Basic Detailing for Model Railroads: A Day in the Southern Pacific

What about basic detailing? We’ve come a good distance in our blog series, so I think that we’re ready for the really rewarding part! If you’ve read my series (find the links to at the end of this blog), you should get my thought process for building a layout that you’ll enjoy for many years.

I think of model railroading as an evolutionary process. I’d like to make our layouts a “getaway” place where we enjoy spending our time. And, for the best results, I think we should be able to miniaturize ourselves and just walk right up to the roundhouse for example and see what kind of interesting things are going on.


As you might recall, my layout is a Southern Pacific, southern California, produce warehouse theme set in the mid-1950s. It’s my version of a SP Citrus District just south of Colton. I like to transport myself there in 1/64th scale quite often. While I’m there, I like to take my time to look around the area and see what looks good and what needs to be done.


The roundhouse is a typical SP California style with two short stalls built just after the turn of the century. I like the boiler room with the tall stack and the forge in the back corner of the far stall. There’s a RIP track outside where an old SP wood caboose sits in need of some repair.


There are a lot of wood scraps, drums and barrels, an outdoor tool bench, and a workman resting on a chair. Looks good so far. The interior of the roundhouse has some detail but needs more. It needs more parts, tools, and machinery. I have workmen that I plan to install as well.


Every structure I see needs more detailing and weathering. Looking at the roofs, I need to add details like chimneys, plumbing vents, and roof access hatches. “Is that a seagull up there?” I like the ABC Beer sign on Stand Up Frank’s saloon.


Then, walking around and looking at the building walls, I think, “Wait! Where are the down spouts?” “Where is the electric meter and the power lines?” “How about an outdoor hose spigot?” I think there should be a ladder kept out back. I don’t see many trash cans either. Hmmm. That’s strange. I like to see shed roofs and awnings over entry and dock areas. Why not be out of the elements? The sun can get hot here.


Well, it’s about noon and I’m getting a bit hungry. A sandwich and a Coke will do for lunch. The Chief Cafe is hard on the track and the train crews eat here. And, they have a covered “ramada” out back with tables. The tables will get detailed soon. I see the cook standing out back. The tables will be shaded by dried palm fronds placed over the ramada roof mesh.


Ah well, it’s a very pleasant day. After lunch, I decide that I’ll walk down the track a bit more. The first thing I notice is that the ties of the industrial trackage are buried in the dirt; a good effect but maybe still a bit too tidy. I do like the look of those switch stands though. There is quite a bit of scrubby foliage around here and some low areas. I think some small drainage culverts might be in order. And, I saw a cat prowling for prey by some old lumber scraps.


By the way, are there any mail boxes or fire hydrants around here? Are there enough street lights and power poles? And, the concrete sidewalks seem to be in rough shape. Lots of cracks. The palm trees don’t look real healthy either. Well, that part is by design.


There are quite a few trucks and trailers parked around here! I’m glad to see they have spare tires, mud flaps, and license plates.


Walking further, there are various kinds of fencing nearby. Stand Up Frank’s has a picket fence, the Gage irrigation canal has a protective chain link fence made from fiberglass screening, and the Riverside Recycling scrap yard has steel fencing with barbed wire and an ornery looking Doberman guard dog.


At the end of the Third Street viaduct that passes over the trackage is a billboard proclaiming: “Ride the Pacific Electric Interurban Line.” That billboard helps to set the locale. The road surface is quite dirty with asphalt patches showing.


Looking below, there is a “tell-tale” over the main track to protect any car top trainmen.


At the far end of town, the Sun Maid raisin packaging plant will have lots of roof detail including a wooden water tank and an outside roof access ladder.


Behind Sun-Maid are some vertical tanks that are placed as a view block for the main line as it pops through the backdrop and becomes a hidden staging track.

Darn, the day went by fast. I suppose it’s about time to pop back into 1:1 scale and check my phone messages. It’s thirty degrees and snowing back in Minnesota. Hmmm.

All photos by Steve Doyle.

More in this series:

So You Want to Build a Model Railroad Layout?
Choosing Model Railroad Track Configurations
Assigning a Theme for Your Model Railroad Layout
Ideas for Unique Layout Concepts
Tips on Trackwork
Helpful Tips for Model Railroad Wiring
Ideas for Adding Personality to Model Railroad Layouts
Creative Ideas for Model Railroad Structures

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2 Responses to “Basic Detailing for Model Railroads: A Day in the Southern Pacific”

  1. Richard Kuivila

    Why are so many layouts so "Pristine" ? Where I grew up in Painesville, Ohio, 35 miles east of Cleveland, The NY Central tracks had weeds and oil stains and all kinds of debris along the right of way..... The train station was kept clean, but kind of old and worn looking. An occasional steam locomotive would stop or just pass thru.

  2. Abdullah Sani Ismail

    I do want to learn how to build trains, coaches and the tracks. I want to buy all those goods which I can assemble them in my house. Just tell me the costs for me to make the budgets. Thank you.