Stockton and Copperopolis

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Don Ball’s Stockton and Copperopolis

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Return to those thrilling days of the nineteenth century when railroads were the only way to travel and move merchandise. The Stockton & Copperopolis recreates operations on a short line railroad in California’s San Joaquin Valley in 1895.

Operating with a timetable and train orders, 10 operators must move a variety of passenger, merchandise and reefers over a three scale mile main line from Stockton to Merced and a 1½ mile branch to Copperopolis using smooth-running 4-4-0s and 2-6-0s.

In addition, the class 1 Moraga Springs Northern Railroad has trackage rights over part of the S&C to run its all-Pullman passenger trains and through freights using the newer 4-6-0s and 2-8-0s.
Layout at a Glance 
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Layout at a glance

  • HO Scale
  • Code 55 rail throughout
  • 3 scale mile main line point-to-point plan with 1 ½ mile branch
  • Walk around – linear design
  • Layout Height – 48 inches – single level
  • 45% scenicked
  • Digitrax Wireless throttles
  • All locomotives have sound
  • Operations use car cards with 4-cycle Waybills plus switch lists
  • Timetable & Train Order Operation
  • Fast clock running at 3:1 ratio
  • Crews OS to dispatcher using authentic railroad telephones
  • Turnouts are hand-thrown using knobs placed on the fascia
  • Basement stairs and direct outside entrance access
Jobs on the Layout 
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Jobs on the Layout
Dispatcher – Using the timetable with train orders, the dispatcher dictates orders to the operator and is responsible for getting the trains over the road efficiently. Communicates with Operator and train crews using authentic railroad telephones.

Operator – Copies train orders from dispatcher and writes clearances. He also is the Orford Junction tower man operating the mechanical interlocking plant (see Model Railroader magazine – January and February 2015)

Stockton Yardmaster – Makes up and breaks down trains in Stockton yard as well as switching local industries

Seven road crews operating three to four local freights, through freights and passenger service
About the Layout Owner 
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About the Layout Owner
Don Ball has been model railroading for over 45 years and enjoys operations, scratchbuilding and researching nineteenth century railroading. He has written several articles for the model and prototype press including a book on the Billerica & Bedford, America’s first two-foot gauge railroad.

He is a Master Model Railroader. His story about the Stockton & Copperopolis appeared in the 2011 issue of Model Railroad Planning.
More about the Layout 

More About the Layout

Yes, there really was a Stockton & Copperopolis Railroad (not to be confused with Carl Fallberg’s fictional Fiddletown & Copperopolis). It was organized in the late 1860s with the intention of reaching Copperopolis, then the copper mining center of the nation. The railroad was completed in 1871 from Stockton to Oakdale with a branch heading toward Copperopolis. It had a total of 49 miles. In 1889, the railroad became a small part of the Southern Pacific and was extended south to Merced.

The main part of the railroad’s income came from moving wheat. From the 1870s through the 1890s, California was a very large wheat producer in the state. By the 1890s, however, the yield became less and many of the wheat ranches were broken up and sold to produce and fruit ranches. At the same time, railroad technology was changing resulting in many different types of cars. The billboard freight car was in its heyday.

My model of the railroad includes the Stockton-Merced main line plus the Copperopolis branch. Merced is the southern staging area. Also, the fictional Moraga Springs Northern Railroad has trackage rights over the S&C from the Freeport staging area to Merced. This allows me to run higher grade equipment than the S&C would be running. The track arrangements at each area are close to the prototype as are the industries served.

The motive power on the railroad consists of brass imports which have been reworked with new gearboxes and motors. Sound is provided on all of the locomotives. Rolling stock consists of both kit-built and scratchbuilt cars.

Structures on the railroad are both from kits with many being scratchbuilt to resemble the actual structures on the prototype.

Photo Gallery

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Keystone Ravine
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Operating Desk
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Orford Junction
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Another view of Orford Junction
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Oakdale Stock Yards
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Train time at Peters
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Waverley photo stop
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Pacific Coast Oil Refinery
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Pacific Coast Oil Yard
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Foothill Oil Company
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Gilbert Hay Yard
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Grade to Copperopolis
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View from Peters looking east
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Milton Oil Trestle
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Capital Flyer
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Howe & Smallwood Grain Warehouse
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Superintendent’s Inspection loco
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Stanislaus Warehouse - grain
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Oakdale Lumber Co.
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Stanlslaus Milling Company
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Engine No. 4 - Pay Train Engine
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Oakdale turntable and water tank
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Oakdale and private car

Map and Directions to the Layout

You can click on the “show directions” tab to print directions from the host hotel to the layout. Or you can download them in Apple Maps or Google Maps on your portable device.