The Carquinez Model Railroad Society, home to one of the largest model railroads in the Bay Area, has rare open houses

If you know the right people, it’s possible to travel by train from Oakland to Sparks, Nevada in about 25 minutes. The catch is that the entire journey takes place in a single open-air room.

This room is inside a historic building in Crockett, which houses a model railroad that wraps around itself like a rolled-up cinnamon roll of locomotive marching band.

Since you don’t drive these trains, you drive them by controlling their movements with a remote control nicknamed the “hammer head” for its blunt T-structure. The well-oiled railroad has come together piece by piece thanks to a collective of enthusiasts who call themselves the Carquinez Model Railroad Society.

Access to the model railway is often restricted to members of the group, but this weekend, during a rare event, everyone has the opportunity to visit and contemplate a miniature universe dedicated to trains.

Arrive at Davis.

Courtesy of the Carquinez Model Railroad Society

The model reflects eras of California locomotive history, from the 1950s to the present day. Steam and diesel locomotives are on the table and operate on a segment of the Southern Pacific Railroad from the original transcontinental railroad. The fun is in the details – and in the painstaking enterprise of managing a fully functional transportation system that accurately reflects not only the landscape, but also the highly complex process of running trains in 1:87 scale.

The 240 miles between Oakland and Sparks are reduced to a single railroad inside a 30-by-60-foot room. The track is built over four levels using a “mushroom style” design, in which the tracks are contained on narrow tables stacked on top of each other like bunk beds.

Snow guards on the Sierra.

Snow guards on the Sierra.

Courtesy of the Carquinez Model Railroad Society

The model is a marvel; an autonomous universe inviting you to absorb its minutiae. The company wants to educate the public, especially children, about the history of the railway, safety and the art of model making. They work with a local scout troop and their door is open to anyone interested in becoming a member.

Their biggest effort occurs five weekends a year when the company holds open houses for the general public. Families and train enthusiasts can admire the massive model and even operate their own trains. The events are free for kids, but they ask for a $5 donation for ages 16 and up.

Spectators have the chance to immerse themselves in a tight-knit locomotive community. There is jargon such as “it’ll do” (meaning to stop the train) and “high ball” that lets the operator know he can move forward at track speed.

Passenger trains pass near-exact models of Bay Area landmarks, including Jack London Square Station in Oakland, the Benicia-Martinez Bridge, and most importantly, the C&H Sugar Factory in Crockett. The model of the nearby Benicia-Martinez bridge had to be assembled off-site. He has such a wide reach that the members had to lift him out of the window to get him into the room.

Oakland Jack <a class=station in London. “/>

Oakland Jack station in London.

Courtesy of the Carquinez Model Railroad Society

The model railway itself is almost in the shadow of the sugar refinery, which is located just outside. In fact, the space is shared with the C&H Sugar Workers Union.

Round the bend at Port Costa.

Round the bend at Port Costa.

Courtesy of the Carquinez Model Railroad Society

Throughout the month, members actively curate new routes, update schedules, and receive plans for which trains will click together for the journey over the Sierra Nevada. In the eyes of the members, the trains are the actors and the elaborate model is their stage.

Formed in 2004 as Vallejo Model Railroad, the group now has nearly 90 members. They operate democratically, voting on major decisions for the railroad (there is an ongoing debate whether they should build San Francisco and Townsend 4th Station), and electing themselves to leadership roles.

A detailed replica of the C&H Sugar Factory.

A detailed replica of the C&H Sugar Factory.

Silas Valentino/SFGATE

Dave Tateosian is the current president, and his Chevy Colorado truck sports the “RR Buf” vanity plate.


“It’s a social and mental pastime,” he said. “It’s the product of 15 years with over a thousand hours of work.”

The club is the only one of its kind in the Bay Area to have its own building, allowing them to plan with a vision rather than worry about uprooting their operation if the lease ends, which happened to the company when they moved from Vallejo. . In May 2010, they held a “Gold Spike Ceremony” to commemorate the completion of the model’s mainline at Crockett.

The following year they had the opportunity to purchase the building (considered a landmark, as it was erected in 1897) from the Independent Order of Odd Fellows. Thanks to a loan from the Crockett Community Foundation, the building is now safely in their hands.

The exterior of the historic building that houses the miniature train at 645 Loring Avenue in Crockett.

The exterior of the historic building that houses the miniature train at 645 Loring Avenue in Crockett.

Silas Valentino/SFGATE

They maintain the historic building with money raised through membership dues as well as proceeds from their open days. Like their ever-expanding and frequently updated model railway, the building requires equal attention. Efforts are currently underway to repair the exterior cladding and repaint the building, but the company is up to the task. They are used to working together to gradually build a large-scale project.

“We replaced the roof, repaired the foundations and redid all the building wiring,” Tateosian said. “And on top of all that, we built a railroad.”

The Carquinez Model Railroad Society is housed in the historic Odd Fellows Hall located at 645 Loring Avenue in Crockett. The other open days of the year will take place on the weekends of June 25 and 26, September 11, October 15 and 16 and December 10 and 11. Open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily.

About Jun Quentin

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