Monday, July 28, 2008

Beverly Hills 502.50

It’s known more for movie stars, shopping, and as the location for a slightly sleazy 1990s TV show, but there was also a gritty side to Beverly Hills. And no, I’m not talking about Jed and all his kin. It turns out there was some real-life railroading going on in Beverly Hills (SP Milepost 502.5), Santa Monica, and West Los Angeles into the 1970s.

Mike Jarel has written a very interesting article in the most recent Trainline magazine (#96, Summer 2008), published by the Southern Pacific Historical and Technical Society, that traces the area’s history as remnants of the Pacific Electric’s interurban service (among others). Jarel grew up nearby and worked on the SP in the area, so the article is definitely written from a knowledgeable perspective.

By the 1960s, Southern California was booming and the need for rail deliveries of building materials, appliances, food products and the like was growing rapidly. Pacific Electric operated its own freight service (dieselized after 1956) in what it called the Western District until the full absorption into the SP in 1965, when the parent road took over operations.

There were small yards, runarounds, some street running, and a variety of industries sprinkled around the area. I’m really fascinated by these small urban terminal switching areas, and this is another example from a somewhat unlikely locale. The small yard at Sentous (near the intersection of today’s San Diego and Santa Monica Freeways) served multiple locals, with haulers from the larger downtown yards picking up and setting out blocks of cars. The industries and railroad facilities were of model-able size and included some very recognizable customers.

A series of Free-Mo modules duplicating some of these areas would be a great start on a model railroad that could be easily expanded or might have to be moved one day. By coincidence, my friend Trevor Marshall’s article in the August 2008 issue of Railroad Model Craftsman describes just such an approach (based on a different prototype and area, Peterboro, ON). Sentous yard could be modeled or represented by a pivoting sector plate as Trevor and Pierre Oliver did on the Peterboro project.

An approach like this could certainly provide more long-term operating enjoyment than the mindless loops on plywood sheets usually promoted by the commercial press for modest layouts. But don’t get me started on that. Instead, kudos to Mike Jarel, Trainline and its editor John Signor, and to Trevor Marshall and RMC for showcasing some very interesting prototypes and layout concepts this month.