Citizen Kane's Narrow Gauge: The Salem & Cripple Creek R.R.
S&CC #1 passing the Headlight Mine (1)
Back in 1985, just at the time I was building my first HOn3 layout, I had the odd luck to speak briefly on the phone with Orson Welles, a short few days before the great film director/actor died. I was working for a cable TV movie channel at the time, Los Angeles's Z Channel, and we were running a well-publicized retrospective of Welles' movies.

This small adventure provided me with the theme for my free-lance narrow-gauge railroad. A bit of explanation is needed—

Citizen Kane is the greatest of Welles' movies— arguably the greatest and most innovative film made in America. According to the story, penned by Herman Mankiewicz and Welles, millionaire Charles Foster Kane got his start by inheriting a fabulous gold mine near his boyhood home, the village of Little Salem, Colorado. The fortune from the "third-richest gold mine in America", called the Colorado Lode, enabled Kane to go off and become a ruthless newspaper tycoon, just like his real-life counterpart, William Randolph Hearst.

This inspired the following train of thought: if Kane's gold mine was in the mountains of Colorado, Little Salem had to be the eventual destination of a narrow-gauge railroad.

Now picture the scene at the beginning of the 20th century: Kane's Colorado Lode mine is running full steam, and the town of Salem, no longer Little, is the terminus of Kane's own short line narrow-gauge railway connecting it with Colorado's other great gold-mining center, Cripple Creek.

The Salem and Cripple Creek Railroad.

Click pix for enlargements.

SCC_layour design
Orson Welles as Citizen Kane
Orson Welles as Citizen Kane (1).
Orson Welles as Citizen Kane (2).
Working HOn3 link & pin coupling, c. 1985
Wood-burning 2-6-0 #2 stops for water at Kane's sizable Colorado Lode ore processing mill.
Old 2-6-0 #1, still in 1880s paint, passes the Headlight Mine on the way to Little Salem.
Big mountains . . . tiny trains . . . must be Colorado.
Little Salem— boyhood home of "Citizen" Charles Foster Kane.
The S&CC was a modest shelf layout, occupying a space about 2-1/2' x 18' against the back wall of my semi-finished garage, right over my workbench. The 3/4" plywood shelf was high— 58"— and I used an old redwood picnic table bench to stand on so I could work. The terrain was built up with thin mattress foam, plaster, and wallboard paste.

The background scenery was painted directly on the wall. I used three quarts of house paint— white, blue, and something close to umber. I also got out my old acrylics left over from art school. With everything on the layout painted or tinted with the same shades of umber, backgrounds and foregrounds blended well.

Little Salem was inspired by old photos of Red Mountain Town in southwest Colorado. Before beginning the S&CC, I wanted to model Red Mountain Town and the Silverton RR, but . . . space and economics got in the way. (I never did find a reasonably priced brass Kemtron C-16).

For motive power, I had a slightly doctored brass Lambert C&S 2-6-0, a heavily doctored FED generic 2-6-0, an MDC Shay, and 2 MDC 2-8-0s. The MDCs were re-motored and all engines used Tomar track sliders to help with electrical contact. Most of my rolling stock was scratchbuilt and ran on Grandt Line trucks.

The real Red Mountain Town, c. 1890— usually seen modeled on Silverton RR layouts.

Much of the layout was sceniced with a bucket of dirt brought back from the site of Red Mountain Town. The Orphan Girl Mine (above) sits on a foam mound covered with real mine tailings.

A lot of my structures were "scratched" too, mostly of basswood, cardstock, and Grandt Line doors and windows. I made a lot of corrugated iron for the mill by scribing aluminum foil lightly glued to soft cardboard and then cut into scale-sized sheets. Mineral spirits dissolved the glue and freed the sheets.

I used code 55 flex-track, built my own stub switches, and laid the sidings by hand with code 40 rail. The Kemtron harp switch stands really worked.

About half my rolling stock used link-and-pin couplers (above). The rest used scale-sized dummy knuckle couplers. All of them, nonetheless, worked. I had to assemble trains by hand, with considerable effort. (How is that different from the prototype?) Running trains on the S&CC was slow and laborious, just as in real life period railroading.

The S&CC lasted 8 years, until the 1994 Northridge Earthquake. I lived (and still live) 1 mile from the quake's epicenter. The damage turned out to be too disheartening to attempt repairs. Besides, I was tired of railroading in a Southern Californian non-air-conditioned garage. The buildings and rolling stock were packed up and set aside, where they still wait for some future incarnation of the Colorado narrow gauge scene.

And what about "Citizen" Charles Foster Kane? Did he ever visit "his" railroad? Well . . . here, in this snapshot, is himself. That's him in the black coat, posing under the headlight of #2, surrounded by the local gentry.
I resisted the temptation to name one of the mines or engines "Rosebud" . . . (How many years has it been since you've watched Citizen Kane? Go rent it or stream it again.)
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