Adding DCC To Older Locomotives With Smoke Units

Hello all, my apologies for the silence over last month.  It’s been a very busy time and I’ve been doing a lot of work away from home making it hard to work on trains, draw and generally model railroad.  But I’m back and to start with I have a ‘How To’ to share with you regarding adding DCC to an older steam locomotive with a smoke unit.

A perfect example of this is the Hornby Schools Class 4-4-0 as shown below.  This is not to be confused with the new Hornby Schools DCC-ready locomotives which are a very different model.

These earlier models were only designed for analog or DC operation only.  They are tender driven with the tender wheels picking up power from one rail and the locomotive the other.  Adding a DCC decoder is fairly easy but what makes it complicated is the smoke unit.

With the loco shell removed and you can see the smoke unit which has been pulled out of the boiler.  Normally this locomotive only picks up power from one rail, as previously mentioned, but when Hornby added the smoke unit they added a pickup to both rails but this extra pickup only feeds the smoke unit.  This is because, as standard, there’s only one electrical connection to the tender via the drawbar.

In the image above I’ve run four wires through the loco cab into the tender where the DCC decoder and motor are.  Two are from the power pickups bypassing the electrical connection in the drawbar to utilize the extra pickups for the decoder.  The other two are connected to the common DCC wire (blue) and the auxiliary wire (green) and go straight to the smoke unit.

The smoke unit itself is an oil reservoir with a heating element in it.  It runs on 12v DC and sends out smoke when it gets hot.

Normally on DC or analog operation the smoke unit works very well, getting hotter as the locomotive goes faster because of the voltage increases.  But it also draws much more current than a headlight or other features.  So when connected directly to the DCC decoder, as shown above, the amount of smoke is restricted by the current capacity of the decoder.  The particular decoder fitted in this locomotive has a maximum current output of 250mA for its functions, which is not enough to make the smoke unit work.

To solve this some electronics can be added which will allow the smoke unit to draw power directly from the track, but still be turned on and off from the DCC decoder.  To do this I use a bridge rectifier and a relay.

The bridge rectifier, on the left, converts AC power to DC.  The DCC power in the track is basically AC with the DCC signal embedded. This device, which is a set of four diodes, will convert the power to a clean DC power supply that will drive the smoke unit as if it was on full power.  The relay is an electronic switch that can be operated by the DCC decoder and only draws a very small amount of power.  But the switch inside can be used to connect things that draw lots of power, such as the smoke unit.  This particular relay is a Double Pole Double Through (DPDT) switch, which means it can switch two separate wires between two contacts at the same time, but I will simply use it as an on-off switch.  I like it because it’s very small.

The two input connections on the bridge rectifier connect directly to the power pickups in the loco.  The outputs go to the smoke unit with one wire passing through the relay. The symbols on the bridge rectifier are shown below.  The two wavey lines are the AC connections and the positive and negative symbols are the DC.

The relay has 8 pins.  Pins zero and one are the two wires, common(blue) and auxiliary (green) from the decoder which turn the relay on and off. I used pins two and four for the smoke unit.  With the relay off they’re not connected, but when it’s on they are.

I soldered the wires to the components and used heat shrink to cover the bare wires as they could cause an issue if they touched the metal chassis.

Because the parts are small they can both be tucked into the boiler behind the smoke unit, so they’re out of the way when the locomotive shell is refitted.

This fitted DCC decoder has been set up so F1 turns auxiliary on and off.  When the locomotive is sat on a live DCC track pressing F1 will cause the loco to smoke even though it’s stood still.  This could never have been done on DC as the smoke unit needs to heat up and the train would already be moving before that happened.

These parts are readily available from places like Radio Shack, RS components or even some model shops and are an easy way to overcome the issue.   This can also be used when fitting an aftermarket smoke unit such as Seuthe.  I’ve fitted a pair of Seuthe smoke units to a double chimney locomotive using this method with great results.

Next week I plan to have some news on one of my upcoming 3D printed locomotive projects to share with you.