Wire, wire everywhere

Don Philpott pulls wire from underneath the layout
Don Philpott pulls wire from underneath the layout

We’re on to the next big step: Pulling wire. There are miles and miles of wire under the layout, and the job now is to sort out what can go and get it pulled. All of this is done while crouching or lying on the Sierra Pacific’s concrete floor. With all the grunting, yelling and cursing, a person standing outside might start to wonder what goes on behind our closed front door…

To give you some idea of the magnitude, here’s the pile of wire we’ve pulled so far. It stands about thigh deep:

The pile of wire... so far
The pile of wire… so far

Meanwhile, we’re continuing to replace our switch machines with DCC-friendly Tortoises. The first of our pods are built, and we plan to install and test them this coming week. Stay tuned!

The first cut!

Martin Booker cuts the connection from the cabs to the track
Martin cuts the connection from the cabs to the track

This is it — the point of no return! Okay, maybe I’m being a little dramatic, since wire can always be spliced. But we did pass a major milestone on Tuesday, March 1st, when club president Martin Booker cut the wires that connect our analog control system to the track wiring.

Those who saw The Hunt For Red October will remember the scene between Sean Connery and the Master At Arms…

MAA: We could still go back.

RAMIUS: There will be no going back.

We have resisted the urge to talk to each other in Scottish-Russian accents, but the point is still the same: Power is cut to our analog system, and when the railroad comes back online it will be digitial!

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!

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 PMRRC.org. 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…