ProtoThrottle: A game-changer

ProtoTrottle and box

Layout designs are influenced by many choices. Typical ones include favourite scale, favourite era, favourite prototype and favourite theme. Sometimes, layouts are designed and built because a manufacturer has produced a piece of favourite equipment – some examples include the many O scale railroads inspired by the Maine two-foot gauge lines, but built in On30 to take advantage of Bachmann’s 2-4-4T Forney locomotive.

I expect that we can now add to those influences, a favourite DCC throttle.

Scott Thornton, Michael Petersen and Nathan Holmes have teamed up to create the ProtoThrottle, which is manufactured and sold through Iowa Scaled Engineering, co-owned by Michael and Nathan.

This is a wireless DCC throttle that replicates common functions on a diesel control stand in a realistic manner. Instead of a speed knob, there’s a throttle handle that provides eight notches plus idle. Instead of a toggle or push button, there’s a three position reverser handle. Instead of assigning a function button to the brake, there’s a progressive brake handle with built-in resistance. Instead of a button for the horn, there’s a spring-loaded handle. And so on. The controls are mounted on an aluminum anodized faceplate with clearly engraved markings, as shown in the lead photo.

These throttles started shipping in early July and mine arrived this week. To connect to a DCC system, it requires one of two types of receiver – one for NCE and Lenz systems, and one for Digitrax, ESU and JMRI installations. (I ordered one of each since I own both an ESU system and a Lenz system.)

What does this have to do with layout design? A lot.

The ProtoThrottle team started taking pre-orders in April, for a run of 150 throttles. (I suspect those sold out quickly. If so, I suspect another run will be done, soon.) Now, people who placed pre-orders are receiving their throttles and hooking them up to their layouts. The feedback has been overwhelmingly positive.

For such a sophisticated piece of equipment, set-up is relatively straightforward. It’s not completely plug and play: depending on your DCC system, you may have to adjust some configurations on the receiver, but the instructions walk the user through that.

And if you’re still having trouble, there’s an excellent online user group. Based on the posts to the ProtoThrottle IO group, there have been a few teething issues – some involving set-up and the tweaks one must make to the receiver to interface it with one’s DCC system, others involving tuning DCC decoders from various manufacturers to optimize how they respond to the ProtoThrottle.

But Scott, Michael and Nathan are part of the user community. They have been wonderful about sharing progress on the development of these, and are now doing an amazing job of helping customers get up and running. They are assisted by the many customers who have successfully set up their throttles – and are now doing a terrific job helping others get onboard. They’re not just answering questions: They’re shooting and sharing videos showing how to set up the throttle or configure various brands of decoders.

The best part is, those who are now running trains using their ProtoThrottle are sharing glowing reviews. As expected, it’s changing the way they run their layouts – for the better.

And this is where layout design comes in.

The combination of this control stand and today’s DCC decoders – which deliver exceptional motor control and impressive sound – kind of screams out for a shelf-style switching layout in one of the larger scales, such as O.

A four-axle road switcher – a GP-9, RS-11, or RS-3, for example – would have plenty of space for a large speaker, and in O scale it would be large enough to really convey the mass of the real thing.

A shelf-style configuration, mounted high on the wall, would ensure that viewers are always up close to the action.

And the use of hand-thrown turnouts (perhaps controlled by garden scale switch stands) and prototype-action couplers (such as these ones offered by Protocraft) would put the operator right in the scene.

What better way to run such a layout than with a miniature control stand?

Proto Throttle - Port Rowan

Even a small locomotive – such as this S scale GE 44-Tonner on my Port Rowan layout – will be more fun with this control stand. While my home layout is definitely set in the steam era, I do have a couple of pieces of motive power run by internal combustion engines – and I think they’ll be seeing a lot more track time once I set up the ProtoThrottle. I’m looking forward to it!

8 thoughts on “ProtoThrottle: A game-changer

  1. Why do I have a sneaking suspicion that I’m going to want one of these for my almost eye level HO scale switching layout when I start construction?

    If this another case of the Model Railroad Enabler striking in the night?

    – Stephen

  2. I stumbled across this product on the net a few months ago. It could have a big influence on how I approach my next layout. I love small branch line layouts with lots of switching. Although I’m fond of early 1900 steam, I could see moving up to the early 1960s. Something like Walbash’s Columbia, MO branch. Thanks for sharing your experience!

    • Hi Pete:
      As I noted, this is a product that’s going to influence the choices we make about what to model – and you’ve offered a perfect example of that: You’re fond of early 1900s steam but would consider an era change to take advantage of this neat throttle.
      I know you work in O scale narrow gauge: I could see a less radical shift being to build a few diesel-powered critters to run on the layout. You could even era swap every six months or so, by replacing steam with diesel, and updating vehicles, figures and other details to represent a more “modern” era of your railroad’s operations.

  3. Trevor;

    A side note that makes the ProtoThrottle really interesting is that Iowa Scaled Engineering has made all the hardware and software available as open source. The potential of a steam backhead would open up a whole new world to those of us (modeling the pre-Diesel era).


  4. Interesting, but I don’t think I’m ready yet for something like this. It feels very “Grown up” and I’m still a toddler in model railroading years. I think in order for me to appreciate all the bells and whistles (literally!) I first need to “earn” my way up.

    Still, very fascinating and I wonder what things will be like by the time I feel ready. I’ve only been in the hobby for a couple of years and yet things seem to be changing exponentially.

    Thank you for the report.

  5. This looks like a dream come true. I recently came back to the hobby and find the ProtoThrottle is reality. I’m trying to be more thrifty with my model railroading budget to save up for one.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.