The Doyen Of Decoders

About 9 years ago when I originally built Pioneer – my 0-6-0 Manning Wardle – from a mix of scratch and kit parts the world was simpler place. We had DCC sound decoders and one of these marvels was installed inside Pioneer and it made her sound pretty smick! But when it came to lights I was in the dark ages: Pioneer made her first public appearance with one small lamp flashing away trying to pretend to be a firebox. It was pretty paltry but then I consoled myself with the knowledge that I didn’t have a single photo of Pioneer showing her with any sort of lights, not even a kero lamp. She must have carried them at times, you could see the lamp brackets in the photos, but she never had a headlamp of any type that I could discern.

Fast forward to 2015. In the past decade I’ve built several locos and installed a DCC sound decoder in each of them. These decoders come with an ever-increasing range of sophisticated lighting effects. In fact I firmly believe that the lighting effects have probably improved at a greater rate than the sound. However for me by far the greatest change in the use I make of the capabilities has been brought about by a fellow by the name of John Parker. Like myself John happens to model the NSWR in 1:43.5 and over the last few years he has written a series of articles on installing DCC sound decoders into a range of different O-scale locomotives and had these published in 7th Heaven, the newsletter of the Aus7 Modellers Group. In these articles he details in words short enough for me to understand a series of steps a modeller might take to get not just all the bells and whistles working on said loco but also the lights. If a modeller in any scale had no other reason to join the Aus7 Modellers Group having access to these DCC article gems would make the $35pa cost worthwhile. For me perhaps the greatest revelation has been the uses to which John puts humble Vero board. On this relatively simple copper clad strip board he designs and assembles a world of ingenious circuits that would make Marconi weep. By reading the articles John has written in 7th Heaven he has helped me turn my electronic spaghetti into sinuous tresses of wire.

John Parker is a doyen of the decoder, a virtuoso of the volt! Cursed be his name! 🙂 Let me explain.

After some interesting weather patterns over the central coast of Qld these past few days I decided to stay put this weekend which gave me a good deal of time to work on Pioneer. I spent several hours working on the mechanism of the loco and by about mid-day today I’d just about ironed all the bugs out. As I had essentially got the mechanism running satisfactorily I began doing some serious planning about what lighting effects I wanted to install on the loco. The one effect that I’d originally had on Pioneer was a firebox flicker and I was determined at the very least to have this included on Pioneer MkII. The original firebox flicker had been produced by a tiny lamp sticking through the firebox door and the effect was less than impressive. I began planning to replace this early effort with an LED alternative and this is progressing satisfactorily though the use of a small segment of an LED interior lighting strip.

My original plan had been to install some bi-colour lamps front and rear and I’d purchased some DCC Concepts r-t-r bi-coloured guards lamps. These are a relatively recent addition to the DCC Concepts range and are nominally rated as S-scale/O-scale. Having removed them from the packaging I find they really are too small for use in the application I planned for them and I’ve also discovered that they shine red out of one side and white out of the other side. This was not made clear in the material I read on the lamps before I purchased them and this feature makes them inappropriate for the application I had planned for them. I want them to shine red and white from the same side depending on direction of travel so I’ve changed plans and will now use some brass castings to represent two bi-coloured lamps on the rear coal bunker. At the time of writing this I’m considering putting a large head lamp on the front of the loco. Now while Pioneer probably never sported an electric headlight I’m using my modellers licence to extend her life well into the middle of the 20th Century. As an old loco working on a pier in the middle of the 20th Century I reckon I can justify her acquiring a headlight. However I do need to track down a generator casting!

Now we come to the problem. You may remember if you have read my earlier posts on Pioneer that I had my fingers crossed that I wouldn’t have to make too many modifications to Pioneer above the footplate. What do they say about the best laid plans? After I got Pioneer out of storage I took a good look at her and noticed that on the rear coal bunker there was some troubling bubbling in the paint-work. At that stage I didn’t know what was causing this but I had a sneaking suspicion that it might be caused by the coal in the top of the bunker. I took a look at it, kidded myself that it made the paint-work look “weathered” and manfully tried to ignore it. Until today. After my decision to use the brass lamp castings for two rear lamps on the loco I had to find a way to feed the wires from the lamps to the decoder and I began to think about the types of LEDs I might employ. Taking a look at the dimensions of the coal bunker it struck me that one of John’s fancy vero board circuits would probably fit into this little box but I would need access to the inside. Within about 2 minutes Pioneer was sitting on my workbench minus her coal bunker.

This shows the stage I've got to in the "minor" changes I was planning to make to Pioneer's bodywork.

This shows the stage I’ve got to in the “minor” changes I was planning to make to Pioneer’s bodywork.

After I’d managed to pry the coal bunker from Pioneer the damage being caused by something on this part of the loco became apparent and when I managed to pry the bunker open I found the space inside crammed with a strange cocktail of yellow powder, green crystals and glue residues.

This photo shows the two halves of the coal bunker. While they look pretty messed up it might pay to note this photo was taken after I'd stripped the paint off, scrubbed the inner surfaces with some wet and dry paper and prised off the glue and lead weight that had been inside. So this is the cleaned up version!

This photo shows the two halves of the coal bunker. While they look pretty messed up it might pay to note this photo was taken after I’d stripped the paint off, scrubbed the inner surfaces with some wet and dry paper and pried off the glue and lead weight that had been inside. So this is the cleaned up version!

I’m no chemist but the green and yellow staining I found inside look like some type of sulphuric acid reaction, possibly when the sulphur in the coal I’d used came into contact with the brass of the body or the lead weight. Whatever the causes of this outcome I spent a good deal of this afternoon trying to clean the components up sufficiently to allow me to recycle them back into the rebuilt loco. After scraping and cleaning for an hour or so I decided to give myself a break and take a look at how wide I needed the cavity inside the coal bunker to be to allow me to use the tower LEDs I’d settled on as the ones I wanted in this application. It turned out that I was about 1mm short of space and then came the dilemma: do I use some alternative type of LED combination or do I cut some new components and build a new, slightly wider bunker than would allow me to fit one of John’s vero board circuits? The blank parts for the new coal bunker are sitting on my workbench.

So why am I cursing poor old John Parker for this outcome? Well if it hadn’t been for him and his flipping lighting articles I would probably have been satisfied with a better firebox flicker and left the “weathered” coal bunker where it was, saving me lot of work in the process. But of course after having put lights and sound in a few of my other locos following John’s instructions I couldn’t leave well enough alone could I? I have to go changing things!

NSWR 7mm modellers are very lucky to have people like John working in our scale. Just not today! 🙂

 

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3 thoughts on “The Doyen Of Decoders

  1. Hi Trevor if you are going to put lamps on the loco why not put the LED lights in the lamps
    They are not that hard to do and if you don’t want to solder up your self they are avalable from the LED Barron in Germany they also have a ebay shop (no translation issues) or lots of Ebay from China options
    You can get white/red combo that can be fitted inside the lamps, a tip if you order pre wired get the long tails 30cm only costs a $1 more but much more user friendly when routing the wires through a loco body.
    Link to photo of ones I make up 1000 SMD LED’s $15 enamelled wire $5
    Little Lights  SMD LED To be mounted in loco lights
    Little Lights  SMD LED To be mounted in loco lights

    Lights in use in 50 class cab cab roof / gauge glass light and multiple Fire box flickers all SMD LED’s photo with phone so not the greatest quality.
    Model Train loco 5235 with DCC lighting Effects Footplate lights
    The Bi coloured LED’s fit nicely in Oaust marker lights
    It seems I have neglected to take a photo of them

    • Chris,
      Thanks. I thought I’d made it clear in my post that the things you’re suggesting are exactly what I plan to do. The lamps will have LED’s in the that will be attached to a vero board circuit I’ll be making up when John redesigns it for me so that it will fit into the coal bunker.
      Trevor

      • This reply was just to show you a another option for LED’s
        Quote “It turned out that I was about 1mm short of space and then came the dilemma: do I use some alternative type of LED combination or do I cut some new components and build a new, slightly wider bunker than would allow me to fit one of John’s vero board circuits?”

        From that Quote “do I use some alternative type of LED combination”
        You also ended that With a “?”

        This is why I was letting you know of the “some alternative type” LED’s may have saved you some work building new parts or looking for smaller LED’s but by the sounds of your response you have found a type of LED that you are going with or that you are going with the build a new part for the loco, That bit you didn’t make clear. Saying the blank parts are on the work bench just indicated that you had brass sheet to cover that option of a new larger bunker

        I was just letting you know that you can have success moving away from the traditional Tower type LED’s and the Nano type,”SMD LED’s” are a easy and viable option esp in a little loco.

        Video of noted DCC guru making up a SMD LED

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