Scaling Expectations: A fresh look at what I’m modeling on the YV

El Portal yard on the Yosemite Valley Railroad, modeled by Jack Burgess

If you’ve read any of my past posts on track planning for the Yosemite Valley, you might have noticed that I have been struggling with the idea of coming to grips with planning a layout that is not only in Proto48, but in reality the struggle is in planning a layout not in HO scale.  The break with trying to plan a whole railroad to fit in a space, or in my case, to fit on storable and manageable sections, is a mental hurdle that has caused some of my stagnation and inaction.

To give you some idea of the changes involved in scale-switching and learning to track plan in a new scale, check out this first deck track plan from a version of the YV that I started working on many years ago.  Designed to fit in a space slightly larger than a 2 car garage, this plan that I had assistance with from my friend Dennis, shows the area on the railroad from the SP interchange at Merced through Merced Falls on a single deck.  There is a lot of railroad on that deck, but in HO, this is possible.  

Now check out a plan I worked up for just Merced in O scale.  There are elements of the prototype that I’ve left out by choice and as you can see from the 6’ x 18” boxes I’ve drawn on this plan, I was working out how to build this as a portable layout, but the size of this end of the railroad, spread out in the valley, is somewhat daunting in O scale, and in reality is not, for me, a good location to start from to spite my thinking that starting “at the origination point” would be a good idea.

Jack Burgess has on his website a full page devoted to his track plan.  That can be found here: One thing you’ll see on this page is the wide-angle photo of the entrance to Jack’s layout space.  As you enter his layout, the first scene that you are met with is his rendition of the YV yard at the other end of the line from Merced, the yard at El Portal.

On one of my visits with Jack, I took the photo at the top of this post of his El Portal yard.  For anyone interested in the story of Jack’s rendition, the article “A More Prototypical Yard at El Portal” appeared in the 1998 edition of Model Railroad Planning.  Having stumbled back onto this article recently in reorganizing some magazines, I decided to give El Portal of the 1920’s another look to see if maybe it would be a better modeling solution.  This quote from Jack’s article got me really thinking about this:  

“The Yosemite Valley faced physical constrains similar to the ones that I – like most modelers – confronted during the design of my model railroad.  At El Portal, the eastern terminus of the railroad at the boundary of Yosemite National Park, the otherwise narrow Merced River canyon widened only slightly leaving little space or the yard and station.  Despite these limitations, the railroad managed to build a yard that served the like very well until it’s abandonment in 1945” – Jack Burgess, MRP 1998

I dug into two sources immediately.  Jack’s “Trains to Yosemite” and “Memories of El Portal” by James Law.  As I read parts of both of these sources, I began to realize that modeling El Portal solves some of my issues greatly.  The yard at El Portal in the 1920’s included lots of sports to switch, including the YV station for freight, the Government warehouse that may have been hosting a company making orange juice, a small ice house, Standard Oil, until the mid 1920’s, a logging incline, and the barium mines just to the west that were served by the railroad at a small ore bin.  That’s a really good amount of “work” to model and lots of “play value” in one spot.

Energized to do more research, and track plan, and build models, I’m getting going this weekend on finishing projects and starting to put together paper templates for turnouts to draw out my idea of what an El Portal in Proto48 might look like.


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