The Depot museum has an extensive collection of railroad artifacts. The collection includes dining car plates and flatware that was used on many famous trains. There is also a large collection of railroad lamps, lanterns, timetables, photos and railroad union items. The collection includes a working train order semaphore and a railroad telegraph, telephone and typewriter.
The museum has an excellent collection of books about mostly western railroads and a library of videos that can be checked out by members.
These artifacts provide a window on how railroads were operated in the past.
HO is the most popular model railroading scale. The SLHRS layout was designed by the late John Armstrong who is famous within the model railroading community as being the “Dean of Track Planning.” The SLHRS track plan was published by him in the March 1998 issue of Model Railroader magazine.
The SLHRS layout is one of the largest HO model railroads in the SF Bay Area. Construction began in 1992 and is mostly completed. The display is constantly being maintained, upgraded and modernized.
The layout depicts the Southern Pacific Railroad route from the San Francisco Bay to Reno and Sparks, Nevada. Visitors familiar with the railroad route between the Bay Area and Reno will recognize many of the modeled locations. Some of the modeled locations include the ferry operations at Alameda, the industrial areas of Oleum and Selby, the Sierra foothills, yard operations at Roseville, the SP bridge at Long Ravine and numerous wood Sierra mountain snow sheds.
There are over 4,000 feet of track on the 3 levels. The layout features one of the largest model railroad helixes in the country. The helix allows trains to rise over 6 feet from the middle to the top level. It is an edge supported structure. It is designed as if it were a large compressed spring fit into a box open on one edge. Consisting of 9 loops, the helix has over 450 feet of double track with a 2.25% grade. Each loop on the helix contains two half loops of 46″/43″ radius track and two one-foot sections of straight track separating the halves. The top of the helix contains a return loop for the upper level. The helix was built by club members Vern Cumins and Tom Blinn.
There are many HO scale buildings throughout the display. Nearly all of the structures were scratch built by club member Charlie Heimerdinger. These include the ice house at Roseville, the San Leandro depot, and all of the snow sheds.
The layout is set in the 1934 -1955 era when the railroads were changing from steam to diesel power because most of the founding SLHRS members grew up during that period. Some members worked on SP steam engines. Today, members run trains ranging from the transition era to the modern era.
The layout is a double track plan with reversing loops at each end. Typically, trains operate around the large loop from Oakland / Alameda, up the helix to Truckee and back. A train running at scale speeds will take about 30 minutes to make a complete loop.
From time to time, the club conducts operations on the display. This involves running trains from point to point and doing switching along the way. Helpers are added to trains going up the helix. Passenger trains are run from staging to staging. Operations bring the display alive and provide an interesting and fun experience for all participants.
The HO display has a staging/setup yard on the lower level at Fairfield and another staging yard on the upper level at Reno/Sparks. Trains can be operated to and from either staging yard. The staging yards were built by Barry Chinn.
All trains and the most mainline switches are controlled by the NCE Digital Command Control (DCC) system. Many members use a free app on their cell phones to run their trains and to select train routes. The progress of mainline trains can be followed on large computer screens above the Roseville yard.
A fully functioning signal system was installed in 2023 throughout the HO display by John Busby and Tom Blinn.
HO Display Statistics:
Main Room Size: 30 X 30 feet on 3 levels.
Prototype: Southern Pacific Railroad (Western Division).
Locale: Alameda/Oakland to Reno/Sparks.
Era: 1934 to 1955 steam to diesel transition.
Style: Walk around.
Benchwork: Modular Grid.
Roadbed: Spline on HomaBed.
Track: 50% hand laid; 50% flexible.
Mainline Run: 2,000 feet.
Minimum turnout: #8 mainline; #6 other tracks.
Minimum radius: 41 inches mainline; 36 inches other tracks.
Maximum Grade: 2 1/2%
Scenery: Hard Shell
Backdrops: Hand Painted
Control: NCE Digital Command Control. Cell phones can control trains and mainline switches.
G&O Garden Railroad
The G&O is located behind the historic San Leandro Depot in Thrasher Park, San Leandro, CA. The display was designed Nancy Norris. She is a nationally known garden railroader, builder, and designer. The main water feature, Norris Falls, and the station on the children’s display are named in her honor. Construction started in May 2008 and will never be finished.
The G&O Garden Railroad is the only public garden railroad in Northern California. The railroad consists of both G gauge and O gauge (3-rail) displays, hence, the G&O name. Please see the “schedule & events page” of this website for information about the G&O’s operating hours.
Display: The display is located in an 61 X 20 foot area with a 35 X 23 foot “L” at the east end. The total display area is 2,025 square feet. The average width of the display is 10 feet. The display is built inside a raised cinder block wall that is filled with soil. The average wall height is 30 inches. The children’s display’s wall is 13 inches high. This is a photo of the area before construction started.
Bridges: There are 15 bridges throughout the display. All of the early bridges were scratch built by club member John Bouey. The galvanized steel Golden Gate Bridge was built by club member Ray Ghio. The impressive G gauge wood trestle that spans Norris Falls was built by club member George Downs.
Water Features: Norris Falls is located at the display’s entrance and depicts a typical California mountain stream. The unique fire feature depicts a fire crew and helicopter fighting a California forest fire. Twelve-volt submersible boat bilge pumps recycle water through both features.
Plants: There are four distinct planting areas. The east end has a California mountain theme surrounding Norris Falls which includes dwarf Alberta spruce and a group of dwarf bald cypress. This transitions to a desert theme featuring cacti and succulents. The display is divided in the center by Bouey Canyon. Immediately to the west of the canyon is another California mountain theme. This is followed by the children’s display with dwarf Hinoki cypress, Seiju Chinese elms and miniature pomegranate. The display contains over 50 trees.
Buildings: The SLHRS / G&O holds shows in the winter, spring, summer, 4th of July week, Halloween and for special events. The theme and buildings change for each show.
G Gauge Display: The G gauge display can operate track powered, battery powered and live steam trains on two long loops of track. Each loop has a passing siding in the staging area that can be individually controlled by on and off switches.
Track: 368 feet of mostly LGB track.
Switches: 7 manual switches.
Minimum Radius: 4 1/2 feet, 5 or more feet wherever possible.
Maximum Grade: 1% or less.
Power: One Bridgewerks Magnum 220-RM dual control DC transformer controlling both loops.
Control: Two Crest 2.4 Train Engineer units to remotely control DC track voltage in conjunction with two Crest CRE-ST0055 Base Receivers.
Trains: Four trains can be operated simultaneously.
O Gauge Display: The O gauge display uses a 3-rail track system. It can operate conventional and command control trains on a “coast” and “mountain” line.
Track: 521 feet of Atlas 21st Century O gauge solid nickel-silver track.
Switches: 25 manual switches.
Minimum Radius: O-72 (36 inches). Wider where possible.
Power: Two MTH Z-4000 AC 24 volt transformers.
Conventional Control: MTH Z-4K Track control system.
Command Control: Lionel Legacy and MTH Digital Command Control System (DCS).
Maximum Grade: 3%.
Children’s Display: This display is designed to introduce children and their families to the garden railroad hobby. The controls are placed so that kids can run trains. The display has one G gauge loop, one G gauge back and forth track and two O gauge loops. There are no switches.
Track: G Gauge – 32 feet, O Gauge- 31 feet of track in two loops.
Minimum Radius: G Gauge – 36 inches, O Gauge : O-36 (18 inches)
G Gauge Control System: One MRC Train Power 6200 transformer.
O Gauge Control System: One Lionel CW-80 for the lower loop and one Lionel CW-30 for the upper loop.
Accessory Control: One Bachmann Spectrum DC transformer.
The G&O crew invites you to visit us soon and often whenever you are in the SF Bay Area. You will see something different during each visit as the display constantly changes and evolves.
Operation Lifesaver, Inc. (OLI) is a non-profit organization and nationally-recognized leader of rail safety education. Since 1972, OLI has been committed to preventing collisions, injuries and fatalities on and around railroad tracks and highway-rail grade crossings, with the support of public education programs in states across the U.S.
Unfortunately, pedestrian and automobile collisions with trains have occurred all too frequently in the San Leandro / Oakland area including one death at the Davis Street railroad crossing located just a few yards from the Depot.
SLHRS volunteers have participated in Operation Lifesaver for over 20 years by presenting rail safety programs to San Leandro elementary school 6th graders. To date, over 30,000 children have seen the Operation Lifesaver program. To the best of our knowledge, no one who has attended the Operation Lifesaver presentations has been injured or killed by a train.