Leaving Las Vegas – HO scale representation of the Caliente Sub into a 9 x 11 foot spare bedroom

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- by Bob Sprague

What happens in Vegas doesn’t stay in Vegas when it comes to the UP’s Caliente Subdivision. Here’s how to model this Class 1 subdivision in a 9 x 11 spare room – in HO!

MRH-2010-Mar-Apr

 

 

 

 

 

 

Figure 1: UP 5334 at Apex with a train of windmill towers. Photo: Ken Kuehne.

They say what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas. But when a crew change happens in Vegas – on the busy Union Pacific Los Angeles to Salt Lake City main line – it means that a long freight headed by bright yellow-and-gray SD-70Ms or C44-9Ws is about to leave Vegas far behind. The UP’s Caliente Subdivision begins just south of town and runs northeast (timetable east) to Milford, Utah.

Traffic is heavy and varied. Double stacks, auto racks, coal, and general merchandise consists traverse the line at the rate of about one per hour. Most have three or more road diesels at the head end, testimony to the tough grades in both directions. Foreign power may appear, including an occasional BNSF train taking advantage of trackage rights. After passing through the shadows of the big casinos, and a relatively straight shot across the valley, eastbound trains encounter a stiff grade, climbing and twisting their way 500 vertical feet in less than 10 miles. This geography makes it possible to squeeze a satisfying HO scale representation of the Caliente Sub into a 9 x 11 foot spare bedroom, where one to three operators can enjoy modern Class I railroading with some industrial switching and a branch line adding to the fun.

Prototype Action

All UP freights take on new crews in Las Vegas, most at the UP yard offices near Charleston Avenue (Milepost 334.3). Though the tracks parallel the famous Strip, this is a different world: the tripletrack mainline runs past industrial buildings, sleazy nightclubs, and dusty storage lots. As trains head north from the city, the mainline narrows to two, and then one track. It remains CTC territory, single track with sidings, for most of its remaining length. At Valley (Milepost 343.5) there is a small yard serving a container port, auto unloading facility, lumberyard, and cement plant. A seldom-used branch line to Nellis Air Force Base also leaves the main here. Leaving the industries and tract housing of North Las Vegas behind, the line climbs into the barren hills that ring the city. At Dike there is a passing siding. By the time trains reach the S-curves and summit at Apex (Milepost 352.7) they have been slowed to a crawl by the 1% grade.

At Apex, a long branch operated by Nevada Industrial Switch (NIS) heads east through rugged terrain to serve the PABCO Gypsum Board plant. North of Apex mainline trains continue
downgrade to Moapa, Nevada, where they begin the long climb to Caliente and Crestline, Utah. They leave the Caliente Sub at Milford, Utah and continue on to Salt Lake.

Fig2

 

 

Fitting It In

The modeler who wants to run long trains and modern motive power but who has only gained trackage rights to a 9 x 11 foot space faces a challenge. A single loop around the walls results in a run of less than ¾ of a scale mile in HO scale. Reasonablysized trains will only chase their own FRED (Flashing Rear-End Device) around the room. A twice- or threetimes-around scheme lengthens the mainline considerably, but forces traffic to pass unrealistically through the same towns and scenes more than once every trip.

A double-deck design solves the problem. It doubles the length of the mainline, but maintains scenic “sincerity” as trains traverse each scene only once. A steady grade – like the Caliente Sub includes north of Las Vegas – requires only a two-turn helix at 2% to achieve a decent 16” between levels. Mainline minimum radius can be kept to 27”, tight but acceptable for  six-axle diesels.

The entrance for trains eastbound from Los Angeles onto this plan for the Caliente Sub is disguised by the Sahara Avenue underpass. They cross the doorway and pause for a crew change
at the UP yard office. Behind the door is space for the spur at West Mesquite Avenue, which on the prototype serves Nevada Ready Mix, the Las Vegas Review-Journal, and several other industries. These buildings can be represented by minimumdepth flats, while a photo backdrop can stand in for the distant mountains. The viewer is facing west here, and the only casino in that direction from the tracks is the gaudy Rio. On the lower deck the tracks continue on to Valley, where a selectivelycompressed version of the container facility, cement plant, and Nellis AFB branch provide switching opportunities.  Fortunately, the orientation of this plan abides by the general trackplanning principle that east should be to the viewer’s right.

Although the tracks through Las Vegas run south to north, timetable east is properly clockwise. The point-of-view is also consistent with the path of most railfans, who would follow I-15 northward out of town. The California Portland Cement plant at Valley can help to hide the disappearance of the main into the central peninsula. Within that “blob” a moderate two-turn helix at 2% transitions to the upper level, where the tracks reappear behind a rise and enter the desolate siding at Dike.
The modeler who hates making trees should gravitate to this area of the country – a few dots of glue and some foliage clumps will represent the sparse vegetation well. Pelle Søeberg’s excellent scenery techniques would certainly apply to this wasteland.

The upper deck grade continues to Apex. The mainline, now near eye level, disappears behind another rise (there are no tunnels in this section of the Caliente Sub) while the NIS branch continues onto the peninsula. The gypsum quarry and PABCO plant are quite discernable on satellite maps, and a picture of the plant can be found online at the “about us” page of pabcogypsum.paccoast.com.

A large, four-turn distended doubletrack helix connects the north end of the visible Caliente Sub mainline at Apex back to the south end at Las Vegas, providing continuous running.
The hidden benefit: the helix provides all of the hidden end-of-line staging a modeler would need. The turns of the helix can conceal as many as sixteen long trains, while alternate facing and trailing-point crossovers make it possible to stage entrances and exits in random order.

 

Fig3

 

 

 

 

 

fig4

 

 

 

 

Construction Thoughts

The Caliente Sub is not for the faint of heart. Considerable care would be required to construct the center peninsula with its concentric helixes, as well as the upper deck with its constant
grade. Still, the rewards of building an operating railroad with this much action and prototype fidelity in a small space could be well worth the trouble. The stacked decks are narrow, and
could easily be supported by brackets from the walls, leaving the under-layout space clear of legs and braces. Two legs could support the center peninsula, allowing relatively unimpeded
entrance to the interior of the helix complex for access and maintenance. The bridging of the doorway to the room is an unfortunate necessity.

Many designs for removable or dropleaf sections have been published, and it is recommended that a modeler employ one rather than plan on scrambling under the lower deck forever.
The upper-deck crossing can probably be fixed; at 60” it represents a “nodunder” for most visitors. In any case, once inside there is no need to deal with the doorway crossing during normal operation.

DCC is a near-must for this railroad, since a lot of the fun will be in moving heavy traffic in both directions with multi-unit lashups and frequent meets. Although three operators might represent a crowd in the limited aisle space, a prototypical dispatcher’s desk could be placed in an adjoining room. The truly “wired” modeler could develop a computer program to represent movements on the eastern leg of the Subdivision, with actual trains coming on and off the model pike in synchronization with their virtual counterparts on the dispatcher’s console.

A similar high-tech approach could help track train movements in the hidden helixes. A simpler solution, however, might be to simply open some vertical slits in the fascia around the center peninsula. An operator would get a peep through, and in this way be able to verify that trains are parked in the clear, or are still moving. This direct visual feedback would
help to prevent the well-known phenomenon that occurs when operators, unsure of what is happening in a helix, gradually open the throttle more and more, causing concealed trains to “rocket” out of the hidden tracks at the upper end.

The Caliente Sub in HO provides Class I railroading in a modest area. Instead of leaving Las Vegas, the builder may find him or herself returning to Las Vegas night after night.

Sourced from MHRMAG.COM

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