Tag Archives: video

WiThrottle and DCC++

One of the major design points for my shelf switcher layout is a compact way to power it.  Well, I pretty much have that ready now.

I put together a DCC++ Base Station using an Arduino MEGA board, an Ethernet shield and a Pololu MC33926 motor shield, then I added a TP-Link TP-WR802N pocket router for wireless connectivity.  I then worked on the software a bit, and added the ability for the DCC++ Base Station to communicate with the WiThrottle (or Engine Driver if you’re Android) app on my iPhone.

Now, when I install this in the shelf layout, I’ll be able to control the trains from my phone for a pretty low price…

Here’s a video of the gear in action…

Frost River Update Part 4

Here’s video update part 4. No narration this time, just a short video of trains running the now-completed main line loop, including crossing the lift-out bridge across the aisle.

I’m planning to provide update part 5 soon, in which I will describe some of the work that went into reaching this milestone, including tracklaying, hooking up the DCC track bus, setting up my Raspberry Pi / JMRI train computer, setting up servo turnout controls, and constructing the bridge.

Thanks for watching, and stay tuned!!

March Progress!

How about another video?

I’ve laid the main line track all the way from one lift bridge approach to the other. The only thing stopping me from having a complete loop is the lift bridge itself.

I’ve used ME concrete tie track for the main, partly because it is prototypical for this area and partly so it is easy to distinguish the main from the sidings and yard tracks. Fortunately one pack of 6 “sticks” was just enough to make the full loop. The sidings and yard tracks will be regular C55 wooden-tie flex, and I may get some Code 40 for the industry spurs.

In other news, I’ve started learning how to hand lay turnouts… I need a BUNCH of #7 turnouts to finish the layout, so why not make some of them from scratch?

First hand laid turnout

I’m using ME code 55 track, and PCB ties and gear from Fast Tracks, but I’m at least attempting to build this first one without a jig and without any of the other specialty tools. Now that I’ve reached the “end of the line” (for now) on track laying, I’ll have a bit more time to focus on finishing it up. We’ll see how it goes…

Fun in the snow!

Yesterday, Kentucky got over a foot of snow (17 inches at Bluegrass Airport!) in less than 18 hours.  It wasn’t all bad, though.  Here’s some video of my friend Ray clearing the rails on his 7-1/2 inch gauge Soo Line railroad.

The fun part is that we had just gotten cleaned up from a foot-deep snowfall a few weeks earlier.  Here’s some more video of that snow-clearing job…

Continue reading Fun in the snow!

A Novel Approach to Fast Clocks

A “Fast Clock” is used on a model railroad to speed up the passage of time in the model world during operations. Traditionally, it is literally a clock, set to run at some multiple of actual time. The idea is to simulate, for example, a 12 hour work shift in 3 hours of model run time by running the clock at 4:1 speed.

The traditional fast clock is great for mainline train running, since it helps to “uncompress” the very short distances between our modeled towns. Switching operations, though, don’t work quite so well, because switching operations are less “compressed” than mainline runniing. It can take almost the same amount of time to complete a switch job on the model as it does on the real thing.

Continue reading A Novel Approach to Fast Clocks

Con-Cor / Rivarossi N Scale 4-6-2 “Pacific” Decoder Install (Part 2)

In Part 2 of this install, we’ll explore the trickiest problem involved in this install:  connecting power from the tender to the locomotive.


Older versions of the Rivarossi 4-6-2 used a plastic drawbar, and only the little spring wire pressing against the drawbar pin in the locomotive to transfer power.  For a DC locomotive, this turned out to be a fairly poor design, but for a DCC install, it makes isolating the tender from the motor pickups easy.

(Un)fortunately, this version of the model uses a metal drawbar, which is much better for ensuring good power transfer under DC, but makes it much trickier to isolate the tender from the motor.

A few options that either I considered or were suggested, which I rejected (and the reasons why):

  • Enlarge the hole in the loco end of the drawbar and put shrink wrap over the drawbar pin.  I was concerned about friction and wear on the shrink wrap, so no.
  • Replace the drawbar with a plastic one.  This would have been an excellent option if I could have disassembled the pin at the tender end.  I couldn’t figure out how without destroying it.
  • Insulate the axle wipers from the bar rivets and wire directly to them.  Again, I was concerned about wear, and I just didn’t have the parts.

In the end, the simplest solution seemed to be to cut the brass bar.  It would have been much easier if I could have removed it from the tender first, but it’s riveted in place, so no.  Instead, I used a drill press to drill up from the bottom where there’s an opening in the plastic, and then cut the rest of the way through the bar with a Dremel tool and a reamer bit.  I did a somewhat messy job of it, but it worked.

Here’s a view of the bottom of the tender before the cut. You can see the opening where I made the cut on the left.

Once the cutting was done, I soldered a piece of wire to the bar in the middle of the tender and routed it through the hole to the front near the drawbar. At the drawbar end of the wire, I attached one pin of a NEM651 female connector and shrink-wrapped the connection.


Finally, I finished the end of the wire coming from the loco with a single pin of a NEM651 male connector. At that point, we’re done except for buttoning things up and testing her out.


I found when testing that with the female socket secured to the tender, it was very difficult to connect up the locomotive on the track. The quarters are very tight between the cab and tender, and I had cut the loco wire just a tad short. By leaving the plug loose, I was able to bring it out of the tender enough that the wires can be connected before the drawbar is hooked up. Much easier, and with everything being black it still looks OK. We’ll see what the customer thinks. I hope he likes it.


The CH&FR Goes Digital Part 7


Today we present the long-awaited (I hope!) Part 7 of my “The CH&FR Goes Digital” series.

This episode dives into block detection using the Digitrax BDL168 16-input block detector.  We cover track setup, wiring, connecting the BDl168 to your computer with JMRI, and provide a live demo.

Block detection is what we call “knowing where your trains are”, and it works very similarly to how the real railroads do it.  The layout is divided up into electrically separate segments, or “Blocks”.  Each Block is a section of track where you want to be able to tell whether there is a train on that track or not.  It might be a siding, or a length of mainline track, or (less likely) a track in a yard.  The Block is electrically isolated from all the other blocks, and the power feed to one rail is fed through a block detector like the BDL168.

When a locomotive sits on that section of track, even if it is not moving (under DCC) a small current flows through the locomotive’s decoder from one rail to the other, and the BDL168 can detect this current flow.  When it sees the locomotive’s current draw, it reports that section of track as “occupied”.  If there is no current flow, the BDL168 will report “unoccupied” for that track section.

Of course, on the prototype railroad, the trains provide their own power, but the block detectors are able to work very similarly.  By inducing a voltage between the rails, the detector can watch for the metal wheels of the train to short the rails together, indicating that the track is occupied.

On the model, without a little work, we can only detect the presence of locomotives.  Most model railroad cars (in N scale at least) come with plastic wheels which do not conduct.  On the few which come with metal wheels, the axles are insulated to prevent the car from shorting out the track.

By adding a small resistor to one wheelset on each car, the entire train can be detected, not just the locomotive.  One of my favorite videos on how to add resistive wheelsets is by Daryl Kruse who runs the UPRR Geneva Subdivision in N Scale.

For further reference, here are some links…