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!

The importance (and the frustration) of standards

Aaron's new "Amquipment" on the PMRRC test track. Note the #6 switches and 2% grade.
Aaron’s new “Amquipment” on the PMRRC test track, which features #6 switches and a 2% grade.

Real railroads run on standards, and so does the Sierra Pacific Lines. A train car is a train car on a 4×8 tabletop layout, but when you are pulling a 50-car train up a 2% grade, any car that isn’t in tip-top shape has a good chance of going on the ground. PMRRC has developed a strict set of standards for rolling stock, and all cars must pass inspection before they are allowed on the railroad.

Our trackwork is so good that if anything derails, the problem is almost always with the car. When a train goes on the ground, our standard operating procedure is to place the affected cars in the bad order tray for re-inspection and get the train moving again. In most cases, the train continues without a problem and we almost always find something wrong with the car.

As a newbie car inspector, I’ve been amazed at the things that can cause a car to kiss the ties: Continue reading

Come as you are

Frank Sele and apprentice James work on the harbor area
Frank Sele and apprentice James work on the harbor area

On our Become a Member page, we say that no special skills are required to join the Pasadena Model Railroad Club, and we mean it. One of the things that makes PMRRC such a great club is we have a lot of members who not only have lots of talent, but are willing to share it. Here, Frank Sele and apprentice James work on the harbor area. Frank, one of our newest members, brings with him a wealth of knowledge on building scenery. He’s a retired teacher, and he’s still teaching here at PMRRC.

We’re grateful that Frank is willing to pass on his skills to our other members. If you’re looking to learn about model railroading — or willing to teach! — then PMRRC is the club for you.

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.

Come see us this weekend at the Great Train Show in Costa Mesa

PMRRC will have a table at the Great Train Show in Costa Mesa, California, on January 30th and 31st. As always, we’ll bring our Timesaver switching layout (are you up to the challenge?). Please stop by and say hello — we’re always happy to meet fellow modelers and talk about the club!

More information about the Great Train Show at the Orange County Fairgrounds in Costa Mesa

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!