My layout is based on my favorite layout and article series in Model Railroader: Malcolm Furlow’s San Juan Central.

Starting in the November 1983 issue of Model Railroader and finishing in August 1984, Malcolm Furlow explained how he designed and built the San Juan Central in HOn3. Soon Kalmbach published the articles in book form as HO Narrow Gauge Railroad You Can Build: A Narrow Gauge Project Railroad.

This is a scan of the cover of my (now very tattered) copy I bought in the late-1980′s while working at a model train store in LA.

Long out of print, used copies currently run $50-200.

Malcolm displayed his approach to building layouts — the good and the bad — in this book. Clearly the good aspects of the layout win for me – since I’ve committed lumber and nails to his design!

The good:

Modest Size — The San Juan Central is only 8 x 10 overall. Fits into most common bedroom-size rooms of average homes (good for me!).

Strong visuals — Malcolm’s design emphasizes strong visual elements and is literally built for photography.

Vertical over Horizontal — Drama is created by nearly 30 inches (0.8m) of vertical separation between the lowest and highest locations on the layout.

The bad:

Tight turns — As designed, the SJC minimum radius is 15″. What I know of how Malcolm works makes me suspect the trackplan was made on the fly and that the actual layout has even tighter turns but the plans were later redrawn with 16, 17, and 18″ radius turns.

Limited operational possibilities — The SJC emphasizes spectacular scenery. Combined with modest size this means there are not many different ways to move cars and trains around the layout.

“Bald spots” — The SJC has some places that don’t work very well. They tend to be transitions between different spectacular views of the layout.



Overall view of the San Juan Central

Top (click for larger view)
Top view

What happened to the layout?

The SJC is currently owned by Charlie Getz who has lovingly restored it to better-than-new condition. Charlie hosted vistors during the 2004 National Narrow Gauage convention in Santa Clara, California and I have several photos of it online.

What happened to Malcolm Furlow?

Malcolm is an artist working in many mediums and his current body of work may be seen at his website: Malcolm Furlow official Website