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.

A Dummy Knuckle Coupler for OO Gauge – Part 2

Today I had a delivery from Shapeways containing some parts I’ve been waiting a while for and I thought I’d share them with you before I get a chance to really test them out fully.

As well as several other bits the package contained the two parts below.

The white jumble of parts contains many bits, from gears to couplings all on one sprew, which have been 3D printed in Shapeways Fine Detail Plastic.  The parts I’m interested in for this post are the couplings; there is a new sample set of my 3 Link and Instanter fixed couplings without the flexible section and a set of dummy Kadee couplings.

The new 3 Link and Instanter fixed couplings will be covered in a later post as they need to be tested on a OO layout and as I’m an N scaler that is a little difficult tonight but the dummy Kadees can be test fitted now.  Below you can see one next to an actual Kadee with the NEM fitting.

The dummy’s fit together well and there’s a bit of movement to allow for rotation.

They also fit well into the real Kadee.  However, they rotate well in one direction, as shown below, but in the other direction the left hand side of the dummy catches the lug designed  to hold the Kadee spring to the knuckle jaw.  This can easily be rectified by reducing the length of the left hand side.

I do have one OO Gauge loco to hand with NEM pockets and it’s a Bachmann Class 66.  The new dummy coupling clipped right into place and looks good.

As I only have the one item with NEM sockets to hand tonight I can’t do much more testing than holding the original Kadee up so you can see how well they fit.

But what about the black mesh cylinder?

This is how I 3D print my N Gauge Short Rapido Replacements in Shapeways Black Versatile Plastic; you can read about those here.  I added a few dummy Kadee couplings into the cylinder as well to see how they printed in this material.

And I must say they came out even better than expected.  They fit perfect with the Fine Detail Plastic set and the original Kadee.

Plus they also fit perfectly into the NEM socket as you can see on the class 66 below.

As the Black Versatile Plastic ones come pre coloured, are more flexible, strong and don’t need to be cleaned before painting I think these will be the ones to use.  But as with the new 3 Link and Instanter fixed couplings it’s now off to the actual OO railway for some proper testing before I’ll know if they really work.  I’ll let you know more when the testing is done.

A Review of My OO Gauge Fixed Link Wagon Coupling’s

This week I had hoped to bring you the next post about fitting ESU Loksound decoders to three Alco C-855s but time has been rather short this week and they’re not ready yet.  You can find the first post here.

So this week I’ll simply leave you with a review of my 3D printed ‘OO Gauge Fixed Link Wagon Coupling’s’ by Charlie at Chadwick Model Railway.

Thanks to Charlie for the review, for me it’s back to the work bench, until next week.

Alco C-855 N Scale ESU LokSound Install – Part 1

As well as being an iconic-looking locomotive the huge Alco C-855 also had an individual sound being powered by two Alco 16cyl 251C prime movers.  Together they developed 5,500 horse power and would’ve really rumbled as they passed by.  ESU have captured the right sounds and made them available for their V4.0 and new V5 LokSound decoders so in this post I’ll show you how I install sound into these locomotives.

Although the chassis has a step down section at the rear of the locomotive I wanted to add a good size speaker to ensure the sound has some bass to it.  The easiest solution is to cut a section out of the top chassis as you can see below.

Cutting the chassis just behind the inner screws leaves enough room for the speaker and provides a plastic shelf for it to sit on above the worm gear. The worm gear is below the top of the plastic so it won’t catch the speaker.  The chassis has already had parts cut out of the chassis making it lighter.  But given the sheer size of the locomotive, the fact that it pulls like a tractor anyway, and it will be running in a set of three, a little more removed will not be a problem.

The new Lokssound V5 micro sound decoder is a neat package and comes with a good 4 ohm speaker already attached and parts to assemble a speaker enclosure.  This chip came with an 8 pin plug, but as it will be hardwired in, the plug will be cut off.

Unlike the V4.0 Micro decoders which had different plugs soldered to the decoder all the V5 decoders are actually the same.  Below you can see copper pads on top of the chip.  This is actually a removable part with a Next18 socket underneath.  Next18 means it has 18 wire connections.

The chip looks like this.  The six copper solder pads next to the plug are for auxillary functions 5, 6 & 7 as well as stay alive connections.

The underside of the socket has no connections.

The flexible cable can be cut off leaving the socket section and copper solder pads.  The pads include track power positive & negative, motor positive & negative, speaker positive & negative, front & rear headlights, auxillary 1 & 2 and the common positive.

I will be mounting the decoder at the front of the locomotive behind the cab.  There are two ideal power fixing points to connect to.  Bridge wires will also need to be run to the corresponding screws at the rear of the chassis because the glue used to extend the chassis isolates the parts.  See the previous post about fitting a decoder to read more about this, which can be found here.

The original chassis came with a light bulb for the headlight which was attached to the screws via a contact plate.  But as this will need four connections, and I’ve lost the original plates, it’s easy to make some more.  For this I tend to use the excess solid core wire from a resistor, as shown below.

I wrap the wire around the screw.

Solder the ends together.

Cut off the rest of the wire and it’s ready to go.

The one screw which is sunken into the chassis, behind the one with the new contact, can’t be modified in the same way.  For this one I simply strip off enough insulation from the wire and wrap it around the screw twice.  Then as the screw is tightened down it grips the wire.  Make sure you wrap the wire clockwise so as the screw is tightened it doesn’t undo the wire.

With all the connections soldered to the pads the socket can be seated into the area behind the front screw.  But as the chassis is metal it will short out on all the solder pads, so cover the area with Kapton tape first.

The socket can then be put in place and the wires taped down.  Remember to set the wires in the middle of the chassis otherwise the shell will not seat properly.

One thing to note is the decoder will be sat directly above the screws which are delivering track power so the decoder should also be wrapped in Kapton tape, except for the Next18 plug.

The ESU speaker enclosure comes in four parts.  A base, two thin sections and one thick allowing different heights to be made.  Even with the chassis cut down one of the thin sections will need to be left out.  I use superglue to fix the enclosure together and to the speaker frame, ensuring not to get any on the actual speaker.

The assembled speaker can then be placed at the rear of the chassis with the wire connections at the top facing forwards.

The top of the speaker is just about in line with the top of the decoder which sits just under the roof line of the shell.

You may have also noticed the brown wires from the decoder socket were not quite long enough.  I could’ve replaced them but it was just as easy to extend them, covering the joint with heat shrink. If you’ve never worked with heat shrink before I did a ‘how-to’ on it which can be found here.

With the decoder plugged in the chassis is now ready for its trucks and then testing.  This particular chassis is for a C-855 B unit so I haven’t added any headlights, but both the C-855 A units will have lights, so I added wires from the socket and included a resistor which is tucked under the front of the decoder.  Below you can see all three chassis ready to be fitted to their respective shells.

The chassis have been tested and sound very good but installing the shells will add an extra level of resonance, increasing the volume. Once they are totally finished and fitted I’ll share a video with you so you can hear all six Alco 251C prime movers running.