Sierra Railroad 1955

Modeling the Sierra Railroad in Twain Harte, CA

Operations Overview

Operating sessions are held every other Thursday evening at 7 pm. When we are not operating on the Sierra the Thursday night sessions are held on Steve Hayes’ WP Layout.


This photo shows the Crew Assignment Board, the job description packets and the radio throttles. The Dispatcher’s table is just below the throttles. For each job on the layout there is a instruction packet for the operator. The packet tells the operator which locomotive they will be using and a brief summary of the job. There is a pocket on the back side for holding waybills. The packets around the curved portion are for the Sierra, Hetch Hetchy and Pickering railroads. Those packets to the right of the curved section are for the SP.


Here’s a close up of the Crew Assignment Board. The yard jobs and the first 6- 8 road jobs are assigned before the session starts. As road crews finish a job they sign up for the next available job

The layout was designed for operations although I never thought I would have 15 operators running trains all at the same time. In 1990 I started to use a computer program called Switcher that was published in ‘Model Railroading’ . I initially used the program for a layout I had in Concord, CA prior to moving to Twain Harte in 1991. The program generates waybills using a random generator to select from over 2,000 car orders in the system. Each car order in the system is a 10 digit number. The first two digits is where the car is located, the next two digits is the destination for the car, and the next 3 sets of two digits are the car types that can be moved between these two locations.

I currently use 22 car types in the program. In many cases there are different car types to distinguish cars from various railroads. For an example there are three different types of 40 ft box cars, SP, ATSF and all others. By breaking the 40 ft box cars into these three types I can ensure that a SP Box Car does not leave Sierra Yard on the ATSF train to Riverbank or a ATSF Box Car going on a SP train. Although the Sierra interchanged with both the SP and ATSF at Oakdale the SP and the ATSF did not interchange cars between themselves at Oakdale.

The basic operating premise is as follows: Empties arrive at the Sierra Yard in Oakdale from the SP and ATSF. The empties will be taken up the hill by the Sierra and delivered to the 3 mills on the Sierra, Snyder Mill at Chinese, Pickering Mill at Fassler and the West Side Mill at Tuolumne. As the empties are going up the hill a train of loads from the mills is going down to Oakdale. Once at Oakdale the cars are interchanged with the SP and ATSF for points east, some cars ending up in Brooklyn, NY and points along the Eastern Seaboard.

The basis for most the car movements on the layout have come from a ‘Freight Conductor’s Train Book’. The book covers a time period of September 29 – November 28 1952 for Train 3 and 4 that ran between Oakdale and Jamestown. The book is a wealth of information. Not only does it give the Reporting Marks and car numbers of the cars in the train but also their destinations for both inbound and outbound cars. Plus it shows which locomotive was used, departure and arrival times, helpers if any and the crew for the train. It took a while to decipher the Conductors writing and abbreviations but it was amazing to find all the fallen flag railroads that had cars on the Sierra Railroad. My two favorites are the BS, Birmingham Southern Railroad and the NJI&I, New Jersey, Indiana & Illinois Railroad.

Two other points of interest were found in the book. After a break of two plus weeks between October 25th and November 10th Locomotive #38 makes it debut as a road engine. And with a few exceptions its becomes the primary locomotive for Trains #3 and 4. The other interesting fact gathered from the Conductors book was the number of cars being shipped out of Lime Kiln on a daily basis. On average there were 3 to 4 cars a day and they were mostly Covered Hoppers.

I have a copy of another Conductor’s book that covers the time frame of May 15 to July 1, 1954. But I just haven’t had the time to go through it to date but I will one of these days. Who knows what gems of information I will find in it.

Currently we move 180 cars per operating session. This includes cars on the SP and ATSF that interchange with the Sierra or have a destination in Oakdale. It does not count the Passenger cars of the Sierra or the SP or the 56 log cars of the Pickering Railroad or any of the WSLCo equipment.  More than once the comment has been made that if the Sierra moved as many cars as we do they would have never filed bankruptcy or had any financial problems.

Sierra Railroad Logo

Sierra Railroad Logo

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Sierra Historical & Modeling Seminar

The Sierra Seminar is normally held the 3rd weekend in April, the Sunday after the West Side Loggers Convention, in Sonora, CA. For information on this year's Seminar please visit the Tuolumne Historical Railroad Association website.

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