Monday, July 13, 2020

A Dive into the Too Hard Basket

OK, so here's the story bit first - a number of years back, crickey, it's actually five years ago this all started !

I bought myself a birthday present of a pair of HO scale Broadway Limited manufactured EMD SW1500 locomotives in that beautiful yellow and green livery of Missouri-Kansis-Texas Railroad.  I made sure to get them with DCC decoder and sound installed too - they sure did look purdy :-)


Number 54 was perfect out of the box. Number 50 ran for a bit then went kaboom. It had ceased to be, it was bereft of life, it now rested in peace. It just stopped and made that burnt electronics smell. So I eventually (yeh, well, a few months later) opened her up and found that the sound decoder had kicked the bucket and fallen off its perch.  I tested the motor and it spun OK, or so I thought...

Anyway, an email to the manufacturer and they said if I was happy to install a new decoder they'd shoot one out under warranty. When it arrived I was a tad busy with work and it took 6-7 months for me to get around to doing the replacement.  But I did eventually get around to it and pulled her down into parts and replaced the smelly old decoder with a brand new one that even smelled nice and new :-)

Onto the test track she went and... and... and...  nothing. I prodded her and nothing. I pushed her and nothing. It was totally ignoring me. So a full pull down again and out with the multi-meter to measure it all and volts was going in and nothing was going out. That's when I noticed a new and fresh brown mark on the loco's grey internal plastic - dang!  I had blown another sound decoder!  ARRRGGGHHHHH.

I tested the motor and it spun OK, so I thought it was OK....  You get where this is going ?  Anyway. I put it in the too hard basket as I was busy at work and the 12 months had expired since I had purchased it - so no warranry left.

So for my birthday this year a month and a bit back, I decided to get the loco running, as I now have plenty of time on my hands. So I stripped it all down and got some multi-meters out and connected them up to a DC power supply and set about measuring for volts and amps and stuff all over the loco.  Well blow me down if the motor spun fine and freely with no binding ! But here's the rub - the damn thing was drawing 2½ amps under no load !!!  So that turned out to be the cause of both blown sound decoders.

So, what the hell, I emailed the manufacturer to see if they had spare motors available - and yep - sure do. AND I thought why bother just putting in a non-sound decoder which I have kicking around the place - go the full hog I said to myself (I do that - talk to myself - but I don't always get the answer I want - I'm cantankerous that way). So I asked if they still had sound decoders for sale - yep, they sure do.  So a motor and sound decoder were ordered, paid for (95 Yanky bucks - not bad actually) and shipped to me. They arrived last Friday.

So today I found the too hard basket (one of many) and set all the parts out and stripped it all down.  Here's this particular too hard basket.


Now here are a couple of shots of the new donk and sound decoder.



I tested the new power unit and found that it runs at no load with only 0.02 to 0.08 amps current draw - BIG difference to the dud motor I had.  Now, first of course I went and lubed up all the gears and shafts with the relevant ultra-light oil, light oil, heavy oil and grease. Next it was time to install the new donk - not quite the original 12 cylinder as per the real loco, but a sufficiently strong enough electric one for my needs on this model.


Shafts were installed and the motor block fixed into place.


Next a test fit of the new sound decoder to make sure all fitted OK.


I had to open up the other of these two locos to compare with it what I was working on to make sure I was getting it right - I was :-)


A tidy up of all the wires and some kapton tape to hold them in place.


Complete!  Job done :-)  Well, of course I did also put it on the programming track and test it all and then run it a bit and compare it to the other one - all good as gold.  I am happy now that she is running again.  She'll also get an outting tomorrow at the Ex-Coppers place too :-)


Wednesday, June 3, 2020

Picture a Bloke Hitting Himself


About 6 or so weeks back I spotted this cute little shunter on the Australian Modeller website and decided "Stuff it" and bought it for myself just because.  It was only DC, but was listed as DCC ready, so no probs there. So of course the first thing to do after ripping the packaging off the box and getting the loco out, was to give her a spin on the test track under DC.  The HO scale loco was of course one of the 2nd release Auscision NSW 73 class locomotives. She ran nicely and the lights worked fine.  So a bit of running in of the motor was done.


Of course it didn't take long for me to want to get the lid off and have a peek inside. So we have complex light boards at both ends, the light switching board for the lights at just to the right of centre and of course the DC plug in board where the DCC decoder is to go.... oh, a 6 pin socket...  Unusual for a HO locomotive, but not a biggy I suppose.  


So I hunted through my DCC Decoder box and found my N scale stash of spare decoders and surprise, surprise, I had a suitable beastie on hand - a Digitrax DZ125IN which has the correct NEM651 6 pin configuration that suits this new loco. The following pics show the DC board front and back at the top of each pic and the Digitrax DCC Decoder at the bottom of each shot.


So with my trusty tweezers, the decoder was inserted with the correct orientation and then tested - all good.  The lights worked front and back, as did the motor and she responded nicely on the test track.


So she sat around for the next 4 weeks as I was trying to get a hold of anyone who does decoder installs with sound for these 73 class locos.  Nup, nope, nada, nyet - no one that does the 73 class installation has stock of any decoders due to the current Covid problems around the world - the factories are all closed and no stock is available to them.  Well, I said to myself (I talk to myself a lot - mainly chastising myself for stuffing things up), I did happen to have a spare ESU LokSound v5 Micro Sound Decoder kicking about that could go into this loco if I wanted to. I would need to find a sound file for it as it was a blank one. Yeh, what the heck says I, and off I went and cleared a space to start.  Take up model trains they said - it's a relaxing hobby they said... 

So the loco has this little hatch on the roof so you can access the lighting combination switches without taking the whole body off.  So this lid was put in a box for safe keeping as I do tend to loose things from time to time and then have to spend ages finding the dang things.


Then the body came off.  At least with this model the body shell is not tethered to the mechanism with wires and such - nice and clean - remove it and place elsewhere (for safety or course...  now where is that box with the small lid again?)


Now, the decoder I had was an 8 pin type, so it wouldn't plug directly into the loco, so I was going to have to solder it in with some wires.  So to make sure I got things right, I documented the motherboard in the loco so I knew which wires were to go where.  I also researched the standards for 6 pin and 8 pin decoders to see what the correct coloured wires to use were.


Then I did it - I unsoldered the motherboard and took a gander up close to see how much room I had to manoeuver around with the soldering iron for when I took the 6 pin socket off the board.  Only the black socket at the right hand end had to go, the other ones are the lighting boards and could remain, as I reckon I just had enough room to not have to go that extra step since I was using the "micro" version of the decoder.


So the loco now was motherless, well, motherboardless. Fingers crossed I had the documentation right and a good plan.


Here we see the decoder and the orientation and location it should fit. I could have removed the Next18 to 8 pin ribbon cable and soldered directly to the decoder, as there are suitable solder pads there to do it, but in case I wanted the decoder for somewhere else, I thought I'd leave it as is.



So the 8 pin end of the cable has of course the 8 pins - duh.  So I ended up unsoldering these 8 pins so as to solder on my wires.


So next, that 6 pin socket was carefully desoldered from the motherboard.


Next, the correct coloured wires, in the correct order, were soldered onto the motherboard. The motherboard was then screwed back into place and the decoder test fitted to ensure it would fit - and yes it did.


The wires were then soldered to the 8 pin end of the connector cable as per the standards.


So next to test it.  With a smile on my face I put it on the test rig and both head and tail lights came on simultaneously and no movement was had, nor sound either for that matter.  Lots and lots and lots of head scratching, review of my method, standards and such were then done over the next day.  Research was done - heavy research.

Standards, correct colours - my backside!  It would appear I couldn't read a chart or document to save my life.  Well, actually it was my implementation that let me down.  So when transcribing the standard colours to the motherboard and my cables, I had forgotten to take into account that I was looking at it upside down and left to right and not right to left and proper side up... Confused?  I certainly was!



Luckily the decoder was not damaged at all. So after fixing my ballsup, it was back to finishing off the loco.  Wires were tidied up and some Kapton Tape used to hold it together and neat.


The walkway and loco cab detail with the drivers were then put back in place.  You will of course be wondering about the two brown wires still floating around - these are the wires to go to the speaker, which will be located in the roof of the loco shell.


Roof, cab roof, it's a roof.  So I used some fine double sided tape to locate the speaker in the roof of the cab after painting it white.  The speaker is an ESU 11mm x 15mm Sugar Cube speaker and I used the 3mm baffle kit on it.


The loco shell then went back on.


The cab went back on and now all that was left was to find where I had put the box with the switch cover!


Onto the test track and away she went - like a bought one.  I played with the settings a bit and programmed an Alco Switcher sound file to it for the time being as there are no proper NSW 73 class sound files out there in the free domain.  I'll have to contact the mob down south to see if he'll sell me just the sound file for my decoder.

But besides not have the exact correct sounds, she's a little ripper mate :-)


OK, Mr Murphy jumped in at this point. When I then went to turn on/off the marker lights for better running... a marker light in white and one in red at the front right had failed - arrrgghhhhh.  It could wait till the following day.

When I eventually got the lid off to see which wires had fallen off or LED's I had crushed, I found some black foam had gotten in between the LEDs and the aperture for them to shine through - phew!  Cleared it out and good to go.  Now it was complete :-)


Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Double Trouble


For some reason a while back I got the idea in my head that I wanted Stay Alives in my two HO scale Auscision NSW 48 class locomotives.  Being 6 axle locos with pickups/wipers on all wheels, they really shouldn't need it, but being a short loco on some of the club's long points that don't have positive frog powering, they stuttered at times or completely stalled.  So easy peasy - in with some super capacitor based Stay Alives I said.

Upon opening them up, it was evident that there isn't too much swing room inside the locos - that's the problem with these narrow body locos compared to the wide bodied ones like NSW 422's and such.  The speaker, being an old fashioned normal coil type (at the right in the pic), took up a lot of room and was my first thought for removal to give me room for maybe a homemade Stay Alive.


But then I thought, why make it hard for yourself.  I knew that my home made ones were a tad too large for the front end of the loco, so I hunted around and found that I had a few of the TCS KA4 Stay Alives in my DCC goodie box.  


A quick test fit showed me that they might just be able to be squeezed into the space above the front bogie just in front of the driver cab, at the left hand end in the pic.


Now, the DCC Decoder used in this loco is the ESU LokSound Select with a 21 pin connector.  Research had shown me that to add in a Stay Alive I needed to solder a pair of wires directly to the decoder.  Bugger - I'll need to get the magnifying headpiece out to see that small!  So here is the decoder showing both sides (the squares on the grey modelling mate are 1 cm across).  In the lower pic, I'll need to solder wires to two of the solder pads on the left hand side of the decoder - small...  So no blow torches or plumber's irons (nor cracks) for this job - out with my nice temperature controlled beastie I got from Jaycar a few years back - just the trick for small electronics work.


Now whilst I had the shell off I also decided to add some heavy gear oil to the gear towers front and back, so I had to take the speaker out and remove its sound box.  A few drops of the heavy oil onto the brass worm gears and I was able to put the speaker back in and move along.


So the soldering iron was now hot and I got the correct coloured fine wires out of my storage boxes and also got out the documentation that came with the decoder that showed me where to put the wires.  Carefully I tinned the solder pads first and then added the wires. Done and no overheating - should be right to go.  On a side note, here is a little trick I found on the web - when you don't want a small thing to move across your bench, just get out some masking tape and wrap it onto itself with the sticky side out.  It will then stick to the desk and your decoder will stick to it - no movement while I soldered :-)  I went one step further and wrapped it around a piece of old paint stirrer and it in itself is portable and sticks to the bench and then the small item to it - reusable.


So now to the TCS KA4 Stay Alive. I decided I wanted a gander at it so I removed the heatshrink from it as it wasn't necessary for it to have any on where I was going to be putting it.  The unit is made up of 4 Super Capacitors, each of 2.7 volt 1 Farad capacity.  The little PCB that they are soldered onto, have the diode, zener diode and resistor mounted on it. All up it is a nice and neat package that will do the trick and is smaller for the same capacity, than my home made ones.


So I temporarily attached the Stay Alive and tested the loco to make sure I hadn't blown anything up.  All was good, so this happy chappie proceeded to finish the job.


So I had tested the fit and knew the Stay Alive would just fit in the space above the front bogie gear tower.  I then decided to make a small shelf to sit on the bogie to protect the Stay Alive from oil from the worm gear and also for the double sided tape to stick to, to hold the Stay Alive in place.  I used some scrap Styrene card I had kicking around - 10 thou thick I think it was (inches).  I trimmed it to fit the nooks and crannies of the bogie and it was a snug fit, hence no glue was required.


It was only after making the shelf that I decided on a change - I still needed the shelf for oil protection, but I would use double sided tape to stick the Stay Alive to the side of the loco shell rather than the shelf as it gave a smidge more verticle movement space for the bogie.


I had to make sure all the wires were neat as well since there is not much room under the drivers cab and I did want it to sit down properly, so I arranged the wires neatly and then a few dobs of UV Glue was used to lock them into place.


Eagerly the loco shell was put back on, the couplers screwed back into place and testing performed.  It passed with flying colours.  I had also made sure to program the ESU decoder's CV 113 to 255 and CV 315 to 0.  This is required if you attach a Stay Alive to an ESU LokSound decoder.  CV 315 tells the decoder that there is a Stay Alive attached and the other CV, if set to 255, gives the maximum runtime whilst the loco is being powered by the Stay Alive.

Further testing has shown that I get between 3 and 5 seconds of power when the Stay Alive kicks in.  At a very slow speed (10 percent throttle) that equates to about 10 cm movement along the track and at full tilt it runs for more than 66 cm.  I think I am now safe for running across badly powered points and dirty track :-)

A week later the other 48 class loco got the same attention and both bad boys are ready for some running down the club... when next it is open.


Thursday, May 14, 2020

Workin' on the Railroad with my Steamie


A few weeks back I decided it was time to get this loco tooting, my HO scale Bachmann 4-4-0 Baldwin Tender Loco that is. So Louisville & Nashville number 7 was dug out and I got to it with the tools.

This one comes in two parts - the front half, and the back half.  The electronics are located in the back half - technical term for it is the "Tender".  With the Tender disconnected from the front part, I had a look underneath to see what we have there.  You can see there are the two plugs going to the front half of the loco and the wipers for power pickup and a large round area where there is room for installing a Speaker.


Two screws at the front end of the Tender were removed thereby allowing the top to come off and we can have a gander inside.  The black thing in the left of the pic is the Bachmann DCC Decoder and then there is the wiring distribution board to its right.


Unplugging the decoder and a couple of small screws later we have the board removed as well and we can see the space we have.  


I reckon the space available in the tender will suffice for what I want to do to it.  I have a Tsunami ECO-200 for Steam sound decoder (pn 891002) on hand that I had picked up somewhere for a good price.  It'll do the job and fit in nicely.  It has heaps of different Loco sounds to choose from to make the loco sound the way I want.


For the sound to come out, I had some of these "Sugar Cube" speakers kicking around with various chambers to use on them and decided to give them a go.  So one of the ESU LokSound 50321 jobbies was used.  It has a size of 11 x 15 mm and I used the 4mm deep chamber for it.  


Since the chamber has to be sound tight for maximum sound production and it is plastic, I used a medium thickness super glue made for plastic - "Plasti-ZAP ".  I have found it is a really good glue for a lot of the general plastic work on models.


Being that I like to drive my trains at a more realistic speed and not race around like they are all Shinkansens, sometimes they stutter or stall on the dirty patches of track or the junctions.  So I decided to put in a "Stay Alive" or "Keep Alive" as they are known in the model train arena - think of them as a small battery.  I had read up a fair bit about Super Capacitors which are used to make these Stay Alives and thought I'd make my own to save a buck or two.  A friend at the club had a bunch of them at a really good price, so I obtained a couple of dozen for a few projects. At a later date I'll put up an article with some testing results about some Stay Alives.  In the meantime, for a read, check out -

Mark Gurries site for some good info on they Super Capacitors and such:


Larry Puckett also has the circuit I used to make my own Stay-Alive for this loco:

So with my 4 super capacitors a resistor, a diode and a zener diode, away I went and built my own Stay-Alive that also happened to fit the space I had available.


OK, so I have in the past botched a thing or two and I decided to play it safe for once.  Before I unsoldered all the wires from the electronics board in the tender, I spent quite some time and documented them.  It helped as Bachmann had decided to make them all the colours of the rainbow - NOT. They were ALL Black, and we are not talking footy here.


Now to position all the components so they will fit.  First I had to cut off the metal mounting posts that Bachmann had used for their board - this gave me a bit more room to play with. A few attempts were made and eventually I decided the speaker and Stay-Alive could be glued to the floor of the tender using that same ZAP glue as before.


The next step was to decide where the decoder would go.  The floor of the tender didn't have the space for this largish decoder, so of course the roof would do. With some double sided tape, I whacked the decoder up on the roof of the tender.


I now spent some time cutting wires to length and neatly soldering the decoder wires to the loco wires, making sure to use heat shrink tubing to insulate them all.  Once done, even though it was in a messy state, it was time to make sure it all worked before I went any further.  So carefull arrangement of it all on the rolling road test kit and I fired up the PC with JMRI and my SPROG and proceeded to give it a whirl and made sure the lights, sound and motor all did what they were asked to do.


Then I had to make a few attempts to squeeze all the wires and parts into the tender, making sure not to squash any of them.


A quick test of it all again on the rolling road and she was ready for running - job dnoe and another loco ready for some running on a track somewhere.