A Visit to the San Diego 3-Railers

14 02 2013

As soon as San Diego was announced as one of this year’s stops on the World’s Greatest Hobby Tour, I knew I would have to make some time for a visit to the San Diego 3 Railers and the other great clubs and layouts at the San Diego Model Railroad Museum. This public museum is like nothing else in the country and a must-see for anyone visiting southern California.

A Club Within a Museum

SD3R layout

The San Diego 3 Railers’ layout is a sight to behold.

The San Diego 3-Railers are one of four clubs who call the San Diego Model Railroad Museum home. This large museum is located in one of the public buildings in Balboa Park. Each club is its own entity, much like many local clubs, with one big exception. These clubs are all open to the public six days a week.

The Museum is governed by a board of directors made up of two representative from each club as well as other community leaders. A Director and small paid staff handle the general operations and public relations for the museum as a whole. Each club maintains their own membership and has their own layout, plans and goals.


The room features day and night lighting.

Visitors are given the unique opportunity to not only see trains running on a multitude of layouts and scales (two HO, O 2-rail, N and of course O 3-rail) but also watch as these layouts progress and grow over time. The museum and clubs also allow the public to view work sessions after public hours. Such was the case for our visit. For more information on the Museum and it’s hours of operations, see their website.

Doing It Right


The layout features beautiful scenery throughout, and many scenes typical of California like this oil refinery.

Being open to the public so much, the club has incorporated many family friendly features. One of the first things you’ll notice is the finished appearance of not only the layout, but the entire 42′ x 44′ room.

Wood panels with display cases and framed Angela Trotta Thomas art line two of the walls. The trains and prints change seasonally. The layout too is nicely finished with no bare benchwork, wiring or even unfinished scenery showing. As impressive as it all is, it is hard to imagine that it was all completed in about two years!

snow scene

Parts of the layout change with the seasons.

But that doesn’t mean the layout is finished or doesn’t change. The club has incorporated a scenery panel in one prominent corner of the layout that changes with each season.

Other scenes are being refinished or added to all the time. No model railroad is ever finished! And since the club members supply their own trains, you could visit every day and see something different running.

dino dig

Fun scenes like this dinosaur dig fill the layout.

Four loops offer continuous running. The long mainlines offer club members a chance to run big power and long trains. Just about anything can show up.

There are plenty of fun things for the kids too. A push button-operated train is hugely popular with kids. There are lots of fun things placed around the layout for them to find too, like a dinosaur dig, baseball game, miniature trains and more. A camera car provides an engineer’s eye view of the layout.


The layout even features the Lionel factory!

Speaking of cameras, the club runs live feeds of the layout on their website. The camera feed runs when the club is open and you never know what you’ll see.

The club is committed to making this great hobby accessible to everyone. From the inviting nature of the club room and volunteers to Saturday programs for kids and outreach at local shows, the San Diego 3 Railers are excellent ambassadors for the hobby. And with 125,000 visitors a year, they must be doing something right!


Beautiful display cabinets, made by one of the club members, line two of the walls.

The next time you are in southern California, you owe it to yourself to pay them a visit. It is a trip you will not soon forget. I want to extend my personal thanks to club president Jon Everett and all of the others who went out of their way to show us around during our visit. Your hospitality helped us feel right at home. Great people, great club, great layout – I know I’ll be back!

Check out a little video of the layout in action! This clip is courtesy of the San Diego 3 Railers and is part of a wonderful DVD which outlines the mission, history and construction of the club. It is available for sale through the club themselves. 



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