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?

Turning the Tonner

Just because you don’t have to, doesn’t mean you can’t…

CNR 1 - Port Rowan turntable

CNR Number 1 – a GE 44-Tonner – takes a spin on the Port Rowan turntable. While the 44-Tonner is a centre-cab unit, the diesel does have a front and a rear. On long runs, the engineer prefers to have the control stand in front of him: It’s more comfortable. So the trip back to Hamilton warrants a trip to the turntable.

CNR 1 :: Upgraded decoder

 photo TSU1000-Cummins_zpstucqs9fe.jpg
(Soundtraxx doesn’t offer the Cummins Diesel sound suite in the TSU-1000 – but they will do a custom install of it if you ask)

I was worried about the Soundtraxx Tsunami decoder in my model of CNR Number 1. It sounded great, but occasionally it would just stop running.

I thought it might be a heat issue, or possibly an issue with the current draw of the locomotive: The decoder is from the TSU-750 line, because that’s the only decoder size offered with the GE Cummins Diesel sound suite. I had room in the model for the larger TSU-1000 and I prefer to use them whenever possible, but that didn’t appear to be an option.

I wondered why Soundtraxx doesn’t offer the Cummins in a TSU-1000. So I fired off an email asking if it something they would consider doing – and if not, could I get a custom load of the Cummins sound suite into a TSU-1000? After all, it’s just a file on a computer – and it’s not like Soundtraxx has to build a custom decoder to accommodate different sound files.

Sure enough – I could get a custom file loaded, and for a reasonable cost no less: about $10 for somebody’s bench time. The TSU-1000 with Cummins sounds arrived last week and as the photo above shows, I wasted no time in upgrading the electronics in my CNR 44 Tonner.

Obviously, it sounds the same as it did before… and now that I’ve tweaked various CVs it runs the same too. (It is still, however, set to the factory default of Address 3: I packed away my programming track as part of the prep for the home renovation and I won’t be able to change the address until I find it.)

I’m still having a few issues with this unit’s operation but I suspect dirty pick-ups on the wheels. I can’t remember if I cleaned them properly when painting the unit. I’ll check that next. I’ll also check my installation to make sure I haven’t pinched anything in the drive system.

Meantime, the upgrade has given me another quarter-amp of wiggle room in this unit and that’s 25 percent more peace of mind, so I’m glad I did the upgrade.

 photo Extra1East-StWilliams_zpsv2fmfkbl.jpg
(Extra 1 East rolls through St. Williams)

I’m sure others working on a River Raisin Models S scale 44 Tonner will appreciate knowing they can get a TSU-1000 for it. This could be useful to those in O scale who have a two-motor Rich Yoder Models 44 Tonner, too: I would use a TSU-1000 with Cummins custom-load for one motor, and employ a Soundtraxx MC2H104P9 (1 amp silent decoder) for the other.

Thanks, Soundtraxx, for the excellent customer service!

CNR 1 : First revenue run

Here’s one for Chris Mears, who is a big fan of CNR’s 44 Tonners:


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

As I’ve noted in previous postings about CNR 1, I installed a Soundtraxx TSU-750 decoder and Current Keeper module – and the video demonstrates just how smoothly this combination controls the motor in this unit. I think it sounds pretty impressive, too.

Enjoy if you watch!

CNR 1 is in service

Over the past couple of days, I’ve put the finishing touches on CNR 44 tonner Number 1 – and the locomotive is now in service:

 photo CNR1-Finished_zpsvmk4mpiz.jpg

To finish the model, I used custom decals created for me by Bill Brillinger at Precision Design Company. (Thanks, Bill – they worked beautifully!)

I glazed the windows with microscope slide covers and added MV Lenses to the class/marker lamps at all four corners. I did some brush-painting with CNR Yellow number 11 to pick out the handrails, cut levers, and step edges as shown in my prototype photo.

Weathering is a mix of airbrushed paint plus weathering powders, and I found that a very light spray of CNR warm black over the decals helped tone down the lettering and stripe, giving the One Spot an appropriately worked-in appearance.

I’m pleased to report the locomotive also runs very well. The current-keeper I installed recently has delivered on its promise of interruption-free running, even through the grassiest parts of my track work. And while doing that work, I removed the double-sided foam tape that I had been using to hold the TSU-750 in place, and replaced it with a strip of 1/4″ Kapton Tape – a change that improves how the decoder sheds heat. (Previously, it had suffered from overheating on occasion, and would shut down about halfway through an operating session. That’s now been fixed.)

This was a fun project and while it won’t see a lot of work on the Port Rowan branch, it will add variety on occasion. Plus, it’ll join my CNR Doodlebug as a great addition to the S Scale Workshop exhibition layout.

(Follow this category link to read all posts about the 44 Tonner)

Time for another project – and I already have one in mind. But I’ll write about that in a future post…

CNR 1 :: Basic Black

 photo CNR1-BlackPaint_zpszbnxigx5.jpg

Progress continues on CNR 44 Tonner Number 1. Last week, I was able to spray the cab/hoods, frame and underframe/trucks with CNR Warm Black – a Scalecoat paint produced for the CN Lines Historical Association.

The paint went on a little dry on the tops of the hoods, so it’s a bit sandpapery around each stack – but I’m not going to worry about it for two reasons:

1 – There are no decals to apply there, so the paint does not need to be smooth.
2 – It looks like the paint is blistering from exhaust heat, so it’s actually not a bad effect. I’ll add some rust round the base of each stack using weathering powders and call it a happy accident.

The components have also received a coating of clear gloss in preparation for decals. And I’ve done some brush painting of cab details, which will be visible through the windows.

(Before painting, I masked the windows from the inside of the cab, which ensured the cab walls would remain primer grey – a suitable colour for the interior)

Next up: Lettering, then top coats to seal the decals, then window glass, and finally some weathering.

CNR 1 :: The DCC squeeze

It’s been a while since I worked on my model of CNR 1 – one of the railway’s GE 44-Tonner centre-cab units.

But I recently acquired decals for this unit, so this project – long dormant – can now go ahead.

Today I opened up the model to tape up the windows to protect the cab interior when I airbrush the model – and it occurred to me that I had enough room under the hood to add an electronic flywheel module. So that’s what I did:

 photo CNR1-KeepAlive-01_zps2pbqbrei.jpg

It’s quite a squeeze, but it works.

The Soundtraxx Current Keeper is the larger of the two purple things (don’t you love my technical jargon?) – in the upper portion of the left-hand hood.

The DCC decoder is a Soundtraxx TSU-750 – the smaller of the two sizes Soundtraxx offers, and the only size loaded with the GE Cummins diesel switcher sound package. (Part Number 827014 if you’re curious.)

(I find that odd, since loading the package shouldn’t be any different between the two decoder sizes, but I guess Soundtraxx feels only people working in HO scale would want a sound-equipped 44 Tonner.)

A curiosity with this model is that the cab floor is part of the frame, and bowed upwards to clear the motor. This is fine, except it means one has to run wires across the floor of the cab to connect the decoder to the speaker and headlight in the right-hand hood. That’s fine, really: They won’t be seen on the finished model.

With the windows taped up from the inside (to preserve the grey, which will make a fine cab interior colour), this model is now ready for the paint shop, and a coat of basic CNR Warm Black.

On a technical note, I’ve now created a 44 Tonner Category on this blog, so those interested in the project can find all of the relevant postings in one place.

A smooth 44 tonner (with video proof)

A friend asked about the mechanism in the River Raisin Models* S scale GE 44 ton diesel I wrote about in a previous posting.

It’s quite smooth. A small can motor lives under a false floor in the cab, with a flywheel mounted on each shaft and driving a gear tower on each truck. All eight wheels pick up power, and all four axles are powered.

Here’s a short video of the 44 Ton diesel in action:


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

CNR #1

CNR 44 Tonner #1 - Prototype Photo.

A couple of years ago I picked up an S scale model of a General Electric 44-Tonner and decided CNR #1 would make a good modeling subject. Earlier this year I detailed the model:

GE 44 Tonner in 1:64 - Detailed for CNR #1.
(To read all of my posts about this locomotive, check out the “44 Tonner” category on this blog)

This is an Overland Models brass import built by Ajin and offered exclusively through Dan Navarre at River Raisin Models*. I have added class lamps (two packages of River Raisin ST-029), sun shades (scratch-built), working couplers (modified Kadee 802), a horn (HO scale Finishes by Bob Rzasa H-223), and a pair of etched kits for steam-style number boards (from Andy Malette at MLW Services*).

I have also installed a Soundtraxx TSU-750 sound decoder with GE Cummins diesel sound (part number 827014), a 16mm x 35mm speaker in an enclosure, from Model Rectifier Corp, and 3mm LEDs from Miniatronics for headlights. It runs beautifully and sounds great.

I’m waiting for custom decals before sending it through the paint shop. It will emerge black with a yellow frame stripe. A crew from S Helper Service* (Part #00289) sits ready to add inside the cab.

I think it’s neat that a railway system as large as the CNR had a locomotive numbered 1 …

(*Check the “Links” section on this blog’s home page for the most up-to-date links)