Recycling the wire

Here’s what the wiring pile looks like now:

Empty wiring gallery

With the wire overflowing the gallery, we decided it was time to ship it out for recycling. We considered sending it by train…


…but none of our lineside industries were interested in four and a half million HO-scale carloads of wire. So we shipped by road in Tim’s pickup truck.


Two loads, 800 pounds of wire at 33 cents per pound. Your webmaster argued the funds shoud be used for a new Atlas U36B for our Auto Train. (Sadly, I lost that argument.)

We’re making progress…

It’s been a while since we’ve updated our blog (blame the webmaster), but we’re making good progress. We have two of the main pods in place, Midway East and Midway West. Midway, as its name implies, is the mid-point of the railroad, and it’s also one of three major yards — and it’s now under DCC control!

The completed DCC pod for Midway West
The completed DCC pod for Midway West

On this blog, we’ve talked about the importance of bringing outside skills to the club. We’re very fortunate to have a skilled cabinetmaker as a member. Brian, who joined PMRRC in 1993 as a high school freshman, has been building the woodwork for our DCC pods.

Brian cuts wood for our DCC pods
Brian cuts plywood for our DCC pods

Meanwhile, work on our scenery continues. Zion Station, one of the landmark buildings at the western terminus of the railroad, has always sat at ground level. Now it has a sidewalk, and soon it will have a proper connection to the roadway, which means Sierra Pacific passengers will no longer have to teleport from their cars to the waiting room.

The new sidewalk under Zion station
The new sidewalk under Zion station

Most of the wire has been pulled, and last week we removed the relay panels from underneath the operating gallery. It’s a curious thing to be able to see the underside of the layout from beneath the old control panels…

The view under the control panels with the relay boards gone
The view under the control panels with the relay boards gone

Here are some of the relay boards. A lot of our old electrical components have value, so we’re salvaging what we can.

Old control relay boards
Old control relay boards

And for those who have been keeping track of our wire-pulling exploits, here’s the pile s far. It’s about to overflow the viewing gallery!

The wire pile as of 4/30/16
The wire pile as of 4/30/16

First pod test: Success!

The blog is running late, but the DCC installation is progressing nicely. On March 29th, we installed and tested the first pod at Midway East, near the center of the railroad.

The first test pod installed at Midway East
The first test pod installed at Midway East

The pod is, in oversimplified simple terms, the set of components that delivers the signal from the controller to the tracks. We’ll save you a long story: The pod worked, and we were able to run our first train since we shut down our analog control system. Here it is:

First DCC test train at Midway
First DCC test train at Midway

Yep… Pennsy power. That’s not going to sit right with a few of our members…

Meanwhile, we continue to pull out wiring that won’t be needed (and perhaps a bit that will). For those keeping track, here’s the discarded wire pile as of March 19th:

The scrap wire pile grows...
The scrap wire pile grows…

Oh, and for those who can’t get enough of seeing Don Philpott covered in wire (I know I can’t!) here he is, hard at work in the operating gallery:



Our new equipment is on the way!

Planning for PMRRC
Planning for DCC — a process that looks a lot like arguing, but isn’t

While some of the crew greeted the crowd at the Great Train Show in Costa Mesa, the board was meeting to review equipment estimates and make a decision. We’ve approved the expenditure, we’ve ordered our equipment, and our gear is on the way!

Bob Wade removes one of our vintage DC throttles
Bob Wade removes one of our vintage DC throttles

Meanwhile, there’s a lot to do. Walk into the meeting room and you’re likely to see a scene like the one at left: Members hashing out the details of how we’re going to wire all that equipment so that we can duplicate or improve upon our existing functionality.

Up in the operator’s galley, it’s out with the old in preparation for the new as the old analog throttles are removed. It’s strange to see the control panels with holes where the throttles used to be, while the throttles themselves are piled up like old soldiers mustering for the last time. Our existing control system has served us well for the better part of fifty years. Hence the importance of careful planning and picking the right equipment — we want our new system to be able to last for the next fifty years!

Couplin’ up in Costa Mesa

PMRRC at the Great Train Show in Costa Mesa
PMRRC at the Great Train Show in Costa Mesa

We’re at the Great Train Show in Costa Mesa, California, with our old-but-somewhat-reliable Timesaver layout. In a building full of “Please Do Not Touch” signs, we’re giving show-goers a chance to get hands on and try their hand at the Timesaver (or just donk around with the locomotive).

The PMRRC Timesaver
The PMRRC Timesaver

Yesterday, half a dozen people were able to solve the Timesaver (a new record!) so we’ve made it a little tougher today with a slightly longer tank car that makes it impossible to get the loco and two cars on a spur. No solutions yet… but the day is still young! (UPDATE: Two people — well, technically, one person and one family — solved the Timesaver, not counting PMRRC member Aaron Gold.)

If you’re coming to the Costa Mesa show, be sure to stop by and say hello. Look for us (and our Timesaver) at more Southern California train shows this year.

Scenery TLC

Thirty years of hands-on railroading has taken its toll on the Sierra Pacific Lines. As we work on our DCC conversion, we’re taking advantage of the railroad being “down” to make some much-needed scenery repairs and improvements. Below, Dan Wexler works on our iron ore mine as Frank Sele, Brian Neely, and Alex Calzaretta tell him what he is doing wrong.

Dan Wexler works on the iron ore mine as interested parties look on. Photo: Aaron Gold
Dan Wexler works on the iron ore mine as interested parties look on. Photo: Aaron Gold

Meanwhile, our DCC conversion marches onward. We are nearly done with the survey work (the difficult task of locating and isolating the right wires amid the electric spaghetti that lives under our layout), and we can move on to the painful part: Approving the expenditure for equipment costs and writing a very big check. Once the hardware is here, we can open the throttle on our DCC conversion to Run 8.

Looking back, looking forward

First things first: We want to wish all of our members and fans a happy New Year!

2015 has been quite a year for the Pasadena Model Railroad Club. We had two very successful Open Houses, we added new members, we built a new web site, and there was one other thing… what was it… oh, yes! We decided to convert the layout to DCC. This will be one of the largest projects conducted on the Sierra Pacific Lines since construction began on the current layout in 1979.

Wiring under the layoutWe have already begun in earnest, the first step being to trace the current wiring under the layout — and that’s no simple task. Our analog control system is extraordinarily complex, and along with track power, we have thirty-five years’ worth of wiring for block detection, turnouts, lights, route patching, and even some yet-to-be-installed signals. Take a look under our layout, and you might be tempted to ladle some marinara sauce on all that electronic spaghetti.

Phase 1 of our conversion involves the main line and its turnouts (switches), so the first thing we need to do is identify the wiring that will need to change. We also need to check for clearance on the Tortoise switch machines that will accompany the DCC conversion.

The good news is that we’ve already finished most of the tracing. As 2016 rolls in, we’ll begin building the DCC pods and wiring up the track. We have a lot of members willing to jump in (or perhaps we should say jump under… the layout, that is, not a moving train) and git ‘er done. With this level of commitment, we should be able to get the project done (relatively) quickly.

Stay tuned for details — and meanwhile, we wish you and yours all the best for a happy, healthy, and prosperous 2016!

And so it begins…

First, thanks for visiting How do you like our new website? Spiffy, right?

This is the beginning of a new era for the Sierra Pacific Lines — and not just because of our spiffy new web site. We are beginning our conversion to Digital Command Control, or DCC. It’s a huge undertaking that we expect to take several months.

wiring_2015Why are we converting now? Our fifty-plus-year-old control system is probably one of the most complex analog systems of its type. It has served us very well, but it’s maintenance intensive and requires a high degree of specialized skill to repair. Converting to DCC will allow us to use standardized components that are easier to maintain and replace.

But it also means a massive amount of work. Much of the layout will be rewired, and our operating procedures will have to change. In some ways, we’ll have to learn to operate our layout all over again. The work is daunting, but we’re excited about the prospects for operating the Sierra Pacific Lines under DCC.

Follow along in this blog and we’ll keep you updated on all the changes. Now if you’ll excuse us, we have some wiring to do…