Thursday, 3 November 2011

P&SR: Santa Rosa 44 Fourth St. Depot

Pale yellow represents the baseboard, grey roads, building are in brown, the orange square is an intrusion into the room, the track is red/black, and blue lines represent the backdrop.

I drew up this plan the layout as strictly a home railway to please me.

If our world is like a stage, then the size of the stage sets certain limitations of  the scope of the production. Playing to the strengths and diverting attention from the weaknesses of any scheme will produce a more satisfying result. If you don't do this, I think you will find that the effort of making the layout will result in a less than enjoyable outcome.

Not living in America, I didn't want to fall into the trap of building a model of other people's models, thereby ending up making a pastiche of the real thing. So this layout was designed using prototype drawings of the track arrangements to arrive at the final track plan.  

Prototype Considerations

Choosing a time period to model that P&SR is critical to modelling the railroad, since the changing appearance of the overhead lines has an impact on the appearance of the right of way.

If passenger traffic is your forté then modelling around 1912 would maximize the opportunities to model this side of the operations as this was the era of the "Great White Cars". After 1918 the line was renamed and underwent some investment in new locomotives, and the overhead was upgraded from simple pole to catenary. Passenger service starts declining in the 1920s and the "Depression" affects revenue traffic in general. In 1932 the passenger service was stopped and track arrangements changed in light of the this service abandonment. The period between 1933 and 1941 is arguably the high period of electric freight operations, and has the advantage that there were no two identical locomotives on the line. From 1947 the P&SR became a diesel powered railroad using small General Electric diesels.

The site at Santa Rosa stretched over a length of approximately 1050 feet, or 12 foot 3 inches in HO scale. The length of the space available for my use is 11 foot 10 inches by approximately 2 foot, so a good match. However, the left-end of the layout would be compromised if built as above, because of the need to curve the tracks through 90 degrees to reach the fiddle yard/staging tracks.

I'm limited to a through point-to-point scheme, because of the space available. However, Santa Rosa is a small town depot, so this limitation is less problematical. Also, on the P&SR, operations and train lengths were very ad hoc in nature. From reading around the subject it seems to me that the track had to serve many functions, and as far as I can tell there was no formal yard on the system. Though I can see how track at Petaluma and Sebastopol could be used as such.

However, on reflection, if I were to build this layout now I'm pretty sure I would rotate the whole layout by 180°, like this.

  Again pale yellow represents the baseboard, grey roads, building are in brown, 
the orange square is an intrusion into the room, and the track is red.

The key to interesting operation is to give those viewing the model railway the feeling that there is a sense of purpose to the whole affair, and in my mind, any layout that doesn't have purposeful operation undermines the whole point of building it. Therefore this plan for a layout that has 6 industry points and an interchange, and since it replicates the prototype fairly closely it will at least have the same sort of problems the prototype had. I have some knowledge on the P&SR's operational pattern, which suggests that I shall be choosing the Gravenstein apple-growing season, since this more than doubles the number of trains that are run each day.


When I started out I had no idea what the tracks for the P&SR at Santa Rosa looked like. My first couple of plans were purely free-lanced speculations based on wishes to see a junction and my over-heated imaginations. Needless to say when I got some information about the area I started afresh.

Though I started building this layout, I ended up abandoning the project for reasons that quite frankly don't make a lot of sense to me now, though at the time they seemed reasonable. The baseboards were used as the basis for my P4 World's End: West London Joint Railway.

The reason for posting this is to serve as a reminder of why I liked the P&SR, and to publish some small part of the research I did on this project. As such expect more about my favourite West Coast traction line, especially as I have just ordered a new book that came out in 2009, which I missed the announcement of. A review will be written at some point.


  1. Hi Ashley,

    Nice layout. I like the fact that the views are restricted: peeping between buildings and thereby potentially allowing small details to come to the fore. I stumbled upon this view ( on and it really gets under my skin. I have a mind (or what passes for one) to transpose it into a NewZealand setting...

    Being stuck in GE territory, I'm currently researching wagon turntables. I guess the more open architecture of American cities leant itself to the development of a longer wheelbase for goods stock, and therefore meant that they didn't need thes space-saving devices.. If the 4th St Depot was anywhere near Fenchurch Street, it would look like a tiddlywink convention!


  2. Hi Jan, and thanks for the interesting link to that picture you found. Top stuff as they say.

    Having visited Sonoma county in 1999 and 2001, to see family, and then back to do research on the P&SR I can attest to the wide open spaces. By comparison a luxury that British railways didn't have.

    This of course makes the task of building an American layout an interesting challenge, because if one is in Britain we tend to have less space, smaller houses, and therefore smaller rooms for our model railways. This was one of the reasons I went back to modelling British outline, because the wagons are half the size, and coaches and locomotives are smaller too.

    However, North American electric traction lines, especially the interurbans that dealt with freight too, have the advantage of small locomotives, tight curves, and for some prototypes high train frequency. This is an ideal recipe for a space starve modeller.

  3. Very cool site, congratulations.