The Barren Creek & Santa Fe Railway Story

HO by John Parker

The teacher asked the seven year old what he wanted to be when he grew up. Without a moment’s hesitation I replied “an engine driver”! Well I never got to become one, but my love of trains has been with me most of my life.

My first electric train set was a Tri-ang UK passenger set back in 1955. In 1962-63 I joined the NMRA Southern Cross Region and influenced by US model railroad magazines I migrated to the US prototype scene. Ever since then I’ve been besotted by the Santa Fe Railway and its red warbonnet streamliners and zebra striped Geep diesels. I been a member of the “Santa Fe Rwy. Historical & Modelling Society” ever since 1975. After a 35-year absence I joined the NMRA Australasian Region in 2000.

Who was the most influential person in the creation of the “Barren Creek & Santa Fe Railway”?

The late Keith Bell was both a very close friend and mentor back in 1963-65. At the time he was unquestionably both an outstanding scale model railroader and a progressive thinker. Keith’s HO-scale layout was known as the “Barren Creek Railroad” before it was dismantled in 1965. Consequently, when I built my HO-scale layout I incorporated the name “Barren Creek” as a tribute to Keith. The first station was likewise named “Bell Junction” and its nearby memorial is a testament to his inspiration that got me out of my armchair.

The BC&SF Layout

I started building the freelance HO-scale layout in 1996, although construction in my garage moved very slowly until my early retirement in 2000. Since then it has steadily powered ahead to occupy three small rooms with an overall dimension of approximately 24×10 feet (7.3x3m) split over three levels. From its inception I installed CVP’s EasyDCC system utilising a radio controlled hand throttle.

The DCC system is exclusively used for the track power, while a separate auxiliary 12v DC system is used to power alarms, structure lighting, switch motors, track and signal indicators, etc.

At first I used Peco code 75 flexi-track and turnouts (points), but soon realized this was going to become a very expensive exercise. Consequently I learnt to make my own turnouts and hand laid most of my track. The BC&SF’s mainline track generally consists of code 70 and code 55 rail on its sidings. Nonetheless, some places which are not easily seen still have Peco flexi-track for the sake of expediency.

A minimum radius curve of 24″ is the preferred standard, although given the small confines of the layout room it sometimes dictates short 18″ segments in a few places. In those hard to reach areas, I use “Tortoise” turnout motors. Otherwise most of the turnouts are manually operated using DPDT electrical slide switches.

A Tour of the BC&SF

The BC&SF is a freelance layout located somewhere in New Mexico between the years of 1948-1956. The Santa Fe Railway is by now the majority shareholder of the once struggling Barren Creek Railroad. The Santa Fe sometime uses this short cut-off, even though it is a steep and torturous route.

The 42″ (1.07m) lower level occupies the front and centre rooms. The AT&SF mainline is a simple continuous loop around these two rooms. The hub of activity starts at Bell Junction in the front room which serves as an interchange between the AT&SF mainline and BC&SF branch line. Bell Junction also has a stub freight yard which serves both as visible storage and as a staging yard.

The AT&SF mainline continues around the front room crossing over a bi-level swinging gate at the entranceway, before passing between the “Western Staging [Arrival & Departure] Yards” on the opposite wall. It continues into the centre room and over another bi-level swinging gate (which provides access to the rear room). The mainline continues past Caldera Junction and onto Bell Junction (in the front room). Alternately, trains can travel through a reversing loop hidden under a mountain in the centre room.

The BC&SF line leaves Bell Junction and enters the centre room near Caldera Junction. A “hollow” mountain hides the three overlapping reversing loops within it, all of which are accessible. Traffic through this area is electronically protected by the Caldera Junction Interlocking Tower.

BC&SF operations from Bell Junction up to Barren Creek usually requires a helper to climb the steep 3% grade helix bypassing Caldera Junction. After negotiating two more tunnels and passing up through Pi?on Canon, it exits a final tunnel before crossing a curved timber trestle near Barren Creek.

Barren Creek is located on the 49″ (1.24m) mid-level in the centre room and serves several small industries. Because I enjoy switching operations, these industrial tracks have been designed to pose varying degrees of complexity for visiting crews.

Near Barren Creek, is Swingate Junction where another branch line serves as a mid-level reversing loop in the rear room passing through the notional town of Fort Dunmore to rejoin the BC&SF at Swingate Junction.

The BC&SF continues up a long 2% grade towards the front bi-level gate and past the abandoned station at Isadore. The climb towards the top level usually requires a helper to handle the 2.5% grade back into the centre room. After passing through another tunnel the BC&SF crosses a steel girder deck bridge high above Pi?on Canon before sweeping back to arrive at San Miguel back in the front room on the 59″ (1.5m) top level.

San Miguel is an AT&SF “county-design” passenger station and is adjacent to the Rio Verde workshop complex. Continuing along the top level all traffic arrives at the Summit train order station located above the entrance way bi-level gate. Entry to the layout room requires the bi-level gate to be opened and visitors are required to “look down at the floor” as they enter beneath the top level.

At this point eastbound traffic can either enter or bypass the Rowlands [double ended] freight yard. The freight yard has 4 classification tracks, a caboose and MOW track, an interchange track, arrival and departure tracks, as well as run round tracks at each end.

East and west bound traffic skirt past the Rowlands freight yard and loops back via a reversing loop inside the rear room. There is also a long passing track on this reversing loop where trains can be held over. An “Eastern Staging Yard” is also located within the reversing loop. Observation and control of this entire area is from the centre room via CCTV and all tracks are power routed to reduce the likelihood of derailments.

The western end of the Rowlands freight yard has a branch line that traverses a steel through bridge connecting it to San Miguel where two small industries and a diesel refueling facility is located. The line continues onto the BC&SF workshop complex at Rio Verde.

The Rio Verde workshops are dedicated to the repair of BC&SF rolling stock. This allows for the delivery of RR supplies as well as the maintenance of freight cars regardless of their type. There is also a 3-track diesel loco maintenance shed complete with an inspection pit and elevated walkways. Adjacent to this shed is a fully detailed wheel turning workshop.

What does the future hold for the BC&SF?

Any new work will be restricted to the new Barren Creek station and its surrounds. As I enjoy the modelling aspect I have plenty of scenic and structure projects for this new area. My other interest is the operation aspect and the BC&SF will continue to support 4-5 visitors who like me enjoy switching (shunting) challenges.

Inevitably, the BC&SF will one day have served its purpose and management will be forced to wind up operations.

John Parker

“Santa Fe, All the Way … Downunder”