Model railroaders are constantly searching for ways to squeeze as much operating action as possible from a minimum amount of space. The long freight "drags" that ply the Great Plains are beautiful to behold but simply not practical for most home layouts - there just isn't enough area available for most model railroads to even begin to duplicate that "wide open" look of most real railroading. As a result, many more-experienced modelers have turned to the more compact portions of the real railroads as a focal point for the miniature empires. The most commonly-modeled area is the industrial tract of some fringe area of a city where the buildings are small enough to duplicate on a model railroad and where there is the constant action of a switch engine plying cars in and out of the industrial sidings. Other modelers concentrate on the "short line" railroads that serve some major industry like a sawmill, smelter, oceanside dock, or mountain mine. One of the areas often over looked by modelers is the "open pit" mining operation. These real railroad "action centers" are almost miniatures of the full-size railroad with complex trackage serving the various levels of the mine and constant traffic in open and filled hopper or ore cars. "Open pit" mines are common to many areas of the country where iron ore, coal, gravel, or copper ore are stripped away from near-ground level sites by huge cranes to be loaded into the railroad's waiting cars. Jim Shiff, of Hollywood, California, had the same lack of space problem that faces many potential model railroad builders.
Jim decided to concentrate his model railroad on the "open pit" mines he had worked in during his pre-college days near Morenci and Ray, Arizona. These mines are really giants'; measuring in miles rather than yards a cross their open mouths. Phelps Dodge Corp. and Kennecott Copper have dug millions of cubic yards of copper-bearing ore from these pits. Jim chose N scale for his new model railroad to provide as much operation as possible in a four by five foot area. One-inch thick layers of Urethane foam (similar to that used by florists to hold flower groupings) were cut and glued together to form the staggered walls of the typical "open pit" copper mine. Trix and Kemtron flexible track were then spiked in place with a loop around the "ground level" upper edge of the "pit" and a series of switchbacks working their way down into the bottom level in the center of the "pit." Grouting pigment was brushed over the Urethane foam to simulate the rough texture of the earth and rocks around the mine cuttings. Jim used his knowledge of the giant mining equipment to duplicate the P&H-brand "Fire Hole Driller" (for drilling holes for dynamite charges), a "Walking Dragline" crane that drags a dump truck size bucket along the surface to scrape up the ore, a 40 ton "Electric Power Shovel," and a 20 ton "Electric Power Shovel."
The caterpillar treads from the AHM-brand HO scale No. U-312 "Universal Clamshell Crawler" were used for all four of these rigs with the AHM cab and boom modified to closely match the features of the full-size P&H earth moving equipment. The Viking brand of HO scale earth moving equipment provided booms and cab parts for some of the equipment and S&S-brand HO scale castings were used for some of the details on the cranes. A modeler in HO scale could build similar equipment using the treads and parts from some of the 1/76 and 1/48 scale military tank plastic kits carried by the larger hobby shops with cabs and booms from Plastruct-brand plastic sheet and shapes. Mr. Shiff plans on building a complete mining railroad in sections, or "modules"; the second "module" will feature a smelter operation, and the third an ore-loading site beside an ocean dock. It's a good way to pack plenty of real railroad operating action in a minimum a mount of space.