Oh L!

This is a tale of how I managed to destroy two ESU L series V4 Loksound DCC decoders with 24 hours of each other. It’s not a rant against ESU because up to this point I’ve never had a problem with the decoders from this company that I’ve installed and I find them by far the best decoders in terms of sound output and quality as long as they’re paired with good hi bass speakers of the correct ohm-age. However at $AU260 a pop they’re far too expensive to stand by and watch smoke come out of them and not pass on my experience to others. So this is a post for my newest BF Rob Anderone on Facebook who asked me to share what happened.

I’ve included this photo to illustrate what I’ll be talking about in this post. I was testing this home made distribution circuit board prior to installing them (I was working on two separate locos of the same class when the decoders failed on me) permanently inside the locomotives’ shells. The white sockets you can see running down each side of the board receive the wires from the LEDs front and rear and it was these connections I was testing when I fried the first decoder.

I’d been working to install two L series deciders in the body shells of two 1:43.5 scale Auscision 45s which are large Goodwin/Alco hood diesels built for the NSWR. One of these locomotives was mine and the other belonged to a friend. I built a vero board circuit based on the 7th Heaven article written by John Parker and everything was made and ready to install when I made the decision to test all the light/sound/decoder connections on the boards prior to installing them. I had a second circuit board supplied by John that he’d built for testing purposes to try out a different variety of sockets and plugs. These circuits get a little tricky to get at once they’re installed and the wires from about 16 LEDs are running to them.

You have to picture in your mind my rather Heath Robinson “testing” station with loco chassis sitting on about 1.5 meters of test track: connections for an NCE Power cab at one end of the track, Lokprogrammer at the other end and a loco chassis sitting in between on the track. I have two LEDs wired to the correct plugs to mate with the sockets you can see in the photo and I’m working my way down the board (which is plugged into the chassis motor/track connections) testing each set of connections so I know that when I install the circuits into the loco they will actually work. All the LEDs in the loco shells have been pre tested and I know all the wires are going where they’re supposed to. In fact I’d replaced a few of the factory installed LEDs because they weren’t working when I tested them.

The procedure I was using to test the LED connections to the decoder was to start by having both the Lokprogrammer and the Powercab unplugged from the test track. I plug the LEDs into two of the sockets (let’s say they happen to be for the short hood’s headlights). Once these are plugged in I power up the Powercab and press the horn to ensure I have a connection and then test the appropriate function button. In this case it would be the headlight and I’d need to make sure the direction is set for forward and if everything is working the LEDs should light up.

Now we get to the problem. At some point I got sloppy and forgot to unplug the Powercab before moving the test LEDs to the next set of sockets. I attempted to plug the LEDs into the next available sockets on the board with the loco powered up and watched as a component on the decoder glow red after which a tiny whisp of smoke emerged from this same component. I’m told this was the capacitor. After this I could get no sound to come out of the loco. I had a spare L series decoder in a drawer so I got this out and determined to soldier on after wiping away the tears over my dead decoder!

Testing continued on both boards and I found both were working perfectly and so installed one of them in my friend’s loco and got it running with sound and lights. Next day I placed this loco on the test track with the body shell sitting on the chassis and while I had lights and movement I couldn’t get it to make any sound. It had been working perfectly the day before and I hadn’t been testing LEDs by that stage. I hooked up the Lokprogrammer and uploaded the sound files and the CV files and while the loco moved and lit up it would not produce a sound. I swapped in my third and final decoder (which was still plugged into the circuit board of the 2nd locomotive locomotive) and it worked perfectly: light, sound and movement.

I sent both dud decoders to my friend and DCC guru John  Parker to look at and he tells me both are suffering from a fried/blown capacitor. The first one I know what happened to because I witnessed it happen in graphic detail. Why the second decoder should have suffered the same fate I have no idea, however unlike the first it shows no outward signs of burn marks where the component glowed and smoked so whatever happened to it was a bit less spectacular.

So my friend has a working locomotive and I have a pile of parts and no decoders.

Things Start To Come Online

This morning I finally managed to get the first of the two new control panels installed and operating. The first was for the yard at Queens Wharf and I did this in conjunction with installing the mini control panel at the super phosphate siding which is outside the yard at QW but still within the control of the QW box.

As I began work on the control panels for both QW and the storage roads I decided that the mini panels for a couple of sidings along the line needed to be installed at the same time. This “mini” panel controls a single turnout just up the line from QW yard. It will allow this siding to become a part of the operating scenario when I have the next operating session in early January.

In spite of putting in a lot of work on the layout and it’s new panels and electrics over the past couple of months I failed to make the deadline for the Borderline Operators gathering in early December. No trains were running and I was the subject of ridicule and finger pointing although that soon stopped when they started stuffing food in their mouths at lunch 🙂 However my friend Phil managed the same feat when the our group met at his place in November so I’m in good company. He was so embarrassed he took off for NZ for weeks in order to avoid small children pointing at him in the street 🙂

There were actually two reasons no trains were running on Morpeth and the fact that I’d essentially pulled the wiring apart on half the layout only partly explained this. For some reason I’m yet to explain one of my power packs decided to turn up its toes and as such when I flicked the switch to start things up Thunderbirds were definitely not GO! I managed to track down this problem and have replaced the offending power pack with a stand in but I’m actually going to see if I can get the dead one repaired as it cost a fair bit and has hardly done a lot of work over the years, spending 90% of its life in storage.

The other main reason for my failure to have trains running in time for the Borderline Operators arrival was that I turned a quick install into a major renovation of the layout by deciding to install new fascia right along the front of QW and down to the doorway at the top of the stairs. About 10 meters of fascia in all. I did this blithely and in the knowledge that things always take far longer than you anticipate. As I began work on the job I realized that I really didn’t want to have to come back and re do this work again later and that meant that, as everything I was going to be doing was to be attached to the outside of the fascia, I had to install some fascia first. It was this which took all the time.

This shot shows the new QW panel in place and a view along the aisle down to where it bends around the end of Morpeth heading for the super phosphate siding and the door. I think this demonstrates clearly what I’m talking about in needing to install the fascia first, before the various control panels and other items along the front of the layout can be installed.

I worked on both installing the fascia and making and preparing the control panels in tandem and I’m generally happy with the way the panels have come up. Actually wiring the QW panel into the layout was quite a quick job really as I’d done so much wiring of the panel and under the layout prior to actually hooking it up.

In the end I managed to get all the features I wanted into this panel. I recycled the housing from the old storage road panel for this one and I would have given myself and easier road if I’d simply built something new with a little bit more space but it all worked out in the end. The turnout motors are thrown by push buttons and the route is indicated by LEDs. All the main features are clearly labelled with decals and I also managed to squeeze in the QW power shield switch.

The electrical upgrade of this part of the layout is now complete. All I have left to do before Jan 8 is hook up the storage road panel. This one includes an NCE Mini Panel and this needs to be programmed so I have my fingers crossed that this isn’t beyond me.

Why Have One When You Can Have Two?

I mentioned in a post the other day that I was working on a new control panel for the storage sidings on Morpeth and work on this objective continues. However in working on this project I’ve had niggling away at the back of my mind that Queens Wharf also needs a control panel. What kept going through my mind was that if I was making one control panel I may as well make two because making two at the same time is only marginally more work than making one… isn’t it? 🙂

As I was going to be installing new control panels on Morpeth I decided it was time to do a few upgrades while I was about it and labels on the diagram and hinges on the panels were a definite must have. Not that you can see either of these in this photo. The labels will be applied when the other panel is at the same stage and while the hinges are installed you’ll have to take my word for it 🙂

Thinking about making a couple of control panels is easy, actually doing the job throws up all sorts of problems. Not the least of these is that while the storage siding’s panel sits on top of the layout and only needs an angled wooden housing (made from 12mm ply) before it can be installed, the QW panel needs to sit on the outside face of the layout’s fascia. As no fascia has actually been installed on the layout yet the first order of business was to install some which will allow the installation of the control panel. So in making a move to install a control panel I end up installing fascia!

Before I could start installing about 8m of new fascia I had to first remove the last of the old fascia from Queens Wharf’s days as an exhibition layout. This was at A where you can see the silver/grey of QW’s aluminium benchwork. I then tested the location of the new control panel by temporarily clamping the 12mm ply housing into position at B. C is new layout and I decided to add fascia here because as I’m installing it along the front of the layout anyway, doing a bit more is only marginally more work than doing just one section! 🙂

After a bit of testing and tweaking I cut up some 1×1 battens which would be screwed along the front of the layout in soldier fashion to which the new pieces of 3mm mdf fascia would be attached. I’ll paint this mdf to match the overall yellow base colour I use for the scenery before I attach such items as throttle holders, plug points for the throttles and control panels.

This shows the battens installed to the front of the layout. They are all 1×1 pine cut to a length of 170mm.

I cut two lengths of 3mm mdf from a sheet I’ve had in storage for just this purpose and carried these up and down the stairs a few times while I chopped holes in them to run wires and allow for the installation of plug points and the like. I could probably do this cutting in the layout room, thus saving me trips up and down the stairs, but little metal wheels don’t like mdf dust any more than my lungs do so I carried them downstairs and attacked them with a jog saw down there.

After cutting the fascia to fit I clamped it into position and began screwing through it into the battens. I used 30mm & 40mm long wood screws to attach the battens and 12mm long screws to attach the mdf fascia to these being carfeul how deep I drilled the pilot holes so I didn’t blow through the thin fascia material. This photo shows the job about half done. The A shows the position of the control panel when it’s installed.

After a recent bathroom and wardrobe reno I had some of those little plastic buttons carpenters use to hide the heads of wood-screws in chip board left over. It occurred to me that these might be used to cover the heads of the screws giving the fascia a much neater appearance than left as is. In the past I’ve always used Polyfilla to fill such imperfections but this is always a messy and rather drawn out job. After I screwed the fascia into place I installed the plastic buttons and I’m very pleased with the look. You can just see these in the photo above along the far piece of fascia. I’ll give painting the whole thing a test, mdf and buttons, to see how it looks. I can always go back to the filler if the little plastic buttons don’t work out or won’t take paint. You can get brown ones but they are far too dark.

Storage Roads Control Panel V2

I really dislike starting a blog post with “it’s been a while since I last posted” because it’s self evident if you haven’t posted for a while that it’s been a while! But it has been a while and as usual with me it’s because I haven’t really been doing much modelling or layout work worth writing about. I’ve been caught up doing a couple of significant woodwork projects but I finally finished the most important of these today and I was able to swing my attention round to addressing the need for a control panel on the storage roads of Morpeth. I snapped a couple of photos of the control panel today as I applied contrasting coats of paint and thought I might quickly go through how I make my panels.

There’s probably some very high tech way of doing the artwork for control panels, I know there is, I’ve seen YouTube vids of such techniques, but the method I use is cheap, simple and effective. I’ve also been making control panels for over 30 years sing this method so as it works for me I can’t see a reason to change the process. It also uses my preexisting skill set so I don’t have to spend 2 months learning a new computer program to produce them. I start with a piece of 3mm MDF, glue a 12mmx12mm pine frame to the read side of this and then the upper side is sprayed over with a white coat of paint from a pressure pack can.

I spent a couple of hours yesterday drawing out a plan for the new panel on two pieces of trying paper which was a good thing because I decided after looking at it that I didn’t like the way the triangle was crowded on the left hand side. So I stretched the plan out, giving this side more room. One of the problems with the first version of this panel (which I wrote about a couple of years ago) was a similar problem to the crowding on hr plan I drew yesterday. And just as a reminder, the reason this is V2 is that I decided to change out all my solenoid switch machines for Tortoises after my last operating session. As I was changing the way I would be throwing the turnouts I had to alter the panel anyway and I took the opportunity to the address the problems with the first version. This one includes the mainline triangle which will have route indication included and it also includes the two new storage roads I’ve installed since I made the last panel. I’m also going to throw the yard ladder using a mini panel and one button routing so this panel is not only longer (at 520mm), it will also be quite a bit simpler to wire up. He says with his finger firmly crossed 🙂

After drawing up my full sized paper plan and making any adjustments I felt were needed I then cut lengths of blue masking tape into 4mm wide strips and cut these on a 12mm thick pane of glass I keep for this and other jobs. I laid these along some pencil lines I’d drawn on the white surface of the control panel and trimmed these with a scalpel that had a new blade in it. I then took the panel back out to the shed and gave it a couple of coast satin black paint.

After the paint dried I brought the now black panel inside and peeled off the masking tape. Simple, effective and handsome (a bit like me) 🙂 The reason the panel is on the dining table rather than the workbench is because it is a bit long to work on at my modelling table easily.

The next step will be to mark and drill some holes for LEDs and push buttons and then I’ll print and apply some white decals using my Alps printer. Then I have to wire it up. As the next operating session is scheduled for the 4th of Dec I have just under two weeks. Easy Peasy!

Follow-Up From The Forum

The Aus7 Modellers Group twice yearly Forum was held last weekend. While
I was up front with the microphone in my hand I mentioned a firm in Sydney who sell a huge range of tools and bits and pieces from both metal and wood workers by the name of McJing I’ve had a link to McJing on this blog page for quite a while but as I was down in Sydney for the Forum and actually visited the shop I thought I’d mention them and share some details of some things I picked up there. I know you can get a lot of this stuff online direct from china but I still reckon being able to look and touch something before you pay for it takes some beating.

Ok I know there’s nothing very revolutionary about mini drills but I picked these up in a few different sizes for 10 dollars for 10. The ones on the left are .7mm I’ve paid up to $3 for a single drill so I thought this was a pretty good price. I’ve also included the ball races I mentioned Saturday. these have an inside dia. that matches a Slaters loco axle and they were $4 a pop. Very possibly these may end up in a loco chassis in the future. and finally the little silver button on the bottom right is a rare earth magnet I purchased a while ago. I’m going to find a way to use these to keep the roof on a loco in place but allow me access the interior.

I’ve also been doing a little work on a few KRM signal kits for both myself and a friend. These kits are mostly etched brass/NS and while they can be a little fiddly they are beautifully detailed and really look the part.

I’m working on three of these signal kits and while I haven’t got that far along, after visiting Sydney I now have all the parts I need to get on with finishing them.

This is just a quick update and I’ll post again when I have something worth sharing.


One down. three to go! This shot shows the jig I completed today. It is not only finished but the inner faces of the central jig, the part that actually have to be accurate to set the distance between the rails, are surprisingly the correct dimension. At 16.57mm it is close enough for me! 🙂 I included it’s big SG brother to provide a comparison.

Strike up the band, crack open a  bottle of champagne, I’m now an expert machinist who can answer all your metal turning questions and inquiries. NOT! I managed to get one of the gauges finished today, that’s the first of four I have planned. I never should have dropped Metalwork for Music as an elective subject in high school. The other three gauges have the two outer caps finished for each of them and they’re all strung together on their cap bolts. All they need is the centre gauge section completed. However I’m so slow and my metal turning skills so decrepit that it took me 1 1/2 hours to do the centre gauge for this one today. I tend to speed up as I go along and work out a method: a couple of steps really had me stumped today as I worked on this one. At one point I had to work out how to turn the face of the centre section down on the right hand end. As my cutting tool has its cutting face on the left had side this forced me to take another tool with a face cut on the opposite side and grind this to a shape that I needed. This process was well outside my comfort zone but it worked and I now have a slightly rough, but serviceable gauge. Oh and it does grip the head of the code 83 rail it’s designed to hold in place, I tested it! 🙂

I’m sure in the years to come I’ll have the satisfaction of knowing I made these gauges myself, and the twinge at the back of my neck will remind of how sore it got from bending over my lathe peering at the twirling end of the brass 🙂