San Diego's two-layout club

O and HO gaugers got together and the city thought the idea was fine

Photo story by Whit Towers

Article from Model Railroader; October 1963:

Copyright Model Railroader Magazine 1963, used by permission.

Larger views may be seen by clicking on any image.

On the mesaland a mile or two inland from the blue Pacific and San Diego Bay in California is Balboa Park, noted for its museums, gardens, and zoo, and as the site of the California Pacific International Exposition in 1935. The House of Charm, one of the buildings remaining after the exposition closed, is the home of the O, HO, and HOn3 railroads operated by the San Diego Model Railroad Club.

Over-all view of a portion of the O-scale layout.

The club was host to the 1959 NMRA national convention. Those in attendance will remember the long tangents and sweeping curves of the Cabrillo Northwestern HO empire and the Cabrillo Southwestern O scale pike.* Originally the two systems were separate clubs. The HO group was formed in 1939, operating as the San Diego Terminal Lines in the old Arizona & Eastern (Southern Pacific subsidiary) freight house. The ¼" scale modelers began in 1940 with their present name, Cabrillo Southwestern. They started their club in the basement of a hotel in nearby La Jolla. After several moves by both groups they came together, occupying their present quarters in the House of Charm in May of 1949, using space allocated them by the city recreation department. In addition to hosting the NMRA convention they have been hosts to the Pacific Coast Region conventions on several occasions.
* Cabrillo (pronounced ka-bree-yo) was the pioneer Spanish explorer of California's coasts.

Three of the six O scale engineer cab operating positions are manned by
O gaugers Dr. Ward Peterson, John Dalziel, and Dave Fyffe (front to rear).
The black boxes on the railing are engineer cab signals which furnish each
operator with an indication of the track conditions ahead of his train.

The ¼" scale Cabrillo Southwestern features fully signaled operation on 2448 feet of track. All the rail is laid on individual ties with four spikes per rail per tie. This undoubtedly represents more calluses per scale mile of track than most other model railroads can boast. Of the 4500 square feet allocated the model railroad activities by the recreation department, approximately one third is used for the ¼" scale system and one third for the HO and HOn3 operations. The balance is used for viewing areas, meeting room, and workshop.

The overall view (above) was takn from the O gauge engineers' operating cabs. In it you can study the general track plan of the O gauge (2nd above) and HO (below) layouts. From this raised platform at one end of the pike operations are conducted with six engineer cab control panels. The panels have track indication lights to show the engineers the condition of the track ahead of each train. Individual yard control panels are provided on the floor at each yard where trains are received, classified, and made up.

Over-all view of a portion of the HO pike with the club meeting
room in the background. The HO empire is controlled from six
operating panels.

The HO scale Cabrillo Northwestern has 1550 feet of track controlled by a tower control or section control system with operating positions spotted around the railroad. The HOn3 and HO trolley lines are operated separately. Over-all direction of scheduled operations is via a dispatcher (located in a tower above the railroad) who is in constant communication through an intercom setup with his many yardmasters and engineers.

The 55 clubmembers all work hard at promoting model railroading, especially during their weekly open house. This is held each Sunday from 1:30 to 4:30 p.m.; the public is always welcome. Balboa Park attracts more than a million visitors each year, and many of these people obtain their first glimpse of model railroading at the San Diego Model Railroad Club. They see 3375 freight cars and 670 passenger cars in operation; some 200 diesel engines and approximately 300 steam locomotives are available for service, so there is always plenty of activity on the San Diego club's O, HO, and HOn3 railroads.

Simplified diagram of route, HO layout.

Many modelers will be able to see this and other layouts in San Diego next spring, as the Pacific Coast Region of the NMRA will hold its convention there on May 1, 2, and 3. These West Coast conventions rival the nationals in interest and fun and are worth travelling some distance to attend.

Harry Haas, at the controls of Cabrillo Yard, eases the daily passenger train to
Topaz through the yard throat before turning control over to a cab engineer. The
The steam loco behind the observation is a scratchbuilt 0-6-6-0 used in
heavy switching service. SP&S freight lettering is made up with special decals
(made by clubmember M. C. Brogan) having adhesive film in the printed area only.

Back in 1948 Harry Haas built this AT&SF two-unit diesel using
Adams & Son castings. Power trucks and drive are completely
equipped with ball bearings. Cab operating positions in background.

Arden Berquit's O scale Max Gray Shay with a 15-car log train westbound
from Cabrillo Yard. The train is passing an operating crane loading scrap
into a gondola at the local junkyard.

An aerial view of Barney on the HO layout. Buildings are reworked and
modified kit structures as well as scratchbuilt.

Apologies for the "page seam" in the above scanned image.

A Pacific Fast Mail HOn3 Denver & Rio Grande Western Class
K-28 Mike picks her way across a spidery trestle through typically
rugged southwestern scenery made from tree bark and stucco. The
narrow gauge enginehouse fills the foreground.

The complete narrow gauge engine facilities. The enginehouse
(same as above) was scratchbuilt by member Ken Jacobson.

Apologies for the "page seam" in the above scanned image.

Bud Davies' Bowser Challenger, bound for Mission Valley with a
26-car solid reefer block from Butte, crosses a beautiful curved
trestle. Karl Busch's Kearney, Pacific, & Borrego passenger train
awaits at Mason for a 30-car freight to clear the siding before
proceeding on schedule.

C. E. "Ace" Wischstadt and the club's General Manager Dave Fyffe
(with the pipe) handle the board controlling the busy line between
Summit Junction and Butte Junction on the HO layout.

Porter's Pickle Packing Plant, built by clubmember Walt Porter, is
the chief industry at Otay. The mission-style freight station with
tile roof handles rail and truck freight for the town.

Note; Porter's Pickle Packing Plant has been preserved and may be
seen on the new HO layout in the San Diego Model Railroad Museum.

Rotary car dumper in the process of construction on the HO gauge
pike. When in operation this installation will handle loads of
concentrate from various mines served by Cabrillo & Northwestern

Apologies for the "page seam" in the above scanned image.

Cabrillo Yard can handle more than 300 cars. Left to right, Karl
Busch and Bud Davies at the controls seem to be enjoying the
trouble Bob Carlisle is encountering in rerailing that car.

Apologies for the "page seam" in the above scanned image.

The Cabrillo Lumber Co. is a group of Ayres kits with added
detail and is the work of clubmember Dale Pyle. The railroad
engineers' cap is not on top of the Bekins Van & Storage Co.
building but rather is being worn by Bud Davies at the main
yard control panel.

The club's HO trolley freight yard has a Suydam powerhouse (left)
complete with an operating generator. The Indiana car which is
passing the powerhouse has recently been repainted at the Suydam
carbarn (right). Trolley poles and hangers were designed and built
by the clubmembers.

After an operating session, Bud Davies, Bob Carlisle, Jim Ripps,
Karl Busch, and Ace Wischstadt (left to right) gather for coffee,
the distribution of brownies, and a railroad bull session.

All photographs in this article were scanned from the magazine. Digital resampling reduced the size of the images (with obvious loss of resolution) for use on this web site. Clicking on any photograph will display a larger image.

Text was regenerated by Brian Satterlee (from the magazine article) and minor corrections were made if found. Page layout was altered for better display by a variety of browsers.

© SDMRRC 2002,   Whit Towers and Model Railroader Magazine, 1963.