When I helped Rick Fortin set up operations on his ATSF 4th District layout, we wanted to include interactions "beyond the benchwork" to suggest the inter-relatedness of this modeled portion of the
proto-freelanced 4th District with the rest of the world. Hidden staging areas representing Central and Southern California,
Northern California and Oregon, and the San Francisco Bay Area are natural destinations. But there were also other locations
that could logically be served from the proto-freelanced visible classification yard (Orchard Yard) Rick imagineered for Chico,
One of these locations was Hamilton City, CA. "Ham City" is a real place,
served in Rick's 1973 era by the Southern Pacific. But we imagine that there are (primarily) agricultural customers that might
well be served by a competing Santa Fe branch. I came up with a list of likely customers (one or two real and the balance
freelanced) and sketched a simple imagined layout of the ATSF tracks in the town. From this, it was easy to come up with a
blocking order for yard crews to use in building the train in Orchard Yard. Yard crews block the Ham City Local just like
the other locals on the visible layout, placing cars in the order that the local's crew would need in switching the imagineered
Even though in actual fact the train to Hamilton City leaves the visible layout
and runs directly into staging, it still adds interest and reinforces the modeled place and time for the visible layout. There
are even some priority car movements involved, with expedited shipments of perishables from Hamilton City pulled off the "inbound"
local for the Shasta Fruit Express headed east. No matter that the waybills are simply turned during reset -- there is interaction
and layout personality added by the imagined ATSF customers in Hamilton City.
Rick's layout is HO scale, and there is simply no more room to squeeze a physical
Hamilton City branch in the train room. In fact, it was never intended to be part of the modeled layout. Instead, it's a reasonable
destination we dreamed up long after the layout was designed to be served by this train movement in and out of staging.
But there might be a way to include the actual switching in Ham City, albeit
through a little tinkering with the space/time continuum. I designed an N scale version of Hamilton City that could be placed
on the coffee table in Rick's crew lounge so that a crew could actually "work" the town. Separate cars and locos (obviously,
since they would be a different scale), but the same industries and the imagined configuration. These cars wouldn’t
actually return to Orchard Yard, but a quick turn of the waybills would allow the N scale Hamilton City segment to be operated
again at the next (or the same!) session.
In fact, the N scale Hamilton City could even be a different era, since its
connection with the main layout is conceptual and operational, not physical. The Hamilton City Local might leave Orchard Yard
in 1973 on Rick's HO ATSF 4th district behind GP-30s with a brace of mechanical reefers in tow. But since my own N scale modeling
interests include Santa Fe in the 'fifties, when the Ham City local appears on the separate section in the crew lounge, it
could be 1955 -- the low nose blue-and yellow turbocharged Geeps might have been replaced by Zebra-striped GP-7s. And the
mechanical reefers' place might be taken by SFRD icers. Mostly the same customers, same concept, but a shift in eras, scales,
and physical location.