The Four Corners and Five Lakes Railway is a Class I transcontinental railroad descended from the fictional Four Corners Railroad and Five Lakes Railway and Steamship Company. The former was a timber and mineral road in the Southwest; the latter was a grain hauler terminating at the Port of Milwaukee, with a fleet of bulk carriers extending its reach across the Great Lakes.
The Four Corners grew east, the Five Lakes grew west, and eventually they met. In 2002 the roads merged to form FCFL Transportation.
Today FCFL operates 15,569 miles of track between its headquarters in Milwaukee and the Port of San Diego. The company’s lake freighters and ocean-going vessels give FCFL Transportation a truly global presence.
The layout models the FCFL’s Four Corners Division – from Durango, CO, where Midwest freight is mustered, to Phoenix, AZ, where the line turns west for the final push to San Diego. The division is responsible for mainline through freight, as well as local service to Gallup, NM, Globe, AZ and Flagstaff, AZ.
The mainline doubles back on itself to negotiate steep grades, but operationally it looks like this (click to enlarge):
The Four Corners Division is headquartered in Salvation Point, AZ, a tourist town on the edge of Many Lost Ways National Park. FCFL crews are treated to stunning vistas of the Southwest’s distinctive red landscape before descending into the rugged Benjamin-Henry Canyon, where tourists frolic and locals scratch a living from the desert.
Work on the FCFL includes plenty of mainline running, passenger service, and some moderately challenging switching. Sessions are laid back, kid-friendly and welcoming to novice operators.
The north/south leg of the L-shaped layout is approximately 25 feet long by 10 inches wide; the east/west leg is about 14 feet long and 16 inches wide.
Here is my amateurish sketch (yes I know there is software for this but I’m a pencil-and-paper guy mostly):
Here’s how the layout looks to an engineer:
(That’s Natalie MacMaster on the fiddle – buy her amazing music here!)
I intentionally limited industry in favor of longer mainline runs. I am adding operational interest by modeling several industries at Flagstaff, which is an addition in one of the staging areas.
Today we will follow train DPHX6, a through freight from Durango to Phoenix. At the point is FCFL 2012, an EMD SD70ACe, wearing 10th Anniversary livery. All three locos are Kato with TCS decoders.
Our train enters the layout via Tunnel 11 from Northeast Staging, then charges across the towering Benjamin-Henry Bridge over the river by the same name:
Just west of the river, the mainline reaches its highest point, about 58 inches above the floor. This is the western boundary of Many Lost Ways National Park:
After a trip through Tunnel 12, we begin our descent into Salvation Point, passing Midtown Construction Materials. This lumberyard produces a steady stream of loaded centerbeam flats:
As the grade levels out, we reach Salvation Point Yard. Here the Four Corners Division’s local trains are sorted and assembled, and locomotives receive service:
Salvation Point is not only an important location for the railroad, it is also a haven for vacationers bound for Many Lost Ways. Amtrak’s Badger State serves the station here, and travelers can walk from there to the famous Hotel Delsman. Historic steam pulls a daily train to the remote trailheads of the park.
Our train disappears behind Hotel Delsman and begins a hidden descent into the Benjamin-Henry Canyon:
Exiting Tunnel 14, the mainline passes an abandoned logging road that has become a favorite trailhead for hikers:
The exit of Tunnel 15 reminds crews that they are heading into rugged country:
After passing through Tunnel 16, we find Red Earth Co-op. Farmers in this remote region take a harrowing route to deliver their grain. The Co-op generates plenty of covered hopper traffic:
The trestle at Bunny’s Wash is a favorite destination for hikers and railfans:
Arriving at Herbst Junction, we meet Four Corners 1986, a USRA Light Mikado (Kato) pulling the daily tourist shuttle between Salvation Point and Many Lost Ways. Herbst Junction is the jumping off point for backcountry adventure, but is usually the farthest point vehicle-based visitors are willing to go. The Navajo turqoise jewelry stand does a brisk business here:
Herbst Junction is where the mainline interchanges with branchlines to Globe and Flagstaff. The Flagstaff branch utilizes the longest and deepest tunnel on the railroad. It requires a headhouse for ventilation:
After Herbst Junction, we once again cross the river. It is the height of summer, and the Benjamin-Henry River is a hotbed of recreation:
At last we reach Tunnel 16, where our train enters Southwest Staging. The crew will hand the train over to the West Coast Division at Phoenix, which will deliver our freight to points west, including San Diego: