New model railroad layout will encourage close-up viewing


An oil refinery is coming to Menlo Park. And a saw mill, a cement plant and a new train station similar to the Union Stations seen in cities like Chicago and Los Angeles. A new mountain range is already here, with steep slopes similar to the dry, brown, sparsely vegetated heights of the Tehachapi Range near Bakersfield.

Atypically, all of these additions to the city will have one address: 1090 Merrill St. alongside the Caltrain tracks and just south of the Caltrain station, home of the West Bay Model Railroad Association.

To introduce the public to its new serpentine two-level layout, one in which model trains will pass through all of the above scenes and more, the association is holding an open house on Saturday, Dec. 6, from 2 to 5 p.m. and on Sunday, Dec. 7, from 5 to 9 p.m. (The Caltrain holiday train stops at the Menlo Park station at 7:45 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 7.)

Although there are already 18 months of work in the new layout, it is far from complete. The old set up with tiered tracks on a room-sized table is gone. In its place is a series of elongated horizontal S curves, each eventually to reveal different scenes. Where the old set-up allowed only standing and viewing from a distance, more or less, the new layout encourages a walking tour and allows close up views. In the background are skies of California shades of blue.

Members of the association will assemble trains out of sight behind a door on a hidden "staging yard," association member Lauren Mercer told this reporter. The trains will emerge from an entrance in the wall and immediately enter a helix -- several circles of track stacked one above the other -- that allows a train to smoothly transition from the upper to the lower level tracks and vice versa.

The lower level is at a height that children can observe unaided by their parents, a feature missing from the old set-up.

Along with the refinery, cement plant and train station already noted, the layout is expected to include California farming towns, a railroad yard complete with a turntable to enable locomotives to turn around, and a freight yard, Mr. Mercer said. Much of the material used to make the scenery has been donated, he said.

The model railroading association has about 18 members and welcomes new members. The application fee is $25 and annual dues are $180. Members can help with the layout, run their own equipment and "rub shoulders with other model railroaders, get ideas on how to do things and work with others," Mr. Mercer said.

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