Liberty Village’s current locomotive fleet all Kept Alive

Once I discovered the solution to why ESU Powerpacks were not working in older Rapido Trains locomotives for me last week, and got my SW-1200RS running reliably, it was time to do my last locomotive of the current “fleet” for the layout, my Rapido GMD1. Its longer wheelbase seemed to make it more reliable already, but why rely on that when now that I know that I am in fact capable of both making three very fine solder joints, and programming the decoder to use the Powerpack once its in!

Disassembling the Rapido GMD1, figuring out how to fit the ESU Powerpack into the cab (the only open space in the model, three wires soldered to the decoder to connect the Powerpack, and all re-assembled looking into the cab end at the Powerpack.

As with the SW-1200RS, the only open space in the locomotive to place the Powerpack is inside the cab. This does hide some of the interior detail, but you have to be so close to see it, it almost doesn’t matter, and unlike the SW-1200RS, the GMD1 does not have a cab light to turn on and show off the Powerpack. Despite that, I did put a bit of black heat shrink tube over the Powerpack to help hide it from the sides. The ends are still visible, but there are not really places on my layout where you can look end-on at a locomotive. To fit it in, I had to trim away a bit of the cab interior so the Powerpack would sit flat, and so the wires could be run into the body. Once the connections to the decoder were made, everything needs to be carefully fished together through the body into the cab, and re-assemble the cab and attach it to the body once the Powerpack is threaded into it. It was a bit fiddly, but there is more than enough wire to get it into place and ensure that they are routed safely inside the body shell. With everything back together, it was test time, and as you can see in the video below, it passes the tip test to keep running for a couple of seconds from the Powerpacks reserve of energy. Job done. Now I have four reliable locomotives on my layout. I can get back to focusing on scenery and buildings rather than trying to figure out why my trains wouldn’t run!

You have to turn on the Powerpack…

Ahh Digital Command Control (DCC), seems so simple, yet is so complicated when you peel back the layers. Between me blowing up decoders, and not knowing why something as simple as connecting 3 wires to the decoder to add an ESU Powerpack keep alive capacitor to a model didn’t work, I have a lot to learn.

Back at the turn of 2021, when I was busy blowing up a decoder install as discussed in the post linked above, I was also busy installing an ESU Powerpack keep alive capacitor in a Rapido Trains SW1200RS. I am reasonably confident in my trackwork, but have found that locomotives, especially short wheelbase ones are struggling at times to keep connectivity and they stall. The sound and lights in modern locomotives need good contact and power, something, despite my many efforts to look for areas causing loss of contact, cleaning track and wheels, applying graphite to improve connectivity, nothing was working. My Atlas Alco S2 7020, the first loco for the layout has a keep alive, and the couple of seconds it gives is enough to keep things running and keep me from losing my mind when operating. When I have run my other locomotives, their stalling has been making me want to tear the layout down and see how far an HO scale locomotive can fly when you hurl it. Neither of these are things that I actually want to have happen or do!!

So, for some time now I have been annoyed that it seems I did not manage to solder 3 wires to the decoder board in the SW1200RS, as it did not work. Yesterday, I made a trip to visit my friend Pierre Oliver, who I hired to do the remedial DCC install on the second Atlas S2 after I blew up the first one. When we were chatting, he pointed out when I mentioned my keep alive problems, that buried in the ESU instructions are CV values you have to change to activate the Powerpack. Well, damn, I missed those and hadn’t done that. So when I got home, I immediately tried, and it didn’t work, the decoder wouldn’t accept what I was trying to do. I looked at the manuals on the Rapido and ESU websites, and nothing was obvious that I was doing wrong. Some searching online it seemed that the Auxiliary Functions on older decoders were different, but what ones to change to activate it was the question.

This is where I have to say thanks, I think its important to acknowledge companies with good customer service, and my dealings with ESU have been fantastic. I sent an email to them this morning, and within a couple of hours, I had the information I needed back from them:

That is an older run locomotive with a Select decoder. On all of our Select decoders, Aux6 has to be disabled for the PowerPack to work.  You can do this on the programmer by selecting Aux6 and the changing the output mode to “disabled”.  To do it via CVs, please change the following CVs,

CV31 = 16, CV32 = 0
———————-
CV315 =   0

So, with their response in hand, I put the SW1200RS back on my programming track with the LokProgrammer, and pulled up the locomotive on the computer, within seconds, the changes were made.

Three quick steps in the ESU Lokprogrammer software. 1, go to the Function Outputs; 2 select Aux6; and 3, change to disabled. Then write to the decoder and test.

The video below shows the SW1200RS on the programming track, running away, then being tipped up on one side, and it keeps going for a couple of seconds before it cuts out, just like it is supposed to do with the Powerpack in an working. Now to take some time and run a train with it on the layout to see if the stalling out problems with this locomotive are resolved. If it is still stalling out, now I know its finding track problems instead of it being the locomotive.

There is something very satisfying about getting answers. Thanks to an off hand comment from Pierre about the programming of the locomotive he installed the decoder and Powerpack into for me, I realized something I had missed, which lead to the discovery of something that wasn’t clearly explained in the manuals, which lead to me asking for help from the manufacturer. They replied, and at the end of the day, in a bit over 24 hours I have apparently gone from one locomotive on my layout that runs reliably, to three!!

Two locomotives that didn’t work/weren’t on the layout a day ago, both now working and negotiating track without stalling. Some days, Trains are Good!

Brass Steam projects staring me in the face

I have previously written about my two brass steam locomotives for Liberty Village, a Canadian National O-18a and Canadian Pacific U-3e. Both are small 0-6-0’s that worked industrial areas and yards in Toronto in the 1950’s. While not projects that need to happen soon, both need a lot of work to be re-motored, re-wired for DCC operation, and painted/repainted before they are ready to work on the Layout. I don’t need them anytime soon, but they sit in the display cabinet above my layout/desk where I now work from home and taunt me daily. I honestly don’t know that I have the skill or desire to do the work myself, fortunately, I have friends who do have the skills to make these great runners. I suspect, sometime sooner than later I will be asking one or more of them to take on these projects, as even if I don’t run them much on the layout, I want the option eventually to do so when the layout reaches a stage where inviting friends over for an operating session happens.

Decalling an S-2 to give it an identity

A couple of weeks ago I posted an omnibus update that had some pictures of my second Atlas Alco S-2 for the Canadian Pacific Railway fleet on my layout. CPR S-2’s were pretty much ubiquitous in Toronto from their introduction in the 1940’s through the decline in local freight service in the 1980’s. As such, having two made sense for my layout, but I wanted them in two different paint schemes, the short lived early 1950’s “smiley face” maroon that I have with 7020, and the 1955 on “Block” lettering scheme in the more familiar CPR Maroon/Tuscan and Grey (I do not get as pedantic as some on what CPR’s red colour was actually called!).

https://i0.wp.com/www.mountainrailway.com/Roster%20Archive/CP%207000B/CP%207043-2.jpg
A pair of CPR S-2’s in Toronto in 1955. These are the two schemes mine will reflect. I am modelling 7043 in the block, and my “smiley face” is 7020 (though mine doesn’t have eyes. Even in the 1950’s people anthropomorphize trains! Picture from Mountain Railway CPR Roster, originally via Bill Sanderson Collection

After I started decalling my 7043, I noticed I had made a painting error. I continued the grey band around the back of the cab. This was wrong, the back of the cabs were all maroon. So I had to carefully mask and re-spray the back of the cab so it was the proper colour all the way around. With this done, applying the decals was pretty much standard stuff.

In the booth and after correcting the back wall of the cab

This paint scheme has another challenge for me that I wouldn’t be sure I had gotten right until I started Decalling. There is a yellow stripe separating the maroon and grey. When I masked to paint, I had the decals to use as guides, but until the masking was off, and the decals were going on, I wasn’t 100% sure I had gotten the curves and angles right. It turns out, I was pretty much close enough that its not noticeable where there are issues. Most of the issues are on the radiator grills at the bottom, and can be hidden by weathering. You can just see it in the pictures, and its less noticeable in person.

Putting on the stripes separating the primary colours.

For those keeping track, this project has been a little bit electrically cursed, and it has been daunting me in terms of actually getting to making a second attempt at installing the DCC. Fortunately, thanks to a friend who runs a business producing resin kits and building models for others, I am going to send out the locomotive for the DCC installation to someone more competent than I. I want to continue building my skills, but at the moment, the right option is to send it out to someone who can get the job done more reliably than I can. Before I send it down, I am going to finish the body work in terms of getting the decals on, clear coating them, adding some light weathering and then getting the clear glass and such back in, so that when I send it down and the DCC is done, the body can go on and it hopefully doesn’t have to come apart again for a while.

7043 decalled and ready for clear coat and weathering.

I am quite pleased with how it looks. I just haven’t had the motivation to get the paint booth out and put on flat coat and start some weathering. I will hopefully find that motivation this week, but as it seems spring and nice weather is finally sprung here, sitting outside enjoying the warmth and going for bike rides after work has become more appealing than staying inside working on trains!

Thing’s that go “POP” on the Workbench…

Sigh, so today was one of those days. I went from feeling ecstatic that something I was doing that I haven’t done before was working, to thinking “Trains are Stupid” and wanting to see how far an HO Scale locomotive can fly in the time it takes you to hear “POP!!”. I decided that I wanted a second Alco S-2 for my Canadian Pacific Railway operating fleet. These were the main Toronto diesel switchers in the 1950’s, so having two different ones along with eventually a steam locomotive would be appropriate. I bought a second Atlas S-2 and decoder supplies in the Credit Valley Boxing Day sale, and curbside picked up the order while out to go to the dentist yesterday morning. I then spent all afternoon into the evening last night starting the decoder installation process. I came back to it this morning to finish wiring the speakers, and after some messing around with software updates, I had a locomotive that responded properly on the test track, moved back and forth, and as you can hear in the video, had sounds.

30 Seconds of glory on the test track for my decoder installation.

Then, with me satisfied everything was working, I reassembled the body onto the locomotive, this, is where it all went sadly wrong. Something, somewhere in the wiring was shifted in this process, or came into contact. I still haven’t figured out where, largely because after I turned on power to test after putting the body on and heard the loud “POP”, most of what I had to say isn’t printable on a civilized internet, and I spent the next chunk of my day trying to calm down and not throw things around or smash things.

It is, at the end of the day, not fatal to the locomotive by any means, the decoder itself is likely shot. I will talk with ESU’s rep in the states and see what they suggest if it is even worth sending to them to look at, I expect, it will really come down to when someone local has the right decoder in stock again or placing an order for another new one, which frankly, having just blown up some cash, spending more is not in the cards for a bit, so back to other layout projects. For tonight, I have cleaned my workbench, worked on blog posts, and ran a train on the layout to remind myself that my hobby is fun, and I do enjoy it, just some days more than others!

Finishing the Wiring, Gremlin Hunting & Layout Visitors

In my last post I alluded to having wiring problems, and I did, but before I can deal with the problems, I want to touch on the “finishing” of the wiring. First up was to install a pair of HexFrog Juicers, each of these can handle auto reversing the power on six switch frogs to prevent short outs. As my layout has 13 switches, the two of these with the one single Frog Juicer on the peninsula covers the entire layout with live frogs that automatically switch polarity before the layout shorts out.

Prepping and installing the hex juicers. Preparing a base to screw into the benchwork, shots of the hex juicer mounted, and in place, wired up with LED’s lit.

Along with the hex juicers, I was finishing the task of connecting the track feeders to the power bus, to get to the point where I was ready to try and connect the ESU Cab Control DCC base station. For my ongoing testing, I was using my Lokprogrammer running from my computer to check for shorts by running a locomotive along the tracks every few wiring connections. As I went, it generally seemed to be going OK, I wasn’t finding shorts, things seemed to be going OK and I appeared to have successfully managed to connect red wires to red and black wires to black.

Watch for the brief short flash, and then bottom left LED’s flipping colour from red to green.

With the wiring I thought at a point where things seemed to be working, I thought it was time to actually set up the DCC and run the layout the way it will hopefully be run for many years. Again, the setup is simple, connect two wires from the back of the command station to the layout power bus wires.

IMG_1424ESU Cab Control DCC System, finally ready to come out of the box.

And, after I started testing with the Command Control, chaos… the track would not stay on at all, the second I put a locomotive on the tracks, the power light on the handheld control flashed from green to red. Sometimes, pressing the start button wouldn’t even turn the power on. It appeared, that despite everything…the Gremlins were back!!!

GremlinsGremlins!!! And not the cute gremlins like Mogwai, but the nasty monstrous kind that show up when you get them wet and feed them after midnight…

By this point, I had been working for almost 10 hours mostly at awkward angles reaching beneath the benchwork to do wiring. It was time to quit before I lost my temper and did anything I’d regret later. It took a few days to figure things out, and the breakthrough could probably have been found sooner if I’d turned to the internet, but the proverbial “a-ha” moment was when I tried to turn on the CabControl connected to a single piece of flex track just to make sure the base station was working, when that shut down immediately, I realized I wasn’t necessarily searching for a wiring short on the layout, but something else. I had set the ESU power supply set up and the variable voltage know as advised in their manual for HO Scale, my findings from that are, the supply as instructed doesn’t deliver enough juice to run even a small layout like mine. Turning the power supply up a little bit, and almost all my short outs disappeared.

Testing a variety of motive power across the layout. Finally some success. And achieving one of my goals, running a train across the layout on its own power without it shutting off (derailments are another story)

I was still finding little shorts and issues on the frogs with the layout shorting out, it appears that this has been solved by just turning up the power a little bit more from the supply. The best part of this, is that I was able to get the railroad re-wired up after cutting connections when Gremlin hunting, have it powered up and going to host visitors on Saturday morning, which I completely forgot to take pictures of! A friend was hosting an operation session/party/modellers meet Saturday afternoon/evening, and two out of town visitors were in Toronto for the weekend. Chris Mears from Dartmouth Nova Scotia, and Matthieu Lachance (and more here) from Quebec City were over along with regular visitor and layout building helper extraordinaire Trevor Marshall. We didn’t run any kind of scheme, we just talked about the layout, the prototype, the design concept, and banged some cars about, mostly without problems. A nice feeling, and the opposite to a lot of “Trains are Stupid” evenings of the past week or so trying to make sense of the wiring side of the hobby. Now, onwards with running trains back and forth looking for anything that causes derailments, power offs or any other unexpected behaviour for the next few weeks. During this time I’ll get some work done advancing the start of the structures to be ready for doing scenery once I am satisfied with the tracks operation.