Tag Archives: MTH

Trains: First DCS Lesson

51j4po-rq1l._sx385_bo1,204,203,200_How many of us throw money at a problem in an effort to get it resolved?  I’ve been there and done that!  On this occasion surfing the Internet seemed to yield a solution to my problem. I  purchased a couple of highly recommended DCS (Digital Command System) resources. They were a DCS video from OGR (O gauge railroading) and a book, The DCS Companion.

The first lesson learned from these resources had to do with sound boards.  MTH (Mike’s Train House) locomotives are equipped with Protosound boards.  These enable features such as lights sounds and functions such as couplers and smoke.  I learned just because the box says “equipped with Protosound” it doesn’t mean it will work with the DCS system.  Only “Protosound 2” and “Protosound 3” sound boards are compatible.  So what I thought was a defective DCS system or damaged engines turned out to be a system incompatibility issue.

ogr-dcs-productThankfully, I can still use these engines but I will need to run them on a separate track not hooked up to DCS.

I have one engine with a Protosound 3 board in it.  It should have worked but it didn’t.  After consulting my resource materials again, I learned much of the trouble model train hobbyists have with DCS are bad batteries powering the Protosound boards.  My engine had been boxed up for at least 3 years.  I ran my Proto-3 engine around the track with DSC unhooked to charge the battery.  Magically, the DCS remote later found my engine and the DCS starting working.

*** Warning, while it is possible to charge a ProtoSound 3 sound board by running it on the track while trying to use DCS, DO NOT try to do this with ProtoSound 2 engines.  The battery in Proto-2 engines must be charged using a charger or replaced with a new battery before attempting to run the engine with DCS. ***

After charging the battery in my protosound-2 steam engine it, too, could be loaded into the DCS remote.  Now that I have two engines running DCS, the system is everything I imagined it would be.  I’m amazed at how slow I can make the engines crawl.  The sounds, lights, smoke come alive with the push of a button.  Having my couplers work by remote control will greatly enhance my plans to have an operating layout (being able to pick up and set out cars according to a train schedule).


Digital Command System for Trains

IMG_0555Last month I attended a local model train show for some much needed inspiration.  I hadn’t touched my train layout for almost three years due to Mom’s declining health and dealing with her affairs following her death.

At the train show, watching what others had done to their layouts stirred a passion lying dormant inside me.  I spent the balance of December clearing the accumulation of boxes and other debris off my train layout.  Since I consider my layout under construction, I have little to show to company should they ask to see it.  I vowed to change that this year.

When I first set out to build my railroad empire I dreamed of having a DCS system (digital command system) to run my trains.  I wanted to be able to walk along side an engine pulling a string of cars as it visited various industries and control the action by remote control.  Additionally, with DCS installed I could run several trains at the same time on the same track.

Before I started laying track down on the benchwork, I researched the recommended method of wiring my layout should I happen to acquire a DCS system someday.  For the technically inclined this involved dividing up the track into blocks and insulating each block from the others.  Several blocks are grouped together into power districts.  Each power district is fed by a transformer.  It would take 3 transformers to power my layout.  Enough about wiring.

This Christmas Santa brought me a DCS system.  Imagine my excitement as I rushed to the basement to hook it up.  (Yes, I was as giddy as a child.)  Over the years, I accumulated a number of steam and diesel engines sold by Mikes Train House (MTH).  I unboxed one of them and set it on the track. When I powered up the DCS system nothing happened!  I set another engine on the track, and then another, still no response.

Stay tuned…

Trains and the Beginning of Operations

IMG_0546From previous posts you know that I’ve looked at the available space in my basement, selected the gauge (size) of trains I’m going to model and constructed bench work, which serves as the foundation for everything. You also know I spent a considerable amount of time creating a track plan that would permit me to run trains in a loop for visitors, yet still be challenging enough to operate trains like a real railroad. Giving life to these ideas, pretty much consumed my first year of construction. Last year (year two) I finished laying down the lower level of track except for the rail yard, which I plan to finish next year (year four).  This year (year three) my goal is to build the upper level bench work and then lay the upper level track.

Let me stop at this point and explain a little more about how I designed my track plan and the history I created to explain the existence of my railroad. I used a computer software program called, AnyRail to design my track plan. I chose this program because it has a vast library of the commercially available track pieces in all the popular gauges, and it looked easy to use. A free trial version of this track planning software is available online, just Google AnyRail, and you should be able to find it.

Blueprint of the lower level of track using AnyRail

Blueprint of the lower level of track using AnyRail

Once I installed Anyrail, I selected the Atlas, three-rail, O-gauge track library and began experimenting with different designs. When I was finished, AnyRail allowed me to print out a bill of materials of the track sections and switches I needed to purchase. I was also able to print the blueprint in whatever size I wanted.

As I was creating my track plan I also began fabricating a history and purpose for my railroad. Because I chose a larger scale of trains and had a medium space to build it in, creating a replica of an actual railroad was out of the question.   After reading a number of magazine articles on operating model railroads, I chose to model a small section, also called a division, of a famous railroad. I already owned a few locomotives with the “Pennsylvania Railroad” road name, so the P.R.R. became the starting point of my history.

Years ago I fell in love with the story of the N.Y. Ontario and Western Railroad. It became the first major railroad to go bankrupt.  I believe the year was 1957. It was a scenic railroad that began in Oswego on the shores of Lake Ontario and ran south through the Catskill Mountains and along the Hudson River eventually making its way to New York City. The railroad temporarily avoided bankruptcy years earlier by laying track into northeastern Pennsylvania to tap into the anthracite coalmines. IMG_0547

I decided to create a fictitious historical account that would combine the two railroads. My “historical account” maintains that the P.R.R purchased the southern half of N.Y.O &W. after it fell into bankruptcy. P.R.R.’s motivation was fueled by their interest in the coalmines, enhanced access to New York City and a desire to connect directly to markets in New England.

One magazine article I read suggested that it was okay to make up town names that sounded like they belonged in the area you were choosing to model. Creating my own towns, coupled with a fictitious railroad history, gave me the freedom and inspiration to construct my dream model railroad layout.

Here is a list of choices I made necessary to keep me from getting sidetracked.

  • Run Pennsylvania Railroad locomotive equipment and cabooses, which are readily available at hobby stores.
  • Use the post WWII time period, permitting me to run both steam and diesel locomotives.
  • Model the section of railroad between Wilkes-Barre, PA and New York City.
  • My railroad yard would be geographically located in the middle of my railroad in Middleberry.  Trains will run east and west out of Middleberry.
  • Railcars would enter and leave my railroad via connections to New England, NY City, and the Pennsylvania Railroad main line.
  • My railroad would serve only an industry or two in each town so I wouldn’t attempt to model towns in their entirety, just the industries my railroad served.
  • To make operating my railroad more interesting I chose some complex industries such as a brewery, a paper mill, a factory and a coal mine.  I will also include some passenger stations and a few smaller industries.

Be sure to check back with me in a couple of weeks to see how my layout is coming along.

Trains and Thanksgiving

IMG_0934I’m looking forward to the upcoming four-day Thanksgiving weekend. Thursday, we will be entertaining family members. We’re thankful our relatives would choose to spend their day with us. Come Friday, however, it’s a good bet I’ll be spending a chunk of “Black Friday” down in the quiet confines of my train room listening to Christmas music as I labor.

I mentioned in my previous post that I decided to construct an “O” gauge model train layout. If you are considering modeling this gauge, there is a significant division within the “O” gauge community that you need to be aware of. It has to do with the words “gauge” and “scale”.  “Gauge” is defined as the distance between the rails and “scale” is defined as the proportioned size a model has to the full-sized object (for “O” scale it’s 1/4” = 1 foot).  These terms, however, also represent two different branches of approximately the same size model train.

Buildings, model figures and scenery are interchangeable between “O scale” and “O gauge.” “O scale” and “O gauge” engines and railcars, however, are not interchangeable, even though the models may look a like. O “gauge” track has three rails and is powered by alternating current (AC). O “scale” trains run on two-rail track powered by direct current (DC).

I chose to purchase “O” gauge trains. In the past these trains had a toy-like quality about them and tended to be slightly smaller than their “O” scale cousins. Recently, there has been a lot more realism added to “O” gauge trains and accessories.  The more popular manufacturers are Lionel and Mike’s Train House (MTH). IMG_0051









I spent a considerable amount of time over the last two years creating a track plan for my layout. As I mentioned in my last post there were two things I wanted to incorporate into the design; to be able to run trains continuously for visitors and operate them like a real railroad. I have had to modify the track plan a number of times to make it appear more like a real railroad.

Last winter, my goal was to finish all the bench work sections and cover them with plywood. Bench work is the foundation that supports the weight of trains, scenery and both the upper and lower levels of my track. I constructed my bench work out of 1”x3” pine boards and roof sheathing (plywood a little thicker than 1/2″). My bench work is supported by 2”x3” legs. Many model railroad experts would say I skimped too much on my materials. They would recommend 1”x4” framing ¾” thick plywood and 2”x4” legs, which is good advice. Since I am keeping the depth of my layout to 3 feet and the length of the sections to 4 or 5 feet I am confident I will be okay with the choice I made.

IMG_0076When all the bench work was finally complete and the sections bolted together, I had a 30 by 13 foot around-the-room layout shaped like the capital letter “C.” Earlier this spring I finished laying most of the track on the lower level.  I decided to bypass the rail yard area due to the cost of the track and switches. I am saving that area for next winter’s project.  In case you didn’t know, a rail yard is a collection and redistribution point of freight and passenger cars.  It is the place where inbound trains are broken apart after their arrival and outbound trains are assembled prior to their departure.

This winter I am adding the second level of track to my layout, elevated approximately 8” higher than lower level.  A two-level track plan presents engineering and design challenges but it permits me to run more trains, allows the trains to travel greater distances and lets me add more towns and industries for my trains to service.

So, my work this weekend involves constructing a long gradual incline connecting the two levels of track. Since I plan to run trains consisting of 8-10 railcars plus a caboose, I can’t make the grade too steep. If it does prove to be too steep, I can always run an extra engine behind the train to push it up the grade like a real railroad. Happy Thanksgiving everyone!  Stop back in a couple of weeks to check on my progress.