I think a railroad serving packing houses during the harvest rush is a great theme for a model railway. I credit Andy Sperandeo for this.
More than 40 years ago, Andy wrote an amazing Layout You Can Model article for Model Railroader magazine. The San Jacinto District appeared in the February, 1980 issue and it was one of those lightbulb moments for a young, impressionable hobbyist who was interested in layout design.
The San J was a modest plan, designed to fit a branch of the AT&SF into a 9×12 foot room in HO scale. But it presented some terrific concepts – things that are taken for granted today but were somewhat revolutionary at the time. It’s well worth looking up.
At a time when layout designs tended to be packed with track, the San J was more realistically designed with less track, and space for the structures and scenery that create context. It featured a signature scene – the Santa Fe station at Perris. It featured staging, on a shelf with doors to keep it cleverly hidden but also easily accessible.
And from an operations perspective, it introduced me to the idea of adjusting operating sessions to represent different stages in the harvest season. Traffic would gradually ramp up until every spare siding and spur was packed with refrigerator cars waiting to be loaded, before tapering off again.
I was hooked.
Back in the mid-2000s, when I started thinking about California railroading in 1:48, I naturally gravitated to Andy’s San J. While Andy’s plan is Santa Fe all the way, the basic concept could easily be translated to my interest in the Southern Pacific. To make that happen, I’d require Pacific Fruit Express refrigerator cars. A lot of them.
Fortunately, O scale was well served at the time with models of these. Red Caboose and Intermountain offered easy to assemble, factory-painted kits and ready-to-run models. I have about two dozen of these – plenty for an O scale rendition of a Southern Pacific branch serving packing sheds in southern California.
Here are a few examples from my fleet:
I’ve upgraded all of my PFE equipment with Proto:48 trucks from Rich Yoder Models and Protocraft couplers with working cut levers. I also added flexible train line hoses with brass hardware (from a manufacturer whose name I forget – I did this work 10-15 years ago).
My favourite part of preparing these models was weathering them. I am really pleased with how they turned out – especially the repainted panels on the steel car. I did these by masking the factory-painted model before weathering, then spraying an orange-brown wash over the sides before continuing with my normal weathering process.
Switching cuts of these colourful cars into and out of a string of packing houses would make for a fun evening of operation – and creating my own slice of SoCal’s sunshine and warmth would be a welcome contrast to winter on the Canadian Prairies…