Another Open House is in the history books!

We’ve just wrapped up our Fall 2017 Open House, and we want to thank everyone who came out to see the Sierra Pacific Lines in action!

Opening day, Saturday, was… well, not our finest. The Sierra Pacific Lines often gets a bit cranky at the start of an Open House, but this time she was in full rebellion mode. We had some major problems with the boosters in our Whiskey block, which brought the railroad to a halt. For a while, it felt like we were going to spend as much time fixing the layout as we would running trains. Our communication with our visitors was not as good as it should have been, and for that we apologize. Happily, our outstanding electrical crew was able to rig up a fix and we had trains rolling by late afternoon.

Sunday was a much better day — aside from a few known glitches, the layout ran like a champ, and the guests — who came in droves — clearly had a much better time. Tuesday night was busy as well and the layout ran just as smoothly. We saw lots of smiling faces, and that’s what we like.

Many of our visitors were exceptionally generous and offered more than our suggested donation, which we appreciate — donations from the Open House play a big part in keeping the Pasadena Model Railroad Club going!

Our next Open House usually takes place in the spring, but we are eager to finish our DCC wiring project (the remaining step being to convert the Alhrambra and Zion yards). Give us some time to make our plans, and we’ll announce dates soon.

We’re ready for our Fall 2017 Open House!

We’ve been busy getting our railroad ready for our next Open House, which takes place this coming weekend — Saturday, November 18th, Sunday, November 19th, and Tuesday evening, November 21st.

Here’s the Alhambra freight yard, stuffed full o’ trains:

Trains ready to roll out of Alhambra
Trains ready to roll out of Alhambra

So what goes into getting the Sierra Pacific Lines ready for an Open House?

Prepping the trains is one of the biggest (and, for the most part, enjoyable) tasks. For the Open Houses, we run trains from one end of the layout to the other (as opposed to an operating session, in which freight cars are delivered from industry to industry). Members will often bring in extra equipment for the shows, and since we want the smoothest experience possible, we test-run every train — and since it takes about an hour to get from one end of the layout to the other, this is a time-consuming process. Any locomotives or cars that misbehave are removed from the trains. (Why take a chance?)

We also need to prep the operators, especially now as we are getting used to running our layout under digital command control (DCC). All of our operators need to know the fouling points (ends) of each block by heart, so they can follow the dispatcher’s directions. Test-running the trains gives us an opportunity to practice as well.

Cleaning is also a big deal — especially now, as we’ve just had some dust-generating maintenance done on the building. Fortunately, our steel rail is pretty robust stuff. We hand-clean the yards and most of the turnouts, and run a track cleaning train with an abrasive cleaner, alcohol tank cars, and a magnet car to pick up the debris. It takes a lot of power to get the cleaning train up those 2% grades.

The track cleaning train at Vista
Mid-1960s New York Central power shoves the track cleaning train through Vista


The track isn’t all that gets cleaned; we’ve also done some clean-up and scenery repair on the layout, and the building itself gets a scrubbing. (Unfortunately, as we were dismayed to discover, our bathrooms don’t clean themselves.)

Our ongoing DCC conversion presents more challenges. Our mainline conversion is complete, but we’re still running analog turnouts and control panels in the yards, which has led to a few electrical glitches that need to be tracked down before the Big Day.

But most members will agree that all the work is worth it when we see a nice long freight train cross the Sierra-Upton bridge — and we love to see the looks on the faces of visitors who have never seen such a massive model railroad in action.

What will you see at the Pasadena Model Railroad Club? Here’s a quick preview of some SP power on the Sierra Pacific Lines:

We hope you can join us for our Open House this weekend. You’ll find dates and times on our Open House page and directions on this page. We look forward to seeing you!

Next Open House dates have been set!

We’ve set the dates for our Fall 2017 Open House: Saturday, November 18th; Sunday, November 19th; and Tuesday, November 21st. Opening times and other information will be posted on our Open House page.

Additionally, we’ve been invited to participate in the Summer Train Festival at Union Station on July 15th, 2017. It’s only a short drive from Union Station to the club, so we’ve decided to open our doors to the public that Saturday as well. Once folks have had their fill of full-size railroading at Union, they can hop on over for some 1:87-scale action on the Sierra Pacific Lines!

Some of you might be wondering what happened to our Spring 2017 open house. Because work on the east end was still progressing, and as we were still troubleshooting on the west end, we decided to have a smaller event for friends and family on April 29th. We barbqued, we gave tours, and we ran some trains, and a good time was had by all. We look forward to opening our doors to the public in July and November — and possibly even more often in the future. Stay tuned!

Scenes from the Fall 2016 Open House

A big THANK YOU to everyone who joined us for our Fall 2016 Open House and grand re-opening! We had a tremendous turnout, and everyone who joined us was very patient when we had technical glitches (like when we blew the most difficult-to-change turnout motor on the entire layout).

Some scenes from the Open House:


Something we haven’t seen for over a year — members of the public lined up in the aisle to see the Sierra Pacific Lines in action! For many of us, this was the most gratifying sight.


Here’s Zion Yard, stocked full o’ trains. As always, we tried to give our visitors a good variety: Passenger and freight, steam and diesel, Western and Eastern roads.

Doublestack stringline at the Fall 2016 open house

So, did we mention glitches? Here, a set of double-stack cars derailed and tipped over heading out of Midway Yard. Oops.


What we like best: Trains, trains, and more trains. Now that we are running under Digital Command Control, we can bring even more cool stuff to the rails. The SP Black Widows and the UP Centennials behind them all have sound and light effects, and the railroading action was better than ever!

Now that the Open House is behind us, it’s time to roll up our sleeves and get back to work — we still have the eastern end of the railroad to convert, and that includes Alhambra yard, which posts the biggest challenge. Once again, thank you everyone for joining us, and we’ll see you at our Spring 2017 open house!

Our open house is open!

Our grand re-opening is underway! This past week, we opened our doors to the public for the first time since we began our DCC conversion. (Sorry, no pictures, as your Webmaster was dispatching the railroad… and the less said about that, the better.)

This was our first “real” operation under DCC, and it went pretty well — we had a few technical glitches, but for the most part, things ran smoothly. (Thanks to all who were here for being so patient!)

Our open house continues this weekend and this coming Tuesday, and we hope you will join us. Details can be found on our Open House page. See you soon!

Correction: This story originally mentioned the open house taking place next weekend. The open house takes place this weekend (11/19 and 11/20) and Tuesday evening (11/22) only.

How do you get to the Open House? Practice, practice, practice!

First, allow me to show you a sight that hasn’t been seen in about a year:

First cars loaded into the Zion yard

That’s the Zion freight yard, stuffed full o’ cars! We’re officially up and running on the western end of the railroad, from Midway to Zion; now we need to get cars onto the rails and organized into trains. (And lemmie tellya, you don’t appreciate a re-railing ramp until you’ve had to load a massive freight yard with a couple hundred cars.)

Our next step: Practice, practice, practice. Though the track plan hasn’t changed, how that we have DCC, the Sierra Pacific Lines is essentially a whole new railroad. Dispatching is different and operating is very different. In order to be cab qualified, PMRRC members have to know the entire railroad, including where the blocks begin and end (no easy task with a 28-scale-mile mainline). Under DCC, the computer (usually) won’t let the operator overrun a block, but the operator has to know these points forwards and backwards in order to avoid the train lurching to an embarrassing (and unrealistic) halt.

Loading trains into the Midway yard

So for now, we have to run trains, run more trains, and run a few more trains — and who could complain about that? After all, we’ve been waiting a year to run trains on our railroad! Our test runs are also allowing us to do some final debugging; for now the railroad is running extraordinarily well, so well that it’s sometimes hard to contemplate the enormity of what we have completed so far.

We’re eager to share our updated railroad with the public at our upcoming Grand Re-opening and Open House, scheduled for November 15th, 19th, 20th and 22nd. You’ll find all the details at our Open House page, and we hope you can join us — we’re eager to show you our new railroad!

Join us for our grand reopening!

PMRRC Open House Spring 2015With over a year of work under our belts (and a bit more still to go), we’re just about ready to open to the public — and we are pleased to announce the dates for our Fall 2016 Open House!

The Pasadena Model Railroad Club will re-open to the public for our Fall Open House on November 15th, 19th, 20th and 22nd. For a complete schedule and details, check out our Open House page.

Digitrax controllerThis is more than just an ordinary Open House — it’s a grand reopening. For those who have visited us before, the scenery will look familiar, but underneath this is a whole new railroad.

Upgrading to Digital Command Control allows for big changes in the way we run the Sierra Pacific Lines, allowing us to move beyond the confines of fixed operating positions and the old block-control system. Operators will be able to roam the railroad with their trains, just as real-world engineers do, and mainline operations no longer need be split apart from switching work. We’re excited about the possibilities and eager to share our new railroad with our friends and fans!

We still have lots of work ahead of us, and we’ll keep you posted on these pages. Please join us in November. We can’t wait to see you!