O Scale Logo  O Scale - Layout Overview - GSMRM Logo
  Updated: January 12, 2021 
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O Scale

O scale is similar in size, but not quite the same as the Lionel trains many people had as kids. The scale is 1:48, so an O scale boxcar is 1/48th as big as its full size counterpart. In O scale, 1/4 inch on the model equals 1 foot on the real thing. 110 actual feet on the model equals 1 scale mile. Look for the mileposts along the right of way, small white markers with a number on them indicate scale miles from a starting point down in one of the yards.

Layout Scheme

The Santa Fe Western O Scale layout doesn't attempt to model any specific area, but generally resembles the Western United States. The layout is noted for its high mountains, deep canyons, wide rushing rivers, steep climbs, long straight-aways, and snow-capped peaks. Although a specific era was not targeted during construction, most of the structures would mark this as a mid-1930s to mid-1950s motif.

Some trains you might see:

Freight trains – Several different freight trains can be spotted around the railroad. Models of older trains, dating from the 1940’s through the mid 1960’s can be identified by the walkways extending along the car roofs. In the early days of railroading these allowed brakemen to walk along the top of the train to set the brakes by hand. This practice was eventually outlawed, for obvious safety reasons. Older trains will also have a caboose, something we haven’t seen on most real trains since the mid 1980’s. More modern freight trains run without a caboose, instead they have an electronic flashing device attached to the last car which monitors the air pressure in the trains brake system. Modern trains are often made up of intermodal cars carrying containers or trailers, large boxcars, autoracks, covered hoppers and tank cars.

Passenger trains – A variety of passenger trains make an appearance on the O scale railroad, from modern Amtrak trains pulled by the latest and fastest electric locomotives, to old time heavyweight Pullman trains pulled by steam locomotives. Several version of the Hiawatha may be seen. The Hiawatha ran between Minneapolis/St. Paul and Chicago on the “Milwaukee Road” at scheduled speeds of almost 100 mph, pulled by a streamlined steam engine! Later versions were pulled by Union Pacific Diesels and painted in Union Pacific Yellow and Gray. We have a modern Amtrak Superliner pulled by three Amtrak locomotives. The “Broadway”, a Pennsylvania Railroad passenger train can be recognized by its consist of maroon Pullman cars and doubleheaded K-4 Pacific type steam engines. The “Empire Builder” is a long green and orange Great Northern train pulled by a string of diesels. Another couple of trains making an occasional appearance are the “City of San Francisco” and the Southern Pacific “Daylight”. These models were commissioned by the real railroads for the 1939 Chicago Worlds Fair. Over 60 years old, the models still provide reliable service. Also keep an eye out for the “Grand Canyon”, a famous Santa Fe Railway train. You may not see all of these trains, as our members bring them home and rotate others onto the layout over the course of our run season.

Standard Gauge

For more detailed description on layout construction, features, and operations.

Electric Railroads

Electric railroad locomotives receive their power from an external source, usually a wire suspended above the rails or a third rail. Electric railroads first found a home carrying passengers in large cities. Steam engines were noisy, smoky, and frightened horses, so quiet and pollution free electric trolleys were developed. As the cities grew, the electric railroads grew with them, often extending to the suburbs to carry people to work.

Several electric railroads ran throughout the Bay Area. The Key System carried passengers from the East Bay to San Francisco across the Bay Bridge. The Sacramento Northern ran from Oakland all the way to Chico and carried passengers and freight.

Mainline railroads also used electricity in some areas. While expensive to construct, electrification resulted in lower operating and maintenance costs. The most famous electric railroad in America was probably the Pennsylvania Railroad, which had thousands of miles of electrified trackage. Their most famous electric locomotive, the GG1, was in service for over 50 years! Some railroads in the West, notably the Great Northern and the Milwaukee Road, electrified portions of their line where they had easy access to Hydro-electric power. Electrification eliminated the problems of smoke and exhaust building up in the long tunnels.

Today, the very fastest passenger trains use electricity to propel them. In the Bay Area we have BART linking many cities together. Sacramento, San Jose, Portland and San Francisco all have electric light rail systems, and many other cities are seeing the advantages of moving people with electricity.

Trolley Operations

Today the Oakland, Antioch & Eastern RR is an interuban electric train railroad operation near the middle of the layout. We have also laid the track for a city trolley system in the Pt. Richmond, Yaquina Bay area and hope to begin operations there sometime in the near future.



For more detailed description on layout construction, features, and operations.

Gold Mining

Gold has been discovered in many regions of the Western United States. The “49ers” first discovered placer gold in California. Placer gold is gold that has been eroded out of the ground and deposited by the action of running water. Millions of years ago, before the Sierra Nevada mountain range was formed, huge rivers ran from North to South, eroding gold out of veins and depositing it in the gravel along the bedrock of these rivers. Later, as the mountains rose, this gold bearing gravel was left high and dry. Eventually, the rivers of the Western Sierra that we know today as the Feather, Yuba, Bear, American, and others cut through the earlier deposits and re-deposited the gold in their own channels. Early miners extracted hundreds of millions of dollars worth of gold from these rivers using simple tools like pick, shovel, and gold pan.

Soon miners discovered that the ancient river channels were fabulously rich with gold. In order to extract the gold, water was diverted from higher in the mountains into huge water cannons known as “monitors”. These water cannons washed the gravel out of the hillsides and into wooden boxes lined with riffles where the gold was recovered. This process was known as hydraulic mining. The environmental damage caused by this mining technique was enormous. Millions of tons of silt washed into the lowlands, destroying cropland and plugging the navigable waterways. Eventually laws were passed outlawing the practice of hydraulic mining.

Another place that gold was found was in veins of quartz. This type of gold is known as “lode” gold, a lode being the name for the vein or veins containing the gold. Mining this gold called for blasting tunnels through the rock and removing the quartz, a technique also known as “hardrock” mining. The quartz was crushed to a fine sand to recover the gold. Hardrock mines could be as simple as a one or two man operation using hand tools, to multi-million dollar operations financed by huge corporations. Railroads were often used to move the ore from the mine to the mill, and to bring supplies to the mining areas.

The models here depict both hydraulic and hardrock mining operations. The large wooden mining structure model was built in the late 1960’s by former EBMES President Charley Trombly for his home layout. Most of the dirt and rock in this scene is from actual gold mines in California and Nevada.

Narrow Gauge Operations

In order to tap the vast mineral and timber resources in the West, thousands of miles of narrow gauge railroads were constructed. The distance between the rails is known as the “gauge” of the track. “Standard” gauge rails are 4 feet 8 inches apart. “Narrow” gauge railroads were typically built to a gauge of 3 feet. Since the equipment and track for narrow gauge were much smaller than standard gauge, construction and equipment costs were lower.

The narrow gauge railroads of Colorado are the most famous, but narrow gauge was used all over California, Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia as well. Narrow gauge was particularly well suited to logging railroads, which often laid track into areas where the timber was cut, then removed the track and placed it somewhere else. Special steam engines were developed which could operate reliably on track that was less than perfect while climbing steep grades and traversing tight curves. Eventually, logging trucks replaced the railroads as a more efficient way of getting logs from the forest to the sawmill.

The narrow gauge railroads may be long gone, but their legacy is preserved here in model form. Narrow gauge is represented on all three layouts at the Golden State Model Railroad Museum in O, HO, and N scales.

Eureka & Empire Narrow Gauge

For more detailed description on layout construction, features, and operations.
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