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Southern Pacific Narrow Gauge in Stages

HOn3 mid-sized layout based on prototype scenes

For a remote and lightly traveled narrow gauge shortline, the Southern Pacific's Keeler Branch attracted a lot of railfan and historian attention over the years. From its beginnings as the Carson and Colorado in the 1880s to its final run in 1960, the "Slim Princess" fascinated observers with its tiny trains making their way across the desert below the towering Sierra Nevada -- always three-foot gauge and steam powered into the mid 1950s.


My client wanted his bedroom-sized version of the Keeler Branch to reflect the real-life configurations of three key California locations: the terminals at Laws and Keeler and (especially) the interchange with the standard gauge S.P. at Owenyo. In order to provide more running room between these points, a twice-around configuration was chosen for the main line, with the standard gauge staging tucked below the narrow gauge benchwork. In order to create more aisle space, one leg of the Owenyo wye is hinged to swing down when not in use.

HOn3 layout SP Narrow Gauge Keeler Branch Carson and Colorado

Click image for a larger labeled Adobe Acrobat (.pdf) view in a new window

After commandeering the closet, everything fits reasonably well, although the two intermediate stations at Zurich and Kearsarge are pretty minimal. Interchange at Owenyo was primarily via "man power" across the transfer docks or via gravity dump of minerals from narrow gauge to waiting standard gauge cars at the transfer trestle. There was never any dual-gauge trackage at Owenyo.


Although my client's primary interest was in replicating the look and feel of the real locations, he also wanted to include as much operating potential as possible. Narrow gauge trains work point-to-point from Keeler to Owenyo, with occasional turns along the line to Laws and back. There's narrow gauge switching activity at all three main locations, and the standard gauge will do some switching in Owenyo as well. So a crew of two or three can certainly keep themselves enjoyably engaged.


You can read much more detail about the real-life line and the layout in the October, 2009 issue (#4) of Model-Railroad-Hobbyist media-zine, always free for download on the web! The article includes many photos, maps, and references to more information about the "Slim Princess".


And for even more background on the real-life railroad, Keeler Branch expert Joe Dale Morris' book Southern Pacific's Slim Princess in the Sunset - 1940-1960 is a tremendous resource. I wish it had been available when I did the plan!


The room for the layout is only going to be available in stages over time, so the layout is designed to grow over the years as seen below.


Whether your layout empire must grow in stages or can be tackled all at once,  I'll help you find the right mix of appearance and operations to suit your interests. Please contact me today and let's get started.

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