NICHOLS HILLS — Several times a week, Jimmy Samis grabs his conductor's hat and goes out the front door of his condominium. He only has to take a few steps to be among the trains of the Rocky Mountains of the 1930s. His extensive model train collection is housed in a condo nearby.
Shan and Jimmy Samis have 15 grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren. There are elevated stools around the layout so the young ones can sit and watch the trains go by.
The layout models an era in the 1930-40s in a location between the Sierra Nevada and the Rocky Mountains. It is L-shaped, with each of the two legs about 28 feet long. The other dimension varies from 3 to 7 feet.
There are two main tracks around the perimeter with two tunnels, a nine-track yard with a large dock to re-ice the refrigerator cars, an engine storage and maintenance area with roundhouse and turntable, and various industries with rail sidings.
The rolling stock consists of 10 engines and 100-plus freight and passenger cars. A photograph of the Sierra Nevada Mountains covers the wall behind the layout.
Also in the layout are a golf course, towns and people; farms with cows and sheep; rivers and cars. The trains run through one wall into another room of the condo where they chug through a ski resort, complete with tiny skiers, all built to the HO scale of his railroad — about a 1:87 size ratio, where about .14 inches represents 1 real foot.
There are 63 switches, which are remotely controlled at a NASA-looking control panel, and each train's direction and speed is controlled independently with wireless remote controllers. During testing, four men ran and controlled seven trains.
“Each engine has its own address on the panel and the remote,” Samis said.
Samis knows about the history of the trains he is running, about the various engines, about refueling and about how the refrigerated cars brought fruits and vegetables from the West Coast.