Playing Around with a ProtoThrottle

If you read this blog, odds are you have some interest in prototype modelling, and may have heard of something called the ProtoThrottle. Its a new system neutral DCC handheld controller from Iowa Scaled Engineering – It will work via an adapter in some cases with Digitrax, NCE, ESU, Lenz, JMRI and and MRC DCC systems. What it is, is really cool, especially if you were, oh, I dunno, building a small switching layout, maybe of say, Liberty Village in Toronto in your spare bedroom.

IMG_7341A ProtoThrottle in the flesh, as I operate at Hunter Hughson’s Niagara Branch.

I know a couple of people who have them, but I hadn’t had a chance to hold or use one until a get together last weekend at a friends layout. Its a nicely designed and built piece, which replicates the standard controls for an American Association of Railroads (AAR) control stand. A reverser (direction), 8 notch throttle and brake valve. Theres a button for the bell, and a horn handle at the top. It was interesting to operate with compared to a traditional DCC throttle. I’ve been in plenty of locomotive cabs, and operated the simulators at the Toronto Railway Museum which use AAR Control Stands, but I have never driven a real diesel locomotive. Using the ProtoThrottle is much more like being in a locomotive than a normal model layout. There was a lot of discussion about how operating a model with this is very different from doing so with a typical DCC controller that has 128 speed steps. On a real locomotive, if you watch them operating while switching, they throttle up to get moving, then cut the power and coast. That’s something you can’t do with a traditional DCC system as easily, but you can with the ProtoThrottle. Its much closer to operating a real locomotive based on some actual railroaders who were at the operating session/get together. I have to take them at their word, but they are right that the majority of modellers have never actually operated a real locomotive, and some of the subtlety of how you actually do so is lost translating from full scale to model scale.

I understand it takes some work to adjust the DCC settings on a decoder for it to work right with the ProtoThrottle, but once you’ve got a file set up, I understand that you can use the base settings on other locomotives if you are using something like an ESU LokProgrammer to do your customization on the decoder. I don’t have an LokProgrammer yet, its on my shopping list as It would be nice to be able to program my own locomotives and adjust sounds at home instead of relying on going to others houses!

ProtoThrottle1Doug declines to operate with the ProtoThrottle, while I mostly mess about instead of making any actual effort to use a switch list or switch cars.

While it won’t be the first throttle I buy to add onto whatever DCC base station I wind up going with, it will definitely be added on as I love the bit of added realism in operations, and being that little bit closer to driving the way a real engineer would that it gives.

6 thoughts on “Playing Around with a ProtoThrottle

  1. Thanks for the notes. I’ve yet to see one of these throttles, let alone try one, so I appreciate the thoughts.

    Do you find you spend time watching the throttle or does it fit into operating naturally?


    • I found it fit into operating naturally. Without any extraneous buttons or knobs, it was just the important operating controls and focus on what I was doing on the layout. I definitely felt like I spent less time looking at what I was doing or where things were set than using a Digitrax, Esu or nce throttle in the past.


  2. I’m hooked on my Protothrottle. It’s a whole new dimension to operations. It makes incorporating real world practices very believable. I’d encourage any serious model railroading ER to give one a try if they have the chance!

    • One is still on my list of things to buy. I have been trying to be good and save my little bit of money from Shapeways sales so I have a good chunk of the cost to buy a Protothrottle sometime in 2023 at the pace I am going and not have to deal with US-Canada exchange rates.


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