RailGoat's Future Layout

It is no secret that one of my goals is to build a model train layout. I have had several simple 4'x8' layouts at my parents' home growing up, but none since high school. I was introduced to a large size model railroad layout while visiting and later joining the Crescent City Model Railroad Club in Kenner, LA. This layout was amazing to me as it provided for prototypical operation of trains from one point to another versus circular running like those 4'x8' layouts afforded. Over the years I have had the opportunity to visit and operate on quite a few very nice home and club layouts, all the while studying and learning from them for the benefit of my future layout.

The purpose of this page is to document the reasons why I have chosen the era(s) I have chosen to model and to document them as well as other design criteria which I wish to adhere to in the creation of my future layout. To start with, I grew up in south Louisiana at the end of a stub-ended branch line of the Southern Pacific which ran from its connection with the SP's Sunset Route to my home town of Houma, LA. I began actively investigating this line on my bicycle during the mid 1970's. At the time the oil industry and the Southdown Sugar Refinery dominated the traffic on this line and there were times when 100+ car trains ran only ever powered by a single GP or SW unit. The dead flat terrain of this line did not require massive amounts of horspower to move such a train like SP branches on the west coast did.

Getting my driver's license allowed me greater mobility to explore the areas of the SP along the main line. I would end up studying for my engineering degree at the University of Southwestern Louisiana in Lafayette which afforded me a great opportunity to study the equipment and operations of the SP's Lafayette Division. The yard at Lafayette was a busy division point yard serving as a storage point for empty plast pellet covered hoppers for the numerous petrochemical plants to the west and the center for much local and branch line traffic. The Alexandria Branch, cut back to Opelousas by the time I was there, generated traffic as well as industries to the east which were served by trains #239 and #240. These trains served as "sweeper" trains or block locals handling interchange traffic with the branch lines along the way. These trains "numbers" were historic only, as the schedules had been abolished a few years earlier and all trains were dispatched via Direct Train Control, a form of radio transmitted train orders.

While railfanning and taking notes on equipment and operations, I began to delve into the history of the locomotives and freight cars I saw, wanting to know more all the time. After much consultation with my growing collection of reference material, I became convinced that the time period I truly wanted to model lay in the past in the 1960's. The SP lines in Texas and Louisiana were once known as the Texas & New Orleans railroad, a subsidiary of the SP. While the equipment, both locomotives and freight cars carried the name Southern Pacific on the side, leaving no doubt as to who was in charge, the familiar T&NO reporting marks distinguished this fleet. Well, all equipment lettered T&NO was long gone by the time I was out by the tracks chasing trains, but I surely wanted to include this iconic equipment on my layout. I learned that the T&NO was absorbed into the parent Southern Pacifc in November 1961, but the most visible change for several years was the inclusion of locomotives from both the Southern Pacific's Pacific Lines and Cotton Belt, another subsidiary of the SP in Arkansas, Missouri and Texas. A large scale renumbering plan intended on bringing all locomotives from the SP, SSW and T&NO into one meaningful numbering plan was undertaken in the fall of 1965 proceeding through mid to late 1966. As locomotives came due for periodic maintenance, they were be renumbered into their "post 1965" numbers. The T&NO locomotives would lose their T&NO reporting marks and became SP locomotives while the Cotton Belt locomotives would retain their identity with new numbers interspersed with the SP and former T&NO units. While it took several years to begin what came to be known as the 1965 renumbering for locomotives, the freight cars of the T&NO began to lose their identity almost immediately after the absorption of the T&NO into the SP in late 1961. This was a continuation of a large scale renumbering plan for SP freight cars that began in 1956 placing the many scattered number series of SP freight cars into a more meaningful numbering plan based primarily on car type. The last T&NO lettered freight cars left the Official Railway Equipment Registers (ORER) some time in 1968.

While freight operations held the majority of my interest, I began to want to learn more about the SP's passenger operations of the past. I knew that the Sunset Limited was the streamliner between New Orleans and Los Angeles and I had ridden Amtrak's version several times to the west coast. The streamliner was innaugurated in 1950 with pairs of T&NO ALCO PA locomotives and all new Budd-built train sets with red letterboards. While the PA's were beautiful, they proved to not be up to the task of handling the train long term. EMD F-units, E-units, passenger equipped GP9's and even SDP45's would be called upon to power the train in the late 1950's until the end of SP's operation of the train with the institution of Amtrak in 1971. I also learned of the operation of a local passenger train into the early 1960's, trains #5 and #6, the remnants of the Argonaut. While this train had once been a New Orleans to Los Angeles train as well, it was cut back to New Orleans to Houston in the later 1950's.

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