There’s a new Grappa on Napa’s Wine Train, but this grappa isn’t something you drink.
Grappa is the name of the new Wine Train power car. The rail car, which was converted from an abandoned boxcar, made its debut journey this June, helping power the Wine Train on its daily runs.
Resembling a passenger car, with open windows and a hallway, Grappa contains the train’s power unit, which now controls all of the onboard electricity, including interior lights and air conditioning.
The power car ensures a constant power supply for the train that runs independently of the engines, said Tony Giaccio, CEO/CFO of the Napa Valley Wine Train.
When the Wine Train reaches its northernmost destination in St. Helena and its engines are disconnected for the turnaround, electricity remains constant on the train, drawing from a diesel source in the Grappa power car, explained Walt Eastland, chief mechanical officer at the Wine Train.
Before the power car was created, the train was primarily without power during the turnaround, which could be uncomfortable for passengers, especially for those sitting under the rays of the sun in the Vista dome car with its glass roof. Now, the cars remain air-conditioned and without any loss of power.
The name of the car was inspired by grappa, a high-alcohol-content brandy made from grape pomace.
“Grappa is the most powerful beverage derived from grapes, and our power car is the most powerful of all of our cars,” said Giaccio. The Grappa car joins other Wine Train cars with names such as the Merlot, the Chardonnay, the Cabernet and the Zinfandel. The Wine Train includes nine passenger cars, the power car, and two locomotives.
The power car came to the Wine Train from Mare Island and was previously owned by the Department of Defense. It was first built in 1953, according to Eastland.
Plenty of trains have power cars, Eastland said, but what makes the Grappa car unique is that passengers can pass through the car. Normally, power cars are working cars and are not passenger-accessible.
The project started in November. First, the roof of the boxcar had to be lowered about two feet. “We didn’t want to block the view from the dome,” Eastland said. The power car is located adjacent to the dome car.
Then a large hole had to be cut into the side of the car to install a 450,000-watt diesel generator.
“I could power two to three city residential blocks with it, no problem,” Eastland said. “But it’s needed.” If the train were any larger, it would need even more power, he said.
After installing wiring and plumbing and other systems, ballast steel plates were inserted to balance the weight of the generator, which sits to one side of the car. Those plates were then embedded in concrete and a non-slip flooring material installed over the top.
Three open-air windows were added, along with window frames and wood trim. The outside was painted in the Wine Train’s signature burgundy, gold and green colors and the side labeled “Grappa.”
The conversion was all done at the Wine Train maintenance yard in Napa, he said. About a dozen people worked on the project over about six months.
Functionality aside, riders seem to be enjoying the Grappa car. With its open-air windows, “we often just seeing people hanging out and just enjoying it,” said Kira Devitt, director of marketing and public relations for the Wine Train. “It’s another place people can stand and take pictures.”
Devitt, who happens to be the granddaughter of former Wine Train president and CEO Vincent DeDomenico, said she plans to install a photo exhibit in the pass-through area of the power car conversion process and perhaps other railroad nostalgia.
Eastland, who previously ran the electrical and HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning) department at the Grand Canyon railway, said he has been involved with heavy conversion projects but had never built a power car with passenger walk-through. “That part of it was a first,” he said.
“It’s a very unique project done in a small shop with everybody working together. It all came together nicely,” he said.