The In-ko-pah Railroad



I’ve always wanted to build a model railroad, but lack of money and/or space always prevented it. I especially loved modeling scenery and structures, and used to build small dioramas. For a few months in the early 1980’s, I was a member of the San Diego Model Railroad Club and built some of the desert scenery for their big layout in the museum at Balboa Park.

In the late 1980’s I started work on a HOn30 narrow gauge model railroad in our garage. I got the benchwork built and some of the handlaid track in place. Then we needed to put an addition over the garage, and everything had to be torn out. Afterwards we found other uses for the garage space which were incompatible with a model railroad.

Then in December 2005 I found a Buddy L brand “G scale” starter set on sale, and fell in love with it. We set it up on the patio and watched it go “round and round”. I started appraising every inch of available yard space for a permanent location. The only spot that wasn’t already spoken for was the hillside in our backyard . It was steep, and lacked room for the wide-radius curves required for larger locomotives, but it would do. Construction began shortly after New Year’s Day in 2006.

It took nearly two months to get rid of all the ice plant. Over three tons of concrete blocks were used to create retaining walls (now covered with rock). A few more tons of blocks were used to create the stairs at each end, and the tunnels. I lost track of how many bags of concrete and mortar were required. At least twenty tons of rocks were used to build the mountains and cliffs, all of them broken, hauled, and placed by me.

The native slope consists of ancient seabed which has a near-sandstone consistency. I wore two inches off the blade of a mattock digging out the hillside. Some areas had to be worked with a hammer and chisel. Fortunately this tough material provides a good solid foundation and is almost impervious to erosion.

When I started, I had only a very basic trackplan -- just a rough approximation of what I wanted. The details were worked out along the way. The layout of the track was heavily dependent on the terrain, and vice versa, so it was necessary to lay track a little at a time while constructing the scenery. As a result, it took two and a half years before the mainline loop was connected. A train made the first complete run of the layout on May 21, 2008.