El Portal Industries: Information to Refine the Track Plan and Adjust Freight Car Construction

Postcard of El Portal station (Author’s collection)

I’ve written before about operating at Merced, or at least some of the beginning thoughts I had about operating a layout based on Merced.  With my shift to modeling El Portal as a more realistically accomplishable location on the YV in Proto48, part of the planning for that is to look at what kind of operation, and how many cars, go to each location.

For the moment, we’re going to work the the track plan I published here (http://trainmodeler.com/el-portal-first-plans).  I’m pondering still how to compress this plan further as I don’t have a 2 car garage to build in, but that will come, and figuring out what needs to go where will help greatly.

Starting in the West, we have, at Rancharia Flat, a loadout for barium nitrate.  This location will load and ship ore via gondolas.  I would expect to be making some kind of movement here every operating session, be it spotting gondolas or a boxcar of mining materials.  Using the same planning tool I showed previously in discussing the Merced Ice & Cold Storage operation, I have created seven “scenarios” for car movements at the mine, using 2 boxcars and 5 gondolas.  The movements, as shown below in the table, bring one or two cars during most operating sessions into or out of the mine, with some shuffling of cars necessary to spot things in the proper locations.  Doing the calculation for 40’ cars, to operate the mine, we need a siding that is about 30” long for car spotting.  I can see a scenario here as well where gondolas might be used to bring in cribbing timbers for the mine and then reloaded, so some interesting loads can arrive here as well, not just empty cars.  Models wise, I own a USRA gondola kit from Intermountain, which I’ll build and finish as a El Paso & Southwestern car, but the other four gondolas are yet to be determined models.  Boxcars I have lots of, so we’ll sort that out later, as rotating which car delivers here will add to the visual interest.

Moving into El Portal, we have a number of industries, as drawn, to deal with.  We’ll look at the logging operation on both ends of the yard as one industry later on.  That means there is the Standard Oil facility, the Government Warehouse, the Fresno Consumers Ice building, the automobile track at the YV station, the freight track at the YV station, and the passenger operations to look at.

Moving cars in and out of Standard Oil you might think would be simple, by moving just tank cars around.  In actuality, it’s not quite that simple.  The facility would have been providing gasoline to gas stations in El Portal and the National Park, but also likely was the transfer point for gasoline that was used at Emory for the Plymouth locomotive being used at the limestone quarry, and also would probably have received drums of oil for use as lubricants in automobiles serviced at the gas stations.  This makes for some interesting movements, and again involves more boxcars.  By using four cars, two tanks and two anonymous boxcars, a five day cycle can be achieved, which will also provide some interesting work for crews.  At this point it’s important to note that the barium mine is a 7 rotation cycle, and Standard Oil is a 5 rotation cycle, meaning that the two won’t always line up the same.  Just these two industries likely have a 35 operating session variability before the same moves are being made at the same session.  The spur length here needs to be similar to the one at the barium mine, about 30” will due leaving extra room on the spur.

One of the smallest industries is likely one of the easiest to plan for.  The Fresno Consumers Ice facility at El Portal consisted of a simple building used to store block ice brought in by reefer and later hauled to the National Park for the hotels.  In this instance, the operating plan is pretty simple.  A car loaded with ice is brought to El Portal and spotted, the next operating session it’s pulled to return to Merced.  That’s repeated with a different car the next operating session.  It’s a small four cycle operating plan, with only two cars, but it will block the turntable access, so operators will need to be aware of the spotting of this car and the need to turn a locomotive so that they aren’t making multiple moves here.  A single spot is needed, and since it’s on the turntable lead, I’ll make sure that’s at least 12” long to allow for the car to be properly positioned to deliver the ice.

The passenger equipment at El Portal, consisting of one train worth of equipment, including YV observation car 330, at least one Pullman sleeper, a leased SP diner, and a SP baggage car, are space-fillers.  While I plan to build the equipment, and plan to place the equipment at the station, and plan to shuffle the cars around so the same car is not always in the same spot, it is likely that I won’t be operating passenger trains.  The space required to do so in Proto48 is not something I’m likely to have.  However, as they are an important part of what is going on with the YV, and the cars take up space, I will have equipment there at the station.  I’m likely to try and acquire/build more than one Pullman so I can swap out the names just for adding interest.  Many of the Pullman’s appear to have been in relatively loose “capture” service running up and down the valley and out to San Francisco and Los Angeles.  That means it’s prototypical to have a small number of cars and just swap them out.  In addition to the normal cars, the occasion California State Fish Car may appear on the layout, placed on the Automobile track.  This would “muck things up” some, and crews might have to shift that car.  It won’t likely wind up being operated more than a shuffle movement in the yard, though.

Looking to some of the more complicated locations in El Portal, the Government Warehouse, a structure located near the West end of the yard, and owned by the Yosemite Valley Railroad, closely associated with hay shipments for US Cavalry forces in the National Park in the early days, provides a source of traffic that will spice things up a little on occasion.  There is some documentation that this warehouse continued to be used to support services in the National Park, but in addition, may have in the 1920’s, also had a juice company leasing space to provide fresh juice to the park as well.  Beyond just freight, hay, and juice, the spur that the warehouse sits on was, during the time when the logging incline was active, used to spot tank cars of Bunker C past the warehouse so oil could be reloaded into special tank cars used to supply the logging shay’s used by the lumber company.  I have worked out a 9 cycle routine for working equipment through the Warehouse track, and now have what is so far in this study, the longest track requirement of about 40” for spotting cars properly.

The Automobile track at the YV station in El Portal was, as it’s named, a track for loading and unloading automobiles that are carried on flat cars.  The YV had a number of cars that were, in the early 1920’s, in service doing this on the regular passenger trains if needed.  I plan to use this track for the occasional spotting of a flat car doing just that, or a car coming from off-line carrying new equipment for the National Park.  Mostly, this is an overflow track for the House Track, and as such will likely be about 24” long (minimum) to allow for spotting of a couple of cars here.

The House Track at El Portal was in the early 1920’s relocated to the back side of the station when the passenger car shed was built.  This track saw regular use with LCL and other shipments into the National Park and the general area.  This is likely to be the busiest area on the layout, and as such, it has the most variety of foreign road boxcars coming and going (foreign being non-YV).  It also will likely see the YV’s own boxcars coming and going in LCL service as well.  Most photos show two, maximum three cars here, so I need at least 36” of siding, but likely a little more.  I’ve developed a basic 11 cycle plan for service on this track, but some of that will probably see additional changes, as I may occasionally run a stock car with horses for the park, or another special load to the House Track, which will only add additional interest.

The last industry to look at for regular operation in El Portal is the logging incline.  While this was out of service by 1928, I’m going to stretch a little to be able to add some of the YV equipment and logging I really enjoy.  Not having room to model Incline or to model Merced Falls, having the logging incline in service here on my layout will add another piece to the operation.  The operation really is fairly straight forward.  Empty log cars arrive and are delivered to the furthest East end of the El Portal yard to be hauled up the wye and the incline.  Loaded cars are spotted on the West end of the wye and are then picked up and taken to Merced Falls.  I plan to build in the neighborhood of 12 YV cars,   If I spot half of those cars loaded and half empty, I need just over 4 and 1/2 feet for each spur.

This look does a few things, and it leaves out a few things.  What it does is provide me with some “suggested” lengths for sidings in El Portal that I can use when adjusting my track plan.  It also lets me check my freight car stash to see what I have and what I want and what I should be building.  Additionally, I can get some idea of what pattern the cars are going to come and go from the layout in, so I can figure out what a “typical” train length is going to be.  What this does not do is set any kind of operation in stone.  Railroads are fluid things.  There are patterns, but those pattens change and shift.  

Coming soon, a look at what cars in my stash are assigned to the letters I’ve given them in the planning phases here, and what I need to still find.


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