Thursday, September 17, 2020

Now Where's That Magnifying Glass?

Having practiced on some larger locos of late, it was now time to get some DCC Decoders into some of my little N-Scale shunting locos - the EMD SW1200 and SW9 Yard Switchers.  In real life these little beasts were built in the early 50's and 60's and had 12 cylinders giving them 1200 horses under the bonnet.

My little fellas are all Life-Like brand and are almost two decades old now.  They run well on DC, so time to get them into the computer age I reckon.  So a Digitrax DN126M2 decoder fits - just. At 10.63mm x 15.79mm x 2.72mm it gets me my motor control and lights.  Mind you, only the front lights are functional on the model, but given time, I might just be able to get a small SMD LED in place for the rear light, as the decoder is capable of driving it :-)

The first order of the day was to get the bogies off. With some research I found that they just twist to about 80 degrees and then unlock and fall out - nifty. The fuel tank just is a press fit and pulls off easily.

Now we can see what is to be the troublesome part - the power pickups that connect to the bogies.  They are those brass looking things at each corner of the loco.

This little sucker in the below shot.  Please note that they are not screwed to the body shell, but are plastic welded.... brittle, easily broken off, just ask me how I know...

But after mucking around and breaking a few off on a loco or two, I eventually had some luck with research on the PC with good 'ol Google. Shims !  That's the answer - shims.

You get some really thin brass and cut it about 3 or 4 mm wide and insert it between the body shell and the loco mechanism where these pickups are.  This then allows the shell to come off without ripping these pickups off !  But I didn't have any!  BUT, I don't throw things out and remembered I had some HO scale loco parts from an old disgarded loco I had turned into a dummy. Yep, the bogie pickups on it had plenty of thin brass for me to work with - four or so snips and I had my shims.

So I could now use the shims to get the loco shell off easily without damage to the pickups. So I pushed the shims in about 12-15 mm and ...

And the shell came off and the pickups were left where they belonged.

The pickups were now left on the shell where they belonged. I was able to reattach the ones I had broken off on other locos by holding them in place and with some spare plastic sprues from an old model kit and the soldering iron, weld them back into place with hot plastic.

So we now have the shell off and the mechanism able to be got at.

So the next step was to pull apart the mech. Mind you, I didn't need to fully strip the loco down this far to get the DCC Decoder in, I did it so I could give a full oil and grease of all relevant parts as well.

Now to make the loco DCC friendly by isolating the motor pickups. I shortened them with a pair of nippers first.  Now they wouldn't touch the loco frame and short things out on the DCC layout.

So I got my tiny small miniature wires out and soldered some to the two motor pickups I had shortened and ran them along the motor nice and tidy like.

In the process, I got the Digitrax DCC Decoder out of its packet and checked it out top and bottom.

The brassy areas are what get sandwiched between the two loco halves and therefore they are the power in to the decoder. The two small cylinders or sockets at the left are where the motor wires go. And in the lower shot in the middle of the right hand side edge, is the LED for the forward light on the loco.

The decoder was now installed between the two loco frames - that's how it picks up the power by the way. Before this I of course got out my little light oil pen and gave the motor bushes a tiny drop of lubricant to keep them going.

I then soldered the two motor wires to the decoder and she was almost ready for a Dodgy Brothers quick test.  Dodgy Brothers Testing 101 of a loco means grabbing it in its current state and putting it on its nose directly across the tracks so that the mech picks up the power.  Hey, it works...

The two loco halves get a bit too cosy on the bottom for my liking, so a bit of Kapton Tape to insulate them will cure any hanky panky going on.

Now it was just a matter of reassembling the loco after oiling the bogie gears and putting some grease on the worm gear.  I also got some 2000 grade wet and dry sand paper out and polished the four contacts attached to the shell.

While I am at it, here is a better shot of the rear light on the loco. Even though it is a small solid bit of plastic, I reckon a very tiny drill should get me a couple of holes in it and a small SMD LED on the inside with magnet wires back to the decoder should in the end get me a rear light ... if I want to...

So the shell went back on and the bogies were carefully popped back on and voila - a ready to run DCC controlled loco that's been for a full maintenance as well :-)

Wednesday, September 2, 2020

Ar Ar Ar, Says Tim the Toolman

 Yes, exactly what I say when I see a beast like the USRA 2-8-8-2 locomotive.

The other week I was running my Life-Like N-scale version of this big steam locomotive when a friend said he would put a decoder into his - which he since has.  So with my mate Peter's install doco in hand, I tackled the install on mine.  Of course I had it easy as Peter had already gone down the path of pulling it all apart before realising there was a simpler way, which he documented of course.

So I took the lids of both the loco and the tender for a look see - two little screws is all that it took.  The decoder for the motor will go in the loco itself and there would appear to be oodles of space in the tender for adding sound later on as a second decoder....

In this next shot you can see we have plent of room for a decoder to the right of the rear worm gear.

Luckily the motor is already isolated on one side and the wheels are totally isolated from the frame... after a simple modification. That screw to the right of the rear worm gear grounds the right hand side wheel pickups to the chassis, so unsoldering these wires allows the frame to act as one one input to the motor. Anywho, I followed the new version of Peters installation doco and continued on.

I found a spare decoder in my box of DCC goodies - an old NCE N12SR still in its packet in fact. With a 1 amp motor rating, this should well and truely cater for this little loco.

So the next thing to tackle was to get at the front LED circuit board. Cutting a PCB track and soldering on some wires was required as was a bit of grinding to allow the wires to nicely come off the board and along the loco body. 

Now this might look rough, but I put the rubber jaws in before very carefully clamping the loco so I could get at that front PCB.

You can see the two grinding spots marked with red arrows in the next shot.

After this I soldered on the new wires and such and tested the loco on my JMRI DCC setup.  She was ALIVE !  So I hadn't stuffed anything up (hang in there folks).

Then it was time to put the shell back on - careful, careful and there... bugger  !  Yep, you guessed it - stuffup.  Well not really.  The wires I had chosen to use were tiny, but still a bit fat for the job I expected from them.  You see, there is bugger all space between the loco shell and the metal chassis.

So I had to remove them and solder in new ones - a lot thinner ones.  Luckily I had spools of relavent coloured wire of a suitable diameter - tiny.

Tested and all was good.  Then it was the let's play with it for 30 or minutes poking this wire here, that wire there, a drop of glue here, a "cut this glue free" there, rejig, rejig rejig.  Eventually all fitted and the lid came down perfectly.  Job complete.

BUGGER !!!  You know what I didn't do whilst I had the lid off?.... oil and grease her.. arrrgggghhhh. So some day soon I'll need to open her up and finish the job, won't I ?!!

Monday, August 17, 2020

Yep, Thought it might Eventually

Yeh, well, a little while back I upgraded the speaker in my HO scale Walthers GP15 loco from an old normal speaker to a modern Sugar Cube type.  It was a success and she sure did sound good after that.  I did note to myself that the 4 axle loco might in future need an upgrade to a Stay Alive because of her short length.

After having another run on the club layout at Zillmere on Friday night, she had the stutters again - the loco would stall out on some points and dodgy track areas. One of the bogies was also having pickup issues in itself too. So yesterday, after my morning coffee, I pulled her apart and checked her out. 

First thing was to make myself a note to solder all the wires to the decoder board as those press fit connections are never the greatest.  I also made a note, that while I was at it, why not go full hog - add a Stay Alive. You can see the little black press fit caps at the left and right hand ends of the decoder as well as in the middle.  They do have a tendancy sometimes to get loose and then the wires make bad electrical contact.  You can also see that the speaker is about half in and half out of the grey mounting box.

First up I pushed the speaker further up so as to free up as much space in the grey box above the rear bogie.  A bit of thick super glue helped keep it there too.

Next I got out some 2.7 volt, 1 farad Super Capacitors and measured them for fit in the grey box - perfect it was, so onwards with the job I said to myself.

Laying them side by side with a small drop of superglue to hold them in place, I then soldered the 4 of them in series to make my "battery". I also got my handy Stay Alive diagram out for reference to make sure I didn't stuff it up.

Now I had some research to do as the Sound Decoder in the loco is an OEM version of a SoundTraxx Econami.  Hours of looking and nothing specific was found.  But of course Marcus Ammann’s website,, was of course extremely helpful and I was able to ascertain one way or another where I should connect the Stay Alive. It was of course AFTER the 4 rectifier diodes that turn the DCC power into DC power for the decoder. 

So the 4 power diodes are along the left side of the decoder board in the photo. I ended up soldering my wires to the top 2 diodes on the right hand side of each of course. Oh, and YES, Scooter, I did test it first with a multi-meter before soldering.  I had chosen wisely and was in the correct place.

It was now time to start assembling the loco and building the Stay Alive into it.

So with the super capacitor block now under the grey box and held in place with a bit of double sided tape, I drilled a few small holes to hold the legs of the components I was using.  Since I had the space, I left them in the air for a bit of extra cooling.  Might not look crash hot, but it will do the job and will last the distance.

The left hand component is the Zener Diode, the middle one is a Resistor and the right hand component is the Diode.  The resistor gets pretty hot initially when the Super Capacitor needs to charge up, as does the Zener Diode.  Once in running mode it all settles down and is not a problem at all.

Next I soldered on some small plugs so that things can be disconnected if required at a later date.  I added one to the decoder to attach to the stay alive and one to the front headlight so that the loco shell can easily be placed elsewhere when working on the loco in the future.

Some Kapton Tape was then used to hold the wires neatly so the shell can be put on easily.

Some testing was then of course performed and all was good - ready to run at Mr Kennedy's tomorrow morning in fact :-)  I think I earned my Bundy/Coke this arvo.

Friday, August 7, 2020

The N'ers are Busy Building Down at the Club

The N scalers are really busy working on the top deck of their layout down at the RMCQ club.

The wharf and water scenes are really coming along fast with a large contingent of workers at it a couple of days a week. Even some HO'ers have jumped in to get experience and to lend their experience. Enough gasbagging, here's some photos from the other day:

Below, we see the long dock area for small craft like fishing boats. There is a boat builder/repairing at the right hand end.

Below we can see it is going to get busy and the detail is coming along great. Running trains into the area will sure be fun.

Below we see the boat builder/repairer scene.  You have to have one of these around a wharf area don't you :-)
Next we have the main large wharf that juts out into the bay with its scratch built warehouses (yep, all bits scratch built).  A coastal freighter will be glued down once the wharf detail is complete.

The water is done with tissue paper and glue shaped, then paint, then the gloss medium and the like on top.
The other side of the main wharf showing another freighter and the river bank which is getting lots of little scenes on it as well.

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 :-)