DCC and Small Layouts

As I worked through a short list of minor tasks today on Queens Wharf, and on a piece of rolling stock I’m trying to complete before the upcoming exhibition I’ll be attending in May, some comments came to mind that someone had made to me quite a few years ago. These comments had revolved around why I had chosen to use DCC on a layout that was so small it would only ever likely have “one loco in steam” on it at any one time.

At the second or third exhibition I took Queens Wharf to I was sitting down for a meal with a group of HO modellers who were all operating a layout that had been built by their club when the conversation turned to DCC. One of the members enquired why I had bothered to use a DCC system. I carefully explained my reasons for the decisions I’d made but this didn’t seem to satisfy him. He became quite rude and I could see his friends were becoming quite uncomfortable although he didn’t seem to notice. Later one of them came up to me and told me not to take any notice of him, he was like that with everyone 🙂

I’m not sure why, but today that conversation came back to me quite strongly as I sat and watched and listened to one of my locos run back and forth on QW. So why did I choose to use DCC on such a small layout with only one locomotive? The first and most compelling reason is the ability to have sound decoders in my locomotives. If DCC offered no other feature aside from this, I think I would still choose to use it. Having sound emanating from my locomotives transforms the experience of driving them. It’s as if broadening the sensory experience from the visual to include sound draws me into a closer relationship to the moving loco. I’m not quite transported into the cabin but I’ve never felt the same way about operating a silent locomotive, especially one in the smaller scales, as I do about one with sound.

I believe that a sometimes overlooked advantage of using DCC, and the other compelling reason I chose to use it on QW, is the simplicity that driving a locomotive, as opposed to feeding power to a length of track, brings to moving trains. I still occasionally make mistakes using DCC, but I find that the beautiful simplicity inherent in being able to switch a headlight on and off before you start to move is a great boon, especially now that I’m not as young as I used to be. It’s a lot easier to see a light go on and off from 25′ away than to try to work out whether a loco is moving from the same distance, especially if it’s coming straight at you.

However I think what brought that conversation back to me today was the way the experience of driving one locomotive on QW has never lost its appeal for me. I don’t really consider myself a “shunter” at heart: I like long strings of wagons being hauled behind a couple of big locos as much as the next person. However I have a feeling that I get a lot more enjoyment out of moving one loco and a couple of four-wheeled wagons about than a lot of modellers get out of a whole fleet of locos. I may be kidding myself but I think the style of layout, combined with the volume of the equipment plus DCC sound and the flexibility this provides seems to make for a much richer experience. The fact that I’ve spent most of the last 10 years with only one loco might say something about the value for money O-scale provides…

One other thing that came to mind today: I wonder whether my opinionated dinner partner ever converted his fleet of locos to DCC? I like to think not: according to him I had to few locos to bother using DCC, he probably had too many 🙂

1 thought on “DCC and Small Layouts

  1. Good day Trevor,

    How are things today? I hope all is well!

    I can tell you that from going to a display (running a display) that sound coming out of the loco is like a people magnet! People who are not modelers are drawn by the sound of a train whistle!!! And I like a little bit of sound! And on top of that you can run your whole Empire from the controller. Turn on and off building lights and animation, run turnouts. I’m in the same boat as you. In my planned layout there will never by more than 1 loco running(so it says here in small print) and I have chose to go with DCC as well. So I think it a strong point to go with DCC even on a small Empire, simple because it gives you ease of expansion!

    I do plan on having some sort of animation on my Empire, nothing corny. Would like to have moving auto’s but not enough road! Would run off the side of the layout!!!!

    Jeff Smith
    Sunny Yuma, AZ.

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