The Chili Line


Indian Summer is upon the high country, the mountains are starting to show their colors and the grasses in the valleys are starting to turn golden brown. Crisp evening temperatures bring the foreboding hints of winter. Ominous storm clouds are gathering in Europe as European powers attempt to negotiate a lasting peace to avoid another world war. For now southwestern New Mexico is far removed from the world stage and is starting to recover from the depression. Railroading is back in the black and the resurgence of commerce is keeping the rails polished. There is newfound pride in the mechanical department with locomotives receiving fresh coats of paint and better quality overhauls. Rolling stock is being repaired and up-graded and facilities are being modernized with all of the latest conveniences. The outlook of the narrow gauge looks promising for the next few years. Even the new "Rio Grande" herald has been warmly accepted by just about everyone, except some of the old hoggers.

Welcome to my little piece of "Heaven".

Layout Stats:

Scale: Sn3 Length of Mainline: 43 feet
Size: 11'-6" x 9'-6" Maximum Grade: None
Prototype: Denver and Rio Grande Western Turnout Minimum: no: 6
Locale: Chama and Santa Fe, NM Minimum Radius: 34"
Period: Mid 1930's - late 1940's Scenery: Hydrocal and natural materials
Layout Style: Island Backdrop: Hand-painted on 1/8" Masonite
Layout Height: 52" Control: PBL FSS II
Benchwork: L girder Weight: 600 pounds
Roadbed: Homasote Track: Commercial code 70

Design and Concept:

I am faced with having to move every three to four years coupled with the fact we may be stationed where housing is a commodity and space is limited. I am now retired from the USAF but my wife is still in for another eight years. Throughout our many moves in the USAF I found that most spare bedrooms and garages are an average of 10 feet wide by 12 feet long. I used this as a basic design parameter coupled with the fact the railroad had to be movable and not weigh a lot. We also have a maximum household goods weight limit that must be factored into everything. My other intent was to design the layout with the premise if space was tight I could at least set up a portion of it and have some limited operation. Both sides allow this to happen in this event. In an almost direct conflict of having a small layout I also wanted the ability to expand the layout in any direction should this ever come to fruition. It may be strange but I wanted a railroad that could be finished within a reasonable amount of time so I could operate it. Another factor was the layout had to be lightweight yet durable enough to withstand some rough handling by military contract movers. It is said our household goods see more combat then we do. "Everything" is done with the eye towards surviving moves and limited space.

Realizing and excepting these limitations have been somewhat difficult to overcome but once these problems were solved - I never looked back. Here are some of the things I have incorporated into the layout.


Some limitations are only limited to the way we think and look at something. When making up a train, Santa Fe is really an extension of the Chama yard. This provides a lot of fun and challenges as no train can block a street for more then 10 minutes and at no time can a stopped train block both streets. So longer trains must be set out in sections until departure time. Sometimes it takes 30 minutes to "service" a locomotive and assemble a train. Once a train departs - a Mind Shift takes place. Chama becomes Chama and Santa Fe becomes Santa Fe…geographically separated. Another aspect of operation is the maintaining of the engine servicing area. Coal loads are spotted at the coaling tower, the ash pit gondola's are picked up and spotted as needed. MOW equipment is moved around for periodic maintenance. Bad order cars are spotted on the RIP track.

Well that's all for this trip…Thanks for riding the Chili Line

Steve Amitrano