A Dummy Knuckle Coupler for OO Gauge – Part 3

Back in July, I shared with the second part in my design of a dummy knuckle coupler for OO gauge rolling stock.  You can find the post here.  Since then the first prints have been through several tests and they performed very well.  In this post I’ll show you the small changes I made to the design and share with you how to get some.

The original design, as shown below, was printed in both Shapeways clear Fine Detail Plastic and the Black Versatile Plastic.  The Black Versatile Plastic turned out to be so good I’ve carried on with only this material.  Not only is it strong, but as it’s already the right color, they’re ready to use.

The original design was for a dummy knuckle coupling which would work with Kadee couplings as well as each other.

The first issue I had with them, albeit a small one, was with the knuckle section.  As the actual knuckle, unlike the Kadee, doesn’t swing, and it tended to grip on tight curves.  I opened the jaws slightly to allow a bit more movement.  This solved the issue.

The second issue was due to height.  As I’ve said in other posts about couplings, despite there being the NEM standard regarding couplings and height, different manufacturers have positioned their coupling pockets at different heights. Some seem to be high and some low, which leads to the situation of an uncoupling, especially on gradients as the rolling stock crosses the transition from flat to inclined.  My first answer was to offer three different types, as shown below; high, standard and low.

However given there may be a few different lengths, this makes for a large number of different couplings to manage.

A much simpler idea was to make the knuckle 2mm bigger.   By moving the top up by 1mm and the bottom down by 1mm all versions are covered.  The wings either side of the knuckle were also removed as they performed no real purpose.

This new design was 3D printed on sprew in the Black Versatile Plastic.  The sprew helps reduce the cost of the parts.

The Bachmann OO Class 66 has, what I consider, to be a correctly positioned NEM socket, that is, it’s in the middle of all the rolling stock I’ve tested.  The new coupling fits perfectly and doesn’t look too out of place.

Compared to a standard Kadee in another Class 66, the new coupling looks okay, even if it’s a bit deeper.

The two coupled perfectly and as you can see the new coupling sticks up and down by 1mm, ideal if the coupled item of rolling stock has its NEM socket out of place.

This coupling length is based on a Kadee No. 19. which works well for most items, although I found Hornby coaches ended up with a larger gap between them than I liked, so a shorter version will be designed soon.

For now, these are available in packs of 10, 25, 50, and 150 and you can find them using the links below.

OO NEM Dummy Knuckle Coupling (Large) x10

OO NEM Dummy Knuckle Coupling (Large) x25

OO NEM Dummy Knuckle Coupling (Large) x50

OO NEM Dummy Knuckle Coupling (Large) x150

Once the length of a shorter coupling has been finalized, to reduce the gap between Hornby coaches etc, I will share this with you too.  But now it’s back to the drawing board as I have several projects to wrap up which I’ll also share with you in due course.

Alco C-855 N Scale ESU LokSound Install – Part 3 – Engine Speed Setup

Several weeks ago in July I shared with you my install of ESU Loksound sound decoders into a set of my Alco C-855 locomotives, you can find the post here.  Then in August, I showed you how I improved the running of the locomotives by adding some stay alive capacitors, you can find that post here.  In this week’s post, I’m going to share with you the final step which is setting up the sounds for multiple engines.

Most suppliers of ESU sound decoders give you a choice of sounds when you purchase the chip and they will load the sounds on for you.  But to add your own sounds or load on a downloaded sound scheme you need an ESU Lokprogramer and the accompanying software.  These, along with a computer, will allow you to change all of the settings of the decoder.

However, they can be fairly expensive so if you have your decoders with pre-loaded sound schemes you can use other devices to adjust the settings. For example, although I use a LokProgrammer I also use a Sprog II from sprog-dcc and the DecoderPro software from JMRI.  The Sprog II is relatively cheap and the DecoderPro software is free to download.  Together they will allow you to edit the setting of just about any DCC decoder but please note it will not allow the upload of sound files.

The sound file for the C-855 was downloaded from the ESU website and comes with all the normal functions such as horn, bell, coupling, etc.  The new versions also come with ESU’s Full Throttle settings. These include features such as Drive Hold, Independent Brake, Run 8 and Coast.

These functions can be fairly complex but in short, they work like this:

Drive Hold when pressed keep the model motor running at the same speed and as the throttle is increased or decreased the revs of the engine changes.  Ideal if you are pulling a slow heavy train uphill and you want it to sound like it’s working hard.

Independent Brake when activated slows the train to a stop without adjusting the setting on the throttle, when released it speeds up again to the throttle setting.

Run 8 when activated increases the sounds of the engines to maximum revs irrelevant to the speed of the train.  This is great when simulating a heavy train about to start moving and is my favorite Full Throttle function.

Coast reduces the revs of the engines to tick over irrelevant to the speed of the train.  This is great when running downhill or for light loco movements.

Out of the box, only the Drive Hold & Independent Brake are set up as you can see from the function list below:

F0 Directional Headlights
F1 Bell
F2 Playable Airhorn
F3 Coupler
F4 Dynamic Brake
F5 AUX3 (Rotary Beacon)
F6 AUX1 + AUX2 (Front Ditchlights)
F7 Switching Mode
F8 Sound (On/Off)
F9 Drive Hold
F10 Independent Brake
F11 Radiator (Fan) Sound
F12 Dimmer (Headlights)
F13 AUX4 (Rear Ditchlights)
F14 N/A
F15 Fast Spitter Valve
F16 Spitters on Shutdown
F17 Brake Set / Brake Release
F18 Sanding Valve
F19 Short Air Let-Off
F20 Compressor
F21 Slow Spitter Valve

As standard one of the first things I like to do for my trains is set the Run 8 function to the F5 key, as I don’t put rotary beacons on my models this key is free.  I will show how to do this first using the LokProgrammer and then with JMRI through the Sprog II.  One thing to note, it’s a good idea to save the setup before you alter it, that way if everything goes wrong you have a backup of the original settings.

In the LokProgrammer software, you can see what each function is assigned to in the function mapping tab.  As standard F5 is set to AUX3.

I change this as shown below.  I have also set F6 up as the coast function.

Sometimes, if you’re reading the settings form the locomotive rather than a downloaded file, the name of the sound does not appear, just the slot number.  By default Run 8 is normally sound slot 20 and Coast is sound slot 21.  The changes can then be written to the decoder.

With DecoderPro the process is similar but it takes a little longer as you need to read all the settings from the decoder before you adjust any, otherwise you could overwrite something you didn’t want to. (Please note the Decoder Pro Screenshots are from a different loco).

With the F5 & F6 corrections made the screen looks like this.

Normally that is enough setting up and here is a short video of a single C-855 staring up, then having the engines run with Drive Hold on and lastly the Run 8 function.  Because the C-855 had two diesel engines you here the first fire up then the second.  Also both engines run at slightly different speeds so they are not simply copies of each other, I will explain more about that later.

As the same sound file has been installed in all three locomotives, the two C-855s and the C-855B, all three locomotives are running on the same DCC address so they all respond at the same time, as you can hear below.

The volume is much louder as we now have three speakers pumping out the sound but the problem is although the two engines in each locomotive are running a different speeds, each locomotive sounds exactly the same.  And I don’t think Alco managed to achieve that!  So in order to improve the realism, I will set each of the six engine sounds so they all run at there own speeds.  The change doesn’t want to be much, but a little adjustment can make all the difference.  The great thing about the ESU decoders is you can make adjustments to individual sound files without affecting the overall sound.  After all, we want the bells and horns to be the same across all three locos.

With the LokProgrammer on the function mapping page F8, which turns the sound on and off, controls two sound slots called ‘Dual-ALCO-16cyl-251C-FT-PM#1’ and ‘Dual-ALCO-16cyl-251C-FT-PM#2’.

Clicking on the drop-down menu these are sound slot 1 and sound slot 23.

Switching to the ‘Sound Slot Settings’ tab the setting for all the sound slots can be adjusted.

As you can see below sound slot 1 has a maximum and minimum value of 126, which is 98.44% of the original speed.

But sound slot 23 is set to 130 which is 101.56% of the original speed.  And that’s how the two engines run at slightly different speeds.

So for the three locomotives, I will set the sound slots up as follows.

C-855 60 – Sound slot 1 = 126 (98.44%)
C-855 60 – Sound slot 23 = 130 (101.56%)
C-855B 60B – Sound slot 1 = 124 (96.88%)
C-855B 60B – Sound slot 23 = 128 (100.0%)
C-855 61 – Sound slot 1 = 132 (103.13%)
C-855 61 – Sound slot 23 = 136 (106.25%)

And they sound like this.

Of course, the difference between the locomotives could be increased to give an even more noticeable difference, the difference is a personal preference.

With Decoder Pro these settings are in the ‘Sound Levels’ tab.  Again you will need to read all the settings from the decoder first but you can save them so you don’t have to read all three locomotives.  As with the LokPrograammer software the ‘Function Map’ tab will tell you which sound slots are operated by function F8.

Sound files for the Mallet and articulated steam locomotives, such as the Big Boy, use the same system to archive slightly different chuff sounds for each set of cylinders.

There are lots of settings available with these decoders which allows you to customize your locomotive, or as in this case a set of three.

These C-855s are now finished and ready to rumble their way up the track.

Next week I’ll be looking at the next step in my OO NEM dummy knuckle couplers.

A Little Time Off

It’s been a few weeks since I last posted, but don’t panic I’m still here!  It’s been a busy summer, and as we neared the end of it I expected things to be a little quieter but I’ve been working at show and exhibitions supporting my wife’s business, which I hope will enable me to increase my purchase of trains and train-related travel!

Next week I’ll be back to my normal posts but for this week I just wanted to check in and let you know about a couple of shows which I’ll be at.

On October 20th the Poole Model Railway exhibition will be at the Poole Grammar School in Dorset.  You can find more about that here.

Along with my fellow modellers from the Gosport American Model Railway Group we’ll be taking all of our modular N Scale layout ‘Solent Summit, to the ‘WARLEY NATIONAL 2019′ show on the 23rd-24th November at the NEC in Birmingham.  You can read more about the show here.  The ‘WARLEY NATIONAL 2019′  is one of the largest shows in the country which is why we can take such a big layout.  With five scale miles of scenery, Solent Summit will be 65′ by 30’.

So if you’re coming to either of the shows I’ll see you there.

And as promised next week I’ll be back to my regular posts.

Alco C-855 N Scale ESU LokSound Install – Part 2 – Stay Alives

At the beginning of July I showed you how I install ESU LokSound decoders in my C-855 kits.  You can find the post here.  This week I’ll show you how I added a small stay alive system to improve the performance of the locomotives.

With just the ESU LokSound decoder and speaker installed in the C-855 chassis, as shown below, the loco ran reasonably well but it did hesitate a few times on some point work.

This hesitation was down to dirty contacts in the pickups.  As the power supply was briefly removed from the decoder the locomotive came to a stop and the sounds went off, then it went through its start up cycle again.  As the other two locos in the set are still trying to run, this can be fairly annoying.  As well as cleaning the contacts and wheels I decided to add some stay alive capacitance to each locomotive.  A stay alive system is just what it sounds like; it keeps the decoder alive when the power is briefly lost.  ESU do sell their own stay alive devices, which are very good, but they’re fairly expensive, so I prefer to make my own which also allows me to make them to fit whatever space I have.  The only components I use are capacitors, a resistor and a diode.

The capacitors are 220uF 16Vdc Tantalum capacitors, the resistor is a 100Ω 0.25w and the diode is a 1N4007.  These are all parts which are readily available from most electrical stores or online.

The capacitor is designed to be fitted to a circuit board and is very small, which is ideal for N Scale locomotives. 220uF means the unit has a capacitance of 220 micro farads. You can get similar size capacitors with more capacitance such as 330uF but the price goes up. The 16Vdc refers to the maximum amount of voltage the capacitor can handle; because N scale DCC systems run between 12v and 16v, and the decoder drops the voltage by around a 1.5v, the capacitor will be receiving between 10.5 and 14v, so I find these are fine.

Be careful when buying these Tantalum capacitors; there are a lot of cheap ones out there with a low quality control.  It may say 16Vdc but if they’re cheap that may be an approximation.  If you put too many volts onto a Tantalum capacitor it will blow up, very loudly and dramatically.  The best way I can describe it is like a Roman candle.  And you don’t want that happening inside your locomotive!  The SOO SD50 below just had that happen with some cheap capacitors and the flames went up in the air by about a foot and blew a hole in the shell before I had a chance to cut the power.  So I would recommend a quality supplier.

The Tantalum capacitors have two metal tabs on the rear to solder to and a strip on one side to indicate the positive connection.

For these locomotives I’ll be using a bank of three Tantalum capacitors connected in parallel, which will give 660uF.  That isn’t a lot and won’t keep the motor turning, but it will give a few seconds to the decoder to keep the sound running, which is all I need. With all three locomotives working together the momentum and power of two out of three will jog a stalled loco enough to get it moving again without the decoder losing power and restarting itself.  I’ve glued these three together with superglue.

I’m going to put the capacitors in front of the speaker.  There is room to put in more, and normally the more you have, the better, but I want the space for the other parts.

The resistor and diode perform two important tasks. They are both connected to the positive capacitor terminal and positive (blue wire) connection on the decoder.  The resistor is used when the system is charging.  Power flows from the positive connector on the decoder into the capacitor to charge it.  As it passes through the resistor the current is reduced, which causes the capacitor to charge slower than normal.  Otherwise the DCC command station would detect the inrush of current and think there’s a short circuit when you first put the loco on the track.   The diode is there to bypass the resistor when the stay alive system is in use.  If the track power is lost the power flows from the capacitor back into the positive connector, but we don’t want any resistance.  As the diode wire is thicker than the resistor’s I wrap the smaller wire around the larger, as shown below.

I then solder the connections.

And lastly trim off the excess.

The new ESU Loksound V5 Micro decoders have a Next 18 plug, as described in the earlier post, as well as six solder pads.

The two we’re interested in are shown below.  I have tinned the solder pads with solder.  The one on the right is the positive connection, which is the same as the blue wire.  The left pad is the DC negative or common ground for the decoder.

To join all the parts together I start with the capacitors.  Using the off-cuts from the resistor I join the capacitors together by soldering the wire to each pad.

I then solder the diode and resistor to the positive side ensuring the band on the diode is on the far side from the capacitors.  This is because DC power only flows one way through a diode, towards the band, and we want it to flow out of the capacitors to bypass the resistor when in use.

I then solder a wire to the diode and resistor and another to the negative side.

The assembly is then wrapped in Kapton tape, ensuring there is no connection between the negative and positive terminals, and fix it into the loco.

At the other end I solder the wires to the corresponding solder pads on the decoder, ensuring there is enough wire to allow the decoder to be plugged back into the socket.

The decoder can then be plugged back in and the chassis is ready to go.

All three chassis have now been fitted with stay alive units and the bodies have been fitted, but you’ll need to wait until next week to hear what they sound like when I’ll also show you how to program the decoders so that each of the six Alco 251C prime movers sound slightly different.

Plugging it all Together With Anderson Powerpoles

In July of 2016 I shared with you how we join our modular layout, ‘Solent Summit’, together electrically using ‘Chock Blocks’.  You can find the post here.  Since then we’ve improved on this system by using Anderson Powerpole plugs.

The ‘Chock Blocks’ worked well for several years but the more we used the layout, and the larger it gets, we started to notice more and more that wires would get pulled out, the pins in the male sections would need spreading to ensure a good contact, and we were chasing electrical problems.

So we looked around for another solution.  There are several out there and they vary in design and price, but in the end we settled on Anderson Powerpole.  These are not the cheapest but the quality and reliability, so far, has been outstanding.  These have also been the standard connector for the NTRAK Modular Railroading Society since 2005.

There were three things that stood out to us, other than the quality of the product.  Firstly, the plugs are universal, which means there is no Male or Female sections, just one plug which connects to any other Powerpole.  Secondly, the plugs can be assembled in any order to make a connector to suit your needs; if you connect a wire to the wrong location you can simply move the Powerpole.  Thirdly, the Powerpole casings are the same size for the three different wire size fittings so you can easily combine different wire sizes.

The only disadvantage to the system, apart from the cost, is you need a special crimp tool, but that’s it.

The basic system looks like this; a crimp tool, plastic connectors and wire crimps.

The connectors come in a variety of colours.

The crimp tool is fairly large but very easy to use, as you’ll see later on.

The crimp connectors come in three sizes; 15 amp, 30 amp & 45 amp.  As we’re working with model railways 15 amp is more than sufficient, but we also have some of the 30 amp crimps simply because they are designed for larger wire.  Below are the 15 and 30 amp crimps.  The circular part is for the wire and the shaped section fits into the plastic connector.

For my new Tehachapi Loop modules I’ll be using the 15 amp crimps.  This orange wire needs to be linked across the two modules.

I strip the wire back by about the same length as the circular section on the crimp using a regular set of wire strippers and twist the ends together.  Twisting the ends ensures there are no stray strands.

The crimp tool has three positions, one for each crimp size.  The tool is ratcheted so it won’t spring open, allowing you to place the crimp in the jaws without it falling out.  The wire can then be placed into the crimp and the tool squeezed.  Once the tool reaches the right amount of compression on the crimp the ratchet releases and the tool opens up.  As I said before, it’s very easy to use.

The end of the wire is now crimped and is very securely fixed.

The plastic housing has a metal plate inside which the shaped section of the crimp pushes over.  Once it’s in it won’t pull back out; the cutaway image below (from Wikipedia) shows how it fits.

The plug can then be added to a plug block which can be assembled in any configuration.  Each plug has grooves on two sides and a raised section which fit into the grooves on the the other two sides.  And as I said before should you get one in the wrong place, one of the greens for example, it’s easy to slide them apart and correct the positioning.

To make unpacking and packing the modules quicker, as well as protecting the wires in transport, we’ve glued a singe Powerpole plug to the underside of the modules so the connector group can be secured.

The Powerpoles push together easily and hold well, but when you want to pull them apart it can be done without a lot of force.

As you can see they’re ideal for modular layouts.  In the main connector I have several small wires and the larger main bus wires, which use the 30amp crimps.

The Anderson Powerpoles are available from lots of places including Amazon and Ebay as is the crimp tool.  We have now converted all of our modules to this system and so far it has proved to be well worth it.

OO Gauge Fixed Link Wagon Couplings Revisit – Part 2

Last month I revisited my OO Gauge Fixed Link Wagon Couplings, you can find the post here, and last week the sample set arrived so now I can show you how they worked out.

The sample set, as pictured below, contained 8 couplings.  There’s a mixture of 3 Link and Instanter couplings with some being straight and some stepped.  (See the coupling page here to find out what each is for).

The biggest different to the couplers was the removal of the flexible section which was the weakest point.

To test the couplings properly I paid a visit to the McKinley Railway which uses a mixture of Kadee couplers and these 3D printed couplers for its wagons.  For the test we made up a train with a variety of couplings.

At the start we had some box vans with Kadee couplings installed.

Then we had one of the new 3D printed Instanter couplings.

Followed by a 3D printed 3 Link coupling.

And at the back were three vans connected with my 3D printed coach drawbars.  These have not been released yet so I will have more on those in a later post.

The 3D printed couplings clip directly into the NEM sockets; these box vans all have their couplings sockets at the same height so the stepped couplings are not required.

For the test the requirement was fairly simple.  Will the couplings without the flexible section allow the train to navigate corners, ‘S’ bends and junctions without pulling the box vans off the rails?  And the answer is ‘yes’, as you can see in the video below.  The train was sent all over the layout, at full speed, including passing through the yards, tight curves and junctions where speed is normally reduced.

Of course running forwards the train is being pulled but what about pushing the train?  In the video below you can see the train being propelled through a busy set of junctions at max speed, which was way too fast, with no issues right until the end when the last box van derails due to a wheel issue.  But the couplings worked.

I do need to point out that although these are much stronger than the original version they are still made from the same material and will break if over-twisted, just not so easily.

Now the new version has been tested and proven to work without the fragile flexible section I’ll work through the range and update the shop.  I’ll add a note to each relevant product to mark it as the second version but if you’re unsure if it’s been upgraded before you buy please drop me an email or get in touch via the contact page and I can check for you.