The San Diego Model Railroad Museum is a model railroad museum. With a floor space of 27,000 square feet, it is the largest indoor exhibit of its kind in North America and one of the largest in the world. Located on the Prado in Balboa Park on the bottom level of the Casa de Balboa Building, the museum is free and open to all. The museum is open from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Thursdays through Sundays. Since it first opened its doors in 1982, about three million individuals have passed through the facility. The San Diego Model Railroad Museum is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization dedicated to preserving model railroads.
The California Pacific International Exposition at Balboa Park in 1935 marked the beginning of model railroading in the park. Several scale model railroads were developed and built in the 1930s by pioneer model railroader Minton Cronkhite, including a major exhibition of scale model railroad at Balboa Park in San Diego, dedicated to the city’s centennial. His clients included the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railway. In addition to that is the Pennsylvania Railroad, which commissioned him to build massive model railroads for world fairs to boost interest in train travel and assist the nation’s economy recover during the years of the Great Depression. His model railroad installation, which measured 40 by 70 feet, was dubbed the “main transportation element” of the 1935 fair.
San Diego Model Railroad Museum was established in 1982 with a mission to “preserve the heritage of railroading through a series of scale model representations of California railroads, research and preserve the history of model railroading, and educate the public on the many different aspects of railroading.” The museum has since expanded to include a permanent exhibit of model railroads.
The museum’s exhibit space totals 27,000 square feet (2508 m2), and it contains some of the largest HO and N scale layouts of their kind in the country. One of the most impressive features is the three-rail O gauge Toy Train gallery, more than 1,200 square feet (110 square meters) in size. The other two layouts are massive HO scale layouts: a 1,200 square foot (110 square meters) N scale layout and a 2,700 square foot (250 square meters) O scale layout.
The museum offers a specialist library containing materials on model railroading and real railroads. In addition to books and publications, the library provides VHS recordings, plans, and other items that can be used for the study. It is a reference library, and the items do not circulate; however, it is open to any museum visitor who wishes to use it.