This page (and railroad) are
Please excuse the sawdust and watch your steps.
I would like to give special thanks to Bill Wulf, Los Gatos historian for his time and permission to reproduce pictures from his collection.
Set your calendars to the year1881 and your location to the San Francisco Bay area. A 3 foot narrow gauge railroad, the South Pacific Coast, has dared to lay track from Alameda and Oakland south to Santa Cruz right under the mighty Central Pacific's nose!
This page is an attempt to document (rationalize?) my journey toward having an On3 model railroad of the South Pacific Coast in my garage.
Why narrow gauge and On3! Are you nuts? What are you going to do with the existing (and as yet unfinished HO railroad)? And why a piece of a somewhat obscure California railroad, what's wrong with Colorado narrow gauge?
I can't explain my attraction for narrow gauge. Perhaps it's that the equipment being so much smaller than standard gauge makes the struggle between the railroad and the elements that more exciting. Perhaps the smaller equipment is just that much more interesting.
The detail in O-scale makes it compelling. But the unwieldy minimum radii curves required by O-scale standard gauge equipment don't make for much railroad in a normal size space. But On3! With the narrow gauge minimum radius can reach down to 36" (and below for certain types of mining and logging equipment).
Courtesy Bill Wulf collection
(click for bigger image)
It was nearly 30 years ago when my parents gave me the first of Bruce MacGregor's awe inspiring narratives of the South Pacific Coast Railroad as a birthday present. I was 17, living in the East San Francisco Bay Area and dabbling in HO and N scale. I belonged to the East Bay Model Engineering Society club in Emeryville and was interested in local railroads (I'd spent some time in the Oakland hills looking for the old roadbed of the Sacramento Northern). I'd never heard of this narrow gauge railroad, the South Pacific Coast. A couple of rides on the then new Big Trees and Roaring Camp (before their spectacular spiral trestle was burned down by arsonists) helped my interest in narrow gauge. The EBMES had two layouts, one in O scale one in HO. Both had narrow gauge branches.
After a catastrophic accident in which a trio of brass locomotives went off a shelf layout and onto the floor I dropped out of the hobby for a while. Quite a while, over 25 years. Perhaps it was my kids playing with their wooden Brio trains that reawakened my interest in model railroading. Nothing much came of it though (besides a switching pike that never got much beyond the L-girder and roadbed stage). In 1996 I switched jobs, 5 weeks later I was told "We're moving your group to Oregon. Wanna go?". I said yes and suddenly I was the owner of a garage large enough to hold both cars and trains!
Now let me say I've got nothing against Colorado narrow gauge. The scenery is awe inspiring and the equipment is nifty (not to mention which you can actually buy kits and models for it!). Despite lots of advice that I was a loony I began to dream the South Pacific Coast dream. As luck would have it a local book store had a NEW copy of Narrow Gauge Portrait: South Pacific Coast, Bruce MacGregor's second book about the SPC. A copy of the 3rd of the series also turned up. I was hooked.
But how was I going to fit an On3 empire into my garage (and still have room for the cars, a wifely requirement!)? A wild, multi-level design emerged. I think I must be nuts to modeling a railroad with practically no direct supplies, whose equipment and facilities are almost entirely gone (or standard gauged), and with such an ambitious track plan. Read on and judge my madness for yourselves...
Charlie Comstock - April 1998
home next page