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Trolley Town Engine Yard Passenger Yard Main Freight Yard Crossover Junction High Line Run Narrow Gauge Town Saw Mill Back Storage Yard Mountain Run Mountain Town Bascule Bridges TBD TBD Storage Area Member Storage Tool Storage

O-Scale Layout at a Glance


You can take your own guided tour of the Cabrillo and Southwestern.
Just click on a number for layout feature details on each location.


Cabrillo and Southwestern Railway - 'The California Mission Route'
The "O" Scale Cabrillo and Southwestern Railway exhibit is a free-lance representation of a route from San Diego to Sacramento, California. While large at 2700 sq. ft., O scale takes enormous space and only representative scenes may be modeled. Refer to the hand-drawn track plan for an overall view of the O-scale layout. A computer-generated layout track plan is in progress. Accurate points for the AutoCad drawing are obtained using laser surveying equipment. The as built layout is surveyed using a Nikon total station instrument and the data entered into the computer. Once the track layer is complete, symbols for tunnel portals, trestles, etc. are added to produce the final layout drawing.

This layout, The Cabrillo and Southwestern Railway is an O-scale model. The designers of this O-scale layout recognized that it takes a lot of space to operate a 1:48 scale model railroad. Compared to HO or N scale, the trains and structures are big. There would be insufficient room to model much of a prototype road. For example, the HO scale San Diego and Arizona Eastern model layout with 4,500 square feet of space can model 15 miles of a total railway mileage of 140 miles, enough for some major highlights. But were the O-scale Cabrillo and Southwestern to attempt to replicate a real 140-mile road in just 2,700 square feet, it could cover barely 5 miles. Better to establish a railroad that is a composite of the best and most interesting California railroad scenes. As a composite, there can be models of a major passenger terminal, a large freight classification yard, a double-tracked Main Line, a single track High Line weaving over and into the hills, and even a dual-gauge Logging road, complete with narrow-gauge engines, a sawmill and a lake. Some electrified railway completes the composite, with city streetcars and steeple-cab electric locomotives hauling freight. The Cabrillo and Southwestern is California's diverse railroad heritage come alive!

If you are new to O-scale please read A brief background of O-scale.

You may also wish to learn about the historic locomotives and rolling stock displayed by the San Diego Model Railroad Club on the O-scale layout.


Layout Features

Numbers correspond to those on diagram at top of this page.

  1. The Big City of Cabrillo As you enter the museum, the first view is of the big city, complete with a double-track trolley line, city residences with the stores, factories and freight sidings. This line runs all the way out to the county Fairgrounds and amusement park located at the end of the line. All of our trolleys draw their power from the overhead wire.

  2. Engine Yard Just below the big city and behind the passenger station is a major facility for servicing steam and diesel locomotives. Engines have to be fueled, so a coaling tower and an oil tank has been installed. The steam engines require a lot of water, thus we see a large water tank in the engine terminal area. Numerous other water towers may be found on the layout for thirsty locomotives. The narrow, silvery structure in the front is the sanding tower. Because locomotive drive wheels and the rails they grip are both made of steel, the wheels tend to slip when the train starts up, particularly if there is a heavy load. Sand, stored in the dome, is sprayed under the drive wheels to give added traction. This feature is also useful when running uphill, or when the tracks are slippery due to rain or snow.

    Repairs and maintenance for the steam engines, as well as overnight storage, were done in the roundhouse. The roundhouse often included a blacksmith for repairing broken parts. The smoke stacks or chimneys on the top of the roundhouse allowed the smoke from the engines to escape through the roof opening so the mechanics would not be asphyxiated. The turntable, immediately in front of the roundhouse was how engines turned around at the terminal so they faced in the correct direction. In particular, steam engines were always faced forward to promote better visibility for the engineer. Diesels did not need to be turned around as frequently at the terminal. Pairs of diesel locomotives, each with their own cab, were often faced in opposite directions when connected together. The multiple-unit capability of diesels, by which electrical connections between 2 or more units allowed one engineer to control several locomotive simultaneously, permitted more efficient switching operations in this configuration. For example, when a train arrived at its destination, the pair of diesels could uncouple, run around the cut of cars and move the cars to their desired location in the opposite direction from the other cab. Diesels thus saved crew time compared to steam engines.


  3. Passenger Terminal This is the main passenger station for the big city and its architecture, mission revival style, is reminiscent of San Diego's downtown station. This style was popular throughout the Southwest in the early part of the 20th Century. This is a "terminal" type of station where the passenger tracks do not run through but dead end at the station, with most trains backing into one of the three station loading tracks. Most passenger trains begin or end their runs here. The front plaza of the station features an operating water fountain, constructed by local artist Nina Karavasiles out of a locomotive cow catcher and an engine smoke stack. In a note of whimsy, Superman is perched on one of the station turrets, helping to maintain law and order in the big city. Along the city street nearest the window, note the wedding occurring at the mission-style church. Note also the police officer in his cruiser hiding behind a billboard, waiting to catch speeders. The Street repairs may slow traffic some but both vehicles and trolleys keep operating through the construction zone.

    A nearby icing facility behind Koldernhek Refridgerated Storage keeps the produce cool and fresh whether the refrigerated car is attached to the head of an express train, or routed into the freight yard to become part of a fast freight east.

    The steam and diesel-powered main line double tracks run along the side of the station, then ducks under it in a giant loop. This Main Line track, itself a loop running across the front and middle islands is superbly engineered. Trains normally "stay to the right", yet both tracks are reverse-signaled allowing, for example, an express train to overtake and pass a slower-moving freight train.

  4. Main Freight Yard The heart of the freight operation is the area where each car is sorted or "classified" by destination into one of seven yard tracks. The freight yard is bounded by the trolley line on one side, where the trolley company has its own right of way, and by the Main Line on the other side where trains not needing classification can bypass the yard altogether. Buildings in the freight yard include the yard tower where an operator controls track switching. The yardmaster, the person in charge of the yard, and the car clerks or carmen work here, too. There is a car inspector's office, a shed for the carmen (the carmen watch for any mechanical defects) and sheds for tools and storage At the yard's East end, note the office building cleverly disguising a structural support column. Near this building is a packing shed handling all manner of goods. Freight trains can handle almost any kind of merchandise. Note the dinosaur being carefully unloaded. Along the window area, note the rail freight customers who are served by the trolley company. While built mainly to serve passengers, trolley companies also owned electric freight engines to serve their customers. At the far west end of the freight yard is the amusement park and fair grounds. This area is served directly by the trolley company.

    Also at the west end of the freight yard, note the partially burned boxcar belonging to The Purina Company. A hobo probably started this fire. A hobo is a migratory worker or a vagrant who is often homeless and with little money. Hobos have long been a problem for railroads, and particularly so during the great depression of the 1930's. Lacking funds, they would travel by riding in empty boxcars. Sometimes, to stay warm, they would build a small fire inside the car. If the car had a wooden floor and wooden sides, as many cars did in the 1930's, the fire could soon spread out of control.

    Trespassing on railroad property or "hopping" a freight train is dangerous and illegal. Railroad police are always on the lookout for hobos. There are fewer hobos today than there were in the 1930's.

  5. Crossover at Saugus Junction Here the double-track Main Line intersects with the single-track, continuous-loop High Line. The Saugus station is a small station combined with a farm-supply store. In front of the store is one of the High Lines' 3 passing sidings From Saugus Junction, Eastbound High Line trains move up a significant grade and bridge over the Main Line. A tunnel and a high trestle brings the High Line back in a Westerly direction. Saugus Junction is the place where trains from the Main Line, moving in either direction, can access the High Line.

    Along the Main Line moving across the middle island, note the line passes a cattle feed lot with pens, then a small church and cemetery , whose tombstones bear the names of deceased club members, and finally, a small farm.

  6. High Line Run As the High Line train keeps gaining altitude, it soon approaches the co-op elevator silos. These elevators are common on the prairies and in grain-growing areas. Local farmers bring their wheat, oats, rye and soybeans to these elevators where chain-driven buckets lift the grain to the top of the silo. The purposes of the co-op are several, including
    1. a place to keep the grain dry until ready for market,
    2. a place to assemble a large-enough volume to satisfy the "car load" market for grain,
    3. a place to create a market (establish a price) between buyers and sellers),
    4. a place for individual farmers (and co-op members) to raise cash or create credit, and
    5. a convenient place to load rail freight cars with the grain when ready for shipment to market.

    A bit further up the grade, we reach Palmdale which has a passenger station, a feed mill, and connecting track to the Mountain Line.

    The grain mill at Palmdale (Sefton's) receives its products (feed) by rail and stores it. Some feed would be bagged and sold in smaller quantities to local ranchers. Some would be bagged under a private label, with mineral and other food supplements added. Some would be bagged to the formula of local ranchers, even grinding or adding locally-grown grains such as corn. All the grains imported by rail to the mill would be sold in one form or another. Palmdale has a small yard with a passing track.

  7. Narrow gauge town of Cripple Creek This town was founded during the heyday of copper, silver and lead mining. These extractive industries required a rail line to haul the raw material to facilities such as smelters where the pure product could be separated from the impurities. Some of the branch lines were located in rugged country where it was cheaper to build a narrow-gauge railroad than one of standard gauge. Still, the standard gauge was more economical where it was feasible, thus both gauges. operate into Cripple Creek. Because the narrow gauge engines were isolated from the main engine terminal, a small engine terminal was established here. Cripple Creek is the beginning of the Mountain Line that moves upgrade through Grass Lake to Montrose at the top of the layout. When viewing the Main Street of Cripple Creek from the window, note how the Main Street apparently moves around a corner of a hill and on up into the mountains.

  8. The sawmill at Grass Lake As the dual-gauge track moves upgrade from Cripple Creek, it soon approaches the Grass Lake passenger station. This area is dominated by a sawmill. Logs are received from Montrose, hauled down the hill via standard-gauge, or narrow-gauge or electric train where the logs are dumped into the lake on a special trestle. Subsequently the log rounds are hoisted up into the sawmill where they are cut into boards. The sawmill also produces another useful product, sawdust, used in the manufacture of plywood and particleboard. Near the sawmill, the cut boards are dried and planed into finished commercial sizes. The finished product is then bundled and shipped by rail to market. The wood chips moves out by rail to mills that use it in the manufacture of lumber by-products.

    Once the sawmill was established, the electric railway owners were emboldened to string wire up to the logging town of Montrose and down to the sawmill. The electric railway owners also wanted a piece of the action hauling finished lumber and wood chips from Grass Lake into the big city. Thus they constructed an electrified connection from Grass Lake to the fair grounds where a link was established with the city line. The steam and diesel trains were to enjoy no monopoly here! Alas, maintenance of an electrified railway proved too much, and the company fell onto hard times and the wire was eventually pulled out.

  9. Back Storage Yard (High Line Run) At Palmdale, after shedding its branch to Grass Lake and the Mountain Line, our High Line loops back on itself and moves to the lower mountains on the back island. Enroute to the High Line summit under the town of Montrose, trains work upgrade, picking their way over high trestles and gorges.

    In addition to the very visible High Line, this back storage area literally has a hidden set of lower tracks (accessible to members only) and is used for layovers, storage and for adding or removing engines to the layout. This back storage yard is accessed from the Main Line at the west end. Two continuous main-line loops make it possible to run through trains via this route.

  10. The Mountain Line The Mountain Line is a point-to-point railroad with reversing loops for both narrow and standard gauge trains at Montrose and Cripple Creek. Its primary purpose is to bring cut logs from Montrose and the surrounding area down to the sawmill at Grass Lake. It also brings in provisions for the townspeople.

  11. The Mountain Town of Montrose This is the highest point on the layout. Both standard gauge trains and electric trains can operate from the big city to the lofty Montrose, gaining almost 9 feet in elevation in the process. The standard gauge and the electric trains operate from the big city via separate right of ways as far as Grass Lake Junction. From here, they share the Mountain Line track up the hill to Montrose.

  12. Bascule Bridges In the nineteenth century, railway civil engineers had little problem crossing waterways. They knew how to build wooden bridges and even some gracefully arched stone bridges. But what if the waterway was navigable? This usually called for a movable bridge. Movable railway bridges are of three types, (1) swing, (2) lift, and (3) bascule. The railway bascule bridge (in French, bascule means a seesaw) usually has but one leaf that contains the track. On one end of the leaf, a gear engages the leaf and literally rolls the leaf upward on a rack and pinion. The stress on the gear is minimized by a huge counterweight (a steel box filled with concrete). The counterweight sits atop the structure on the side opposite the leaf to be raised. When the bascule leaf is fully raised, river traffic has clear passage.

    The Cabrillo and Southwestern uses two bascule bridges. One bridge, One bridge near the passenger station, crosses a smaller navigable waterway. The other is an enormous bascule bridge which sits at the west end of the engine terminal. This bridge is double tracked and is required to move the main line from the front island to the center island over a wide and deep waterway (operator aisle). Other views of this bridge convey the exquisite detail and imposing size when viewed from track level.
  1. Trolley car storage Miscellaneous parts are stored in this area, as well as access to loops connecting the hidden back storage yard.

  2. Equipment storage area Club locomotives and rolling stock are kept in this general area when not in use. Members also may lease locker space in this area and under the hidden storage yard for their own equipment.

  3. Tool storage. The San Diego Model Railroad Club stores the table saw beneath the narrow gauge town with access via a door in the exterior of the layout. Other construction materials may also be stored as needed.


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