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A Trip to see the San Diego Model Railroad Museum in Balboa Park 12/20/2011

by Chris Guenzler

AC Adam invited me down to San Diego to go to the San Diego Model Railroad Museum on the first Tuesday of my Winter Break. I drove to the Santa Ana station and waited for Pacific Surfliner 566.

That train arrived and I boarded then when Conductor Joe Morgan punched my ten-ride ticket, I gave him one of the 2012 calendars I had made.

The scene later along the surf south of San Clemente. The train ran into the siding at West Fallbrook and luck was with me this morning with my camera and where the train stopped.

United States Army GP9 1401 is really Southern Pacific GP9 5873 built by Electro-Motive Division in 1959. It was among the last GP9s built by EMD for an American customer, and the only order of low nose GP9s built for a major railroad. It was re-numbered 3709 in 1965. In February 1987 it was sold to the United States Army Transportation School as their 002. Later it became Department of Transportation 1401 and then the United States Marine Corps 296619. At one time the lettering on the side said U.S. Army, but the Army portion has since been painted out – most likely because this unit has been assigned to the USMC's Camp Pendleton.

We sat here in the siding for over twenty minutes before Pacific Surfliner 769 ran by us on the mainline then arrived in San Diego thirty minutes late which did not matter because I was on the Connect Amtrak wi-fi the whole trip south and listened to music while I surfed the Internet. I went out to the street side of the San Diego station and waited for AC Adam who was delayed by a major accident on Interstate 8. He picked me up and we drove to Balboa Park and finally found a place to park. From the parking lot, we walked over to the building that is the home of the San Diego Model Railroad Museum, went downstairs and came to our destination.

San Diego Model Railroad Museum

Spanning over 27,000 square feet of trains, trestles and tracks, we are in the heart of natural beauty framed by the majestic backdrop of Balboa Park. The San Diego Model Railroad Museum is a space where imagination is beautifully engineered. SDMRM features both indoor and outdoor exhibits and programming for all ages.

Our mission is to research, collect, preserve and present the heritage of American railroading using educational programs, displays, toy trains and scale models of California railroads. At every twist, turn and tunnel, we spark curiosity with developing educational programming that includes education milestones like critical thinking, creativity and problem solving. Our exhibits transform little engineers to modelers who tinker with engines and nail down track to build and transform something from nothing.

First you see this 30th anniversary sign.

Then you see the lettering on the wall.

There is an operating Southern Pacific lower quadrant semaphore signal, after which you pay your admission fee and then are free to enjoy the model railroads in this unique museum.

An interactive map of San Diego and the Imperial Valley.

The O scale (1/48th actual size) layout model railroad is the Cabrillo & Southwestern. This 2,700 square foot layout is a free-lance representation of a route from San Diego to Sacramento built by the San Diego Model Railroad Club. The layout was redesigned in 1986 and is being built in place, section by section, giving visitors a first-hand view of model railroad construction. The layout features an electric trolley line which actually receives power from the overhead catenary system. There is also an operating brass sculptured water fountain in front of the main terminal. The San Diego Model Railroad Club (O and HO scales) meets Fridays at 7:30 pm in the Museum,

Views of the Cabrillo & Southwestern O scale layout model railroad.

The next layout we will look at is the San Diego & Arizona Eastern Railroad's HO scale (1/87th actual size) layout. This 4,500 square foot layout is based on the prototype San Diego and Arizona Eastern Railway line from San Diego Union Station eastward through spectacular Carriso Gorge to the desert floor at El Centro. It is also owned by the San Diego Model Railroad Club. HO is the most popular scale in model railroading. This layout features an impressive 10 foot high model of the Carriso Gorge (north of Jacumba in eastern San Diego County) and the Goat Canyon trestle. The actual trestle was the largest timber railroad trestle in the world at the time of its construction in 1932. Because of the rough terrain, the SD&AE has been coined "The Impossible Railroad". The San Diego Model Railroad club meets every Friday evening.

The San Diego to San Ysidro and San Diego to El Cajon portions are now part of the San Diego Trolley.

Views of the San Diego & Arizona Eastern Railroad's HO scale layout. Now let us see what else is in this museum.

There is a children's area to drop off your children while you enjoy the model railroads.

There are many display cases around this museum.

Click here for Part 2 of this story