The Barren Creek & Santa Fe Railway Story

HO by John Parker

My first brush with model trains began in 1952 as an 8 year old, when I was given a Hornby windup train set. By 1955 I was the proud owner of a Tri-ang electric passenger train set. In 1962 I joined the original NMRA Southern Cross Division and quickly migrated to the US prototype scene with a passion for the Santa Fe Rwy. However, I dropped out of the NMRA in 1966 when priorities in my life took off in a new direction, although I remained an "armchair modeller".

Nonetheless I've been a member of the "Santa Fe Rwy. Historical & Modelling Society" ever since the mid 1970s, and eventually I rejoined the NMRA in 2000 so I could come up to speed with the latest developments in this great hobby.

As a tribute to the late Keith Bell (builder of the original "Barren Creek RR") I started building my fictional HO scale layout called the "Barren Creek & Santa Fe Railway" in 1996. However, initial construction moved very slowly up until my retirement in 2000. Since then it has steadily grown to occupy three small rooms with an overall dimension of approx. 24x10 feet split over three levels. Access to the front and rear rooms is via two double decked swinging gateways and a "nod-under" at the front door between Summit and Rowlands.

Originally, I envisaged an "exhibition layout" for running passenger and fast freight trains in a "passing parade" fashion. However, after being bitten by the "operation bug" on Gerry Hopkins' "Great Northern" layout, the BC&SF evolved into a branchline servicing small towns along its right of way. AT&SF first generation diesels are the dominant BC&SF motive power on this quasi New Mexico branchline set in 1952-1956 era. They are controlled by a CVP EasyDCC system using walk-around radio controlled hand throttles. The DCC system is exclusively used for the track power with an auxiliary 12v DC system powering the gateway alarms, interior lighting, switch motors, turnout and signal indicators, etc.

Early days saw some use of Peco code 75 rail and turnouts, although nowadays I prefer to hand lay my track and custom-built turnouts. Turnouts located in hard to reach places use mostly "Tortoise" turnout motors while electrically connected slide DPDT switches work the manually operated turnouts elsewhere.

The BC&SF mainline uses code 70 and 55 rail on its sidings; although a small amount of code 100 flexi-track is used in a few unseen locations. While I strive for 24" radius curves, there are a few "tight spots" where 18" arc segments are used as a compromise. Hence it is for good reason the BC&SF is known as the "Shoe Horn Route".

The lower level occupies the front and middle rooms with the AT&SF mainline being a simple continuous loop around the wall in these rooms. The hub of activity is located at Bell Junction (front room), which serves as an interchange between the AT&SF and BC&SF lines.

In the middle room (adjacent to Bell Jct.) there is a large "hollow" mountain which hides three overlapping reversing loops beneath it and is easily accessible if required. All rail traffic through this hidden area is protected electronically by an interlocking tower at Caldera Jct. Eastbound traffic from Bell Junction goes via the BC&SF mainline which usually requires a helper as it climbs the steep 3% grade to Carbon Bend via the infamous "Devil's Corkscrew" (helix). Carbon Bend is a "dying" coal mining town and will be remodelled later in 2013 to permit a wider variety of industries.

Near Carbon Bend there is a separate branchline which serves as a mid-level reversing loop (rear room) and passes back through the notional town of Fort Dunmore to rejoin the BC&SF mainline at Swingate Jct. It simply allows for another westbound destination other than Carbon Bend and Bell Jct.

The BC&SF mainline continues eastbound up a straight 2% grade towards the front door to the whistle stop station at Isadore. Beyond Isadore the climb demands a helper to handle a tortuous reverse curving 2.5% grade back into the middle room high above and over Pinon Canyon before sweeping back to arrive at San Miguel on the top level (front room).

The depot at San Miguel is a standard AT&SF "county design" with a stucco rendering and Spanish-style tile roof. It is the largest depot on the BC&SF and a reminder of those halcyon days when passengers preferred rail travel to airlines and freeways. San Miguel has a popular trackside cafe and two industries as well as a diesel refueling and sanding facility. A separate branchline from Rowlands enters behind San Miguel and continues on to Rio Verde where the BC&SF diesel locomotive sheds and freight car workshops are located.

Continuing eastbound along the top level from San Miguel, all traffic arrives at the Summit train order station. At this point eastbound traffic can either enter or bypass the western end of the Rowlands (double ended) freight yard.

Beyond Summit the eastbound and westbound mainline skirts the Rowlands freight yard and enters the rear room where it loops back on itself thereby making all eastbound traffic westbound. There is a long passing track on this reversing loop where trains can be held over to allow other westbound trains to bypass them.

Located within this reversing loop there is a stub ended staging yard. As access to the rear room is not normally required, all operations are done from the centre room via CCTV. All the tracks in the rear room are power routed to reduce accidental derailments and control the traffic flow. Westbound traffic re-enters the middle room and continues past Rowlands and on to the lower levels over the aforementioned track. The Rowlands freight yard takes up the entire length of the two front rooms along one wall. Freight can be switched at the Rowlands depot where there are some nearby trackside industries. A separate branchline to San Miguel and Rio Verde starts at the western end of the freight yard.

The Rowlands freight yard has a caboose and MOW track, 4 classification tracks (holding max. 57 x 40' cars), two inbound/outbound tracks, an interchange, two run round tracks, and switching leads all of which allows the yardmaster and switching crews to handle a wide variety of freight trains.

What are the future plans for the BC&SF? Now that the basic track plan has been completed, one of the lower level staging yards is no longer required, and could be a candidate for some industrial development to enhance further switching operations and traffic generation. As already mentioned the focus on coal mining at Carbon Bend will be changed to allow for a greater diversity of freight traffic. The coal loading complex could be relocated to Fort Dunmore or the far eastern end staging area (within the top level reversing loop), or simply eliminated altogether.

John Parker

"Santa Fe, All the Way Downunder"


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