P.O. Box 312, Portola CA 96122
If you are visiting in the upper Feather River Canyon such as Portola or the resort town of Graeagle and you would like to see the Feather River and Plumas Western G Scale Model Railroad and museum located in Blairsden, which is just a few miles west of Portola, contact us in advance to make a reservation. Let us know the date or dates that you will be in the area and we will set up a time for you to come and visit us.
Every year we do have a number of groups coming to visit us. We also have open house during the three day Labor Day Weekend in September every year. During our open house or when groups come to visit we try and arrange to operate as many model trains in the gardens as possible. The more lead time you can give us before your visit the better changes are that you will see several model trains running through the gardens and forest.
Since we are not open on a regular schedule and it takes a day or two to clean up the pine needles that fall from the trees, the more lead time you can give us the more enjoyable will be your visit.
It takes us hundreds of hours each spring and early summer cleaning up from the winter storms so we are closed to visitors from around November 1 to May 1. If we had a hard winter sometimes we are not ready to accept visitors until June 1.
How it All Got Started
Chris Skow, retired Western Pacific/Union Pacific Railroad conductor based out of Portola first started to make plans for his Garden Scale model railroad in 2006. But his interest for model trains in the gardens began when he was just a teenager growing up in Southern California in the small town of Apple Valley.
His parents would take the family to enjoy the Los Angeles County Fair in Pomona every September starting in 1963. Chris would spend most of the day watching the model trains run at the huge Fairplex Garden Model Railroad located on the fairgrounds.
First established in 1924 and moved to its present location in 1935, it was a unique example of craftsmanship utilizing hand-made replicas of real railroad operating equipment; much of which were built by local high school students.
Today, there is over 10,000 feet of operating track. That is 55 G scale miles of railroad. This exhibit has over thirty sections with various operating equipment can be seen operating at any time, especially during the annual Los Angeles County Fair. The various trains and trolleys operate past several scenes depicting California history from the 1850s to present day, and wander through the mountains, over the lakes and streams, and through the gardens.
VIDEOS OF THE FAIRPLEX GARDEN RAILROAD
When Chris discovered the Fairplex Garden Railroad he was modeling in HO gauge in Apple Valley. He experimented with building a small HO model in the backyard running around a pond and waterfall. Then he took a step to larger models and started to build an O gauge layout in the garage. Before the layout was completed the family moved to a new home still in Apple Valley and the model trains went into storage.
Fast forward to 1967 when he graduated from Victor Valley Senior High School in nearby Victorville and during his 2nd year of college started classes at San Bernardino Valley College and also went to work for the Santa Fe full time on the night shift as a station operator and towerman. With holding down 18 ½ college credits and putting in 8 hours of work for the Santa Fe every night all model railroading had to be put on the back burner.
During his time at the Santa Fe he worked places like: West Yard Telegraph San Bernardino, West Yard Tower, Riverside Tower, Santa Ana Telegraph, Pomona Agency, Azusa Agency, Hemet Agency, and a number of other locations on the Los Angeles Division.
Little did he know that his last Santa Fe assignment was at Mission Tower in downtown LA in late August and early September 1969. With only two weeks prior to the start of his 3rd year of college a phone call came from a close friend who was a locomotive engineer based out of Portola for the Western Pacific. The question to Chris: “Would you like to go to work for the Western Pacific out of Portola” ? Needless to say the answer was “Yes”! Getting off work at Mission Tower at 8am he managed to be in Portola by 3pm the same day after a very long drive and was hired on the spot by the trainmaster. Chris was given one week to go back to San Bernardino, cancel his college classes, give notice to the Santa Fe, close out his apartment in San Bernardino, move to Portola and report to work by September 9, 1969. Jumping on his one way ticket out of Southern California he settled down in Portola in 1969 and then moved into his new home in Blairsden in 1984.
The early to mid 1980’s was a busy time for him and his many projects forced him to put model railroading on the back burner for awhile. A few examples of his extreme workload included becoming one of the founding fathers of the Feather River Rail Society and Portola Railroad Museum in 1983 plus building up the museum gift shop and display room from the ground up. If the 1983 projects were not enough the following year he broke ground on his new home in Blairsden as his own contractor then founded the railroad tour company guiding groups to Africa and South America. All of this had to be balanced between his runs on the Western Pacific Railroad as a conductor.
In 1993 he decided to settle on HO and build his layout in what is now his railroad museum room in his new home. Now Fast forward to 13 years when his tour company landed a contract to offer a post convention railroad tour for the 22nd annual National Garden Railway Convention being held in the San Francisco Bay Area in June 2006. Chris decided it would be fun to attend the convention and visit most of the garden railroads that were open to the convention.
During the convention he became hooked on Garden model railroading. One of the first things he did when he returned home to Blairsden is to start making plans to switch from HO model railroading to a new G Scale Model Railroad outside in his future gardens. He turned the HO model railroad room upstairs into a nice railroad museum and library. All of his documents, historical artifacts and books had been packed away in boxes since he built his new home and now most everything could be displayed. Below are several photos of his museum room which has a vast collection of railroad items and artifacts.
Meanwhile he begin purchasing G Scale engines, freight cars , passenger cars and buildings of which most ended up in long term storage in his garage. His first big project was to have the greenhouse built in 2006 since it would have model trains. The following year a huge roof was built over most of his backyard to keep the pine needles and other things that fall from the many trees off of the model railroad. This roof project was started in 2007 and completed the following year.
During 2007 Chris started to work on his greenhouse by building waterfalls, creeks, ponds, model towns and trains. The planting of tropical plants began in 2008. He likes to work in the greenhouse during the winter months as it is heated and it is fun during a High Sierra blizzard.
Then in 2012 the first track work was laid but not under the roof. The first track was laid right under the trees and would be exposed to the High Sierra winters and a lot of snow. This part of his model railroad was completed by the summer of 2015. Chris wanted to see how many winters this section of the layout would hold up.
Meanwhile during the summer of 2018 he begins grading the roadbed and laying track under the roof but trains were not operated on this section until the following year.
Since the section built under the trees was holding up well Chris decided to have two model railroads. One under the roof and one under the sky of which both would be connected.
The summer of 2020 was a busy one with a lot of new track laid under the roof including a loop track running under his deck. Also a long curved 30 foot long tunnel was finally put into operation. This tunnel was dug and track laid way back in 2007 prior to the building of the roof. The very first train ran through this tunnel in August 2020 after sitting for 13 years. It took a couple of weeks clearing out all of the items that wild animals would take into the tunnel to make their nest. Additionally during 2020 hundreds of plants were planted under the roof and under the sky.
Marty Banks, a retired Union Pacific Conductor from Las Vegas will come up and spend several weeks working with Chris each spring and summer. Just during 2020 a total of 1,551 man hours were logged into the model railroad.
During special public open house events and group visits Chris has the help of two local residents to run trains and greet visitors. Donna Mills, Manager of the Eastern Plumas Chamber and Kirk Bear, retired Western Pacific/Union Pacific engineer enjoy the opportunity to run trains and talk with visitors.
Each year Chris invites several groups to come see and enjoy his model railroad, greenhouse and railroad museum. Then at the end of the summer on the Labor Day Weekend the public is invited to an open house co-sponsored by the Eastern Plumas Chamber of Commerce.