First of all, welcome to anyone who might be reading this! I hope you'll enjoy following my modeling progress and general ramblings. As you can gather from the blog's header, I'll be sharing my efforts to model a freelanced but hopefully plausible and realistic ("protolanced," in the parlance of our times) group of railroads set in the southeastern corner of Utah in the fall of 1907.
I thought I'd first recount a bit about the evolution of this concept and how I decided on this rather unusual setting for a model railroad. It started, as many similar stories have, with a bout of narrow gauge fever. As I recall, my case began with discovering the book "HO Narrow Gauge Railroad You Can Build," the soft-cover compilation of Model Railroader articles by Malcolm Furlow about the construction of the HOn3 San Juan Central. I think this is where I first learned about narrow gauge and ever since it's always been the primary focus of my modeling interests.
As a kid, I spent lots of time drawing trackplans and coming up with ideas, none of which ever came close to reality. It was one of the standard dilemmas model railroaders face - the insufficiency of either space, time, or money (or, of course, some combination). At the time, it was the money that was the main issue - this is not a cheap hobby, especially for those wanting to shed 20-1/2" between the rails. But it did give me lots of time to dream and read about the prototype.
Early on, I planned to freelance with a general Colorado narrow gauge theme, primarily influenced by the Denver & Rio Grande Western and the Rio Grande Southern. But then one year I received "The Rainbow Route" for Christmas. For those not familiar, it is Sloan and Skowronski's classic history of the short lines north of Silverton, CO, built or at least eventually controlled by Otto Mears, the "Pathfinder of the San Juans." It dramatically and permanently changed my modeling interests in a couple ways. First, I decided I no longer wanted to model the Depression era years favored by many narrow gaugers - I wanted to focus on the early days, when the railroads were new and prospering and their tiny locomotives were well-maintained and frequently cleaned and polished. Second, I started to realize how many other narrow gauge short lines crisscrossed the Rockies, especially before World War I, and how little attention they had received from modelers.
So I started turning my trackplanning focus to modeling actual prototypes, and realistically at that. At first, I wanted to model Otto Mears' first line, the Silverton RR. Then I became increasingly enamored with the other Silverton lines, the Silverton Northern and Silverton Gladstone & Northerly. The more prototypes I became interested in, the less attainable my goals were - small railroads though they were, there was no way to fit a realistic version of all 3 into any space available to me.
And so I started to turn towards "protolancing." I came up with the idea to model a fictional 4th short line north from Silverton, and to call it the Silverton & San Pablo. It would follow the imaginary Rio San Pablo (a tributary to the Animas) to a town of the same name and continue on to a mining district above, based on the Red Mountain and Guston areas on the Silverton RR. I even came up with a fairly nice track plan to fit in a bedroom. But by that point, college was impending and time became a limiting factor, so the S&SP, like many prototype would-have-been lines, was only ever a "paper railroad."
Through college, I maintained an underlying interest in the hobby but didn't really actively participate. I did, however, continue to buy books on narrow gauge and one of those was the death blow to the Silverton & San Pablo concept - Dorman's excellent "The Chili Line and Santa Fe the City Different" instilled in me an interest in the D&RG's Santa Fe Branch. This was particularly problematic as someone who wanted to model the Silverton area; it might be feasible to model some hybrid Mears short line in the San Juans, but combining that in a satisfying way with the dramatically different high desert and adobe buildings of New Mexico just didn't seem possible.
Fortunately, yet another book opened my eyes to a different possibility. This one was "Utah Ghost Rails" by Stephen Carr and Robert Edwards. Through it, I started to realize the vast number of small (and not so small) narrow gauge railroads that once ran all over the country and have been almost completely forgotten. I'm sure there are dozens that no one has ever attempted to model! This made me suspect it would be possible to "sneak" another one into that group - to invent a prototype that was so geographically remote and plausible that people might just assume it was one of the many obscure but real railroads they had never discovered. And in that context, I could adopt whatever features I found appealing about any number of prototype railroads. I also found in "Utah Ghost Rails" the canvas on which to invent this railroad: southeastern Utah - an area rich in spectacular geography and conspicuously devoid of any actual historical railroads. Initially, I intended just to use the area as a blank slate on which to throw whatever topography and railroad influences I wanted - an Ophir-like loop here, a pseudo-Alpine Tunnel there - but the more I looked at the reality of the region, the more I realized I couldn't improve on it. Here was a small corner of the country with deep river canyons, high alpine mountains, open sagebrush country, and red rock desert in almost unbelievably close proximity to each other.
This was where I wanted to lay my 3' gauge rails.