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My (First) N Scale Adventure

I've been very fortunate to have such a wonderful room over my garage in which to build and display my layouts and dioramas. But I'm starting to think about the future when, in all likelihood, we'll be moving to smaller living quarters.

So in mid-2019, I thought I'd start playing with N scale trains. Being a fan of the Santa Fe Super Chief, I was quite happy when Kato re-released a starter set that had been out of production for a while. I ordered two locomotives, the 8-car set, and a basic track layout.

I had figured that since I've been able to build a substantial layout in a simple 4'x8' area in HO scale, then I should be able to build a layout about half the size in N. Before it was all delivered I was a little concerned as to the length of the train, but I didn't realize just how seriously flawed my presumtion was.

What I did not take into consideration was that the passenger cars of the Super Chief were about as long as anything else I already had on my HO layout. Plus the train I assembled consisted of 10 cars (including two locomotives) and was about five feet long.

When I set up the track and put all the cars and locomotives on it, the engineers could probably have seen the drumhead on their own observation car in front of them. I added some track, but as I approached a 7' length oval, I realized this would not address my goal.

Pauley's New Toy
Pauley's new toy, the N scale
Kato Super Chief.

Kato Layout
The moment I realized N scale
would not be the space-saver
for which I had hoped.

The Super Chief

After that realization, I came up with a plan "B", something I'd actually been interested in for a while: a shelf diorama. It just so happened that I had a 6'x1' shelf in my studio that I could utilize.

Some shelf dioramas I've seen in books and magazines are actually "real" layouts, just long and thin, attached to a wall. Others (those created with a modular/removable approach) simply sit on a shelf.

Along the shelf, I created an abstract mock-up of the Super Chief's route from Chicago to LA (with emphasis on the westernmost states). At the western end of the layout stands my scratch-built replica of Los Angeles Union Station.

Here's a great story:

Mrs. Pauley's father, Earl (a.k.a. Slick) was a sign painter back in the late '40s and early '50s. We have an old picture of a giant Arden Milk sign he had painted. In the background you can see the Barker Bros. building, a Los Angeles landmark.

Arden Milk Sign

Well, it turned out that many years later, Mrs. Pauley had an office in that building. So when I wanted to put a couple of structures in the scene, the family tie-in was wonderful. I found a model that resembled the building (note the billboard on the roof) and I colorized the Arden Milk sign using colors I found on similar signs and logos. (Wow. I wound up "painting" his sign.)

In addition to all that, because Slick worked for Foster and Kleiser the Santa Fe's vendor for outdoor advertising in Los Angeles, he very likely painted a few of their billboards - perhaps even the one on top of the building in which Mrs. Pauley had an office! Wow!!

My interest in the Super Chief continued to grow, and I have collected quite a bit of information, books and paraphernalia about it, and the Santa Fe Railroad in general.

I learned a lot from the shelf experiment as to what I'll need to work in a smaller area. Besides the space itself, I'll need the ability to mix plaster and have access to power tools.

But I soon stopped working on the shelf layout and got back to my main town. I knew I'd start working on the Super Chief again sometime - somewhere.

And, of course, I'll be using my modular technique. ;)

(Edit: The last couple of statements proved to be prophetic.)

Shelf Diorama
The basics of a shelf diorama.

Union Station
The scratch-built Union Station.

Los Angeles
Los Angeles, circa 1951.

N scale car
The smallest car kit I ever painted and assembled, it's parked between the Super Chief's Pleasure Dome and a quarter.

Scenery Test
A desert scenery test, mostly
New Mexico, some Arizona
and a California orange grove.
(Nothing like real sun for lighting!)

Santa Fe Stuff
Some of my Santa Fe stuff.
I've got more.
(OK, I guess I'm a train geek.)

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