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:

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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.)

Through the Lynn Valley


(You may also watch this directly on YouTube, where you may be able to enjoy it in larger formats)

Another day, another video of one of my CNR moguls equipped with Full Throttle Steam – the new sound packages soon to be released by ESU for their Loksound Select and Loksound V4.0 decoders.

I’ve spent a little more time running the locomotive and I’m getting much more comfortable using the Heavy Load and Coast features to bring the sound to life.

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, these are beta sound files. The production versions should be released soon. Watch the ESU/Loksound USA website for details.

Meantime, I’m getting ready to replace decoders in more locomotives. It’s a great time to be modelling steam!

German 1:32 steam – with steam


(You may also watch this directly on YouTube, where you may be able to enjoy it in larger formats)

This is from a few years ago now, but my work this week with LokSound Full Throttle Steam has me thinking about the next frontier of locomotive control and realism – and these 1:32 scale models of German locomotives remain right on the edge.

This is not your grandfather’s hi-rail smoke generator, which creates smoke that looks like you dropped a lit cigarette down the stack.

The question is, would anybody want this much smoke in their layout room? That said, our furnace is equipped with a steam boiler humidifier to combat the lung-cracking dry air of the typical Canadian winter. Maybe a pair of these could be used instead? “Honey – it’s kinda dry in here: I’m going to go run the layout.”

I note that LokProgrammer has a whole tab devoted to smoke effects…

CNR 86 – Full Throttle – 2nd Run

I’ve made some more adjustments to the Loksound decoder in CNR mogul 86 and CNR 10-wheeler 1560, which are loaded with Full Throttle Steam packages from ESU. And therefore, I’ve made a follow-up to yesterday’s video… this time focussing on 86 in action on my layout…

In this video, I’ve highlighted a number of sounds generated by the decoder. Some are automatic, some are user-controlled, some are both. The video features braking noises, the air compressor, bell, whistle, injectors and dynamo.

In the first scene, the locomotive drifts into St. Williams. In the next, it works hard to start the train out of St. Williams (with Full Throttle’s “Heavy Load” function engaged). Finally, the engineer drifts over a bridge in the Lynn Valley (with Full Throttle’s “Coast” function engaged), before opening the throttle to build speed for the run into Port Rowan.


(You may also watch this directly on YouTube, where you may be able to enjoy it in larger formats)

I still have some minor tweaking to do – notably, to adjust volume levels – but I’d say I’m 98% of the way there. Colour me impressed!

Working hard, and drifting

I now have LokSound decoders installed in two of my steam locomotives – CNR mogul 86 and 10-wheeler 1560 – and I’ve loaded them with pre-release versions of the soon to be released Full Throttle Steam sounds and features, thanks to Matt Herman at ESU North America.

I’m still tweaking the sound and motor controls, but I’m 90% of the way there and wanted to share a quick video to illustrate one of the features I really like about this new line.

The Full Throttle Steam series will include a function similar to “Drive Hold”, which is a key feature in ESU’s Full Throttle Diesel sounds. Drive Hold is mapped to a function button and is turned on and off just like activating a bell sound. When it’s engaged, the feature locks the locomotive’s motor at its current speed. Turning the throttle knob will not adjust the speed of the train. But it still adjusts the sound of the locomotive.

Here are two ways it can be used:

If one is pulling away from a station, one can open the throttle to start the locomotive, then lock the motor once a desired (still slow) speed is reached… then continue to increase the throttle to make the locomotive sound as if it’s working harder to get the train underway. The exhaust will be sharp and strong, as if the hogger has put the Johnson Bar right into the corner.

Once one is at track speed, the motor can be locked and then the throttle can be turned down to represent pulling the Johnson Bar back closer to neutral. The exhaust note will be softer and quieter. At its extreme – turning the throttle knob all the way to speed step zero – the exhaust sound will disappear entirely, as if the hogger had shut the throttle. The locomotive will now drift indefinitely, simulating a prototype that’s being carried along by the train’s mass and momentum.

I’ve shot a very brief video that illustrates both of these features. First, I show CNR 86 starting from a station stop. At St. Williams. Next, I show CNR 1560 switching from throttle to drift as it passes the station.


(You may also watch this video directly on YouTube, where you may be able to enjoy it in larger formats)

It does take a little bit of practice to do this smoothly – but 20 minutes of playing with this feature should fix that. It should be noted that one does not have to use this feature: One can control the locomotive in the conventional way and still get a sense of working hard and drifting by writing high momentum values into CV3 and CV4. But using the motor speed-lock feature is a much more powerful way to accurately replicate the sound of steam.

In fact, the best solution is a combination of these two approaches. I notice the first locomotive (CNR 86) speeds up abruptly as it’s leaving the scene. Increasing the value in CV3 (acceleration momentum) should take care of that, because it will smooth the transition between the locked motor speed and the throttle setting once I release the motor. I may also increase the value in CV4 (deceleration) to help smooth the transition when slowing down. For me, that’s part of the fun of experimenting with DCC.

A special thank-you to Matt at ESU, who prepared these pre-release files for me as part of our Full Throttle Steam recording session at TrainMasters TV last Friday. Matt tells me he will release of the first Full Throttle Steam decoder files very soon, and I’ll be sure to update the blog when he does.

It’s a great time to be modelling the steam era!

A cold car for St. Williams

It’s been a while since I shot a video on my layout, but after last weekend’s trip to Caledonia and Lowbanks I felt inspired so I grabbed video camera, lights, and tripods and headed to the basement.

In this video, a CNR freight extra pauses at the St. Williams train station, then spots a pre-iced CNR eight-hatch refrigerator car on the team track so the local co-op can load it with produce. With the work accomplished, the train continues on its journey to Port Rowan:


(You may also watch this directly on YouTube, where you may be able to enjoy it in larger formats)

I wanted to play around with cut-aways and other editing tricks, rather than shoot a static “set up the camera here and watch the train roll by” presentation. It’s been a quarter century since I’ve had to do any of this, so the edits are sloppy – rusty skills have made my timing atrocious

The exercise made me appreciate even more the skills of professional videographers and editors like my friend Barry Silverthorn at TrainMasters TV.

The thing about what Barry does is that people will watch his videos and think they’re great – but not necessarily know why they think they’re great. The devil is in the details: the timing of the switches from shot to shot, the care in framing the scene in the lens, the fine adjustments to lighting and sound. Compared to his work, this is pretty crude – but still more visually interesting than the single-camera POV.

This approach to video does take more time – I shot 49 segments, and used almost all of them to edit together into this eight-minute story – but I think the result is worth the extra effort.

And the “story” is the real challenge: I’m re-learning how to use visuals to tell a richer story – not just about the trains, but the environment in which they operate, too. I’ve tried to do that here. You can be the judge…

Video from Exporail 2016

Bored? Looking to watch some train videos? Why not check out the S Scale Workshop blog?

I’ve just posted four videos from the Workshop’s appearance in August at the annual model train show hosted by Exporail – Canada’s national railway museum. All were shot using my RePlay XD video camera, mounted on a flat car.

Click on the camera car in the image, below, to visit the Workshop’s blog – and enjoy if you watch!

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(Since this is not about my layout, please offer any comments on the Workshop blog, or on the Youtube videos themselves. Cheers!)

If you’re finding this post months after I published it and you’re looking for the videos, here are links to the relevant posts on the Workshop blog:

Double-headed 2-10-2s at Exporail 2016
Cab ride at Exporail 2016
F-units at Dunham Junction (Exporail 2016)
Two CNR 2-10-2s (Exporail 2016)

“From the cab” perspective

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(A fake cab to enclose a camera might provide a more realistic view of a layout – by controlling what we can see and eliminating some of the things we don’t want to show)

My post on the Cab ride to Port Rowan generated a lot of feedback – thanks for the kind words, everyone!

I found it interesting that a number of people commented on how the “from the cab” perspective changes how one views a layout. Specifically, people noted that it’s not the best way to view a layout, because we design them to be viewed from the aisle – and I agree!

Viewing a layout from the track tends to expose the things we don’t generally see during normal operations. Layout lighting is a big one: we tend to aim lights at the track, and then hide them from our view as we’re standing in the aisle. Putting a camera on a flat car often puts the lights right in our eyes (and it certainly did in my cab ride video).

I’m not overly concerned about that. I think it might help to enclose the camera in a fake cab – for example, by framing what the camera sees so the viewer appears to be looking through the window of an F-unit. Done right, it should reduce the non-realistic surroundings that one sees in a video.

When I look at the image at the top of this post, I’m struck by just how little I can see of the world outside the locomotive’s window. I’m also struck by how easy it would be to mock-up the window – one can’t even see the nose of the F unit, and the interior of the cab disappears in blackness. It’s too easy to not try, so a mock-up window is something I’ll create at some point. Adding the wiper blades would be a nice touch.

(A similar thing could be done with the mock-up of a rear-end observation car for taking video of a following train.)

What I really liked about the video I shot of the layout is how well it connects the various scenes together. This is something I haven’t been able to share with others in the past.

Oh sure – I could publish a layout plan (and I have), and then take photographs or video from the aisle, and mark the plan with numbered photo locations – much like one sees in hobby magazines. But either approach would have its own set of shortcomings:

– A series of photos would still leave questions, like “how long does it take to get from one scene to the next?”

– Video from the aisle would have to consist of a series of static scenes with trains running through them if I wanted to control what the viewer saw, to minimize unrealistic distractions like layout lighting and fascia – so it would be much like a series of still shots in that regard.

They’re both worthwhile approaches – and I’ll continue to share perspectives taken from the aisle. But the cab ride perspective answers a different set of questions for me, and lets me enjoy the layout in a different way, so I’ll continue to share those, too…

Cab ride to Port Rowan

I continue to experiment with my video camera from Replay XD, which rides nicely on a flat car.

Having had a successful test run on the S Scale Workshop layout over the weekend – with two videos shared to the Workshop blog – I’ve now also done a test-run on my Port Rowan layout:


(You may also view this directly on YouTube, where you may be able to enjoy it in larger formats)

This trip is looking into the sun, so everything is somewhat backlit. I will do an eastbound trip – with the sun at my back – when time permits.

I’m still learning about what this camera can do, but I’m enjoying the results so far…

The view from the cab (or the cupola)

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(CNR T-3-a 2-10-2 number 4205 leads a coal train on company service on the S Scale Workshop layout. The photo is actually a screen capture of a video, shot with a small but powerful camera mounted on a flat car)

I’m always on the lookout for new ways to view my hobby, and to capture and share the effort with others. I’ve taken a lot of photos of my layout – and even some video – using a variety of image capturing hardware.

Now, thanks to a conversation with my friend David Clubine, I’m able to capture the view from the cab in video, too.

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(Is it a circus cannon? The Prime X from Replay XD, mounted on an S Helper Service flat car and ready to capture on-track video of the S Scale Workshop modular layout. The plow-shape lets the camera capture more of the layout, and less of the ceiling…)

As the members of the S Scale Workshop prepared to exhibit their Free-mo style modular layout at this year’s Copetown Train Show, we were looking for a way to share our effort with a wider audience. Someone had suggested we should some trackside video and I thought that would be a novel way to see the layout. But what to use?

One of our members suggested an iCar – a laser-cut car that holds an iPhone and allows one to aim the camera down the track. But they’re not available in 1:64, and I was looking for something that would shoot better quality video. A GoPro was also considered – but while they’re small as cameras go, they can be quite large.

Then David suggested the cameras made by Replay XD. David runs a company that serves and supports professional racing teams, and he uses the Replay XD to capture high definition video of the cars in action. It’s small yet rugged, and its “lipstick” shape doesn’t compromise a race car’s aerodynamics.

While we don’t need to worry about drag coefficients in the railway modelling hobby, I realized the small size of this camera might be just the ticket for mounting on a flat car to capture video from the engineer’s perspective. So I ordered one from the California-based company.

At just over 1″ in diameter and under 4″ long, the Replay XD Prime X is smaller than a GoPro, and weighs just 3.5 ounces. But this small camera packs big performance – capturing high definition video and audio, and it’s WiFi enabled so it can be controlled from a smart phone with the Replay XD app. One can start and stop recording, and the camera will stream what it sees. Pretty slick.

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(With the Replay XD app installed, the iPod Touch is linked to the camera via WiFi and displays what the camera sees – including my friend Stephen Gardiner, who is taking the photo: That’s him to the right of the mainline in the screen of my iPod Touch!)

The camera arrived Friday and I got to work building a suitable mount so I could secure it to the deck of an S Helper Service flat car. (These are great candidates for this as they’re all metal: their weight means they track well and glide smoothly on the rails.) At first, I mounted the camera mount on a piece of 0.060″ thick sheet styrene. I marked out and drilled four holes in the corners, arranged to line up with stake pockets on the flat car, and glued short lengths of .025″ phosphor bronze wire into the holes. This worked well: the camera was easy to mount on the flat car, it stayed put, and I didn’t have to modify the car in any way.

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(A good start: the mount doesn’t flail about, and there’s no damage to the car itself)

I did some testing on my layout but I found that the camera – equipped with a wide-angle lens – captured too much of the ceiling in the layout room. So I went back to the workbench and built a wedge – like the front of a snow plow – so that I could mount the camera pointing down at the track. This worked much better, and is the version shown in the photos of the camera car at work on the S Scale Workshop modular layout.

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(The camera car attracted a lot of attention from attendees at the Copetown Train Show. Here, several people grab shots of it as it shoots video of CNR 4205. This image is a screen capture from the video.)

I took the camera car to the Copetown Train Show on Sunday and shot several minutes of high-quality video. The camera and app are easy to use and I’m very pleased with the results.

I’ve posted two videos shot with the Replay XD to the S Scale Workshop blog. Click on each of the photos, below, to visit the Workshop’s blog and watch the videos. I hope you enjoy them.

Cab Ride at Copetown
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CNR 4205 at Copetown
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And yes, I plan to press the camera car into service on my Port Rowan layout, and elsewhere. Stay tuned…

(Thanks to Stephen Gardiner for the photos, and David Clubine for the lead on this big little camera!)