ProtoThrottle Progress

Setting up ProtoThrottle

Over the weekend, I set up the decoders in my GE 44 Tonner and my Gas Electric to work with the ProtoThrottle, and I’m very pleased with the results.

Introducing the ProtoThrottle to a layout is a multi-step process.

– The ProtoThrottle must be connected to the layout’s DCC system (which I wrote about earlier this month).

– Each locomotive that will be used with the ProtoThrottle must have its decoder setting tweaked. This isn’t necessary to run with the ProtoThrottle – but doing so allows one to leverage all the capabilities of this realistic control stand.

– For each locomotive, a configuration must be built and saved within the ProtoThrottle itself. This includes address, plus settings such as the braking behaviour, notch points for the throttle, and rules governing the lighting switches.

For this work, it definitely helps to have a programmer at the workbench. Depending on the decoder being used, that’s going to be either something like DecoderPro (JMRI) or – in my case – the ESU LokProgrammer. (These are good ideas for anybody with even a single sound-equipped DCC locomotive, regardless of whether one’s using a ProtoThrottle, because they greatly simplify setting CVs.)

To provide an idea of what’s involved, I’ll share the adjustments I made for my 44 Tonner. I’ll also share some of the adjustments I made for the gas electric, to demonstrate some of the changes one might consider for a locomotive with different performance characteristics.

ProtoThrottle set up for CNR #1

Proto Throttle - Port Rowan

The ProtoThrottle can store up to 20 configurations. These include the locomotive address, function mappings, throttle notch settings, and other options. These are some of the values that went into the configuration for my 44 Tonner, which is equipped with an ESU decoder and a sound file with the Full Throttle features:

Under the Configuration Function menu (CONFIG FUNC), I set the Horn to F02, Bell to F01, Brake to F10, Brake Off to F — (not set), Aux to F09 (to enable Drive Hold) Front (F) Light to F00, F DIM #1 to F00, F DIM #2 to F12, Rear (R) Light to F05, R DIM #1 to F05, R DIM to F12.

The next task was to match the engine sounds from the decoder to the notches on the ProtoThrottle. When I move from Notch 3 to Notch 4 on the throttle, I want to hear the model notch up accordingly. To determine the notches for my 44 Tonner, I first ran the locomotive with a regular DCC throttle equipped with a speed step indicator. Working with 128 speed steps, I increased the throttle one speed step at a time, and made a note of the speed step at which the engine sound changed – in other words, the point at which the decoder generated a “notch up” sound. I then picked values that lay between the notching steps.

For example, if the decoder notched up from 2 to 3 at speed step 20, and notched up from 3 to 4 at speed step 35, I decided that notch 3 would be set to speed step 29.

Having noted the values, I then returned to the ProtoThrottle. Under the Notch Configuration menu (NOTCH CFG), one sets the speed step that each notch on the ProtoThrottle will send to the decoder. As noted earlier, this can be set for each of the 20 configurations saved in the throttle. Based on my tests, I set the notches for CNR #1 as follows:

1 = 8, 2 = 17, 3 = 29, 4 = 40, 5 = 49, 6 = 60, 7 = 70, 8 = 90

Finally, I configured the brake handle. I tried both approaches, and decided that I did not gain anything by using the Variable Brake capability. So in the OPTIONS menu, so I set this to OFF. I also set the emergency stop to OFF, since I’ve never needed it using other throttles on my layout.

That completed the configuration of the ProtoThrottle for CNR #1. I saved the configuration, then turned to the decoder itself.

Using my LokProgrammer, setting the characteristics for the decoder in CNR #1 was intuitive and adjustments were easy. It required a fair bit of time, however, as I would make a change or two, then switch to driving mode and test my updates.

I wanted to use a Full Throttle file from ESU, but while ESU offers a sound package for a 44 Tonner, it has not yet been upgraded to include Full Throttle features. The great thing about Loksound decoders, though, is that I can load anything into the decoder for now – and upgrade it to the proper sound file if/when it’s made available. 44 Tonners were powered by a pair of Caterpillar D17000 V8 prime movers. I scrolled through the Full Throttle options and decided that the file for CP Rail’s oddball CAT 3608-powered M636 would do for the time being. (Again – I know that’s not right. But I can update the sound if/when the correct file is available with Full Throttle features.)

I won’t list every value here – that would take a book – but I will share the thinking behind some of the key decisions I made. (I’ll include the LokProgrammer language for those who use it, but also try to explain it so it doesn’t sound like gibberish to those who do not.)

Under Motor Settings, I enabled Back EMF and the heavy load/coast load settings that enable Drive Hold on a Full Throttle-equipped Loksound decoder.

Still under Motor Settings, I then used the Three Values option (Voltage Start, Voltage Mid, Voltage High) to adjust the motor speed. In the LokProgrammer, there’s a graph for this, with a slider. I dropped the top speed (V High) from 255 to 50. That may seem slow, but I get frustrated when I’m running on a layout with a throttle that offers me 128 speed steps, and I’m stuck using about 25 percent of that because anything higher is too fast. What’s the point of having 128 steps if you’re never running above speed step 30? So on my own layout, I knock down the top speed of every locomotive so that I can take advantage of the full range of speed steps on the throttle. According to this neat article about the prototype, GE 44 Tonners were limited to a top speed of 45 mph, “although it’s doubtful many actually achieved it”. What’s more, the top speed on my layout is a blistering 20 mph. Scale speed is subjective – what works for me may not work for others – but to my mind, setting the maximum voltage to 50 seemed to provide the right top speed for this little locomotive.

Under Driving Characteristics, I set Acceleration Time to 170 (42.5 seconds from full stop to top speed) and the Deceleration Time to 255 (63.75 seconds from full speed to stop). High values for these settings serve two functions. First, they allow the prime mover sound on the decoder to ramp up before the locomotive moves… or drop off to idle while the locomotive continues to roll (representing the momentum of a heavy object rolling on rails). Secondly, on the ProtoThrottle they smooth the transition from one speed step to the next.

Obviously, one can get into real trouble with the deceleration set at 255. On my layout, the 44 Tonner running at full speed (which is not very fast) will roll about 11 feet before coming to a stop if I simply drop the throttle to “idle”! That’s where the brake handle comes in. Under Brake Settings, I set the Dynamic Brake to 64. This will bring the locomotive to a stop from its maximum speed in 16 seconds. I arrived at this value by testing the locomotive to find a brake that was responsive enough to allow me to stop the locomotive where I wanted to fairly reliably, without being too aggressive. With the Dynamic Brake set to 64, CNR #1 will go from full speed to full stop in about 15 inches when the throttle is shut off and the brake is applied.

The following Function Mapping are relevant to the configuration settings in the ProtoThrottle. To set up the front and rear lights so they work with the throttle’s rotary switches, I mapped the physical outputs for the front light to FO(Forward) and FO(Reverse), and the rear light to F5. To enable dimming, I mapped the logical function on F12 to “Dimmer”. (For each light, I also entered the Function Outputs menu and set them up as dimmable lights with fade in/out, knocked down the brightness a bit, and enabled the Dimmer and LED mode special functions.)

Again, these are all personal preferences, based on setting values, then running the locomotive and making notes of what worked and what didn’t. If you have a ProtoThrottle, don’t simply do what I did: do your own tests and pick settings that are right for you.

Proto Throttle - first run with Gas Electric

I also set up my gas electric. Many of the settings are the same as in the 44 Tonner – in both the model’s Loksound decoder and the ProtoThrottle configuration. For example, the front headlight settings are the same. Since the model does not have a rear headlight, I disabled those settings in both the decoder and on the ProtoThrottle.

As a passenger unit, I wanted the gas electric to have a higher top speed than the 44 Tonner. Therefore, using the slider under Motor Settings, I gave it a top speed of 100 (versus 50 for the 44 Tonner). Note that this does not mean the gas electric goes twice as fast as the 44 Tonner: each model has a different drive train set-up, including unique gear ratios. So I set the top speed based on each model, by setting a value, testing the unit on the layout, and adjusting as necessary.

I also wanted it to have snappier throttle response so under Driving Characteristics, I set the Acceleration Time to 125 (versus 170 for the 44 Tonner) while keeping the deceleration value at 255.

The introduction of the ProtoThrottle has definitely been worth the investment for these two models. Switching with the 44 Tonner is a completely different experience than it was with a standard DCC throttle. And driving the gas electric with the ProtoThrottle makes a straightforward passenger run into a much more engaging experience. I’m glad I did this, and I look forward to setting up more locomotives to take advantage of this throttle. As mentioned in a previous post, I need to upgrade the decoder in my CNR RS18 and the ProtoThrottle is the incentive to move that project up the to-do list.

Now, when will I see a “Proto Johnson Bar” controller for my steam engines?

CNR 3737 :: more tender work

Someone recently asked me how work was progressing on the CNR 3737 project. The short answer was, “It wasn’t”. The long answer was that Andy Malette and I were both busy with other things and just couldn’t find a free Friday that worked for both of us. That’s fine – it’s a hobby: It fits between the other things in life.

But after a long hiatus, we managed to get together last week and make some progress. This time around, I added railings to the tender:

CNR 3737 Tender Railings

I marked locations for stanchions and soldered a bunch of brass strip in place, leaving each piece longer than needed. I then soldered the railing to the stanchions, using a scrap of strip wood as a non-conductive spacer to make sure they railing was a consistent distance off the tender walls.

My prototype has separate railings along the coal bin, whereas the locomotive Andy is building has one continuous rail that follows the lines from the coal bin down to the rear deck, around the back and back up the other side. I definitely had the easier project.

The rear railing is actually two pieces, soldered in place then trimmed to meet on the stanchion next to the ladder at the back of the tender. the railings simply end behind the coal bin walls.

CNR 3737 Tender Rails

On one of the coal bin railings, a couple of brass fittings are soldered in place at each end. These are the electrical plug-ins for the rear light, which will go on the water tank deck.

After shooting these photos, I did some clean-up. I filed the stanchions flush with the top of the railing. In the process, I managed to break a couple of the solder joints, but the repairs were quick – thanks, in part, to my new low-profile vise, which opens enough to hold an S scale tender body, and which can be used as the grounding point for my resistance soldering unit.

It’s nice to be back at this project. It’s taken a long time and I’m now at the stage where I want to get it done and move onto the next thing. Plus, of course, I want to see the locomotives in action on the S Scale Workshop exhibition layout!

CNR 8549

CNR 8549

Last week I visited my friend William Flatt, an accomplished modeller who works in S. William is 80 and has determined it’s time to pare down his hobby – a wise but difficult decision that many people refuse to make in their senior years. As part of that, he has been selling off some of his equipment to local hobbyists prior to putting surplus gear up for auction to the masses.

I picked up a number of things from William, including this CNR wooden express car that will be a perfect addition to my mixed train to Port Rowan. William says he built this from a resin kit, years ago. It’s beautifully done and I’ll be proud to run it on my layout. I will swap couplers and wheels to match my layout standard, but that’s it.

Thank you, William!

(I picked up some other equipment too, which I will describe in a future post)

CNR 3737 :: Tender

I’ve been tardy in updating my blog because it’s been very busy lately, so this is actually a report on two work sessions with my friend Andy Malette. Both focussed on the tender for CNR 2-8-2 number 3737

Let’s start with a reference photo – the stock tender that came with the URSA light Mikado from Overland:

CNR 3737 - stock tender

In the first session (held at the end of January), I reshaped the side walls forward of the coal bunker. On the stock model, these slope back to the deck. But CNR 3737 has a semi-enclosed cab, which meant these needed to be modified. The trick is the fine strip of beading along the top of the side walls: We wanted to preserve that.

A careful application of heat and a single-edged razor blade lifted this off, about one third of the way back along the bunker. I was then able to cut and file away the angles on each side. Finally, I cut and shaped new wall sections to build up the front of the side wall. Once these were soldered in place, I carefully re-bent the bead and soldered it down. Here’s the result:

CNR 3737 - tender mods

When I got home, I realized that the tall walls to either side of the coal bunker doors would also interfere with the back of the semi-vestibule cab…

CNR 3737 - tender mods

… so, off they came:

CNR 3737 - tender mods

The deck to either side of the coal doors is pretty messy now – but the good news is, my prototype photos show spilled coal all over these small decks, so I’m not going to worry about it. I will have to do some clean-up and filling around the side wall extensions that I added, though.

While I was doing that, Andy was prepping for our next session (held yesterday). He cut some channel and angle to length and drilled it for me so I could build new steps at the front of the tender. Thanks to his prep work, the assembly went quickly. Compare this image to the stock photo:

CNR 3737 Tender - front steps

Each ladder assembly consist of 14 pieces. Andy tells me his took a lot of time to assemble, and he was surprised mine went together relatively quickly. Of course, what goes around comes around: The other project during yesterday’s session was building a three-piece assembly for the rear number board. It consists of two C-shaped brackets and the number board itself… and for the life of me I could not get everything to solder properly. Andy eventually stepped in and got it mounted – and I will have a lot of clean-up to do on the rear wall of the tank:

CNR 3737 - tender number plate

The tender still needs a ladder on the fireman’s side, plus railings, power conduit, rear light, and other details. But it’s already looking a lot more like it belongs on the CNR.

The opposite of extreme

These days, there’s a lot of discussion in the hobby devoted to extreme weathering of locomotives and rolling stock. We’ve all seen examples, I’m sure – but if not, Google is your friend.

Some of the models I’ve seen are stunning. But I’ve never been tempted to put any such models on a layout. Weathering styles are a personal preference, and what looks great to one person looks awful to another. Regardless, if you’re building a realistic layout I feel it’s important to develop a uniform weathering approach – a palette of colours and media – and stick to it, so that individual pieces of rolling stock blend into the scene you’re creating.

I achieve this blend by employing a limited selection of acrylic paints – a grey-black, an earth colour, and a light grey – and applying them with an airbrush. My goal is to create cars that are sporting a bit of road grime and smoke – I model the steam era, after all – without looking like they’re ready for the scrap yard. Here are some examples:

CNR 462085

BAOX 378

CNR 209503

Note that the palette can be adjusted to suit specific models. In the following two examples, I’ve added additional colours to my weathering set – white for cement dust, and rust for the interior of the gondola:

BO 530382

NYC 399574

In this example, I’ve modelled a snow plow that has recently been repainted. (That’s often done in the summer, when they aren’t needed.) The plow has very little weathering on it, because it’s fresh out of the shop. In fact, the paint is even still a bit shiny: that’s the story I want to tell. But the plow has already acquired some weathering on the blade – including some green tones where it has been pushed through the weeds and grasses that grow on the shop tracks:

CNR 55303

Even so, the basic palette is prominent, and is applied using my standard technique and pattern: Smoky grey-black near the top of the car, light grey and/or earth colours along the bottom to represent dust and dirt kicked up from the right of way, and so on.

This uniform appearance is so important to me, that even though I have my friend Pierre Oliver build and paint many of my resin freight cars for me (so that I can focus on building my layout), I always tell him I will do the weathering myself. He does a fine job of weathering – but his style is different than mine, and that would be immediately apparent if his weathering jobs were placed on my layout.

I thought that my aversion to extreme weathering was primarily because in order to maintain my desired uniform palette, I would have to weather everything to the same extreme degree. But recently, my friend Bob Fallowfield wrote a superb piece about why he too avoids the extreme look – raising an issue to which I hadn’t really given any consideration. Here’s his story, reposted here with permission…

Bob Fallowfield's CP Rail boxcars

One trend I’m seeing in the hobby is that of extreme weathering. This is where the model is completely “ratbagged” with heavy oils and often covered in various tags with sometimes only the reporting marks being the only legible lettering. While this treatment may truly represent the specific prototype of the subject car, it ruins another illusion.

Consider this: I don’t have to tell any of you about the frustration of compression. We compress track miles, structure size, train length and even time. The other thing we compress is the North American freight car fleet. Our railways are presumabley linked via interchange to the continental rail network and thus have potential access to a myriad of cars from all over. Even the size of our home road fleet is shrunken down to often a few of each AAR type. I submit that we often ruin this illusion by applying extreme weathering to our fleet of cars. That is, we make it obvious that we are limited to certain cars and not a vast fleet.

Take the once ubiquitous CP 40’ boxcar. I have approximately three dozen of them in varying schemes. Let’s say I have ten in action red. If I weather those ten in a garish, extreme, outlandish way, they will quickly become highly visible and instantly recognizable. As a modeller already fighting the constraints of compression, this is exactly the effect I don’t want. I want those ten boxcars to represent a fleet of hundreds.

Thanks for letting me share this, Bob!

(If you don’t know his work, Bob has a wonderful HO scale layout on which he is faithfully re-creating the activities of the CP Rail Galt Subdivision in and around Woodstock, Ontario in 1980. He doesn’t have a traditional blog, but is a prolific author on the Facebook page he created for his layout. This piece came from that page – Bob Fallowfield’s Galt Sub. You can also see Bob’s layout, in action, in a two-part feature on TrainMasters TV. The tour is definitely worth the modest cost of a subscription.)

Now, this doesn’t mean that extreme weathering has no place. Locomotives – especially smaller ones used on branches like mine – tend to draw the same assignment day after day, so a distinct weathering characteristic isn’t an issue. If you really must have an extreme weathering example on your layout, a branchline locomotive is a good choice – just make sure the foundation is built up using the same palette you apply to all of your equipment. The same rationale applies to vans (cabooses) and branchline passenger equipment.

My personal preference is to use the same palette throughout – as seen on this combine that’s used on the mixed train to Port Rowan:

CNR 7184

I will even apply my consistent weathering palette to unusual cars, such as this flatcar of tractors headed to Potter Motors in Port Rowan:

WAB 181

My rationale here is that even though this is a distinctive car, Potter Motors may receive several loads of tractors over the course of a year, and I don’t want to suggest that they’re all arriving on the same flat car. They are, but the car is weathered without any distinguishing marks that would draw attention to that.

Extreme weathering tends to be applied to more modern equipment – diesels, modern boxcars, and so on. This is in part because the paints used on the rolling stock from my era were a lot tougher, and withstood the elements better, so they didn’t chip and rust like modern cars. But Bob’s thoughts on the value of creating “forgettable” cars applies equally to things found on my steam-era models, such as chalk marks for classifying cars: Make them non-descript.

This also applies to the consistency of a weathering job – if, for some reason, it turns out with memorable patterns, perhaps it’s time to repaint. I have a couple of boxcars that developed odd weathering patterns on the running boards, so I repainted the running boards and took a second run at weathering them. I’m happier that I did.

CNR 3737 :: Piping near the cab

CNR 3737 - Piping.

I’ve been exchanging notes with a reader and he mentioned he’s hoping for more progress reports on my CNR 2-8-2 – so this one’s for you!

Progress has been slow, so there’s not much to report. Our schedules have conflicted more often than not, so my friend Andy Malette and I have only been able to hold a couple of work sessions over the past several months. That’s fine – it’s a hobby, and the work will wait until we’re able to do tackle it.

At our last session – late last year – I installed some piping ahead of, and underneath, the cab. Unfortunately, I’d forgotten to take along some brass castings that were essential to this work, so I had to revisit the piping, cutting into it in some places and re-bending it in others. But the result can be seen in the photo above.

I still have to do the other side.

I have to confess that tracing pipes on photographs makes my head swim. The pipes duck in and out, behind appliances, under running boards, and so on. And the old photos are often a bit grainy or taken at a typical, 3/4 front view from track level. So sometimes, it’s a guess at best. Now, it’s an educated guess: I’m following piping diagrams from various sources, including the Model Railroader Cyclopedia – Volume 1. But those sources are guidelines, at best. As any student of steam locomotives knows, appliances and piping typically varied from unit to unit, based on where and when the locomotive was last shopped and what was on hand at the time.

I find that printing out the photos – or sections of photos – in a larger size helps. I can then use a selection of markers to trace each pipe in a different colour. Assuming, of course, I can see them in the prints…

Locating piping is further complicated by the fact that the pipes cannot always go where the prototype put them. In the photo above, I’ve had to run the lowest pipe parallel to the running board until it clears the space required for the trailing truck, then curl it downwards. On the prototype, this pipe cuts across that open space at more of a 45 degree angle. But of course, I want my model to be able to negotiate the curves on the S Scale Workshop modules (for which I’m building this model) – and my own layout.

Back to staring at photos and taking notes. It’s all part of the learning process.

Steam Locomotives (the Cyclopedia)

More accurately, Model Railroader Cyclopedia – Volume 1: Steam Locomotives:

Steam Locomotives - Cyclopedia

This arrived for me this week, after a discussion with my friend Andy Malette about research materials for our CNR Mikado project. Andy noted that this book taught him a lot about the various appliances on steam locomotives, as well as the myriad of pipes that connect them. So, I grabbed a copy via ABEbooks. And Andy is right – there’s a ton of information in this tome.

The caveat is, the information is of course “ex-Works”, “best practices” and so on. If you’re detailing a locomotive, as we are, it’s important to check prototype photos of the exact locomotive you’re trying to model. This is particularly important with steam engines, and even moreso if they’ve been around for a while: just like a subdivision can start out looking like it’s built from Monopoly houses, yet acquire character through the passage of time, individual steam engines often developed a unique character as shop forces worked to keep them in service, and to modernize them.

In fact, that’s one of the joys I’m experiencing in doing this project with Andy. We’ve each picked different numbers – I’m doing 3737, while he’s chosen 3702 – and the two locomotives are very different. The plumbing is different. The location of appliances is different (for example, on Andy’s locomotive, the location of the feed water pump and the air pump is reversed). The smokebox fronts are different. The sand domes are in different spots. And so on. When we’re finished, we will have two locomotives of the same class that each exhibit their own character, and have their own back stories.

This is what makes prototype modelling so rewarding. As a friend is fond of saying, “Details Matter”.

CNR 3737 :: Piping

A muscular face

For many sessions now, the work on CNR 3737 – my S-3-a Mikado – has involved removing piping from the boiler, to the point where it was starting to look like a tube. On Friday, Andy Malette and I started adding piping – and already it’s a definite change for the better.

CNR 3737 Piping

CNR 3737 Piping

We started by removing the rest of the handrails (but keeping the stanchions in place), so they’d be out of the way. Then I bent up and added the exhaust pipes from the Elesco Feedwater Heater. This required a fair bit of trial and fit to get the pipes to hug the smokebox. We then installed the cold water supply pipe from the feed water pump. Next, we added the Hancock check valve on the top of the boiler, then fitted the hot water pipe from it.

I still have to add the condensate pipe, which runs from the side opposite the water supplies, down the smokebox, under the boiler, and back along the length of the locomotive towards the tender.

Before wrapping up the session, we managed to add the four sand lines, too.

While there’s a lot to do – and still some stuff to remove/reshape – it feels like we’ve turned a corner in this project. Thanks in part to its piping, this model is going to have a lot of character – and a very different look than it did when I bought it.

(Thanks for another great work session, Andy!)

Wickham Car

Wickham Car

My recent post about the lovely speeder that my friend Stephen Gardiner printed for me reminds me that at some point I want to model a Wickham car, like the one shown above.

I believe the railway museum in Smiths Falls, Ontario has examples from both the CNR and CPR (at least, they did about a decade ago, but I don’t know if they’re still there*). I think it’s a handsome piece of non-revenue equipment and – in S at least – it would be straightforward to motorize it.

I’m a member of the Wickam group on Yahoo so I’m already doing my research. But if anybody has information about these cars – especially drawings – I’d love to hear from you!

(*UPDATE: Thanks to Guy Papillon, who shared a link to the museum with more information about the Wickham cars in its collection. It appears the museum has CP M-297 and CNR #23.)