April 29, 2019

Photo Essay: Riding the Rails On a Model Scale in Orange County

In Costa Mesa, California, visitors to Fairview Park on the third weekend of the month can be treated to free rides on a tiny train, courtesy of a local group of model railroaders.

Originally formed in 1977 as Orange County Live Steamers, they've been known as the Orange County Model Engineers since 1985.

They operate the Mackerel Flats and Goat Hill Junction Railroad...

...where a 1/8th scale model railroad has been running since 1989 (though additions and modifications continued through 2003).

All the railroad's rolling stock—six engines and over 45 bench cars—have been built (from kits) and are owned by volunteer OCME members.

Railroad enthusiasts of all ages are welcome to join the non-profit club to ride the rails on their coal-powered live steamers, diesel, and electric models.

Impressively, there are over 5 miles of 7 1/2" gauge track across 40 acres of the park...

...with the first go-round passing under the 93-foot Hank Hornsveld Trestle (dedicated 1991)...

...through the pines...

...and past native and invasive grasses and mustard blooms.

The train then takes you back past the station, without stopping...

...and then over the trestle you'd already passed under.

All in all, you end up circling the Higgins and Matassa loops and Russ' Horseshoe, swinging past a maintenance yard (with turntable!), and crossing bike paths populated by curious onlookers.

Between the North and South Loops and the Mountain Division, it's a surprisingly long (about 12 to 15 minutes!) ride—mostly remote and relaxing, with wide open spaces and nothing but the chugga-chugga-chugga at 7 mph.

Apparently "Goat Hill" was the nickname Newport kids gave to Costa Mesa in the 1930s when the land was used for goat dairy farms. Insulted, the Costa Mesan kids fired back with their own nickname for Newport Beach and its neighboring fishing village at Balboa Island: "Mackerel Flats."

The OCME have leased the property that houses the Mackerel Flats and Goat Hill Junction Railroad from the City of Costa Mesa through 2033, with the opportunity to renew for two additional five-year periods.

Long may those trains run...

Related Posts:
Photo Essay: The Former Navy Surplus Annex That Became a Mini Railroad
A Travel Town Birthday in Griffith Park

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