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The “McPHEE LUMBER COMPANY” was founded in 1903 to harvest a very large stand of sugar pine located in northern California, and at it’s peak had 4 steam, geared locomotives, 37 pieces of rolling stock and 25 miles of track. The Great Depression really hit the company hard, but it managed to stagger on into the sixties, until the timber played out. Most of the equipment and facilities were put into storage, while the company tried, unsuccessfully, to buy an  adjacent lease of timber. The company ceased operation in 1968.

In late 1989, the “FRIENDS OF THE McPHEE LUMBER COMPANY” set up a restoration fund to start bringing back to life what was left of this logging railroad. The society has managed to restore locomotive No.2, a two truck Shay, to full working condition, and is now working on the stone ended engine shed. The roof has been repaired and only the walls remain. They now have somewhere to house the locomotive, and facilities to restore the few pieces of rolling stock that are in reasonable working condition.

Extract from: Laurie Green's "History of the McPhee Lumber Company"

Are you stuck in your armchair telling all that will listen that you don’t have room to build a layout? And those that will listen are asking you the question “How much room do you need?” Well, have you considered building a set of small dioramas that will, once you have the room, form an interesting layout.


These highly detailed dioramas can take up to 12 months or longer to complete, depending on the amount of time you can give to the hobby. The complete diorama discussed here took over 400 hours and over three months  to complete (and I work quickly and can donate a lot of time to this passion).


It’s not easy to hold your interest in such a large project. It’s easy to get bored, so I find the best method is to break the large diorama (or layout) down into smaller projects. These are often only 6 inches square, as in the water tank seen here. All you would need to build this structure is about 2 feet by 18 inches of work space. A tray with shallow sides and handles on the ends would be ideal if you have to put your work away when it is not being worked on.


If you are planning to follow this method, the one thing you do need to be clear on and plan for is the finished plan or concept for your series of dioramas. This may change as time goes on, but at least you have a starting point that can be altered to suit your new ideas. Below is the initial concept for my diorama layout (maybe I could call it D-Track!). So far I have only built the left hand baseboard. I could always add to the left end of the engine shed module as well. In fact, there’s no reason why you can’t continue to add modules  both ways.

 This diorama, which will measure out at 36” x 18” ( 900mm by 450mm ), is called “THE RESTORATION PROJECT”, and features an engine shed with stone end walls and is part of a “Friend’s of the McPhee Lumber Company” restoration project. Along with this structure, which will have a fully detailed interior, the diorama will have five other small dioramas, which will be built separately and then combined onto the large base to form the completed diorama.

 The five will be

1. A sanding facility

2. A water tank

3. Oil Tank facility

4. Hand car shed with storage shed attached.

 These four small dioramas, plus the engine shed will form a large diorama


 For most of my dioramas I will normally develop my own designs and then draw the plans on a CAD program (Computer Aided Design) - I use Visual CADD Version 5.0


Any good structure is easier to build if you have plans. In this case, for  three of the smaller structures on the diorama, the plans came from a series of three articles by Gilbert Gribi in the 'Short Line & Narrow Gauge Gazette' (Mar/Apr 1994, Mar/Apr 1995 & Mar/Apr 1997). An example is seen opposite

  For my model the only changes I made to Gilbert's plans were to reverse the plans of the Sand Facility so the drying shed and sanding tower are on the left hand side, as well as slightly shortening  the sand storage bin. I felt this was better balanced to have the sanding tower next to the water tank rather than on the edge of the diorama. This was done by simply scanning the plan into the computer, calling it up in a photo program, using the reverse option and then printing it out to the correct scale.

As well, I changed the square wooden water tank to a round metal tank, which is well rusted, and awaits restoration.

 Each of the first four small dioramas was built on a canite base (a soft pulp board used in pin boards about 12mm thick) which corresponded to a hole in the main diorama base. The assorted junk and the engine house were built directly onto the large diorama base, also using a piece of canite, but could have been built on their own base as well.

The hand car shed was based on a similar structure located on my R.G.S. layout, and was copied - sorry, no plans available for this building.

The ends of engine shed were cast in plaster using a specially built master and mould. They are two sided by first making a half depth casting, and then pushing this casting into the wet plaster of a second half depth casting. The ends were stained using acrylics.


For plans of the Engine Shed and Diorama, click on the plan icon opposite.