Thursday, December 8, 2016

Why I Model The Southern California Citrus Industry

Why I model something this specific is rooted in my belief that there is more satisfaction when a layout reflects a concise time period, a well defined geographic area, a signature industry and the supporting elements of all three. I don't advocate this approach for everyone but it serves me well.

Personally there is not the need to achieve the near perfect geographic accuracy some of the most dedicated layout owners have attained. And I certainly applaud that. But after many years of learning and observing in the hobby, I have reached a point where a whimsical layout with scenery, locomotives, cars, industries and structures that are greatly mismatched and span a vast, unrealistic timeframe, just is not satisfying for me.

My upstairs layout in Mission Viejo was a concession to the substantial timeframe represented by the locomotives and rolling stock I had acquired over many years. I tried to model the Santa Fe in 1956 and 1971 with some limited deference to Southern California, the citrus industry and a lot of other things. After awhile it became apparent this layout lacked purpose and became a bit boring.
 The Upstairs Layout In Mission Viejo
So I looked for a concise layout concept that "held together" well and could be modeled reasonably and effectively with available rolling stock, structures and historical resources. There were many choices, and for me that turned out to be the Southern California citrus industry circa 1956.

I was deeply influenced by a presentation in 2004 at the NMRA National Convention in Seattle. Bill Messecar and Jim Lancaster gave a clinic on modeling the citrus industry. They illustrated how a specific industry could give purpose and structure to a model railroad and its operations potential.

This persuaded me to consider refocusing the purpose of my then very generic Santa Fe layout. As I concentrated on a theme a clear picture began to emerge of what I wanted to accomplish. This was to be an era and geographically specific layout based on a particular industry with the ability to conduct operations reflecting all these elements.

 Bill Messecar

 Jim Lancaster
By early 2005 Bill and Jim’s inspiration led to the establishment of my Citrus Industry Modeling Group on Yahoo ( This obligated me to research the citrus industry and its relationship with the railroads to generate content for the website. This also benefitted my own needs. Group member helped to increase my knowledge of the citrus industry and related railroad operations through their many thoughtful contributions. I found the history of the railroads and the citrus industry fascinating and very engaging.

The available HO scale rolling stock was plentiful as Intermountain, Tichy, Red Caboose and CB&T Shops offered many different Santa Fe and PFE ice bunker refrigerator cars. I took a deep breath and decided to pay the high cost of better, more accurate freight cars. I should add that swap meet purchases made this a less of a hit on my budget.

My nearly forty-year acquisition program left me with many locomotives and cars that were too "new" for my era. New homes were needed for these items.  

 Intermountain Refrigerator Cars
Model Detailed By Michael Gross
There were many, many period structures available and several sources for icing platforms and packing houses. There were numerous books and magazine articles available and Jim Lancaster had an excellent packing house website (


There were numerous articles on-line and photographs as well. The various local libraries and historical societies also had plentiful resources.

As I became immersed in the history of the citrus industry through those resources I became more confident about scratch building infrastructure. Certainly there was no shortage of examples for packing houses, juice plants, cold storage and ice production plants, smudge oil facilities, tank houses, farm buildings and citrus groves. Scratch building would allow me to fit appropriate structures into available space either through selective compression or shallow relied techniques.
Scratch Built Shallow Relief Packing House
Smudge Oil Unloading Facility
So the motivation, hobby equipment and reference resources all came together for me as a basis for the current layout. And this is why I model the Southern California citrus industry. Other model railroaders also take this approach for various combinations of railroads, eras, locales and  industries so I'm certainly not unique. But I understand why they do and I understand the satisfaction this brings them.

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