Read other articles |
Send in an
A Grand Occasion:
The 2005 Grand Scales Convention
Two 5” scale 15” gauge
steam locomotives, GSP&P 2-8-0 #13 (completed in 2000) and the just-restored
Joshua Tree & Southern Shay #6, pass at the convention grounds at the Hillcrest
& Wahtoke Railroad in
Article and Photos by Ed Kelley
event held just outside of Fresno, California in the town of Reedley saw the
gathering of people from across the globe with one common interest: Grand Scale
trains; something most people don’t even know the definition of!
While hobbyist live steam has existed for more than a century, it started small.
At that time, however, the McGarigles of Niagara Falls, New York and other
companies had begun mass-producing larger, scaled-down steam for use as
amusement park rides, the earliest known installment of such being at Coney
Island in New York City. While these may have been somewhat simple and far
from the intricate “nut-and-bolt” models of Grand Scale builders today, it was
these trains of 12” and 15” gauges and the like that were the first true “Grand
Scale” trains (click images to enlarge).
Redwood Valley Railway #7 made its public debut at the Convention and was a huge
hit. It also participated in the “Rent-An-Engine” program.
Avery special guest at
the convention was the 1901 Porter “Marie E”, owned by famed Disney animator
Ollie Johnston and recently rebuilt at Hillcrest for its new owner.
Joshua Tree & Southern
Shay #6 with Phil Reader, John Zitrick, and Chris Allan. This once-homely engine
was recently restored by Ken Kukuk.
|In the 1950s, Erich Thomsen of Oakland, California
and Bill Daney of Pueblo, Colorado brought a new standard to “Grand Scale”
modeling: the standards for modeling 5-1/2” scale equipment on 15” gauge track.
By representing a narrow-gauge (3’) prototype, 5-1/2” scale brought bigger
equipment well suited for commercial operations such as Thomsen’s Redwood Valley
Railway in Berkeley’s Tilden Park. Ever since, dozens have modeled live
steam and diesel locomotives in the larger gauges (12”, 15”, etc.)
|On September 30th and October 1-2,
2005, the time had come for the 2005 Grand Scales Convention, hosted on the
grounds of Sean and Melissa Bautista’s Hillcrest Christmas Tree Farm and the 15”
gauge Hillcrest & Wahtoke Railroad. The event was the third grand
gathering of members from the tight-knit Grand Scale community that was brought
together from around the world largely due to the event’s organizers.
Less than a decade ago, Greg Robinson, a volunteer on the
15” gauge Orland Newville & Pacific Railroad in Northern California, and his
wife Susan decided to begin a publication focusing exclusively on the large
scale live steam railroads dubbed “Grand Scale”; those with a track gauge of 12”
gauge and larger (with 24” usually serving as the upper threshold for the
classification). The original publication was homebound, but the execution
of the idea and the content within made the Grand Scales Quarterly an instant
hit, with numerous international subscriptions.
Guest engineer Michael
Campbell takes the Redwood Valley Railway’s ten-wheeler, #11, around for a spin.
Convention attendees had the opportunity to purchase blocks of throttle time on
many resident and visiting engines. The Redwood Valley Railway was represented
by #11 as well as their just-completed 2-6-2 #7.
“One-Spot”, built with a Stanley Steamer engine, also represented the Glenwood
South Park & Pacific Railroad. It was the first locomotive built for the private
line in the 1960s.
Ken Kukuk’s most
recent masterpiece, 2-8-0 #13, was another participant in the “Rent-An-Engine”
|The old format for GSQ soon gave way to a slick
glossy-cover magazine, and the Robinsons soon made the first a handful of
informative and entertaining Grand Scale and live steam videos;
Railways Continued. In its still relatively short existence,
the Grand Scales Quarterly has played a major role in joining together
the scattered groups of people around the world involved with 12”-24” gauge
railroading. Two major ‘creations’ from Robinson & Associates in
particular have helped to do so, the Grand Scales tours and the Grand Scales
|In 2000, a group of Grand Scale railroaders gathered to tour
both the public and private Grand Scale railways of Northern California over the
course of a week. The positive reception of the tour lead to additional
trips to the Midwest and two to the United Kingdom. The Midwest tour in
October of 2001 ended at Little A-Merrick-A and the
Whiskey River Railway at Marshall, Wisconsin, at the first Grand Scale
Convention. The event included seminars, vendor booths, and the opportunity for
guests to rent throttle time on one of the Whiskey River’s 16” gauge steam
locomotives. The success of the convention brought a second one in 2003,
this time held at the Hillcrest
Christmas Tree Farm in Reedley, the location of the 15” gauge Hillcrest
& Wahtoke Railroad and the Hillcrest Shops; the foremost
manufacturer of 5-1/2” scale locomotives and rolling stock. When it came
time for another convention two years later, it was chosen to once again be
hosted at Hillcrest. It was to be a grand event.
|The 2005 convention was the first to see a
full-scale locomotive under steam, and a most unique one at that.
Hillcrest Shops crew recently completed the restoration of the “Marie E”, a 1901
Porter that had been rescued by Disney animator Ollie Johnston after a career
hauling coal outside of Puyallup, Washington. Johnston and friends
restored the “Marie E” (named for his wife, Marie Estelle Johnson) and built a
railroad on his and fellow animator/friend Frank Thomas’ vacation homes in
Julian, California. Johnson sold the locomotive to Pixar animator John
Lassetter who, after its restoration, arranged with Disney brass to have the
locomotive brought to Disneyland for the last surviving of the “Nine Old Men” of
Disney animation to run around the Magic Kingdom.
The smallest true 5”
scale steamer at the convention was 0-4-0 #18, built by Chris Allan with help
from the Hillcrest Shops.
The Hillcrest &
Wahtoke’s Davenport-based diesel, #57
was built by Rod Plaisted for his backyard “Clayton & Bay Point” in the Bay
Area. This is its second visit to a Grand Scale convention.
|The Hillcrest crew and friends laid about 1,000
feet of 3’ track at Hillcrest to run the “Marie E” during the convention, which
John Lassetter was generous enough to have participated in the event. The
highlight of the convention, however, was a special appearance by Lassetter
himself at a presentation on the history, restoration, and travels of the little
Porter held over dinner by Hillcrest Shops owner Sean Baustista.
|While the not-even-Grand Scale “Marie E” was
certainly one of the main attractions, there were other equally notable visiting
engines. The biggest hit was the Redwood Valley Railway’s
recently-completed 2-6-2 #7 “Oak”, a project begun more than a decade and a half
ago by the late Erich Thomsen. Featuring a steel cab and pilot, his
stunning Prairie was intended to depict a turn-of-the-century narrow-gauge
locomotive “reshopped” in the 1920s or 30s. While Thomsen did not live to
see its completion, he would no doubt be proud of his crew and daughter Ellen
Thomsen, who continues to run this most successful operation in Berkeley’s
The Joshua Tree & Southern, whose long-dormant 15” gauge is
making a steady and impressive comeback from the modest loopline that existed in
years past, was represented by their recently-restored 2-truck Shay #6.
This once homely little Shay was originally built in 1971 by member Tom Coffey
and stored in a shed at Joshua Tree for about two decades before receiving a
“makeover” by Ken Kukuk, who is also responsible for the construction of
Glenwood South Park & Pacific Shay #7.
This 12-5/8” scale
locomotive was built in the 1890s by the McGarigles of Niagara Falls, NY under
Herschell-Spillman, and is believed to have been the first locomotive to run at
Playland in Rye Beach, NY. It was easily the oldest locomotive at the
Another unique piece
of 3’ equipment at the Convention was this narrow-gauge Model T firetruck, being
stored at Hillcrest for its new owner who recently purchased it.
Glenwood South Park &
Pacific #5, brought from Santa Cruz County, unfortunately was sidelined and
unfortunately did not operate during the event.
Porter “Marie E.” brought a bit of Disney Magic to the convention. It spent many
years chugging around Disney animator Ollie Johnston’s “Deer Lake Park & Julian
|There were other notable visitors as well.
In addition to the just completed #7, the Redwood Valley also brought along
4-6-0 #11 “Sequoia” from the Bay Area. The private Glenwood South Park &
Pacific in Santa Cruz County brought Mogul #5 (which, unfortunately, was
sidelined and did not run during the convention) and the “One Spot”, the
wood-fired, vertical-boilered “Climax” built as the first locomotive in the line
using a Stanley Steamer engine. Current “regulars” at Hillcrest, Chris
Allan’s 0-4-0 #18 (and 4-wheel caboose), as well as GSP&P 2-8-0 #13, were also
present; as were Rod Plaisted’s two battery-electric locomotives from his
private “Clayton & Bay Point Railroad” and the newly-completed railtruck from
the private Coyote Valley Railway. Hillcrest’s relatively new diesel #57
was also out and about.
|Of course, the popular seminars returned for the
2005 convention, this time held not at the Opera House in downtown Reedley but
on the property under a large arcade. The presentations covered various
aspects of Grand Scale railroading such as track and rolling stock construction,
organizational politics, NIMBYs, running commercial operations, etc. Some
of the most well-known figures in the field shared their knowledge with fellow
experts and novices alike throughout the weekend.
|Another notable program at the Convention was the
opportunity to “Rent-An-Engine”. Throttle time was sold at $55 for a full
run on the line (lasting about a half hour), and there was no limit on the
amount of blocks that could be purchased (or on which locomotives) by any given
person. At the last minute, the new RVRy #7 was added to the
“Rent-An-Engine” roster to replace the GSP&P #5. Having not even made its
first public run on its home road, it was a special opportunity to be had.
Part of the profits from each $55 session of throttle time “rented” on the
Joshua Tree & Southern #6 went to help fund the construction of the roundhouse
to serve as its future home at Joshua Tree. The JT&S Museum’s “blockhead”
campaign was launched to purchase the cement bricks to complete this keystone
structure in what will become a most impressive Grand Scale railroad when
The third Grand Scales Convention was a great success and a
fabulous time was had by all. Most of the visiting engines returned home,
as did the many tired exhibitors and participants after the big weekend.
An enormous “thank you” goes out to Greg and Susan Robinson, the Hillcrest crew,
John Lassetter, and all others who helped make the convention the fine event
that it was.
The Hillcrest & Wahtoke Railroad is located at the
Hillcrest Christmas Tree Farm on N. Reed Ave. in Reedley, CA and runs for the
public on weekends during pumpkin and Christmas Tree seasons each year.
Runs in 2005 will start the Saturday after Thanksgiving.
Article and Photos by Ed Kelley
This material may not be
or redistributed without written permission.
web publisher to ask
about use of this article.