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?

Proofing the Doodlebug with a KA2

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(Adding a keep-alive module will make sure the lights – and sound – are always on)

About a month ago, during a visit from my friend Chris Abbott, he took my CNR gas-electric for a spin – literally – on the turntable at Port Rowan. And we noticed a minor blip in the sound in two places – once on the turntable lead, and once as the turntable rotated through the polarity-switching section of the pit rail.

Overall, the gas-electric has been a terrific performer, but that just made these two minor glitches all the more apparent. I decided to address that by adding a keep-alive module to the unit’s sound decoder.

I like to shop local but I was looking for some oddball components for another project, so I placed an order with Tony’s Trains and added a TCS KS2 to the list. The goodies came in today – and within the hour, I had the doodlebug apart and the soldering iron warmed up.

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(A piece of foam double-sided tape holds the TCS KA2 securely to the back of the speaker)

In the above photo, a pair of wires – pale blue and black – emerge from the left side of the KA2 and run about three quarters of the way along the Loksound decoder. This decoder – a LokSound Select Direct – is actually a LokSound Select Micro plugged into a motherboard to allow it to be dropped into many HO scale RTR models. Very clever.

To connect the KA2, I had to pull the decoder from the board then solder the wires to two extremely tiny pads. (Thanks to Hank at Tony’s Trains for the installation advice. Thanks also to those who have done this before, and shared their knowledge on the ESU LokSound Yahoo Group.) Fortunately, my eyes are good and my hands are steady. It took longer to pull and replace the six screws that attach the body to the frame than it did to make the connections.

I’ve tested the gas electric on the turntable and lead, and operation is now truly flawless.

Was it worth the extra money and time? Definitely. I’ve just taken a very good unit, and made it better.

Doodlebug :: The Movie

By popular demand (well – one or two requests), here’s a video of CNR 15815 – my recently-completed gas electric – running as M233 to Port Rowan:


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

The decoder is an ESU/Loksound Select board, loaded with an early GE diesel prime mover – the kind used in the 44-Tonner. While I’m sure a gas-electric sounds different – in the same way that a gasoline-powered automobile sounds different from a diesel automobile – I’m happy with this unit’s “voice”. It burbles appropriately to my ear – and it should be noted that most of the CNR’s self-propelled passenger carriers were diesel-electrics (or “oil-electrics” as the railway called them).

If ESU ever produces a gas-electric sound file, I can simply reload it. Or I can swap out this decoder for one from QSI, which does offer a gas-electric.

The sound escapes from the model primarily through the windows in the baggage doors, which do not have glass installed for this reason.

I’ve reduced the maximum voltage (CV 5) to about half of the available range, with a suitable adjustment to the mid-range voltage (CV 6). I’ve also added a fair bit of momentum to both acceleration (CV 3) and deceleration (CV 4). This unit runs very smoothly at realistic speeds.

Enjoy if you watch the movie, which will take less time than it did to pop the corn in the microwave…

CNR 15815 :: Inaugural run

My CNR gas-electric – which I finished earlier today – has now made its inaugural run on the Port Rowan branch. Here are some pictures from the trip…

Running as M233, CNR 15815 arrives in Port Rowan:
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The gas electric is caught on the turntable lead in Port Rowan, preparing to be turned for its return journey to Hamilton:
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On the return trip, CNR 15815 – running at M238 – emerges from the Lynn Valley and crosses the Stone Church Road overpass:
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Heading for Hamilton, the gas electric blows for Charlotteville Street in St. Williams:
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While I don’t plan to replace the conventional, steam-powered mixed train on my layout, CNR 15815 will add some variety to operating sessions. It runs well – very smoothly and slowly – and as a complete train it’s a natural choice to take whenever I’m participating in S Scale Workshop exhibitions, too.

I’m glad I picked up this model at this year’s S Scale Social. I wonder what I’ll find next year?

Doodlebug details

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Yesterday I put the finishing touches on my CNR gas electric, and this morning I applied a coat of weathering to finish the model.

Details included MV Lenses in the class lamps, secured with Miscroscale Kristal Klear. I also added some Kristal Klear around the LED headlight to fill the gap between the LED and the headlight housing:

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Other details include glass (cut from microscope slide covers) in the windows, and window shades made from a cream-coloured envelope. Window glass and shades were installed using Kristal Klear, which does a terrific job at this sort of thing. There’s no glass in the baggage doors, as they’re the location through which the DCC sound system is ported:

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Working through a hole in the bottom of the rear vestibule, I was able to add seven panes of glass to this area, although I did not attempt to add window shades. I don’t think they’ll be missed…

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I weathered the model with a mix of powders and airbrushed paint. I like Vallejo military colours for weathering since they dry dead flat. Some black powder did a nice job of dirtying up the air intake louvres at the front of the model, while some rust powder – oversprayed with Vallejo’s black-grey – created a subtle exhaust and rust look on the roof:

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I’m really pleased with how this model turned out – and I enjoyed learning about the CNR’s fleet of self-propelled vehicles in the process. I look forward to putting CNR 15815 into revenue service in the near future!

Letter’d ‘lectric

In addition to tweaking the chassis, over the weekend I also lettered my gas electric. Click on the images, below, for larger views…

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I had a couple of choices for the lettering scheme for an all-green self-propelled CNR unit. The more common arrangement is the one seen on my model of CNR 7184, with CANADIAN NATIONAL spelled out above the windows:
CNR Combine from MLW Services Kit photo CNR-Combine-Header_zpse6af9c7c.jpg

But in reviewing the photos in Self-Propelled Cars of the CNR by Anthony Clegg, I noted a few images of equipment adorned with the red wafer instead. The general rule about this wafer – or so I’m told – is that it was only used on wooden passenger cars. But it appears some paint shops made an exception for self-propelled equipment.

I decided to use the red wafer scheme for several reasons:

1 – I like the splash of colour the wafers add to the gas electric.

2 – I already have two steel passenger cars in the solid green scheme with CANADIAN NATIONAL spelled out above the windows. This adds some variety.

3 – In the Clegg book, all of the self-propelled equipment with the CANADIAN NATIONAL spelled out also featured two car numbers on the car sides – one number at each end. The equipment done in the red wafer scheme had a single car number on each side, centred on the side. Since I needed to build each instance of my desired car number out of multiple pieces of decal, eliminating two instances of that saved time and reduced the chance of applying wonky decals. Sometimes, the practical solution wins…

As mentioned previously, the CNR had only one EMC gas electric – an RPO unit (15805) that operated on the Grand Trunk Western. Comparing the number jumbles on my decals to the roster list in the Clegg book, I discovered I could easily create 15815 – a number originally carried by a Ledoux-Jennings gas car that was scrapped in May of 1930. Since there are a few examples of numbers being reused, it seemed like a good place to slot in my doodlebug.

I used lettering from two sources for this model. The gold lettering and the red wafers came from an S scale set – CNR passenger cars (1930-1961) – from Black Cat Publishing. I needed a smaller font for the black numbers on the front of the doodlebug – and found those in an HO scale set for Canadian National passenger cars, produced by Microscale for the CNR Historical Association (set 300-006).

I’ve sealed the lettering with a gloss coat so the unit is now ready for the finishing touches. Stay tuned…

Gas electric :: chassis tweaks

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I’ve tweaked the chassis on the gas electric to make a few improvements, as noted on the above image (click for a larger view).

Here are some notes on the tweaks:

1 – I “painted” the flywheel black. Actually, not painted: I inked it black with a permanent marker. I did this because the flywheel lines up with the baggage doors on the body shell and I noticed that when it was bare brass, the spinning flywheel would “flash” behind the windows.

2 – A little bit of weight over a trailing truck never hurts, so I’ve added 28g (approximately 1oz) under the decoder. Electrical pick-up is already good with this truck – but could be better.

3 – The driver’s seat is a lump of brass. I realized that the seat back rubbed directly against the inside of the body shell – and that this would interfere with adding glass to the driver’s window. Some work with a saw has provided clearance for the glazing, while a bit of paint covers the damage.

To do these tweaks, I had to remove the driver – a plastic figure I glued in place. In the process, I managed to pull his head off! Whoops! Fortunately, it was a clean break and some CA fixed him up, as good as new. But his new name is “Humpty”…

On a technical note, I moved all of the gas electric photos to a new album on my photo-sharing site. I think that I have updated all the links – but if you experience any broken links, try refreshing your browser. If they’re still broken, let me know. You’ll find a handy contact form at the bottom of this page. Thanks in advance!

Boxcars and gas cars :: A visit with Chris

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(What do you see?)

My friend Chris Abbott visited last night, and with his help I was able to make a final decision on my choice of couplers. As the lead photo suggests, I’ve decided to standardize on the Kadee 808 – the S scale coupler (in brown) that I used when I started this layout.

When I look at equipment on the layout, my eyes are drawn to things like the logo, the reporting marks, the roof, the weathering and so on. The coupler is really an afterthought – and when a car is part of a train, the couplers are practically invisible. The bottom line is that visually, the larger-than-life 808 couplers don’t bother me.

Operationally, however, they’re much easier to use than my alternate choice, the Kadee 5. Chris and I switched two trains in St. Williams – one equipped with Kadee 5 couplers, the other with Kadee 808 couplers. Chris and I both found that the 808s were easier to uncouple because they are easier to see and there is more room in the knuckles to position an uncoupling tool. Since I’ve determined that for me, a reliable coupler is The Least Disruptive Option, the 808 is the obvious choice.

I’ll start to convert back my equipment this week.

That said, I’m also glad I investigated other coupler choices – including the Kadee 5 and Sergent EC64. I learned a lot in the process, even as I confirmed that my original choice was the correct one. (At least, for me: I encourage everyone to do their own experiments and make their own choices in this hobby – for couplers, DCC systems (or even whether to use DCC at all), scenery materials, and everything else.)

As with everything in this hobby, what works for me may not work for you – and vice-versa.

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(The doodlebug hauls a two-car train through St. Williams)

Chris and I also had fun running my in-progress gas electric. Before Chris arrived, I was able to get some of the fine detail painting done. I’m particularly pleased with how the orange window frames came out. I also finished the headlight by adding some Kristal Klear around the LED to fill the gap between LED and headlight housing.

I’d read that these models could not pull the skin off a pudding – and the gas electric has only a single power truck. So we were both quite surprised when, during testing, the doodlebug walked away with two of my passenger cars in tow. They’re not only heavy, but the compensated trucks add a fair bit of drag – so much so, that my CNR 10-wheelers* have trouble pulling a train. But the gas electric had no problem with them.

In fact, it ran better with the additional weight in tow. We think the train brought more weight to bear over the rear truck, which improved electrical pick-up. As a result of this testing, I’ll add some weight over the rear truck next time I have the unit apart.

(*My CNR 10-wheelers are currently with their builder, Simon Parent, because they need a tune-up – and one of the issues identified is that they’re not riding on their springing properly, so that may have something to do with their tendency to slip their drivers when pulling the passenger cars.)

We ended the evening, as we often do, at Harbord House. We discussed many things over pints and dinner – some of which I’ll share in future posts…

Thanks again, Chris – great, as always, to see you and your help in coming to a coupler decision was greatly appreciated!

Self-Propelled Cars of the CNR

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I’ve mentioned this book a few times recently as I’ve shared the work on my CNR doodlebug. This is an excellent resource for anybody interested in the development of self-propelled cars in Canada.

I’ve been aware of self-propelled alternatives to traditional, locomotive-hauled passenger trains almost as long as I’ve been in the hobby. But for me they were always a footnote or a sidebar. Until I read this book, I did not appreciate the variety or the ubiquity of these vehicles on the CNR, its predecessors, and its subsidiaries.

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While I’d heard of gas electrics – and I’ve even owned several models, in various scales, over the years – the CNR experimented with a lot of other approaches. The most successful early cars were diesel electrics, which paved the way for later acquisitions of Budd RDCs. But I was surprised to learn that the CNR also rostered – at one time, anyway – rail buses, Brill model 55 cars, Evans Autorailers, and others. And this book introduced me to the Storage Battery Car: Think of an interurban, but with a rack of batteries under the floor instead of an overhead wire.

The greatest variety of self-propelled equipment was found on the CNR in the 1920s and 1930s. This is a period that relatively few hobbyists model: We favour the “steam-diesel transition era” or more modern settings. But having read this book, I have a new appreciation for just how interesting an earlier-era layout could be. Not that I’m going to rework Port Rowan, mind you. But the addition of a variety of self-propelled vehicles would certainly help one create a unique layout.

Meantime, this book has proven valuable to me as I work on my own doodlebug. I’m glad I grabbed a copy.

If you want to know more about Self-Propelled Cars of the CNR, click on the book cover (above) to visit the publisher’s website.

‘Bug sprayed

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My “S”cenery Unlimited brass gas-electric is looking more like a CNR doodlebug every day. Yesterday, I masked the green sides and sprayed the black roof and pilot…

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… then removed the tape…

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… and was pleased to see nice straight lines with sharp edges between colours. This was my first experience with Tamiya masking tape and I’m darned impressed. I’m a convert!

I have a number of details to brush-paint – including the window frames, train-line air and signal hoses, grab irons, cut levers, and so on. I can do this over the next week or so. (And yes, after debating my colour choices I’ve decided to go with the earlier scheme of solid green sides instead of the green-over-black scheme the CNR introduced to passenger cars in 1954.)

After a conversation with Pierre Oliver about possible approaches to painting this model, I want to give the green body paint several days to cure completely before I apply decals. It turns out we’ve both had some problems will decals “silvering” in the past when applying them over Scalecoat paints: Apparently, the problem has to do with the paint off-gassing solvent as it cures, and leaving the paint to cure longer helps prevent this. I must also check my decal stock: I believe I have some leftovers from the sets used on my CNR passenger cars, but if not I’ll have to order some from Black Cat Publishing.

I’ll have to disassemble the model to decal and install glazing, but in the meantime, I can tweak the decoder and conduct some break-in runs. Sharp-eyed readers will note I’ve added a motorman (an S Helper Service figure) to the cab…

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