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

Thinner Throwbars in RMC

I have a story in the October, 2017 edition of Railroad Model Craftsman magazine about how I built the head rods (throwbars) for my turnouts.

RMC October 2017 cover

I hand-laid my track and built my turnouts using the assembly fixtures and other tools offered by Tim Warris at Fast Tracks. I love the reliability of using copper-clad printed circuit board (PCB) material for holding rail securely in a turnout – especially around the frog.

But the traditional way of making a head rod always bothered me, because the rod would end up being as wide as a tie – for the very good reason that one would simply use a PCB tie.

My approach results in a head rod that is much thinner in appearance – more like the metal bars used on a prototype turnout. The article provides step-by-step instructions to make your own.

In preparing this article, I took some photos of the switch points on a turnout, part of the ex-CNR – now Trillium Railway – industrial trackage in St. Catharines, Ontario. Here they are, for context:

Head rod and back rod
(Head rod and, further up the points, a back rod. Note the size of these rods, compared to the ties.)

Head rod and stock rail
(The head rod projects only a couple of inches beyond the stock rail.)

Head rod and switch stand
(A pipe connects the head rod to the switch stand)

Click on the RMC cover, above, to visit Railroad Model Craftsman online. You can order a copy of the magazine via the White River Productions online store.

Cooling the DCC drawer

From the moment I purchased it last year, my current DCC system – the ECoS 50200 from ESU – has lived in a cabinet under my staging yard, which is also how I store my large and growing collection of S scale rolling stock.

The rolling stock storage cabinets are kitchen drawers from IKEA, chosen for their capacity and their soft close mechanisms:

Car Storage by IKEA
(Click on the image to read about my car storage solution)

Ordering from IKEA is like eating at the gourmet burger bar. You build your own – mixing and matching cabinet fronts, drawer sizes, and so on. For my stock storage cabinets, I chose the Marsta drawer fronts primarily because they have recessed handles: I didn’t want people catching their pant legs on handles that projected into the aisle.

But I also picked them because the fronts have removable inserts to allow one to choose the colour of the recess in the handle. I didn’t care about the colour – but I did like the idea of being able to leave the handle open to allow air to circulate in the drawer where the DCC system resides.

Air circulation through the drawer front.
(That’s the glow of the DCC system, seen through the open drawer front)

This has worked fine for 10 months of the year, but this summer it got so hot in the layout room – despite it being in a basement – that the ECoS was overheating and shutting down. Obviously, some active cooling was required.

I talked over the problem with Matt Herman from ESU and based on that discussion, I picked up a pair of computer case fans from a local electronics supply house, plus a 12-volt wall wart to power them. I’ve attached them to the drawer with double-sided foam tape (to dampen vibration), and aimed them so they blow directly on the back of the ECoS 50200:

DCC Cooling fans.
(Not pretty – my wiring never is – but effective!)

The power supply for the fans is plugged into the same power bar as the DCC system, so they run whenever the DCC system is turned on. There’s a gap between the top of the drawer at the back, and the top of the case, so fresh air is drawn in from the back of the drawer and blown out through the drawer handle. I can definitely feel the breeze blowing out the front of the drawer, and they’re pretty quiet – especially with the drawer fully closed.

This solution would work well for any DCC system, of course…

One of the nice things about the ECoS 50200 command station is that one can monitor its operation – including the voltage and current being drawn, and the internal operating temperature. Therefore, I’ll be able to easily assess the effectiveness of my cooling solution:

ECoS operation settings screen
(33 Celcius – and holding!)

Thanks for the advice, Matt!

2017 S Scale Can-Am Social

2017 S Scale Social - group photo

It was another fun day out this past Sunday, at the 2017 S Scale Can-Am Social in Lowbanks, Ontario. My friend Jim Martin (near the middle, back row, light green shirt) has organized this casual get-together for a few years now, and this year’s gathering included participants from across Ontario, as well as Quebec and New York State.

The social is a chance to catch up with each other. It has also turned into a bit of an S Scale swap meet. Every year I go, I think, “Oh – I’m not going to buy anything” and every year, I do. This time, I came home with a brass model of a GS gondola, lettered for the Boston & Maine… a resin kit for a Canadian Pacific “Fowler” boxcar once produced by David Clubine at Ridgehill Scale Models… my third example of Andy Malette‘s mixed-media kit for a CNR combine (one of the essential pieces of rolling stock for modelling the line to Port Rowan)… and a craftsman kit for a brick general store by Grand River Models (a manufacturing company once owned by TrainMasters TV executive producer Barry Silverthorn).

Barry joined me for the meet and together we lined up a couple of interesting guests for future episodes of TrainMasters TV. After the meet, we were joined by David Clubine for a brief visit with Bob Fallowfield and a chance to run trains on his excellent HO scale re-creation of the CP Rail operations in Woodstock, Ontario, in the fall of 1980. It was David’s first visit, and he and I spent a lot of time talking about the powerful draw of the 1980s – an era we both experienced as younger, impressionable hobbyists.

All in all, a fine day out. (Thanks, Jim, for putting it together!)

ESU CabControl DCC system announced

Even though I don’t need one, I’m pretty excited to learn that ESU (the “LokSound” decoder company) has announced a new DCC system designed specifically for the North American and Australian markets. The new “CabControl” system offers layout builders the best of ESU’s ECoS system while removing some of the more “Eurocentric” features and dropping the price to make it competitive with other popular DCC systems.

ESU CabControl
(The ESU Cab Control system | Click on the image to read about it on ESU’s website)

Regular readers will recall that just under a year ago, I upgraded my layout with the ECoS 50200 DCC system. I’m really happy with this decision but I knew that the ECoS would not be for everybody, since it includes a number of features that are not in high demand in North America – specifically, the two case-mounted throttles. These add considerably to the price of an ECoS system, putting it in a different snack bracket from starters sets offered by other manufacturers.

Obviously, the developers at ESU have decided they’re missing an important opportunity here, because the new CabControl starter set deletes the case-mounted throttles (and the touch screen) in favour of a black box that houses the command station and a WiFi access point. It then adds the Mobile Control II – a WiFi-based wireless throttle that combines the best of a touch-screen Android-based tablet with a super-sweet servo-driven throttle knob and some programmable push buttons to give operators quick and intuitive access to commonly-used functions (such as the bell and whistle). I saw this new system in action at a recent train show in the greater Toronto area, and I was definitely impressed.

ECoS-01
(My current ESU DCC system – including the ECoS 50200 command station, a wireless access point, and two wireless Mobile Control II throttles)

I have a pair of the Mobile Control II throttles that I use with the ECoS 50200 and I love them, so it’s great to see that ESU has made this fresh commitment to the North American market. With a product more suited to our tastes in control systems – at a more competitive price – I expect more modellers on this side of the Atlantic will make the switch to ESU. And from a purely selfish perspective, that means my ECoS 50200 – which is already well supported – will be even better served in the years to come.

I see Matt Herman from ESU fairly regularly at local shows, and he’s a frequent guest on the “DCC Decoded” segment of TrainMasters TV. What’s more, I know that I’ll be hosting Matt in the TrainMasters TV studios before the month is out for an in-depth exploration of the ESU CabControl system. I’ll post about that here when I do – so stay tuned!

Six years on…

Six years ago today, my friend Pierre Oliver and I cut the first pieces of lumber for what was to become Port Rowan in 1:64. It’s been quite a journey.

My layout is a simple design, so construction proceeded remarkably quickly. In no time at all, it seemed, I had roadbed in place and was starting to rough in the location of turnouts and trackage:

Port Rowan shortly after construction started.

And just a few years later, the layout was not only running, but I’d say 90% finished:

Port Rowan a few years later.

That final 10% seems to take as long as the initial 90%, doesn’t it? There are structures to build, details to assemble and paint, vignettes to create, and so on. That’s all part of the fun. And then of course there are other projects. They may be railway related, but not of direct use on the layout. Or they may be projects that have nothing to do with this hobby – but that I want to undertake, just because.

There’s been a lot of that this year. I’ve rediscovered role playing games and tabletop wargaming after a quarter century absence, and a lot of my spare time has been taken up by assembling and painting 28mm figures (roughly S scale) for a couple of games set in feudal Japan.

(I really should start a blog about those interests, now that I think about it…)

As for Port Rowan, much of my work on this hobby has involved migrating photos off Photobucket and onto my WordPress server. It’s something I should’ve done from the start, I suspect. Oh well…

The nice thing about the hobby, for me, is that I don’t have a deadline. I’m not staring down a 20-30 year “Dream Layout” and wondering if I’ll achieve the dream before I am too feeble and/or addlepated to appreciate it. I can see a point – in the not too distant future – when I can declare Port Rowan “finished”. I’m looking forward to that, but I’m also in no rush to get there. It’s a hobby – not a job…

A railway modelling craftsman reflects on his hobby

Boy, does this sound familiar!

Gene Deimling is a well-known modeller working in Proto:48. He’s responsible for the patterns for many fine rolling stock kits that O scalers enjoy. He blogs about his hobby, and I’m a regular reader. His most recent post really struck a chord with me – and I’m sure it’ll resonate with many of you, too.

Click on the image, below, to read it:

Gene's Wanderings
(Is there a better way to wander than in a doodlebug? I think not!)

I have offered up several comments about this post on his blog – and in the interests of keeping the conversation in one place, I’m turning off comments on this post. If you have something to contribute, please do so! But do it in Gene’s original post. I’m following the comments on his post so I’ll take part in the discussion there.

Gene – thanks for sharing your thoughts! (And thanks for the shout-out for Port Rowan in 1:64!)

“All hat, no cattle”

As I’ve been migrating the photos for this blog off Photobucket, I’ve had the opportunity to re-read all of my posts. It’s been an interesting review.

Today, I came across my post from May, 2012 about MTH buying S Helper Service. At the time, I wrote:

Perhaps MTH will have the clout to overcome S scale’s manufacturing challenges, too, and bring fresh product to market.

Well, that sure hasn’t happened.

In hindsight, the MTH acquisition has turned out to be pretty disappointing. It’s been more than five years, and we’ve seen little out of MTH to support scale 1:64 modellers – or even those doing American Flyer. As an example, S Helper Service offered almost a dozen locomotives, offered in both scale and hi-rail:

SHS Locomotives from the NASG product gallery.

Today, MTH’s S scale locomotive offering is the F3 – and that’s it.

I realize we’re a niche of a niche, but S Helper Service’s Don Thompson seemed to find a way to support us (and thanks for that, Don!)

Fortunately, at least for those willing to build kits, other manufacturers are stepping up. There are rolling stock kits in resin, laser cut wood, brass, and other media. I’m happy to do my part to support those manufacturers who are supporting my hobby…

CNR NSC-built boxcars | First Look

While attending a local train show yesterday, I was able to collect my order of S scale kits for CNR boxcars built by National Steel Car. (I’ve written previously about these new Yarmouth Model Works kits.)

Here’s a first look at what’s in each box:

NSC boxcars - first look.

There’s a really nicely-cast one-piece resin body, with separate roof. A plastic bag holds wire, photo-etched parts, eight-rung Canadian style ladders with integral stirrup steps, a laser cut wood running board, and more. A second bag includes a resin sheet with frame components such as cross-bearers, plus doors. A third bag holds a fine selection of Black Cat Publishing decals, including several variants of the CNR maple leaf logo. Instructions are included on several pages of 8.5×11″ paper, and include a number of black and white photographs to aid with construction and lettering.

The ends are unique on these cars – and offered for the first time in S scale:

NSC-2 end

Some minor filing/sanding will be required to clear away casting sprue material to allow the roof to be fitted in place, but that’s to be expected. The details are fine, and crisp. I have done nothing to clean up the resin yet – this is how the kit looks, straight out of the box. I think that’s pretty impressive.

Here’s a closer look at the roof detail, as well as the baggie of resin parts for the frame, tack boards, body bolsters and so on:

Resin baggie.

Providing these as separate pieces makes it easier to drill the frame cross-bearers to accept a train line, if one desires to model that detail. Like the body, these parts are crisply cast and well detailed. All the resin will have to be washed in soapy water before assembly.

Here’s a closer look at the baggie of miscellaneous parts, including photo-etch:

Photo etch and other parts.

I’m looking forward to building my kits – and I’m glad I got them yesterday: They’ve been on the market just a couple of days now and Pierre tells me more than half of the first run has been purchased already. (Thanks to my fellow S scalers for that!)

If you want one or more of these, don’t wait: Click on the boxcar, below, to visit the Yarmouth Model Works website and order yours…
CNR-524206