Small gauge railroad

John’s been back in touch with an update on his small gauge railroad: the Breccia Light Tramway.

And my word, what a project!

“Some dreams take a while.

When I was 13 years of age I dreamed of having a railroad in my back yard. I did get about 20 feet down but that was as far as it got.

Five decades have passed now, half a century, and that childhood dream is coming true.

About two years ago I made the commitment to move from Southern California to Northern Nevada. I found a property that I could afford at the edge of nowhere and made the purchase.

The area was one my wife and I dreamed of retiring to when we found it on our honeymoon. Alas I lost her in January of 2020: That and other life events in early 2020 encouraged me to leave the stress filled urban life behind and retire early.

The purchase was completed in August of 2020 and I purchased some temporary panel track for my outdoor railroad that November of 2020.

The panel track was an important planning aid and I still use it when I need to test an idea or two.

mini gauge temporary track

digging for mini gauge temporary track

After the panel track had convinced me that my ideas were not quite as daft as one might think, I decided it was time for real track to replace the panel track.

Rail and ties/sleepers were purchased from Allen Models of Nevada. The manufacturer of the ties (also the switches/turnouts/points) is a company called Accu-Tie.

The ties are designed to hold the rail in gauge (7.5 inches). Their switch kits are precision engineered and go together very nicely — Yes, they do make things for 7.25 inch gauge as well.

The first purchases of the Accu-Tie products were made in January of 2021.

laying track

mini gauge switches

mini gauge laying track

One of the the challenges of building my railway has been that the “flat” piece of property that I purchased isn’t.

I was used to the California definition of “flat”. By Nevada standards my property is “flat” even though it slopes substantially from the upper Northeast corner to the lower Southwest corner.

The geography of my property has meant a lot of digging and fill work. This is all done by the work crew of me, myself, and I.

All the earth work has been done by pick, shovel, and wheelbarrow. No heavy machinery has been employed.

I might mention that the soil has a lot of rocks in it. Fortunately what I call “rocks” qualify as pebbles when compared to other rocks on properties nearby.

I also made a screen to separate the larger rocks from the dirt I use for ballast.

moving earth for mini railway

ballasting for ride on railway

From the beginning, one purpose for my tramway has been to help me maintain my property.

Although I use the wheelbarrow a lot, the railway has moved its fair share of rock and dirt as well.

The line is unique in that it will soon have three turning wyes but no “run arounds”. This odd arrangement has been driven by the slope of the property.

The first of the three turning wyes went in around March/April of 2021. It was put in specifically to turn carloads of dirt and rock as I was moving the stuff from an area with too much dirt to an area I needed to fill.

I have done my best to keep the grades at 1.5%. While on a small gauge layout that seems gentle, it is a remarkably stiff grade when real dirt is being hauled and the load can weigh over 200 pounds.

moving earth mini gauge

moving earth small gauge

Most of the early work was done in 2021 with me only visiting the property either one or two weekends a month.

Some ideas worked short term and some had their own season. I had planned to use one shed for equipment storage as an example. The door to that shed made using it difficult so that was very short term.

Also the shed began to be filled with stuff I had in storage down in California.

Another idea was a track through my carport. The slope of the floor of the carport made that spur a challenge after a while and it was rationalized once I had cleared a space for a yard. Even the yard has changed a bit over time.

laying mini gauge track

laying small gauge track

By September of 2021 I had about 300 feet of track on the ground. As part of that track there were eight switches.

One of my goals for the line was to be able to take my trash/rubbish to the front of the property. That was about 200 feet from the end of track at the time.

There is a mostly dry creek that runs through the middle of the property. It is a dry creek except when it isn’t. When the creek is running it can have a fair amount of water in it. A bridge was a necessity.

This was my first bridge and was constructed in September of 2021.

As of June 30, 2022 there are now seven bridges on my railroad.

bridge for mini gauge railroad

bridge for small gauge railroad

Once the bridge was in I could grade to the front of the property.

My second turning wye went in just past the bridge. With the second wye in place I could run wye to wye, fun.

While I had constructed a “locomotive”, it had some issues (I didn’t know it at the time but there was a warp in the frame.

Another issue was that I graded the line quickly and while it looked flat enough, there was a bit of 2% that I have since corrected.

I mention these little errors for two reasons, they happened and they are an opportunity to share a lesson in learning. We learn more from our errors than our successes.

In September of 2021 I also picked up a steam engine for my line. It needs some work but the price was right.

In October of 2021 I picked up an engine kit from Plum Cove. This became the motive power for the present.

mini gauge switches

small gauge laying track

A little more of the line to the front of the property.

This track was in by the end of November 2021. With the roadbed graded I did put down 100 feet of track in one day.

November 2021 was also when I began living at the Nevada home full time.

In December it snowed.

laying track small gauge

snow on the line mini gauge railroad

In February I ended up with the dreaded disease that shall not be named. All work slowed. As soon as I was out of quarantine I began on the railroad again.

I was able to cross the driveway and start working on “the big fill”.

This was the point that I could begin to see that the loop part of the line would be finished ahead of schedule.

I had originally thought the loop would take until September due to the amount of earth that needed to be moved and the bridge that needed to be built.

mini gauge railroad laying track

small gauge railroad laying track

I worked daily on the fill, I could only move about five wheelbarrow loads of dirt per day. I also raided the roadside for “a few” large rocks. The rocks meant less dirt to move.

This is what things looked like at the beginning of June 2022. One might notice that while the track may span the gap, something is clearly missing!

building bridge for mini gauge railroad

building bridge for small guage railroad

This is the highest bridge on the line and the one built with the heaviest timbers.

There is a lot of extra timber directly under the track as this is the longest unsupported span on the line.

bridge for mini gauge railroad

bridge for small gauge railroad

Presently I have two locomotives on the line that are worthy of being photographed.

The Plum Cove electric has a new body on it. I built this new body to fit my larger sized equipment.

My name for this locomotive is the Washoe Zephyr; It goes like the wind if I let it.

The video of the tine was shot from this unity with a GoPro camera clamped to the back of the roof.

The other locomotive is an Allen Models Chloe based on Ward Kimball’s locomotive of the same name that is now at the museum in Perris California.

I acquired the locomotive second hand and it does need some plumbing work done before it can be operated safely.

While I am doing the plumbing, I intend to replace the boiler jacket and the cab.

She will be renamed but I have not decided if she will be Nani (Beautiful) or Wahine (lady). Both names are Hawaiian.

small gauge loco

mini gauge loco

Some may be wondering what the trackplan of the Breccia Light Tramway looks like.

Well the railroad is not finished yet and a few changes are still taking place. All to the good.

Here is a trackplan of the railway as it currently is. The line in red is still under construction and already there is a revision.

In the plan I prepared about a month ago when someone asked me what the railroad looked like I planned a small yard on the north side of my Conex storage container. Because my planning was done with the panel track that has a 30 foot radius but the track I am laying has rail curved for 32 foot radius, changes happen.

The line that is on the north side of the container will now be on the south side.

There are several benefits to this change: the first benefit is that I do not need to go to a tighter radius!

The second benefit is that it will be easier to roof this over to provide storage protected from the snow.

The third benefit will be that this can be extended into creating a longer loop for operation.

Should I choose, the longer loop that is possible would give me several new choices to keep operation interesting.

It is all a work in progress.

mini gauge track plan

Hope you have enjoyed the story so far.



A huge big thank you to John, and I hope you enjoyed his small gauge railroad as much as me.

If you missed his cab ride video, it’s here.

That’s all for today folks.

Please do keep ’em coming.

And if today is the day you get started on your layout, the Beginner’s Guide is here.



PS Latest ebay cheat sheet is here.

31 Responses to Small gauge railroad

  1. Tom Provo says:

    I remember your first post some time ago and it looks like you are definately making progress which is more than I can say about my future layout

  2. Mike Street says:

    Only one word, WOW. What a project to do on your own, looks absolutely stunning
    It might be described as small gauge but it looks pretty big to me. Great job John,
    hope to see more pictures in the future as it progresses.
    Mike S

  3. James Corradini says:

    Wow what a project, I love what you’ve done with a lot of work there’s a lake close to where you’re at my father and my grandfather would take us fishing there when we were kids if I ever get up there again I might come knocking on your door LOL love to see it in person thank you for sharing

  4. A fantastic piece of work so far. Congratulations on a job well done.

  5. James says:

    Enjoyed it very much… talk about a garden railway.

  6. Robert Brady says:

    Bravo ,love to see a video of it in motion. Hard work and money.
    The Critic

  7. Kelvin says:

    John, you are the King of the understatement I love your sense of humour which I bet you needed in creating your fantastic dream railroad. Glad there were 3 of you (me, myself and I) working on it!
    May I humbly suggest that the loop extension would be the cherry on the cake and that the steam engine be called Nani Wahine in honour of your late wife. Keep up the inspiring great work and please keep in touch with Al as we all want to see it progress.

  8. Brian Olson says:

    Yep, he’s even working on the Railroad!

  9. Rob McCrain says:

    My dream was always to build an outdoor railway I could ride on ever since I saw Walt Disney with his when I was a child. I thought building your own railway would be the greatest thing ever. I very much admire what you have done. The cab ride rally brought it home how well this has been built and the imagination of the builder. Bravo
    Rob McCrain – Farland Howe

  10. John says:

    Wow. Don’t forget to plan “The Last Spike” ceremony when you’re done. You’ll deserve a glass of bubbly by then!

  11. Kent Pool says:


  12. Jim Donovan says:

    A working railroad, I luv it

  13. Erick says:

    Looks pretty kool.!!!!!!!! I always wanted a outside railroad but would have worry about the outside nature. Rain and thing like that.

  14. gerald Edgar says:

    PLEASE keep[ us updated – VERY inspiring!!!

  15. My word. Quite the undertaking, Very nice.

  16. Michael Dowling says:

    OMG! Absolutely fabulous! And I really liked the video from an earlier post. I vote you should name the steam loco “Wahini”. Thank you for sharing your RR with us! I’m going to look up the companies you mentioned… I hope they have turnout kits for G scale..
    Keep it on the rail and keep having fun!
    Michael in the Desert

  17. Jim AZ says:

    Wow! It’s the next best railroad than a real one. Impressive. Thanks for sharing.

    Jim AZ

  18. Welcome to the world of Live Steaming!

  19. gary thornton says:

    Stunning layout and an unbelievable testament to hard work. I am impressed to what one man is able to do. Well done!

  20. charles post says:

    Well, flat is the condition of a surface not a measure of inclination. For instance, a cliff face can be flat. Ahh, the engineer coming out in me! Admire your incredible effort! What a project.
    Charlie in AZ

  21. A few things in response.’
    This projects has been the best health regimen that I have ever involved myself with. I have lost as many pounds avoirdupois as I have in years of life experience (a we tad over 60 in both cases).
    To Erik who mentioned the nature of an outdoor railroad. Right now I tarp the most sensitive equipment when the weather is worrisome. The ties and rail are very weather resistant. Most of my rolling stock has been rained on and snowed on with no ill effects.
    To Robert Brady (the Critic) There was a video that Al posted a day or two ago.
    As to the cost: it is like an elephant, you eat it one bite at a time.
    To James Corradini, The nearest lake is about 10 minutes away. Sounds like you might know the area based on the name of the railroad.
    To all, thank you for your kind words.
    I will have to check if any of the Hawaiian locomotives had two names as I like the sound of Nani Wahine.

  22. Ken of Lakewood Shores says:

    Looking foreword to the video. Fantastic.

  23. Dave L says:

    Brilliant !! A lot of hard work, well done

  24. Benjamin Wright says:

    So cool! I’m jealous lol. Great job man!

  25. SantaFeJim says:


  26. Mark T. Pianka says:

    Great Job and a lot of hard work and a labor of love,, well done just outstanding keep us posted!!

  27. Daniel Lee Hamilos says:

    Wow! I’m speachless!

  28. Wars Lannom says:

    This is truly a great layout and a wonderful project. Please keep the updates coming.

  29. Vince T. says:

    I managed to win an auction for land in Northern Nevada and since I used to help run a mining museum in the Mohave in CA., I plan on making yet another tramway using 20″-gauge mine car track (yes, the original 70-120 yr old track). It should be interesting, but first I need to move there. I’m looking forward to being away from civilization again. The mine I was at had a driveway 26 miles long… That led to a paved road, it was an additional 20-30 miles to town. This time I’m considerably closer to town, only 20 miles.

  30. James Maitland says:

    John. Very impressive and I trust you are now fully qualified as a railroad barren like in days of yore. Best of luck and keep on steaming. I wish we could purchase panel tracks that look as good at the B & O RR Museum.

  31. Eric Kiehl says:

    John I am at a loss for word. Well maybe ” I am envious of you and if you were close I would offer you help.

    Wonderful job sir. And sorry for your loss.

    Eric the Firefighter from the St. Louis Missouri area

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