Monday, September 25, 2017

Come See the Market Street Exhibition Layout

By the way, if you're a member of the National Model Railroad Association's Pacific Coast Region, note that we're having layout tours in the San Jose area this Saturday.

I'm showing the Market Street exhibition layout as part of the tour. The layout's still new and incomplete, but if you're interested in prototype operations or portable layouts, come by and see the choices I made and what you might do the same or differently.

NMRA PCR Members can find the list of layouts on the Yahoo e-mail list for the group.

Sometimes You've Just Got To Build

One of the common problems when I build things is that I might not always want to build what’s top on my priority list. Take the Vasona Branch layout, for example. I’ve got a list of projects to do there - scenes to decorate, structures to build, track to tune, freight cars to replace, engines to detail. I might call that finish work, kind of like finish carpentry. Houses, you see, need two kinds of carpentry - rough carpentry (to put the walls up, provide surfaces for plaster or sheetrock walls, and provide support for plumbing and electrical fixtures), and finish carpentry (to install trim, decoration, and built-in furniture.)

Yep, sometimes I just want to hammer together a bunch of two by fours, and that’s not the time for me to build fine cabinetry.

For model railroading, that rough carpentry probably could be interpreted as building something new and large - thinking through a new design, building new benchwork, laying new track. Perhaps a new section of layout. Perhaps a whole new layout. That’s what I’ve been doing lately.

The Market Street Exhibition Layout

I’ve had the idea of a modular layout kicking around for a while. It’s not like my garage layout is complete, or that I want to start from scratch, but my visit to Maker Faire got me thinking a lot more about some way of sharing my modeling and the hobby. I’ve instead wanted to build a modular layout for the shows, and perhaps build some stuff outside my usual modeling areas. The original idea was to build a quick modular layout for the San Jose Maker’s Faire in September - showing off Santa Clara valley history, and showing trains moving. My general idea is something like a British display layout - a small scene with staging to generate enough trains for interesting operation.

Specifically, I wanted to model a place I’ve already modeled in a small shelf layout - San Jose’s Market Street station, the original mainline station for the Southern Pacific in San Jose It’s a place lost far in the past; Southern Pacific abandoned this station in 1935, replacing it with the new Diridon station on the west side of town along the former South Pacific Coast narrow gauge right-of-way. The former West San Jose station, often known as the “narrow gauge” station for its South Pacific Coast railroad heritage, replaced the “broad gauge” mainline station. With the change, the area north of downtown changed from an active transportation hub and commuter terminal to a warehouse and industrial district; by the 1980’s, a good deal of the land was cleared for redevelopment, and it’s only been in the last ten years that new construction’s gone up around San Jose’s formerly busy main station.

And the Market Street station was quite busy. During its heyday, the Market Street station was a busy place for San Jose, the station had 72 arrivals and departures a day. (In comparison, Diridon handles around 90 trains a day today.) There were 60 commutes leaving, starting at 4:45 am and going until 11:00 pm. Six name trains - the Sunset Limited, Daylight, Padre, Lark, and Coaster - all stopped at San Jose. Some trains had cars switching to Oakland versions of the same train. There were multiple lesser trains heading to Santa Cruz, Monterey, or Salinas. And all these trains passed through a two-platform Victorian train shed, with approaches on both ends crossing multiple city streets - quite a chaotic scene during the morning commute.

The Market Street station area has a fair amount of operational interest. Because it only had two platforms, trains had to be put together and taken apart quickly to leave space for the next train. Small yards on each side of the station provided a place to stage passenger trains. Industries nearby - a cold storage warehouse, cannery, assorted warehouses, and a freight station - add freight business. Historically, the location also tells about a time when the downtown station was downtown, and where trains running down the middle of Fourth Street.

Now, I’ve built this station before. My current Market Street station scene sits on a 24” by 7 foot shelf layout in my office. I’d started it before I’d begun the Vasona Branch layout, and I’ve shared some of the models I built for that layout in the past. But it hasn’t been satisfying. It’s too small to do any operations and switching. Even if I could do minor switching, I can’t reproduce all the complexities of trying to get the entire morning commute fleet out. Although I was able to build some large buildings, the shelf is too cramped to build the massive buildings that surrounded the railroad tracks. And even though the current shelf layout isn’t quite enough, the models I’ve built for it means I already have some of the structures I’d need for the new layout.

The Track Plan

So how to start? My first aim was the track - decide on a realistic track arrangement, figure out the tracks needed for handling the passenger traffic, and finally add the sidings and freight tracks to set the location of industries and add some additional operating interest. I’d been sketching out plans for a Market Street scene for months - sometimes imagining

There’s a reasonable number of sources for the track layout around the old Market Street station. There are valuation maps from the 1930’s where the SP drew in every track, compressed air line, drain, and property boundary. There are the Sanborn fire insurance maps showing both track and buildings. (Sanborn maps are often declared as inaccurate, but they look pretty decent for the area around the station. I suspect they’re less accurate if tracks changed frequently, or if there was a huge number of tracks.) There are SPINS railroad maps listing spurs for the railroad employees from the 1960’s - long after the station was gone, but hinting at what was there before. And there are photos, including the George Lawrence aerial photos from 1906. Only the valuation maps really declare what was there in 1930, but the other maps hint at track and use.

Deciding on the purpose of each track is a bit harder. Which tracks were important for passenger service, and which for freight? The George Lawrence aerial photos hint at which tracks had boxcars and which had passenger cars. A 1931 track list for San Jose gave additonal hints; it showed four cars as “passenger spur”, likely to hold coaches waiting to be put on trains, on the north side of the tracks, and two tracks listed as passenger work tracks on the south side of the tracks. Photos of trains moving through the station showed baggage cars on the southern spurs, trains waiting under the train shed, and locomotives rolling every which way.

At this point, the track plan showed I’d need the three tracks for the station (two tracks under the train shed, and freight track bypassing the station). I’d need two small yards: the north yard for storing passenger cars, and south tracks for baggage and more holding tracks. On the west end, I’d need two tracks leaving the yard to the left to represent the tracks to and from San Francisco, and to and from the Lenzen St. engine terminal. On the east end, I’d want the tracks splitting to Oakland and Los Angeles, with the 4th Street Tower and Golden Gate Cannery between them.

This still left a fair amount of space. Just west of the station, the San Jose freight station sat with multiple tracks in front of it, and a freight yard behind it. These tracks would be useful for additional switching, so it was an obvious bit to add. Some more freight spurs would give me more places for freight traffic, so I added a packing house behind the station, Santa Clara Valley Cold Storage just to the east, the spur to the Golden Gate Cannery, and a track behind the freight station as a place to hide cars going to the yard. 
The above track plan shows my attempts to shoehorn all that into three separate sections.

Next time, a bit about construction.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Podcast: Concrete Utopia

If you’re interested in minutiae about transportation and transportation policy - how a freeway or bridge ended up where it did, here's something worth a listen.

Matthew Roth, the historian for the Auto Club of Southern California, wrote his Ph.D. dissertation on the history of Los Angeles freeways. The common wisdom is that LA was car-crazy, but Roth argues that every major road project has faced major opposition and obstacles.

Back in 2009, he spoke at the Huntington Library about a few specific projects: the Ramona Boulevard highway leading from downtown Los Angeles to points east, the Aliso Street viaduct, and their effect on what became the San Bernadino and Hollywood freeways. Roth talks a bit about politics, funding, and how civil engineers get projects built.

The Huntington Library shared that lecture as a podcast; you can listen to it on the internet. If you’ve got a Mac, you can also subscribe to the Huntington’s California and the West podcasts, or download the lecture to your iPhone or iPad for easy listening.

If you want to learn more, you can read his PhD dissertation, Concrete Utopia: the development of roads and freeways in Los Angeles, 1910 - 1950.

There's a bunch of interesting audio recordings - podcasts and oral histories - out on the Internet these days, and they're an interesting change from radio or music.

  • I've been enjoying East Bay Yesterday which has done a great job of sharing stories about Oakland and Berkeley. The show covers topics as varied as Dorothea Lange and her photos, early baseball in Oakland, Richard Pryor's comedy, mudflat art, Bruce Lee, and the 1990's East Bay punk scene.
  • The Los Gatos Museum has shared oral histories with long-time residents of Los Gatos, letting us hear Jack Panghinetti, Richard More, and others tell us about the Hunts cannery, railroads, and accidentally igniting dry cleaning fluid.
  • The Bancroft Library at U.C. Berkeley often shares the raw tapes for their oral histories, letting us listen to Frank Nutting talk about the founding of Sun-Maid, or John Parr Cox talking about the Parr Terminal on the Richmond waterfront.

[Photo showing widened Ramona Blvd. highway at Mission Road, just east of the L.A. River, in 1935. Fun fact: Del Monte’s former Los Angeles cannery would have been behind you to the left between Aliso St. and Macy St., between Mission Road and the Los Angeles river. Photo from the USC Digital Library / California Historical Society, from the Title Insurance and Trust / C. C. Pierce Photography collection..