When Scott and Sharon came to town

What do you do when there’s a federal election on, and you’re worried about the outcome? You entertain visitors from out of town – that’s what! The timing was perfect when Scott Thornton (one of the creators of the ProtoThrottle) emailed to say he and his wife Sharon would be in town, and asked if he could visit to see the layout. Of course!

ProtoThrottle

Back when Scott and his friends started selling the ProtoThrottle, I polled a few friends about whether they were interested in one. I figured we could do a bulk order to save some hassle on shipping. Hunter Hughson and Ryan Mendell were both interested, so I ended up ordering three of them. And since I figured that a dinner was long overdue with Hunter and Ryan, I invited them and their better halves to join us too.

I gave Scott a quick tour of the layout – well, not that quick: I think we disappeared to the basement for the best part of an hour. Once everybody arrived at my place, eight of us walked up to Harvest Kitchen – a neighbourhood restaurant that specializes in locally-sourced food and general yumminess. We had a wonderful time.

I was reminded, again, that the true strength of the hobby is in the friendships it fosters. For me, that’s more important than the trains themselves. I’m really glad Scott got in touch.

And it was a great way to forget about the election for a few hours.

Santé!

ProtoThrottle set-up

Proto Throttle - Port Rowan

I’m pleased to report that my ProtoThottle is up and running on my layout, and I’ve been enjoying using it to run CNR #1 – my GE 44-Tonner.

I’m also pleased to report that set-up went very smoothly and as advertised in the instructions. Well done, ProtoThrottle team!

I’m embarrassed to report that it took me three days to set up the throttle – which was entirely my fault. Here’s why:

I’ve been using wireless cabs for a while now, starting with the TouchCab application on my smart phone, which interfaced with my Lenz DCC system through a dedicated Apple Airport Express wireless router.

When I switched DCC systems to my ESU ECoS 50200, the unit came with its own WiFi Wireless Access Point to connect ESU’s Mobile Control II wireless throttles. These throttles are customized Android-powered tablet devices, so to connect one simply enters the ID and password for the WiFi network (which one sets in the ECoS 50200).

When interfacing the ProtoThrottle to an ESU system, one essentially treats it like a Mobile Control II. To enter the ID and password for the network, one edits a Text File housed on a micro SD card that slots into the ProtoThrottle’s receiver. So that’s what I did – and it failed to connect. I tried making several other adjustments to the ProtoThrottle, with no luck.

Stymied, I got in touch with Matt Herman at ESU. I know he had set up a ProtoThrottle to work with an ECoS system, so I asked if there was something I missed.

That’s when I realized I was using the ID and password for the old Apple Airport Express – NOT the ID and password for the ECoS 50200.

I edited the file, and the ProtoThrottle connected flawlessly. And I’ve updated my logbook of passwords for the layout.

Boy is my face red…

WiFi WiFi

The ProtoThrottle has landed

ProtoThrottle

One of the advantages of having a modest layout is I can afford to indulge in cool model railway products even if they don’t fit my primary modelling interests.

An example of this is the ProtoThrottle – a wireless DCC throttle designed to mimic the look and feel of a diesel control stand. Mine arrived this week and while Port Rowan is firmly set in the steam era, I do have a few CNR-liveried internal combustion engines on the roster – including a GE 44-tonner, an RS-18, and a self-propelled passenger car. All of these will be more fun to run with the ProtoThrottle. (In fact, I’ve been meaning to upgrade the decoder in my RS-18 for a while now – and this might just be the reason to get on with that project.)

Once I get mine set up on Port Rowan, I’ll share my thoughts on its performance via this blog. But I think the ProtoThottle is set to become a game-changer for diesel-equipped layouts running on DCC – and as I’ve written on my Achievable Layouts blog, it might even influence layout design choices for some modellers. You can read by by clicking on the ProtoThrottle, above, or by following this link.

Enjoy if you visit!

My friend Mike Cougill test-drove a ProtoThrottle at the RPM in St. Louis this month, and shares his thoughts on his blog. It’s definitely worth a visit:

ProtoThrottle: ProtoThinking

Meantime, a couple of my friends in my area have also acquired ProtoThrottles of their own – we bundled our orders to make it easier to ship to Canada, and I have now delivered the throttles to them. I expect they will blog about their new throttle too, and I’ll update this post with links to their blogs if they do.

ESU CabControl on TMTV

TMTV - CabControl pt 1

As mentioned previously on this blog, I recently hosted Matt Herman from ESU on TrainMasters TV, to discuss the company’s new DCC system. CabControl is a based on the ECoS 50200 that I use on my layout.

You can click on the image, above, to view* the first of two parts about CabControl. Enjoy if you watch!

(*TrainMasters TV is a subscription-based service, but subscriptions are quite reasonable. For example, as I write this you can subscribe for as little as 83 cents (US) per week.)

Matt and Me at TMTV

Matt and Me - TMTV
(State of the art throttles – in their eras)

I spent the day yesterday at the TrainMasters TV studios with Matt Herman from ESU (the “Loksound” people). Matt and I shot a number of segments together for future episodes, including two that will focus on ESU’s CabControl – a new DCC system designed for the North American and Australian markets. (I wrote more about this system in an earlier post.)

In the photo above, Matt is holding ESU’s Mobile Control II throttle. This is essentially an Android-based tablet, enhanced with a throttle knob and some physical buttons. I use a pair of these with my ECoS 50200 system from ESU and they’re the nicest throttles I’ve ever encountered. They combine the flexibility of a software defined throttle with the tactile feel and convenience of hardware-based controls to access the most commonly used functions while running a train. What’s more, the feel of the throttle itself is quite high-quality – like a high-end smart phone. They’re just nice in the hand.

The CabControl system has many attractive features, which we will delve into on upcoming segments of “DCC Decoded” on TrainMasters TV. But here’s a sampling:

– Support for at least 32 mobile throttles. (The system can probably handle more, but as Matt said, “We gave up opening packages at 32.”)

– An incredibly intuitive user interface based on common smart phone gestures. Swiping left or right lets you switch locomotives from your stack. Swiping up or down lets you scroll between the function button screens for the active locomotive.

– Artwork for decoder-equipped locomotives and rolling stock. The user can choose from a selection of stock photos, or create and load their own. It’s a great way to confirm, at a glance, what locomotive is active on the throttle.

– Icons that may be mapped onto any function button. Need to know where the headlight is? You don’t need to remember it’s at F0 – just look for the lightbulb symbol.

– Custom menus for each decoder-equipped locomotive or car. If you have a model that doesn’t have a bell, you can hide the bell function button from the menu, keeping more of the function buttons that you do need on the first menu page.

– A motorized throttle knob that automatically resets itself to the last-set speed when switching between locomotives. This knob also has built-in reverse (by rotating counterclockwise past the zero speed point) for true one-handed operation.

– Four physical buttons that may be assigned to any function. I use these for the functions I access most frequently during an ops session, such as the whistle and bell.

– The ability to load other apps onto the throttles. For example, one could load a fast clock app, a car forwarding app, and so on. The throttles could even be loaded with Skype, and used for radio communication between crews and a dispatcher – who does not even have to be in the same country! (The throttles include a jack for headphones/mic.)

– Easy programming via the throttle, using menus written in plain language instead of CVs – and full compatibility with JMRI/DecoderPro, of course.

If it sounds like I’m a fan, it’s because I am. If you’re in the market for a DCC system – or looking to upgrade the one you already have – then CabControl should definitely be on your list.

I’m really happy with my ECoS 50200 from ESU, although it has a number of features that I will never use – for example, support for command control protocols from Marklin, Motorola and others in addition to the NMRA’s DCC standard. But the new CabControl system does everything that I need for my layout, so I would’ve gone with this one had it been available.

I know some friends are already looking at CabControl, and I’ll be happy to bring along my two Mobile Control II throttles to future operating sessions.

ProtoThrottle

RDCS-IowaScaled
(Click on the image to visit the throttle’s discussion page on the MRH Forum)

I’ve been following the development of the ProtoThrottle – a realistic diesel control stand designed for DCC – since Michael Peterson of Iowa Scaled Engineering and Scott Thornton first floated the idea over a year ago on the Model Railroad Hobbyist forum. Today, I had the opportunity to get my mitts on one for the first time – and I think it’s great. I didn’t even power it up – just played with the levers and buttons – and I’m already sold on the concept.

For those unfamiliar with this project, I suggest you read the forum thread – which you can find by clicking on the image, above. But briefly, it’s a wireless throttle designed to interface with any DCC system via a receiver that’s connected to the DCC system.

While this throttle does not emulate every control in a real diesel, it does a much better job of representing the controls than a standard throttle with push buttons and/or a knob. The best part is, a number of DCC sound decoder manufacturers are working with Michael and Scott to figure out how to configure their decoders to work with this control stand. For most, it’s primarily a matter of figuring out the best values to program into CVs governing acceleration/deceleration, braking, speed curves, throttle notching, and so on.

The throttle is not yet on the market – look for it, hopefully, early in 2018. It’ll definitely bring diesel fans closer to an in-the-cab experience than anything on the market to date. I’m looking forward to it – and even though my layout is set firmly in the steam era, I do have a few diesels (including an MLW RS18 and a GE 44 tonner), plus many friends with diesel-era layouts where such a throttle will be a welcome addition.

As the saying goes…

Shut Up And Take My Money

“Go on, what’s the THIRD verse?”

Well, look who’s moved into the neighbourhood…

Calvin - Hobbes - Tree Fort

This is a story four years in the making.

Back in November 2013, I built a tree fort in one of the trees behind the station in St. Williams. You can read about that project by clicking on the photo, below…

Tree Fort in St Williams, with GROSS sign

… but at the end of that post, I noted that I was inspired by Calvin & Hobbes, and wondered where I could find a suitable tiger.

Fast forward almost two years, and in October 2015 my friend Stephen Gardiner surprised me with a model of Hobbes, which he had designed, 3D Printed, and painted. Again, clicking on the image, below, will link you to that part of the tale (or, tail?)…

Hobbes by Stephen Gardiner

Since then, I’ve been keeping my eyes open for a suitable figure that I could modify into a Calvin – but without any luck. There aren’t any nice models of S scale kids around – and certainly nothing with Calvin’s Peanutsy proportions.

Still, when Stephen got in touch and suggested we get together for lunch, adding, “I have something for you”, it never occurred to me what that might be. So I was completely gobsmacked – and delighted – when we met up yesterday and he presented me with a 3D Printed Calvin:

Calvin model by Stephen Gardiner

I carefully added a pin to the bottom of his foot, and placed him in a patch of light in the backyard.

Everybody sing along with Calvin!

Calvin - Hobbes - Tree Fort Comic

If Hobbes ever lets Calvin into the tree fort, he’ll have a good view of the passing trains:

Calvin - Hobbes - Tree Fort

Thanks Stephen – what an awesome surprise!

The visit was grand: We went for lunch at Harbord House and had a great conversation about a number of subjects.

We discussed the announcement on Monday from Rapido Trains that it would be producing HO scale models of the iconic Canadian diesel switcher: The SW1200RS. Stephen was at the launch party, and had a lot of details to share. This is huge news for the Canadian hobby, and Rapido notes it is their most-requested model. The good news is, the Rapido Trains SW1200RS is more than vapourware – the company had test shots from the tooling on display, and a running sample. The models are due early next year, and already I know a number of people who are considering switching scales back to HO just to take advantage of these. The SW1200RS certainly figures prominently in a number of the Canadian prototypes I’ve covered on my Achievable Layouts blog.

After lunch, Stephen and I ran a freight extra to Port Rowan and back. Stephen took the engineer’s seat in CNR 10-wheeler 1532, while I headed for the conductor’s desk in the van. The layout ran well, with only a couple of misaligned couplers to contend with. It was Stephen’s first experience with ESU’s Mobile Control II wireless throttles – a combination of Ambroid tablet computer and throttle with physical knob and buttons. I switched to this system late last year and it’s been a terrific experience. (Stephen was suitably impressed, I think – but I’ll let him provide his thoughts if/when he reads this.)

All in all, a terrific day – and let’s do it again!

Full Throttle Steam on TrainMasters TV

The current segment on TrainMasters TV features my CNR 10-wheeler #1532, fitted with a LokSound decoder and loaded with Full Throttle Steam:

DCC Full Throttle Steam

Click on the image above – or follow this link – to start watching. You need to be a subscriber to TrainMasters TV to see it, but membership is quite reasonable.

(UPDATE: ESU has now released the first Full Throttle Steam file – based on SOO Line #1003, a 2-8-2. It’s at the top of the on ESU’s steam download page. For future reference, note that Full Throttle steam – and diesel – sound files are noted by the “(FT)” at the end of the name. Thanks to Matt Forsyth for alerting me that the first file is now publicly available.)

Two features in the August RMC

 photo RMC-2015-08_zpsdnsf9ssq.jpg
(Click on the cover to visit RMC online)

I have two features in the current (August, 2015) issue of Railroad Model Craftsman magazine.

The first is my report on the 2015 New England Northeast Railroad Prototype Modelers meet, which Pierre Oliver and I attended at the end of May. I had a great time and I look forward to going back to that meet in the future.

The second is a feature on using an iPhone or iPod Touch as a throttle, as I do on my layout. This distills and organizes a lot of the information I’ve presented previously on my blog into a feature that addresses what’s needed, the advantages and disadvantages compared to a regular throttle, and some considerations to make such a migration successful.

If you pick up a copy, I hope you enjoy the stories. I enjoyed writing them and it’s a pleasure to work with Stephen Priest at RMC.

Fighting Dirty Rails

The May, 2015 issue of Model Railroad Hobbyist magazine is now online and ready for reading – including an article I submitted on how I use graphite on the rails to improve electrical performance.

 photo DirtyRails_zpsxmncjnps.jpg

While I certainly didn’t come up with this solution, I’ve been using it for many years and am an enthusiastic advocate. It’s made a huge difference to how well my layout runs.

Click on the image, above to start reading the feature online. To complement this feature, I also produced a short video* to show how I apply the graphite to the rails. Enjoy if you watch!

(*I’m not sure I would’ve called this solution a “miracle”: It’s science, really…)