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At an elevation of 9890 feet and at milepost 48.1, Ophir is located deep in the San Juan Mountains of south-western Colorado. Founded in 1867, the small community struggled along with a population of miners and prospectors until the ‘Rio Grande Southern’, a 3-foot narrow gauge railroad built its line through the San Juan's in 1891. While the railroads mainline did not pass through Ophir because of its location in a side canyon, facilities were built three miles east at a location known initially as `Ophir Loop'. Over the years, ‘Ophir Loop’ was shortened to ‘Ophir’, while the original town became known as ‘Old Ophir’.

It was a cool crisp Fall morning in 1942 when the Rio Grande Southern's locomotive #25 steamed up the short branch from Ophir to the small mining community of Old Ophir. Behind it is a cut of three loaded cars and its caboose from train 265, a northbound freight coming from Dolores on its way to Ridgway. 

The conductor sits in his caboose sorting how he is going to switch the three cars in his train, and in what order he needs to pick up three cars to be added to his train, which sits waiting on the passing loop at Ophir. He’s already behind schedule, so he needs to do the moves as efficiently as possible, get those cars added to his train and then make the meet with Goose 4 at Vance Junction. Can he do it in time?

This scenario is being acted out on my ‘On3’ scale model of a fictitious branch of the ‘Rio Grande Southern’. The layout was designed to be fully transportable and designed to fit into my Toyota Celica, so it could be displayed at exhibitions and conventions. It was to have three sceniced modules and a three-track storage turntable, also sceniced, where full trains are held before taking their turn switching the yard at Old Ophir.


Could a reasonable sized switching layout, in the ‘O’ scale (1:48 scale) fit into the back of my Toyota Celica hatch back car. The space available was 1.37 meters long by 0.9 meters wide and a wedge shape 350mm at the lower end and 600mm at the other. This space had to contain everything required for the layout, including the stand, lights, curtain and all the locomotives and rolling stock. There was only a little space here and there, plus the front seat and floor, in the car to hold some of the smaller items required for the layout.

The first thing to determine was just how big could the layout be to fit into box with the above dimensions. The total length was preset by the maximum length available of 1.37 meters, however 450mm width for each module (half 900mm) was too narrow for the yard design envisaged. The solution was to overlap the two modules as can be seen in the diagram below.

Yes, it does fit! The layout loaded into the car ready to transport to an exhibition. And, no, there is no room for a passenger.



Being a switching layout, a system was required to make the operation on the layout have a purpose and make it resemble the prototype. This was achieved with a custom designed card system, Click HERE  to see how this system works.

Above is the "Layout Design Unit" diagram as outlined in the article.

Below is the full plan of the layout, with the three track fully sceniced storage turntable