Tuesday, February 28, 2017

DCC And JMRI Notes

One thing I've discovered about DCC is that CVs 3 and 4 control acceleration and deceleration momentum. This is especially useful for locos without flywheels -- certain older Bachmann locos, like the PC GP40 that still turns up on line, or some of the SD40-2s, have good motors and cardan shaft drives but no flywheels. (A separate problem is that if these locos come "DCC equipped", it's with a very basic decoder that doesn't support most CVs. You will need to replace this for any but very basic DCC options.)

I reset the values for CVs 3 and 4 to 1 on the Bachmann PC GP40 that I worked on a few posts ago, and its response is now very close to any flywheel-equipped loco.

I've only been working with JMRI Decoder Pro for a few months, but I've found that the minimal expense of a USB cable and a DCC interface to my computer has been paying off hugely. Here is some of what I've learned:

  • JMRI is a user-friendly interface for DCC. Instead of searching through mnufacturer documentation on the ins and outs of individual decoders and CVs, Decoder Pro can simply take you to function screens, which makes programming decoders quick and easy.
  • Beyond that, Decoder Pro is able to discover decoder features that aren't documented in the manufacturer documentation. For instance, the Walthers Mainline SD70ACe with sound appears to have five horn selections via the Decoder Pro panel. In addition, a number of the Soundtraxx limited-feature sound decoders on Bachmann and Walthers locos allow you to activate the automatic sound features, like bell on at low speed and whistle signals for direction, on DCC, when by default they occur only in analog operation.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Spectrum 1990s F7 vs Current Bachmann F7

Fellow bloggers Ralph V and John R have done various tweaks on the 1990s Spectrum F7, in particular trying to get around the too-wide coupler spacing between units. I had several Spectrum GN F7s that I installed the Kadee short-distance coupler conversion kits on. Here they are when new, more than 20 years ago:

The Kadee conversions were pretty iffy. On one, the truck sideframe-cover plate casting quickly broke after the material removed following the Kadee instructions proved too much. But ever since Bachmann came out with a very reasonably priced F7 in its standard line, upgraded from the Spectrum version, I thought about taking the GN units and mounting them on a new Bachmann chassis. On one hand, I had added some details to the GN units, but Bachmann didn't reissue the Spectrum GN road name in any case.

I picked up an A unit chassis at a very good price on the web. I then took a good look at the Spectrum chassis -- the photo below shows it with the motor partly pulled out to see what I might need to do to convert it to DCC:

This could be done, but it's a hard wire job that involves fiddling with the cardan shafts to get them back in line after you've had the motor out to rewire the thing. Plus, if you look at the drooping coupler in the lower left, the Kadee conversion is still iffy. I just have a few of the Spectrums, all GN, so I think I'm just going to bite the bullet and replace all the chassis with new ones. Here is the new style chassis:

Dimensionally it's very similar to the Spectrum, and the Spectrum body will fit on it. But the coupler mount is redesigned, and it allows close coupling, plus it's DCC ready. Life is too short to struggle with the Spectrum chassis if I can find new Bachmann DCC ready chassis on line for well under $50.

The spectrum body had two projections on the inside to hold the mounting screws:

The new Bachmann body has four, but the locations match up with the two on the Spectrum body:

I had opened out the front coupler opening on the Spectrum unit to do the Kadee install. Getting the Spectrum body onto the new chassis was a little fiddly, but it went on OK. It is a close slip fit, and I just used two of the mounting screws from the new Bachmann loco.

The rear view shows the close coupler mounting on the stock Bachmann frame:

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

One Factor Of Fun: Purposefulness

MR Video Plus put up a video tour of John Tews's Timber River Railway last week. I've always liked this layout, and the video was especially good coverage. If you aren't an MRVP subscriber, you can find several YouTube videos, like this one:

However, the MRVP production quality and editing make their version worthwhile. There's also a web site on his layout. It's become one of my favorites for several reasons. One is that it simply exudes fun, like several other layouts on my blogroll. But it occurs to me that one big reason for the fun is the sense of purposefulness it gives.

An ore or log train is special, because it's clear what it's carrying and why, whereas boxcar traffic is invisible inside the car. The short ore cars are also appealing.

I've thought about adding ore operation to my layout over the years, but haven't gotten very far. I have picked up ore cars at swap meets and upgraded them, in particular to give them shorter coupling distances. Here's a Roundhouse with Herald King decals and taconite extensions:

Here's a factory-painted Roundhouse with coupler mods compared to a Walthers GN car:

here's an AHM repainted with the former Champ ore car decal set for B&LE:

These AHM cars are a B&LE prototype, longer than the Minnesota-Wisconsin style cars, so they're best not lettered for GN, DMIR, or whatever. However, they're very close to other 1950s ore cars for SP, UP, CP, and possibly others. It's too bad someone doesn't bring back the dies and produce them with good paint jobs for these roads -- in particular, they're right for the Kaiser Eagle Mountain mine, which MR featured in a 2016 project layout. The Roundhouse style SP 26 foot cars carried pellets to Kaiser Steel in Fontana. The B&LE style cars lettered for SP carried ore for export to Long Beach.

Another way to seem more purposeful is to add contemporary conspicuity stripes, which have been required since about 2010. I've been adding them to cars that should have them. My favorite product is from Smokebox Graphics, and they're precut and self-adhesive:

They're actually reflective, unlike Micro Scale decals or factory-painted versions. Here are a couple more cars I did yesterday:

Friday, February 10, 2017

Athearn Bluebox Upgrade

Fellow blogger John R put up a post on how he assembles inexpensive boxcar kits from Athearn, Roundhouse, Accurail, and other manufacturers. I added a comment about some tweaks I've done to Athearn bluebox, and John suggested I do a post of my own about these tweaks, with photos. As it happened, I had a bluebox kit ready to go. My method is derived from articles in RMC by the late Richard Hendrickson and others.

The main problem with Athearn bluebox was the metal clips that held the couplers in place. These had a tendency to fall off and leave the couplers on the track, which was irritating anyhow, but could also cause derailments -- and if it happened in a tunnel, good luck finding the coupler. In addition, if you wanted to install Kadee boxes to replace the Athearn coupler box, you had the issue of having to drill and tap the steel weight. I used to do this when I had access to my late Dad's drill press, but no longer.

I know some guys will say they just crimp the Athearn metal covers a little tighter, or fasten them with Goo or something, but my view is that's just not how you do things, and it'll eventually come back to bite you. So here's how I do it, a little easier than drilling and tapping the weight. The subject car is a special run in the last New Haven boxcar scheme, done for a Connecticut hobby shop that I think is now gone.

What we're going to do is turn the floor upside down so the scribed side faces the bottom and proceed from there. The first thing to do is cut off the small lip that projects into the doorway so it won't get in the way when we reassemble the car:

With that done, using a hobby knife, scribe a line down the car centerline to make it easier to locate the new Kadee coupler boxes:

Then clip the factory coupler pockets off the sill-bolster casting:

Then attach the sill-bolster assembly to the new bottom of the floor with the truck screws and run liquid plastic cement in to secure it:

Next assemble the floor into the body so you can use the body as a guide to locating the coupler boxes. Run liquid plastic cement in to secure the boxes -- be careful not to attach the body to the floor.

Then drill through the pivot holes in the Kadee boxes #50 and secure with 2-56 screws. When this is done, attach the weight to the new inside of the floor with silicone calk:

There are other advantages to doing this upgrade, especially the ability to add aftermarket brake parts to the underframe without the need to drill into the steel weight. Here's a car where I did this:

The bluebox car is light, so you can add weight to bring it up to the NMRA weight. Other simple upgrades are possible: on the car above, I cut off the "claws" on the Athearn door and added A-Line stirrup steps. I lettered it with decals that were briefly available from the now-defunct V&O Historical Society:

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Rewiring -- CP DRAINS

Drains was the name of the station at the lowest elevation on John Allen's Gorre & Daphetid. I wound up naming the lowest point on my layout for Drains, although at 40 or so inches above the floor, it's a lot higher than Drains n the G&D. Here is a photo I took a dozen or so years ago:

I was never completely satisfied with the scenery here, but over time, It's gotten pretty dusty and beat-up. In addition, the scenery to the left of the loco was never finished very well. In addition, the rewiring project has reached this location. It was originally built about 1994 using techniques inherited from the layout in its former location. In particular, it used my earlier method of mounting a twin-coil switch machine on a piece of plywood:

The old Eshelman turnout link I used with this type of installation is wearing out, and there are now only a few of these switch machines on the main line. My first objective was to tear this out at CP DRAINS, removing the fascia and getting rid of the kludge wiring:

Mounting a Tortoise here was a tight fit, and I've spent a week tweaking the install. I put in a Circuitron Smail, which is a Tortoise with a built-in DCC decoder. extended the DCC bus, and put in a terminal strip:

CP DRAINS had a first-generation setup with relays to control the signals. This in fact has dangled as and where shown under the layout for 20 years. This will be "remanufactured", rewired, and installed in a permanent location:

Here is how things looked up above last week:

Here is the area with the Smail installed and rewiring under way:

At this point the signal is completely disconnected and may be replaced. Below looks toward the newer scenery construction: