|O Scale - Layout and Operations -|
|Updated: March 25, 2020|
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O Scale DescriptionO scale is similar in size, but not quite the same as the Lionel trains many people had as kids. The scale is 1:48, so an O scale boxcar is 1/48th as big as its full size counterpart. In O scale, 1/4 inch on the model equals 1 foot on the real thing. 110 actual feet on the model equals 1 scale mile. Look for the mileposts along the right of way, small white markers with a number on them indicate scale miles from a starting point down in one of the yards.
O Scale Layout SizeAs of March 2019, the Santa Fe Western O scale layout measures 170' by 25'(30' on ends, 20' in middle) and occupies over 4000 square feet of our building. Unlike the HO an N scale layouts, O scale is not a model of any particular region, instead it is intended to capture the flavor of the West while providing us with as long a mainline run as possible. We currently have a mainline that is about 27 scale miles, or 2500 feet long, plus over 2450 feet or yard trackage including over 110 turnouts and two double slip switches. Not much by prototypical standards, but certainly respectable for a model railroad.
Layout ConstructionA variety of construction and scenery techniques are evident on the layout. We have a master track plan that were following in the construction. First, a framework of lumber is built to support the layout. For the roadbed beneath the track we cut narrow wood splines that are then glued together. This spline allows us to form very natural sweeping curves, and is very strong. To this is glued a layer of Homasote, a paper product that provides the basic shape of the roadbed to which wooden ties are glued and rails are spiked. Almost all of the track is laid by hand. We then glue ballast to the roadbed to provide a more natural look.
To build the scenery we first construct a frame of plywood to form the contours. Over this goes a lattice of cardboard strips, then newspaper, and a layer of Hydrocal, a cement like product similar to plaster of paris. To form rocky areas, we pour hydrocal into a mold, then attach it to the basic shell. After that we paint the bare hydrocal and add a variety of commercial and natural scenic materials to form grass, weeds, bushes, and rocky areas. Trees are a combination of commercial and home made materials. Were always on the lookout for natural scenery materials to use. Buildings and other structures are a combination of scratch built and commercial kits.
Below is an overall scale plan of the O gauge layout along with the On3 and trolley lines. Click or download image to scroll and larger views, it's 18MB:
A complete track and signal plan panel style view of the layout - click image for larger view:
The Santa Fe Western O Scale layout doesn't attempt to model any specific area, but generally resembles the Western United States. The layout is noted for its high mountains, deep canyons, wide rushing rivers, steep climbs, long straight-aways, and snow-capped peaks. Although a specific era was not targeted during construction, most of the structures would mark this as a mid-1930s to mid-1950s motif.
Most of our membership's primary interest is in standard gauge. Although Southern Pacific represents our single largest unit of equipment, Santa Fe, Milwaukee Road, Pennsylvania, Great Northern, and Western Pacific&NW, and several other heralds are frequently found on the layout. Standard gaugers are an eclectic group.
Three yard areas are visible to the public. One is the recently constructed Pt. Richmond passenger terminal yard near the front door of the building. It has four tracks and is designed to handle up to 12 car passenger consists.
The Midway yard (a 6 track freight yard) is approximately in the center of the layout. This yard represents the half way point on the layout. Trains can either turn around here and head back to the lower staging yards, or continue up through the Mountain Division to the Zenith yard.Also visible is the Midway Engine terminal and turntable and Diesel Service terminal.
Two additional staging yards -Departure and Arrival-, with a total of 13 60-car tracks, are outside the view of the public. It is here we build and dispatch the trains we run. There is also a staging yard for Interurban line that is hidden from public view.
Each of the four divisions, plus the passenger and engine terminal yards run with two cabs using a manual power block control system and toggle or pushbutton turnout control. Each cab can select from two fix power or four hand held wireless throttles (DC or DCC). The hand-held throttles can be switched to the various divisions on the layout. There are 35 different power blocks on the trackage. Long range plans feature computerized block control system - see the O Scale Computer Interface sectionOne of the features of this layout is our ability to run very long trains. Our yard tracks and sidings are about 55 feet long, giving us the ability to run trains of up to 50 cars. We have operating positions for about 7 operators to run at the same time. A dispatcher at the Arrival or Departure Division control panels behind the scenes routes power and throws turnouts to allow mainline engineers to run trains on the two lower level tracks using handheld radio control throttles. Another operator controls trains on the Midway Division, which includes the large yard and engine facility in the center of the layout. Here trains can reverse direction and head back the way they came, or continue on up to the Mountain Division and terminate in the Zenith yard, almost 10 feet above the floor. We cam also run with a Passenger terminal operator, a narrow gauge operator, and an interurban operator.
With DCC (digital command control) it is much easier for fewer operators to control more trains. All the trains receive control information on the tracks in packets, much like a local internet. Decoders in the locomotives respond to those commands to adjust speed, control lights and sound. At the present time however, we have only a few DCC equipped locomotives. As manufactures produce more DCC compatible equipment this should allow us to increase out DCC roster.
The trains are probably the most impressive part of O scale. A long freight train may weigh as much as 75 pounds. Like their prototypical counterparts, O scale trains need time to slow down and stop, requiring that the engineer think ahead. With this much mass, a sudden stop such as running into a dead track, or a sudden start like turning the power on with the throttle open, can lead to expensive damage to cars and locomotives. Since a tumble to the floor can be very destructive to a brass locomotive, we have protected most of the track with clear plastic barriers to keep derailed equipment from falling.
Unlike some of the smaller scales, there isnt a whole lot of O scale equipment available at your local hobby shop. Many of the cars and locomotives you see here are highly detailed brass models, or built up from craftsman type kits. As the hobby grows, more true scale equipment is becoming available, particularly 3 rail equipment that can be easily modified to run on our 2 rail layout. Many of our models were built from scratch and have given us 30 or 40 years of service.
Most of our membership's primary interest is in standard gauge. Although Southern Pacific represents our single largest unit of equipment, Santa Fe, Milwaukee Road, Pennsylvania, Great Northern, and Western PacificC&NW, and several other heralds are frequently found on the layout. Standard gaugers are an eclectic group.
Most of the model trains are owned by the individual members, although there is some club equipment that has been donated over the years. All of the structures, buildings, bridges and scenery are property of the club.
Some trains you might see:
Freight trains Several different freight trains can be spotted around the railroad. Models of older trains, dating from the 1940s through the mid 1960s can be identified by the walkways extending along the car roofs. In the early days of railroading these allowed brakemen to walk along the top of the train to set the brakes by hand. This practice was eventually outlawed, for obvious safety reasons. Older trains will also have a caboose, something we havent seen on most real trains since the mid 1980s. More modern freight trains run without a caboose, instead they have an electronic flashing device attached to the last car which monitors the air pressure in the trains brake system. Modern trains are often made up of inter-modal cars carrying containers or trailers, large boxcars, auto-racks, covered hoppers and tank cars.
Passenger trains A variety of passenger trains make an appearance on the O scale railroad, from modern Amtrak trains pulled by the latest and fastest electric locomotives, to old time heavyweight Pullman trains pulled by steam locomotives. Several version of the Hiawatha may be seen. The Hiawatha ran between Minneapolis/St. Paul and Chicago on the Milwaukee Road at scheduled speeds of almost 100 mph, pulled by a streamlined steam engine! Later versions were pulled by Union Pacific Diesels and painted in Union Pacific Yellow and Gray. We have a modern Amtrak Superliner pulled by three Amtrak locomotives. The Broadway, a Pennsylvania Railroad passenger train can be recognized by its consist of maroon Pullman cars and doubleheaded K-4 Pacific type steam engines. The Empire Builder is a long green and orange Great Northern train pulled by a string of diesels. Another couple of trains making an occasional appearance are the City of San Francisco and the Southern Pacific Daylight. These models were commissioned by the real railroads for the 1939 Chicago Worlds Fair. Over 60 years old, the models still provide reliable service. Also keep an eye out for the Grand Canyon, a famous Santa Fe Railway train. We recently (2007) received a donation from the Carl Dean estate of a 13 car Northern Pacific "North Coast Limited" train with ABBA F3 diesel engines. This train also ran on the Halleck layout. You may not see all of these trains, as our members bring them home and rotate others onto the layout over the course of our run season.
Electric OperationElectric railroad locomotives receive their power from an external source, usually a wire suspended above the rails or a third rail. Electric railroads first found a home carrying passengers in large cities. Steam engines were noisy, smoky, and frightened horses, so quiet and pollution free electric trolleys were developed. As the cities grew, the electric railroads grew with them, often extending to the suburbs to carry people to work.
Several electric railroads ran throughout the Bay Area. The Key System carried passengers from the East Bay to San Francisco across the Bay Bridge. The Sacramento Northern ran from Oakland all the way to Chico and carried passengers and freight.
Mainline railroads also used electricity in some areas. While expensive to construct, electrification resulted in lower operating and maintenance costs. The most famous electric railroad in America was probably the Pennsylvania Railroad, which had thousands of miles of electrified trackage. Their most famous electric locomotive, the GG1, was in service for over 50 years! Some railroads in the West, notably the Great Northern and the Milwaukee Road, electrified portions of their line where they had easy access to Hydro-electric power. Electrification eliminated the problems of smoke and exhaust building up in the long tunnels.
At some point we may electrify some parts of the upper Midway and Mountain divisions so prototypical Milwaukee and Great Northern trains can operate.
Oil Refinery ModelThe oil refinery model you see here was built in 1971 for Standard Oil. It is an exact scale model of one of the processing units in the Richmond Refinery. Scale models like this are used as part of the construction process to help visualize the relationship between all of the parts of the plant and make sure it all fits together. This is one of the few cases where the model was actually built before the prototype!
The model was donated to the Golden State Model Railroad Museum by Chevron.
If you are interested in the latest progress, please visit O Scale Progress Section.
If you are interested in learning how to become an O Scale member of the East Bay Model Engineer's Society >click here.
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