Hello everyone, almost four years post-cancer now, been a model railroader since my Mom and Dad gave me a Marx wind-up O scale tinplate set from Sears for Christmas in 1958. Took a brief hiatus, thirty years, from the hobby to serve in the Navy and raise a family. Currently, I have a rescued 72" church table that I've constructed a giant pizza type layout with many thanks to Bill Baron and his "Model Railroad in a Coffee Table" concept article in the June 1966 issue of MR. Below is a brief synopsis of my layout:
LAYOUT AT A GLANCE
Name: Oregon Pacific Railroad – The Panera Branch
Scale: HO Scale 1/87
Size: 72” circle 28.27 square feet area aka the Giant Pizza
Prototype: Freelance, inspired by the Southern Pacific, Western Pacific, and Union Pacific
Locale: Acme, Oregon in the rural Emerald Valley
Era: 1946 – 1959 Steam – Diesel transition
Mainline run: 17 ¼ feet
Mainline radius: 33”
Minimum turnout: #7
Maximum grade: 2 percent
Height: 42 ½”
Roadbed: Woodland Scenes form strips
Track: Micro Engineering Code 83 flex track with Peco American #7 curved Code 83 turnouts
Scenery: Extruded foam insulation board with ground cover
Control: DCC with SPROG/PC interface and walk around Wi-Fi control
Welcome to the Panera branch of the Oregon Pacific Railroad and the giant pizza, an unconventional twist on the traditional, continuous loop model railroad. The coastal community of Acme, in the lush Emerald Valley, is the focal point of my layout with its passing siding and spur that allows for some switching to break up the monotony of “just chasing the caboose” which is so indicative of every oval track-plan.
First and foremost, I must give credit for my round layout concept to Bill Baron and his railroad in a coffee table concept featured in the June 1966 issue of Model Railroader. In developing my layout, I wanted to satisfy three chief prerequisites. First, my layout had to be small in size, second packed with lots of scenic detail and finally, light in weight so it could be moved, transported and displayed publicly. Extruded foam insulation was glued to the tabletop to form the basic land contours over a 72” round church table rescued from the Wednesday refuse pick-up, then I sculpted it with a hot knife to achieve the proper contours. A foam rasp and lots of elbow grease put the final panache on the rolling topography so typical of coastal Oregon. Initially, I wanted to use Central Valley track components but ultimately settled on Micro Engineering code 83 flex track and Peco American #7 curved code 83 turnouts. In retrospect, I should have gone with Peco flex track, because the Micro Engineering track tends to be a bit stiff and finicky when bending and lying. I wanted to incorporate DCC technology into my new venture so I chose MRC’s Prodigy Express system and recently added a Wi-Fi module so I could operate my little empire via the WiThrottleLite app on my smartphone. A refurbished laptop computer with JMRI software installed allows me to program my DCC equipment on the mainline via a SPROG unit, as well as archiving locomotive profiles for future reference and use.
Some will say that a 72” round table is a tad overkill but consider this. The typical 4’ x 8’ layout boast an area of just thirty-two square feet while my giant pizza sports a modest 28.27 square feet, a difference of only 3.72 square feet; however, an unexpected benefit of the pizza is that it allows for a whopping thirty-three-inch radius while a typical 4’x 8’ can only support a meager twenty-two. So now it is possible to operate large-wheel base locomotives and full-length passenger cars without any ridiculous overhangs!
Acme is an uproarious homage to Firesign Theater’s 1974 “Everything you know is Wrong” alternative reality comedy album featuring the voices of Phil Austin, Peter Bergman, David Ossman, and Philip Proctor. Locals say that when a group of Spanish missionaries arrived in 1769, they were packing an enormous iron crucifix which they promptly erected at the headwaters of the Panera River, establishing Madonna del Pozzo Catholic mission and the northernmost limit of the Spanish claim in North America. Once the mission was completed in 1774 and after some lengthy debate between the two priests, Father Juan Pablo elected stayed on while Father Esteban, who murmured incessantly about the damp Oregonian climate unsettling effects upon his delicate constitution, returned to sunny Santa Fe and into historical obscurity. Father Juan Pablo on the other hand, became the Patriarch of the Emerald Valley community and an impassioned advocate of the bourgeoning hemp industry that continues to flourish to this day. He was laid to rest in the church cemetery in 1804 after consuming some mushrooms and washing them down with a bottle of his favorite vintage. Later, in 1889, when the Opie pushed through towards the coast, a water tower was erected at the springs and simply named Acme because… well because “A” is the first letter in the alphabet. Over the years, the community of Acme has grown… slowly. Quite slowly in fact. There is a switching spur servicing Ziffel’s fuel & lumber with a less-than-carload loading dock, Stoner’s Pharmacy, a small depot with an open-top water tank reminiscent of the mid-1960’s television sitcom “Petticoat Junction.” Then there is Garcia’s, a sprawling combination general store – gas station, hotel, dance hall, restaurant, slash post office, Madonna del Pozzo (Our Lady of the Well) Catholic Church, several homes and Stupor Farms, a local hemp grower at the top of the hill. A state highway and a country road that connects everything to the outside world.
There is a daily peddler freight pulled by an Espee-style Consolidation complete with a modern all-weather cab and Vanderbilt tender attending to the local traffic along the line (except on Sundays). Depending upon my mood, the peddler can also be powered by a GP or SD type locomotive which is replacing the aging fleet of steam engines throughout the system. Manifest freights, mostly traffic to and from the lumber mills on the coast, is headed by an A-B-A lash-up of EMD Black Widow F units. To make things interesting, the “Del Norte”, Opie’s commuter link to the south, makes its daily trek, powered by an EMD GP-9r or SD-7, pulling a lone Harriman baggage painted in Sunset colors and two-day coaches inspired by Mike Schafer’s “Pike-sized Passenger Trains” featured in Model Railroader back in 1980. Acme is that stop where everything comes to a grinding halt when the varnish blows through town so it’s only fitting to have a venerable skyline MT-4 heading up a secondary passenger train with a heavyweight consist laden with head-end express, mail, with a through Pullman bound for Sacramento and points east, arriving after sunset, then returning just before sunrise. To achieve that truly laid-back, west coast familiarity, the peddler is a mixed train complete with a kit-bashed MDC Harriman 72’ combine-coach/baggage with a fifteen-foot RPO apartment along with a wooden center cupola caboose tacked on the rear just for good measure. Mixed trains were prevalent in the United States with Santa Fe's mixed train from Wichita to Englewood, Kansas operations lasting till 1975 and Georgia Railroad’s “Super Mixed” service made its last run in May of 1983. For the piece de resistance, a lone Walther’s EMC doodlebug rambles through from time to time, giving everything that eccentric, laid back flavor so indicative of the left coast.
I hope that you find this pizza version of an old standard as stimulating and challenging as I have over the years. The opportunities to pack a lot of scenic detail and vignettes into a compact space are boundless while operating a diverse mix of freight and passenger equipment, are the best of all worlds in my opinion.