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 – http://www.protothrottle.com/ 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.

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Tuesday Train #138

IMGP6254Given the amount of snow in the Toronto forecast today, Today’s Tuesday Train is the sunniest shot I could fin from the warmest spot I could find. The Walt Disney World Railroad Main Street USA station at the entrance to the Magic Kingdom in Orlando Florida. Locomotive #3 is named “Roger E. Broggie”, and was built in 1925 by the Baldwin Locomotive Company for a 3′ gauge railway in Mexico.

Never Stop Learning…But Never Forget Past Learning – The Tale of the Blue Bendy

I was working in the corner of the closet on “Parkdale Yard”, my faux staging tracks, and I wanted to put in a mockup 3rd track behind the two I laid, there is room for about half a width of track. Rather than cut a perfectly good piece of flex track in half, I have some spare rail from the supply I bought for building switches, and a giant bag of pre-cut wood ties, but before I get into what I’m doing track laying, a lesson in the importance of never stopping learning, but also never forgetting learning you’ve already done!

IMG_7239.jpgHow do I get the shape cut on this strip of ties to squeeze into the corner of the backdrop?

My lesson for tonight is in the latter, I was trying to figure out how to get a template for cutting an arc through a batch of wood ties tacked together with tape so they would perfectly slide into the corner of the benchwork, then it came to me, PLAN 110 in January 1999….The Blue Bendy!!!!

img_7238The Blue Bendy in action in the corner.

OK, so no, I haven’t had a blow to the head. But as I was thinking of how to create a pattern, I remembered something from the Introduction to Graphics course in the second semester of the first year of my Urban Planning Degree at the University of Waterloo. The “Blue Bendy” is a tool designed for transferring a line or shape from one drawing to another. It’s a plastic bar thing that you can bend to shape, and it holds the shape when you move it from one sheet to another. If you’re interested in picking one up for yourself, its real name is even less creative than Blue Bendy, the Staedtler Mars Flex Curve…. I’ll admit, the name isn’t super creative, but it does at least do what it says on the box!!

Easy does it, position the Blue Bendy where you want it, trace the side with a pen/pencil etc, then cut along the line with a sharp hobby knife.

With a cut line made from a ruler that conveniently changes shape to that of the corner, it was easy to mark the line, cut the ties with a sharp knife, and then make some minor adjustments. I can’t go any further, as I don’t seem to have any HO Scale Tie Plates or spikes to actually put a piece of rail on the ties. I guess I can probably glue them to the roadbed so that’s done at least, but another step forward on a Sunday night.

IMG_7243.jpgCut and fit into the corner to create half a 3rd track in Parkdale Yard.