Visit my Old On30 Pacific Coast Air Line Railway
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Ended this idea back in 2008. The lack of  available easily made motive power and other supplies caused me to abandon the project.
My idea was to use the then newly reissue of Mantua boxcars and Bachmann HO old time flats and gondolas. The problem was finding a small truck for the Mantua cars.
Our merged Roundhouse 4-4-0 and Rivarossi/IHC worked but was very labor intensive.
Bachmann retooled their HO Oldtime 4-4-0 with sound and locomotive mounted motor. They match early Porters and other 4-4-0s with only the addition of a larger cab.
Why 1870's Sn3.5 Works Mechanically
The Mantua 1860's boxcar is about 4" short. Mocked up this version  with a .060 sub roof. Now I would change the trim underneath the roof.
Why 3-1/2 foot gauge ?

 HO provides inexpensive mechanisms and equipment for S scale narrow gauge if 3-1/2 foot is chosen for the gauge.

Prototypically 3-1/2 foot is the more logical choice for the 1870's. The first common carrier narrow gauge, not a converted horse tramway like the Festinog, was implemented by Carl Pihl in Norway in 1862. The British empire introduced 3-1/2 foot gauge into India in the early 1860's, thus it became the "British Imperial Gauge". New Zealand is 3-1/2 foot gauge and many model in Sn3.5.  Australia has the Queensland which is still 3-1/2 foot.

Since California was essentially an "island" in the 1860's when the Pacific Coast Air Line was chartered, 3-1/2 foot "British colonial gauge" seems the most logical technology to expand railroads into the region. Narrow gauge is smaller and would fit in ships to be delivered to "island California" easier.

Yes it is called Sn3.5, that is the terminology the world has adopted.

Bachmann flats and gons fit perfectly with new trucks, these are HO Tahoe archbars. Peco Code 75 track gives us early narrow gauge track.
Found a cab at Shapeways to make a Scale55 Disney CK Holliday conversion. Gives us an easy early Baldwin Sn3.5 4-4-0.
Labelle Woodworking HO 34 foot wood cars supply a kit with all the hardware to make a Sn3.5 boxcar. Just needs Evergreen .050 scribed siding.
Why Narrow Gauge? Click here and read about why there was narrow gauge in America in an 1876 treatise from Google Books. Download from the PDF tab in the upper right corner.
The MDC/Roundhouse/Athearn stock cars scale out to early narrow gauge in S.
The IHC/Pola/Rivarossi/AHM OO/HO 4-4-0  matches this early Brooks. With a little work and the newer available motors the loco can be upgraded to have sound.
Scenes from the defunct Sn3.5 Pacific Coast Air Line Railway
The 1870's Coupler Dilemma
The dilemma with early rail is most railroads used link and pin systems. Janney knuckle automatic couplers were patented in 1872. With a little bit of stretch they can be used in our endeavor since the PcalRwy management is on top of technology.

The Accumate Proto HO coupler matches the early Janneys.

The Accumates are the best HO couplers.

Click here to convert the new tooling Bachmann HO 4-4-0 to Sn3.5