, I have had few problems translating it into real benchwork and track. The design is being followed very closely and so far has been working out well. Only minor changes have been made since we began construction.
Notable changes include:
We are now well on our way with the new layout. As this is being written, we have trains running, have almost all of the lower level benchwork complete, most of the sub-roadbed is in place, and most of the wiring is done. A couple of scenic areas are nearing completion. The plan is to have all basic scenery completed on the lower level before the upper level is begun.
By the time the National Convention is held in San Jose in the year 2000 we plan to have all the benchwork complete, all of the sub-roadbed in place, all of the mainline track completed, and much of the secondary track built. Basic scenery should also be in place on all levels. The priority is to have all of the track operational first. Detailing scenery will come later.
The informal 20 year plan should see all track operational within 5 years, all lower level scenery completed within 10 years, all upper level scenery completed within 15 years, and the remaining 5 years to super detail scenery and lots of operations.
These pages implemented and maintained by: Larry Moseley
Please send all comments to: Rick Fortin