Return of the Emerald Rocket

The Emerald Rocket is the premiere long-distance passenger train on the Sierra Pacific Lines. Each car is named after a PMRRC member who played an instrumental part in the creation of the club and the railroad.

Power for the Emerald Rocket comes from two sets of Alco PAs, an A-B-A set (Athearn drives with metal Hobbytown bodies) and an A-B-B-A set (ironically, Hobbytown drives with plastic Athearn bodies). Three engines are sufficient to pull the train through the east end of the railway, but the steep grades between Midway and Zion require an additional B unit, and SOP has been to swap in the four-unit Hobbytown set.

The job to convert these old locomotives to DCC was given to yours truly and the Athearns weren’t much of a problem — but the Hobbytowns gave me fits. Each A-B set is permanently coupled with a drawbar. A single motor in the B unit drives all four trucks via driveshafts that run underneath the units. Electrical pickup is spread across both units, and I just couldn’t get a good electrical path.

Fortunately, we have a new apprentice named Mike, who does DCC conversions for The Original Whistle Stop in Pasadena. He was kind enough to lend us his time and expertise — and now the Hobbytown PAs are running under DCC, complete with a working Mars light!

The Emerald Rocket's 70s-era Hobbytown PAs, now running DCC!
The Emerald Rocket’s 70s-era Hobbytown PAs, now running DCC!

We test-ran the Emerald Rocket, and the Hobbytown units did great, grinding along at their usual leisurely pace. (We didn’t bother with a sound decoder; it’d be impossible to hear over the drivetrain noise.)

Unfortunately, the cars did not do quite so well — they need a cleaning and a check of their electrical continuity. All of the cars are illuminated, and DCC is a bit more sensitive to these things than DCC. One or more of the cars is causing shorts on certain sections, something I’ll be digging into this week.

Meanwhile, I love the fact that we have forty-plus (maybe fifty plus?) year old engines running in the modern world of DCC! This is one of the aspects that makes railroading with a club such a great thing — no matter what problem we run into, there’s generally someone who can solve it.

Thanks, Mike, for helping to keep this important piece of PMRRC history running on the Sierra Pacific Lines!

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