So just what am I doing now?

I’ve had several people ask “what am I doing” and “how big is this layout”.   I’m building the State Belt Railway of California, which served parts of the waterfront of San Francisco, mainly the parts in the “older” parts of town (there were extensive docks & shipyards further south, served by the SP, SF or the WP, but I’m not worried about those).

The State Belt was owned & operated by the Port Commission of California, and served all of the industries and piers in the area, switching cars on an as-needed & as-directed basis by each of the connecting railroads.    This allowed railroads other than the dreaded Octopus (the Southern Pacific railroad) to serve the city.

Most of the railroad was within a block or two of the waterfront, running on The Embarcadero.   One section that went further afield was along North Point & Beach streets.   It’s two or three blocks from the water (ooh, so far away!).    It should be going uphill such that by the time the line reaches Del Monte, the street is on the 2nd level of the building, while on the opposite side the street is at the 1st level.  That couldn’t happen in the shortened distance that I have available to me.

So what is that space?   I’ve got U-shaped benchwork, with the base against a wall and aisles alongside both legs of the U.   One leg is about 16′ long, and the other about 24′.   All work so far is either on this 16′ section, or on the base.  Work is underway, hence tools & other cruft on the benchwork, but this gives you an idea of what is happening.

North Point / Beach line

The track is all handlaid.  Switches are mostly #5 built using the FastTracks jig, but with one curved switch built completely “by hand”.    The double crossing (with slight curve) was built by Dave Vos.   Switches are thrown using pushbuttons on the fascia, which control Tortoise motors via an Arduino based system.   This lets me use momentary switches to control the tortoise (which usually wants a latching SPDT or DPDT control).   There’s also a light in the pushbutton, which is lit for reverse, off for normal, and (soon) flashing while the motor is in motion.

There are a few places where a switch will need to be conveniently thrown from multiple locations (one side or the other of the benchwork), and this will let me pull that off.

Building mockups give me a vague idea of what this will look like.   The buildings aren’t too tall on this side of town, and most of these mockups are a bit too tall.   But it’s still enough to make the train look fairly small as it moves on the street trackage (pretty much everything you see here is embedded in pavement).

Here’s the updated version of my prototype map, showing what was there (at some point or another — I doubt that all of these existed at the same moment in time).   What I’ve built is close.    Certainly within the realm of “feels right to me”.

Just about all of these industries unloaded to the sidewalk or a truck.   None of these tracks had a traditional loading platform.   That’s common throughout the State Belt.   The actual industry may be several blocks away, but they’ll truck the load to their building.   The block marked in black on the map below had tracks running to it (it was a malting operation), but I just couldn’t find a way to get those into my plan.



I expect that this area will be operated by a two person crew.   There are no run-arounds on this section at all, so there needs to be some supporting trackage on the Embarcadero to make this operable.   Most of that street has two or three parallel tracks alongside the roadway (see for a photo).

I’ll be posting more about the next section shortly.

Modelling the Alley

A few days ago, I posted a map of the North Point / Beach Street “branch” of the State Belt.  Now, using my sophisticated planning tools, I’ve got a pretty good idea of what is going to fit in the space I have available.


These are templates from Fast Tracks for the size of switches that I plan to use.  The crossover is set up for 2″ track spacing, which suits what I need.   I have a pile of these printed up, and lay out track arrangements with these.

I’ve annotated the left & right hand templates with information for when I lay the track — I have a box of switch ties pre-cut to the necessary lengths, as indicated adjacent to each tie on the template.  I glue the template in place, then glue the wood ties to the template.  Then I can put the pre-built switch into place and I’m ready to move further down the line.


I also have built a number of building mockups out of about-to-be recycled boxes from work.  These range from 2 to 8 stories in height, and are about one half to one third of a block in size.  Since these streets have significant structures on each side, I want to get the feel of the visuals as well as the mechanicals of the track arrangement.

The picture above is North Point, running past several different industries (see the map link above).   I like using “false fronts” along the aisle to indicate that those are active buildings as well, instead of placing a spur right alongside the immense drop-off of the benchwork edge.  I used this in a couple of places on the St. Paul Bridge & Terminal, although I’m taking it up a notch with several buildings in a row.

I’m mixing taller & shorter buildings in front, in an attempt to provide suitable access for everyone to be able to reach in and uncouple cars as needed.   I’ll be putting turnout controls on the fascia (either Blue Point mechanicals or some servo controller), so no reaching in for ground throws.


This shows Pier 43 1/2, which is one of three car float aprons on the north end of the railroad.  Alongside that pier is a small yard which I can only imagine was used to stage cars for easy loading and unloading of the car floats as they came in.   I’ll have four tracks, which should be good for a three track float.  Further back is a small yard & team tracks, and off to the right would be Standard Oil, Harbor Warehouse, and the track to Ft. Mason & the Presidio.

The white rectangle is the mockup of the car float (for size).   I think that a small portion hanging off into the aisle is probably going to be okay.

This more or less accounts for one third of my available space.   I count 45 car spots, plus the float yard.

Now to work around the curves seen at the far end of this photo — double tracks following the Embarcadero along the various municipal piers and towards the S.P. interchange at King St.

Maps to follow.