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.

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.

EMD DD35 With Body Mount Couplers – Part 2

In last week’s post I shared with you my design and 3D print of an N Scale EMD DD35 with body mounted couplings.  You can find the post here.  In this week’s post I’m going show how well it worked.

The new EMD DD35 shell, as shown below, is sat on a modified Bachmann DDA40X chassis which has been shortened and had its pilots cut off.

The 3D printed pilots have pockets to receive a Micro-Trains body mount coupling.  This can either be a Type 1015 (Short shank) or a 1016 (Medium shank) and there’s a 3D printed hole in the pilot to receive the mounting screw.

I’ve used the 1016 as the extra length will help with the curves.  Because the coupling rotates slightly off of the screw, the longer arm will mean the coupling can swivel closer to the center of the tracks, which is the ideal location.  The further away the coupling gets from the center the greater the risk of it pulling the train off the tracks.

On our layout ‘Solent Summit’ the tightest radius is in the yards at 16″.  Below you can see the new DD35 coupled up to two originals with the truck mounted couplings.  The three run around the 180° bend with ease and there’s still slack in the couplings.

The middle DD35 has the standard McHenry couplings as supplied by Bachmann.

The McHenry sits a little high compared to the micro trains but the connection is good under tension.  Because the couplings naturally spring straight they will not couple up on the bend, they are way too far out of line, but they don’t seem to be affected once coupled.

In order to test the couplings properly I assembled a train powered by a GP35, GP20, GP7, the new DD35, a dummy DD35, a original powered DD35 and another GP20.  All followed by 42 cars and a caboose.

Apart from being lots of fun, the idea behind all the motive power, some 23,000 horsepower with the new DD35 in the middle, was to see how the couplings worked with pulling and pushing forces. The train, comprised of a lot of older rolling stock, had a lot of drag which added to the draw bar pull.  The big train made its way around the layout, through s bends and the 16″ radius yard curves, several times with no problems at all.

But as the other DD35s had truck mounted couplings, the GP locos being short and the box cars in the train also being short, all their couplings were close to the center of the track.  To make this a decent test the new DD35 needed to be connected to other long locomotives and freight cars with body mounted couplings.  And luckily there was one on the layout.  The train in the video below, built by my fellow modeller Chris, has two Kato SD80MAC locomotives pulling a long line of Atlas 85′ trash cars.

Both the SD80MACs and the trash cars have body mounted couplings so they will swing out further on the bends.

The trash car has Atlas Acumate couplings which as you can see work well with the Micro Train couplings.  There’s some swing on the Atlas coupling but it’s rotating about the end of the car, not the truck center point.

The Kato coupling seemed a little low, or the DD35 body may have lifted and I didn’t notice untill I got home and looked at the photos but it didn’t cause an issue.  The Kato coupling rotates about the end of the loco.

Leaving the East yard the train runs through an s bend, around at tight corner and out onto the layout and the DD35 with its body mounted couplings did this with ease.

It’s possible the shorter 1015 coupling will also work and if the tightest curve is 18″ or 20″ radius then it certainly will.  But I think 16″ is about the smallest radius for the new DD35.

I have a few other things to check and then I’ll make the new DD35 shell kit with pilots and body mounted couplings available to buy.

3D Printing The Right Way Up

In last week’s post I spoke about Shapeways’ ‘Orientation Tool’ for their FUD and FXD materials and my intention to make all my locomotive shells available with this option.  You can read the post here.

My plan was to have both the new orientated models available as ‘Deluxe’ versions and the originals as a cheaper option.  And that’s what I’ve done with the Alco C-855 and C-855B.  However, after working through the other models it became apparent that the price didn’t really change.  By moving the position of parts the price of the model dropped and so the increase caused by using the ‘Orientation Tool’ setting was offset.  So all the other models have simply been converted to have the ‘Orientation Tool’ set for the best quality print by making it print the right way up.

Locomotive shells without the orientation set:

Alco C-855

Alco C-855B

Locomotive shells with the orientation set:

Alco C-855 Deluxe

Alco C-855B Deluxe

Alco C855 Shell Only

Alco C855B Shell Only

Baldwin DT6-6-2000

Baldwin DT6-6-2000 Dummy

Baldwin DT6-6-2000 Shell Only

Baldwin RT-624

Baldwin RT-624 Shell Only

EMD DD35

EMD DD35 Dummy

The new locomotive shells I’m working on will all be set to the best print quality from the start and the models will be designed to make them less expensive in the printer.  So for now the ‘Deluxe’ versions just apply to the large Alco C-855s but maybe this will come in useful with some of the HO scale locomotives I have planned, allowing me to offer differently priced versions.

Getting Things The Right Way Round

3D printing locomotive shells with Shapeways has always been a gamble as regards to the orientation of the shell on the print bed.  Understandably, in order keep the cost of the print sensible, the print ended up on its side or totally upside-down as this is the cheapest way for them to print.  The disadvantage is often the best surface finish would be on the underside of the model.

However back in the beginning of October this year Shapeways added their ‘Orientation Tool’ for the FUD and FXD materials allowing the 3D print orientation to be fixed by the designer; me!  You can read more about the tool on my post here.

My original intention was to immediately set all my locomotive shells to print orientated in such a way as to give the best finish possible.  But this does come at a cost,  especially with large locomotives like my Alco C-855 which has a huge volume of space under the shell.  This space needs to be totally filled with support material in order to print the roof.

After experimenting with different compromises and ideas I came to the conclusion that I didn’t want to cut corners; the best has to be available for those who want it but it was unfair to simply push all the prices up to achieve this.  So I have decided to offer both:  prints as they have always been as well as the shells with the orientation which will be set at the higher price.

My new models on Shapeways will be called ‘Deluxe’ and will include the Alco C-855 & C-855B, the EMD DD35 and the Baldwin DT6-6-2000 & RT-624.

Both models will be offered in FUD and FXD materials.  The FXD ‘Deluxe’ will be the ultimate 3D print available.  Hopefully all the models will be available on Shapeways by next week’s post.

As for new locomotive shells designs, well, I may design them differently.  Doing things such as making the roof a separate part would bring the cost down dramatically by reducing the amount of support material needed, but this does raise some stability issues as well as creating a joint which would need to be concealed. However that’s the challenge, and I do have something on the drawing board, but that will have to wait for another post.

3D Print Orientation Tool

My apologies for missing a post last week; I was travelling around Northern France on my motorbike, and I had a spectacular time, so hopefully you’ll understand!

Getting back to trains; this week I have some images to share with you from a 3D print which just arrived from Shapeways.  This model has been printed many times in the materials Frosted Ultra Detail and Frosted Extreme Detail, but what makes this different from the previous prints is using one of Shapeways’ new tools: I was able to specify the orientation of the print.

Why is orientation important?  With FUD and FXD 3D printing, the print material sits on a support material, which is a form of corn oil.  This support material, despite being very fine, leaves a slight imprint on the surfaces it touches, whereas the top of the 3D print is normally smooth.  Therefore we ideally want the surface with all the detail to be at the top.  However, the support material is fairly expensive, not as much as the print material, but lots of it can soon add up.  So Shapeways have previously positioned 3D printed models to minimize the amount of support material needed.  This means models like locomotive shells, which are basically bath tub shape, would get printed upside down to avoid the whole inside being filled with support material.  The models, as many of you know, still come out very well, as you can see in the images below.  This particular DT6-6-2000 shell was printed upside down in FUD.

The detail’s good but there’s still a level of fuzziness on the surface.

The inside of the shell is nice and smooth.

As you may have read in some of my previous posts Shapeways have reduced the cost of the FUD and FXD materials almost by half and added a charge for the support material used; so I can keep the orientation as it was and have a slightly cheaper model. But here’s where the choice of orientation is really good news. Now that they’ve added a tool which allows me to specify which way I want the model to be printed  I can guarantee all the crisp detail is on top and pay a bit more for the extra support material.

And that’s what I’ve done.

This DT6-6-2000 shell has also been 3D printed in the FUD material, which is not such a fine material as the FXD, but I think this is the best DT6-6-2000 shell I’ve received so far.  All the details are crisp and the top surfaces are smooth.  The images above were taken the day the shell was delivered before cleaning it.

The shell still had a waxy feel, which is normal as the corn oil leaves a residue.  To remove this I always soak my models in Goo Gone for 24 hours.  Many others use Bestine in the US but I’ve found Goo Gone works well for me.  The images below show the model after it’s come out of the Goo Gone, been rinsed under the tap and left to dry overnight.  Before I put any paint on it will need a bit longer to dry and I’ll give it a dust-off with a soft brush in a Dremel tool.  This is because any remaining corn oil residue will turn to powder as the model dries.  But as you can see the detail is very crisp.

And all the main surfaces are smooth.

So from now on I’ll be setting all my new models with the ‘Orientation Tool’ so the best detail gets the best print.  I’ll also be working through my existing models and making the change, but if the price difference is large I may offer the model with and without this option.  If you are about to order a 3D print and would like to know if the tool has been used, or what the price would be if it has not, please send me an email or get in touch via the contact page.

The quality of the 3D printed models we’ve been ordering from Shapeways has always been good, but this new tool takes the standard up and as modelers, we all like to get the best out of our hobby, so I hope you’re as excited as I am about this great new development!