My HOn3 Silver San Juan

Silver San Juan

My HOn3 model railway is based on the Rio Grande Southern Railroad's "First District" which ran 66 miles from Ridgway, Colorado to the divisional town of Rico, Colorado. The era is September, 1941. The purpose of the railroad is to tap the rich mines of the area and to transport livestock, lumber and many other commodities. The railway also brings in goods to the remote communities of the San Juan mountains. (The real Rio Grande Southern RR was abandoned in 1952.)

Layout at a glance
Name Rio Grande Southern RR - First District
Scale HOn3
Size 26' x 26' L-shaped
21' x 5' Extension
Era September 1941
Layout Style Walk around, continuous run
Benchwork Open grid
Subroadbed Plywood, cord and some homosote
Track Handlaid code 55 and 40
Turnout minimum No. 5
Maximum grade 3.5%
Minimum radius 24" mainline
22" sidings
Scenery base Hard shell over cardboard strips
Backdrop construction Masonite and plywood
Control EasyDCC w/wireless throttles

In May 1996, my wife and I purchased our first home. This was an opportunity to start my largest model railroading project ever. We bought an unfinished basement with a new home above it. With some careful planning and a lot of negotiations with my wife, I carved out a sizeable portion of the basement for my train room. Construction of the room started on September 30, 1996 and the benchwork started a month later.

Having a fresh start gave me the opportunity to build my "ultimate" model railway. I had built several layouts in the past. Some were nice. Some were failures. All had issues with them that I didn't like. I had also been in the hobby for a decade at that point and was very active in the model railroader community. Through that fellowship I had visited many other people's model railways. Each one had its nice features and not so nice features. Because of these observations, I set some fairly strict design specifications for the construction of my "ultimate" railway.

  1. The layout would be built for operation.
  2. The scenery would dominate the trains.
  3. No train would run through a scene more than once.
  4. Operators would follow the trains in a natural procession without jumping all over the room.
  5. Aisles would be wide, preferably 4 feet, especially where operators would congregate to perform switching.
  6. I would try to stick to the set era of Sept 1941.
  7. Trains traversing my layout would proceed through the towns in prototype order.
  8. The layout would be in it's own room that could be closed off from the rest of the house.
  9. All new material would be used. No salvaging wood, wire, etc.
  10. Every single piece of rail, no matter how small, would be wired to avoid dead spots.
  11. No memorabilia or other junk would be displayed in the train room. This is ensure that visitors keep their focus 100% on the railroad.
  12. All wiring would be colour coded, standardized and neat.

I had also decided that I would challange my modelling skills and build this railway to "finescale" standards. The buildings, trestles and other structures are mostly scratchbuilt and detailed following exhaustive research of the prototypes. The backdrops are painted based on photographs and the terrain (rocks, trees, rivers, etc) tries to mimic the real locations as much as possible. I've driven or hiked most of the original railroad grade in the persuit of research and have tried to capture the feeling of those wonderful excursions.

What you see in these pages is the culmination of nearly 20 years work. I hope that you take the time to look around and enjoy the railway as much as I have.

Craig Symington.