DCC – How To Fry Your Locomotive?

An important warning to anyone new to DCC  Model Railroading.   DCC – How to Fry Your Analog Locomotive.     I’m sure your asking yourself why would you try to operate your older Analog DC locomotives and diesels with a DCC Throttle?     I hope you are asking that question.

What you are about to see in this video happened to me.     DCC is AC on the tracks and Analog DC is DC on the tracks.   To different animals that the Gremlins and Mr. Murphy just love to horse around with causing you all kinds of havoc.     May I recommend you never operate your Analog DC, simultaneously with DCC.

There are features  on some DCC Throttles that seemingly allow you to operate your Analog Locomotives from your DCC Throttle.    I don’t recommend that and  so does our next presenter.

This next video is worth seeing.

A must watch video for anyone running or planning an n-gauge DCC layout.

My Bachmann E-Z Command Controller Manual for running a DCC based railway actively invites you to run an analogue (non-DCC train) on a DCC layout using the controller. This is BAD advice and it will fry your n-gauge locomotives, just like it fried my Class 08 from Graham Farish (model number 371-022). Learn from my mistakes, ignore the advice and heed the warnings in this video.   Thanks for watching , Sypher LXVII.

May I add?   You’d do well to take heed to the warnings  shared here in this post.

Not to say, there are locomotives and diesels with decoders built in where the decoder can discern between DCC and Analog DC.     These you can run at your own risk.


DCC – Trouble Shooting Your Layout

DCC – Trouble Shooting Your Layout.     Or should the title be Trouble Shooting  DCC On Your Layout?  No, I think I had it right the first time.

Trouble shooting DCC layouts  will be a bit more difficult then just trouble shooting your Analog DC layouts.     Analog DC layouts are easy to trouble shoot.   While  DCC or Digital Command Control layouts… not so much.    Why?  Because, it involves Electronics.    Prompting the question how many of us are electronic guru’s?

A word from the author…and that would be me.  
I wish I could be a bit more organized.    This is one of those discussions that can splinter into a hundred different directions all at once. 
**We are going to bounce around here from trouble shooting our Analog DC  systems, which is where we need to start from.  If your layout  isn’t wired correctly or the track and switches aren’t in properly…well… you could be in for some difficult operating sessions.    I will address a number of issues here.    Hang in here with me and as we say in Big Bear Country,  “Bear with me!”


 Let’s start with: 

DCC is a world all of it’s own.     Trouble shooting it will at first  appear to be a mystery.    Where do you start?    Let’s try the beginning.   How does DCC work?   Followed by:  How can I trouble shoot it?    Allow me to set this up.

Cause and Affect:   Some basics of troubleshooting.
When trouble shooting your layout, look for the “Cause and Affect.”   In other words look for the cause of the problem and you will find what’s affecting your layout.   Usually the Affect is obvious but the Cause is not!
Problem Identification:    First we have to identify the problem and then look for the  cause.     A derailment, engine stalled, lights don’t work or the power supply is indicating a short.   
How does DCC work?

Unlike the traditional Analog DC  with it’s variable current.     DCC is  a Constant AC at approximately 16 volts, on the track.     With packets of information sent from the hand held throttle through to  each individual decoder built into each prime mover and/or locomotive.      Allowing you to move as many trains as is physically possible around your layout.    That part will be fun.

DCC will only work the way it was designed to work.   It will not work the way you think it should work.    Learn to work the system as it was designed.

Best advice of the day:  
Start with the basics and always try the simple resolutions first.   Credit to Steve H.
You can’t go wrong with the old tried and true ways and means of solving a problem.     You can quote me.    


Diagnosing A Problem:

DCC was and still is made to be plug and play.    Diagnosing a problem in your  DCC system  is where it can turn into a  frustrating experience.    At times a real mind blower!    What we’ve needed…well…read on.

Like a mechanic with a computer analyzer he can look at what is going on with your cars electronics and spot sensors that don’t work or other mechanical problems.    He can diagnose your cars problems.

**What we’ve need is a decoder analyzer.    Not a reader!    An diagnostic analyzer.    Something that  will tell us what went wrong and/or what failed inside the decoder.    If we had such it would help us to remedy what would then be  obvious problems.

MRC put out a DCC Doctor.  Although it’s called an analyzer it’s actually a reader.   Two resources:   

Did you get the answer to your questions?   No?    I’m right there with you.

My Diagnostic Decoder Analysis Experience :

A group of us sent in several decoders to see what had gone wrong with them.  Asking the manufacturers to analyze them.  The answer, “We don’t know and don’t have anyway to test them.”     Other then they don’t work.   Again… not the answer we are looking for.

DCC What Happened?

Are you ready for what I like to refer to as a type of Problem Identification or better said Symptoms?  Let’s look at the symptoms and see what they tell us.

I hear you and other hobbyist asking: 
  • So…(expletives I can’t use here)… what’s wrong?
  • Why did everything on the layout stop dead?
  • How come my trains die on the far edge of the layout?  
  • What happened to the lights on the locomotives and diesel engines aka motors?  Why won’t they turn on?
  • I was able to turn on and off my oscillating light in the nose of  my F7, and now it doesn’t work at all.   How do I turn it back on?
  • The sound – whistles, chuff and air compressor all worked when I shut down last night and now (this morning) they don’t.
  • A locomotive I operated last night won’t run at all today.

    Kind of sad when things just seem to blink on and off and stuff doesn’t work.

When it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work!

More then likely the majority of problems that present themselves as listed above,  is due to operator error.  Do I dare say 95% of the reasons why a product  or a piece of equipment doesn’t work as designed,  is due to operator error?   Actually the number is more like 99.5%.   But I’ll give you some credit here.    The numbers will more then likely hold true here.   Perhaps a wrong command.  Or worse yet I forgot what I did, as in the number I programmed the engine to.   You may need to keep a log for the sake of, “Keeping Up With What You Did,” credit to Steve H.

Trouble Shooting Your Layout:
Look for:
Problem appears to be,   no power in the tracks.
  1.  Did we plug the transformer in. 
  2. Are wires attached to our power supply…correctly? 
  3. Did a solder joint break loose (cold joint)? 
  4. Did we cut in the isolation gaps in the proper places?
  5. Did block M1, have a rail move and close the gap between M1 and M2, aka   Main 1 & Main 2.
  6. Is the power actually reaching the locomotive or in the case of DCC, is the packets of information actually arriving at the intended target.    The packets can’t arrive without the essential vehicle electricity,  to deliver commands to the decoder. 
  7. Is there any dead spots in your track work?   Dead spots in your track work means the delivery system can be  interrupted.
  • Most of the time the problems listed above cross the gulf from Analog DC to DCC.
  • Shorts can be DCC Decoder killers.  Are there any obvious shorts on your layout?

DCC On Your Layout:

On the other hand, It takes a whole lot of patience and determination when working…  the DCC learning curve   Are you up to the challenge?

For starters and something that worked for me in high school and college, write down the kinds of things you want to remember. It will help you to use your deductive reasoning and  improve your memory skills.  For Example:   The commands you gave your locomotive and the results.    Then ask yourself if that’s satisfactory?       If so then record what you did to get those desired results.    IE.   Working with CV’s

As we work with DCC and learn it’s peculiarities, it  will become old hat and or old technology.   What you buy today will be yesterdays history.  Eventually redundant… I promise.

  • The Future…. may hold some answers for us.    Wait until you see what these can do for you:
  • Blue Tooth, 
  • WIFI Applications,
  • Remote Control with   Battery Powered Engines
  • I think you will like, what these will bring to your train table.

The future will give us new technology with the promise it will be new and improved.    Really?  I’ve heard that before.     Do I dare say with new problems and new challenges for all of us to learn and problems to overcome!  Learning curves that appear to be getting tougher and tougher.   Never a dull moment in the world of Toy Trains and/or Model Railroading.

Rick,  I need help now as in today and not tomorrow.    How can I resolve some of the DCC related problems?     My favorite heckler just woke up and almost flew out of his seat with this question.       Good question!      A perfect lead in to my next comments.
All Hell Breaks Loose With DCC:
The  questions we need to ask ourselves after a problem presents its self is:
    • What was I doing just  before the locomotive or motor failed?  What command or series of commands was I attempting to make.     1.  Did it stop dead in it’s tracks?   2.   Is the hand held  or command station indicating a short?  3.  Did someone pull the plug?  Shut off the power…aka  Brown Out!  We get a lot of those here in California.
    • Just the opposite can happen as in  a run away?    Then check and see what loco number you are now operating on.   You may have to recall the loco, in order to get your train back-up and under your control.
    • It’s off-Ly easy to hit the wrong button on the hand held throttle and you end up with a train that  IE.,    Stops, reverses, blows the horn, turns the headlights on, uncouples and/or increase or decreases speed.      One thing that helps me is I have to be cognizant of what I’m doing with the hand held throttle.   I check and recheck the  loco number to be sure I’m still  sending commands to the same or  correct loco or motor. Defined:   Locomotive=Steam Engine, Motor=Diesel.
    • Most issues surface when  your engine stops dead?    Check the command center or hand held to see if it’s indicating a short?   If it is.    Most likely the problem is sitting smack-dap under the locomotive.
    • Where’s that dratted short?   Switches are serious contenders and problematic when it comes to shorts.     See:  DCC Friendly Switches – What are they?  
    • Most likely something is off the track or a piece of metal such as a metal wheel, has made contact one rail to the other causing a short.   Like the points of a switch wired to + while the rail is – when the metal wheel touches both you have a ZZIt, Pop, Short.    Not fun!
Finger drag, is the big oops.     
Like  hitting the wrong button and sending a command we didn’t intend or even knew existed.   Just like using a typewriter or key board.     Double back and check how many times you’ve misspelled a word.     I do it all the time.    Which isn’t a lot of fun.   While on the subject, a shout out of thanks to the great computer geek  (whoever he or she is)  for spell check.    I think we need something similar with our DCC units.
  • On My MRC hand held throttle the “Loco” recall button is right next to the button I use to increase the speed of the locomotive.    I can hit what I think is the speed button and instead I hit the loco recall button and I’m now commanding another loco on the layout telling it to move ahead and down the track.    At first glance it may appear to be a run away.    Oop’s, note to self, must remember not to do that…again!  
  • One of the reasons I like using a DPDT Center Off electrical toggle  switches, to shut off power to those  loco’s quietly sitting in or around the engine house or roundhouse, on an assortment of  various storage tracks.   I want them shut off, as in dead.  No live power in either rail.   Then praying and hoping they  stay put!   They will!!

Troubleshooting A DCC Layout:

When I go to trouble shoot a friends layout or help resolve a DCC issue.  You’ll hear me asking the following questions:

  • How did you hard wire in your layout?   If it’s a former Analog DC Layout.   I’m asking is it:   Common Wire/Rail, DPDT Center Off Toggles, Cab A and Cab B. 
  • If it’s a former analog layout Cab A and Cab B,  I’m asking did you combine DCC to operate Cab B.   Via a DPDT electrical toggle switch aka a cut off switch.  Each way and means of wring in a layout can affect the performance of DCC.
  • Did you create blocks or power districts and did you cut in Isolation Gaps.    Defined:   *Blocks are usually wired in with DPDT’s to shut off or transfer power from one cab to the other.    *Power districts are when they use extra power supplies for layouts with extensive track that  suffer power loose or line drop.  
  • Can you shut off the power to all track sections on your layout?   This helps in the process of elimination… to locate a short.
  • Regarding Switches (Turnouts):   Did you use Power Routed Switches?   Nothing wrong with that.   Now we need to talk about where you cut in your isolation gaps.  I can only hope… on the diverging end of the switches?
  • How far apart is your wire drops?  Again I’m hoping  no more or less then six feet apart.
  • What amperage is your command center built for?   I’m hoping no more then 3.5 amps.
  • Have you built into your system some kind of Short Circuit Management Control?

These questions will not only serve to help me get acquainted with the layout but make the owner aware of….well…issues that may have originally escaped his or her attention. 

There are  “Pitfalls” or as some would say “Mistakes,” we can make when building our first layout.    Many of which  will cause serious operating problems with our Analog DC and or  DCC systems.  You’ve more then likely heard me say your first layout is a teaching layout.    It is!    It will teach you much but…  we want to avoid those  costly oops-es.

Here are some examples:
  • The choice of Amperage for your DCC power supply.  Keep it under 3.5 amps for a home layout.  More then that is walking into angry territory.
  • Remembering DCC is a constant AC on the rails.
  • Your choice of decoders and keeping track of which one is in which locomotive or motor.  Start a paper trail.    Any decoder will work but you need to know it’s operational  peculiarities.   Keep the pamphlets or instructions that came with the decoder.    Which brings us back to a working log.
  • Your choice of track switches aka turnouts.   Keeping in mind any switch can be made to be DCC Safe.    You can hang your railroad hat on that one.    I’ve covered that over on DCC Friendly Switches – What Are They?
  • Your choice of brand when purchasing your  DCC Command Center, can make a difference.     I see nothing wrong with the options available but I  recommend you do some research before buying your first unit.    Make sure the key pad is something easy for you to operate.     Spending a little more money at the time of this purchase… may pay off… in the long run.    The pay me now or pay me later thing, credit to Greg M.
  • On your layout:   How many blocks or power districts do you plan on having or already have and how are they managed?   
  • Here again research will help you to choose the right way and means to set-up your DCC layout.

More to come:

  • Short Circuit Management:   The key is to avoid as many would be shorts on your layout as is do able.
  • Are you using a program track to program the decoders in  your locomotives or motors or are you programming on the main? 
  • Programming  on the main can be done but I don’t recommend it.   I do recommend  a program track  as in install one.     You know, wait until you are more experienced.    See Mike Fifer’s How To Install a Program Track.
DCC Systems For Model Railroaders? 

Who do they think we are?    Brainy-acks?    Wizards and Guru’s?  Electronic experts?     Do I dare say most of us aren’t?

Although relatively new to most of us DCC has been around for 20 years or  longer.     It didn’t become popular until the last 10 or 15 years.

The basic problem here is we don’t totally understand how to use our DCC systems.   Let alone, how to diagnose the problems.    Only a few of us are professionals in electronic engineering and/or  computer geeks.  While the rest of us…well…we are what we are purveyors of the hobby.

Most of us are not able, nor do we have the head knowledge to diagnose our decoders and run certain tests that will tell us what is wrong.     If that isn’t difficult enough, then wait until you send a decoder back to the  manufacturer and they can’t (can not) tell you why it failed.   Not the kind of news we are looking for.   I already said that earlier…didn’t I?

Getting Over Our Fears.

From those of us who qualify as Old Timers.    The greatest issue with us o-fer’s,  is FEAR!.    “”We don’t want to do something that will put a loco or motor on the dead line track,  as in let the smoke out of the components and render it useless.    Although we seem to manage that one quite well,””  credit to Stubby.

On the other hand the only way you and I  are going to get past our fear  is to try out the various things  on our hand held throttles and  make some of those commands.   Let’s find out how this thing really works.   Let’s check out what’s under the hood.   

I’m going to have to learn to install a decoder?   Yep!    Piece of cake, well at least for some of your engines on your roster.

Go ahead and install that decoder.   Most locos are what we call DCC Ready and installing a decoder means plugging it in or slipping the decoder into where the light bar once sat.    

You’ve got to be kidding…you did what?    Installed a decoder?    That wasn’t so difficult.   Now we need to program it and test it to see if it works.

The big question is how do I program the decoder?     I need to find you a video how to.   Found it!


This video shows the steps to program an engine decoder for use on your DCC layout using an NCE command station and program track. This process does not require knowledge of CVs numbers. If you have questions please ask.    Thanks for watching!

Always consult the instruction manual and do your best to follow the instructions.   Even if it means making a mistake.     Most mistakes or oops can be fixed.   Oddly enough we do learn by the  mistakes we make.

In time it will start to make sense.    Good news is:   On most hand held Throttles, the basic instructions are on the back side.    Do we have to read them?    No, it’s not mandatory and I’d be the last one to say it is.     And yes… I do read them.

The locomotive is sitting on the  program track so you can program the decoder.   I’m sure I’ve already said this but do keep a written paper trail,  a log.    Record, record, and double check what you recorded.    Make a change… then edit or update your log.  You can use the number on the locomotive…until…you learn you have more then one loco with the same number.    Write down the number I.D. you gave your locomotive or diesel engine.   Record those CV’s you put in.    Then tag the locomotive’s I.D. number on the bottom side,  either on the fuel tank or the tender.    You’ll be glad you did.

Away from home and you inadvertently  left your log at home.  Did you say, Your now at the club layout?    Why do I have a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach.   May I suggest?  Think ahead.   You did tag the bottom side of your loco?    You did?   Then your good to go.   Uh oh you had to change the number?    Then be sure to edit the former entries, updating to the new number.    You guessed it!     Giving it a new number because someone else at the club has the same engine number and they were there first?    What kind of rule ist that.   GRRRR!   

How about when you consist two locomotives so they can operate together?    Start a paper trail… record, record and log in those all important numbers.  

Do I read those ever present, nagging instructions?   Yes, I do…and find the instructions to be very helpful.    Especially when it works.   Surprised the heck out of me.   It did what?    IT Worked!

Trouble Shooting Your Layout.
Rick, what If I’m new to toy trains or model railroading?   Hear me when I say, you might be better off because you won’t carry into DCC all the baggage carts… loaded with negative baggage, from the days of Analog DC.    You will be starting a fresh and that can’t be a bad thing.  
Trouble Shooting – Helpful Hints:
  1. Trouble Shooting:    You can troubleshoot a DCC layout the same way you troubleshoot an Analog DC, layout.     Using the same multi-meter’s, light bulbs and other assorted gizmo’s to check for power aka continuity or to  find those dead spots.   
  2. DCC or Analog DC:    Both Analog DC and DCC which is AC,  route power through the rails in the same way.     So, there’s no difference when it comes to testing for continuity or the presence of live current.
  3. Multi-Meter:    Available at most Radio Shacks or Hardware Stores.   Use a Multi-meter with some metal probes and/or alligator clips.    I won’t instruct you on how to use your meter.   It comes with instructions.    Except for:    DCC, do set it to AC on the lowest setting and yes you will be able to find the high and low side of AC.    **Important that the high and low side of AC occupies the same side of the track or rail,  all the way around your layout.  
  4. Continuity Feature of your Multi-meter:   Learn how to use the continuity feature.      You can look for dead spots in switches, rail joiners that have oxidized or worked loose as in they are no longer making contact – translated Dead Rails.    Note:   Rail joiners will eventually loosen up and or oxidize causing said connection to fail.
  5. Test with a Light Bulb:   Use a 16 volt or higher voltage light bulb to test for the presence of current.    Can be used in the absence of a multi-meter.
  6. Digital Packets:    DCC, the one thing you won’t be able to test is the computer generated DCC or Digital Chatter aka Packets of information going out to the decoder.  At least not at the time of this writing.    Update:   I’ve heard of a diagnostic tool that MRC puts out.   I think Steve said he got it to work but he hasn’t mastered all it’s features.
  7. Test for Current:  Test for current starting at the command station, contacts or wire junctions, soldered joints, suitcase connectors, track and switches all can fail for one reason or the other. 
  8. Shorts:   I talk about shorts elsewhere and number one on my list of things to do, is to avoid shorts.    Shorts, are the most common problem on any toy train layout or model railroad.     Not good!    Not fun!    The first place I go to look for a short is the train I was just running.   The one that stalled without my having shut down  the throttle.     Generally a metal wheel has dropped off the track and come in contact with the powered up movable points of a switch.    There is a discussion over at  DCC Friendly Switches here at BarstowRick.com.     You will find answers to some of the causes of shorts and some simple ways to fix them.
  9. Resistance and Continuity:      You’ll find  resistance defined in the following paragraphs.    Mastering the head knowledge as in understanding resistance along with continuity and line drop will help you in designing your layout.    
  10. Solder:  I prefer to solder all my wire junctions and rail joiners.    Keeping in mind the weakest link on any toy train is the rail joiners.    One of the problems with solder today is the lead has been removed which is what gave it stencil strength.  Soldering is simple, easy and leaves little room for what electricians call, “Chatter or an intermittent connection,” thanks to David B..
  11. Wiring your Layout:   Some toy train and model railroad enthusiast are using the suitcase connectors to join wires.   These work well.    Expensive when you consider there are other things I want to buy.   Tough to isolate should it fail to make contact and allow the current through.     Modelers are raving over how simple these have made wiring.

A Lesson In Resistance:   

Rick’s Story Time!   NO!   Not again!    Do we have to?

One of the first lessons we learned from operating our early toy trains.   Those S and O scale train sets… on the front room carpets (I don’t recommend that).    The train would slow down on the other side of the circle of track.    We had our power supplies wired in properly, as per instructions and right in front of where the transformer sat.    Made sense at the time.   

The train would take off approaching  the other side of the loopity loop and then slow down.    Maybe it had a grade to climb…yeah that’s it.     Then it would speed up as it came back toward the transformer.      Wow!    Now we are running downhill.   One of my uncles said your front room floor can’t be that UN-even or UN-level.    He took a  level out of his tool box and soon proved the floor is,  as he thought, level.     So what gives?    Although we didn’t understand it at the time we were about to get our first lesson in Resistance, Line Drop or Power Drops and how it works or negatively affects our  train operations.  

How did we fix it?    Is that what you asked?   

My uncle reached into his bag of tricks and pulled out two three foot pieces of wire another track clip and added it to the other side of the loopity loop.    Double Stacked or Tied the wires into the transformer, checked to be sure the polarity was correct and fired up the loco on the head end of the train.     We were good to go and the train ran at the same speed all the way around the loop.    How about that?    And they wonder why we put in wire drops to this day?

End of the story but not this discussion.

Here’s some definitions you might find helpful.
Resistance Defined:     http://whatis.techtarget.com/definition/resistance
Line Drop Defined:   http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/line+drop
Continuity Defined:    The act of being continuous without interruption or breaks in the wiring:     http://www.legrand.us/cablofil/tech_resources/tg-electricalcontinuity.aspx#.VdH5S5cVjcs   
Continuity Continued:     http://www.wisegeek.com/what-is-electrical-continuity.htm
**Unravel the mystery of Resistance, Line Drop and Continuity and you will solve most if not all of  your inherent  operating problems.**  credit to David E.
DCC – Computer Chatter:   

Do keep in mind we don’t want to impede or distort the computer chatter or Digital Packets of information generated by the hand held Throttle.  This packet of information needs to travel unimpeded down a specific route (Not the Southern Pacific).    The pathway is from the Hand Held Throttle, to the DCC Power Pack or Command Station, down the bus wire, up and into the drop wires,  to and through the rail,  finally reaching the wheels of the locomotive or diesel through the wipers or electrical pick-ups and finally to the intended target the Decoder.     You don’t want anything that will interfere with as in slow down, distort   and/or stop this mode of communication with the embedded decoder.   Especially, when you are giving a new command.

Tips Of The Day:
  • Does your layout have enough wire drops?    Rule of thumb is:  Solder in a wire drops dead center per every six feet of track.  More often as in every three feet is recommended by most DCC Guru’s.    It’s  ok.    You’ll find others suggesting you solder a wire drop to every piece of sectional track.    Over kill…perhaps, when you consider you can solder the rail joiners and accomplish the same purpose.
  • Do not hook your power supply to a dead end spur and expect the current to reach the rest of your track.    It won’t.   There is to much resistance in the switch mechanism thus reducing the amount of current that will actually reach the rest of your track.
  • Do not depend on a track switch to be an electrical switch, credit to Greg M..    As in to turn power on and off to a dead end spur, team track and sidings.   You’ll find  plenty of hobbyist who do this.  Yes,  I agree with Greg, it’s not a good idea.
  • I highly recommend using block wiring or what some are calling power districts and you can find more on this subject here on BarstowRick.com:  Block Wiring
  • Wire size:    Most home layouts will do well with 18 or16 gauge wire.   The majority of  DCC enthusiast would recommend a bus line (Not Greyhound)  using 14 gauge wire or larger.
  • Quality of Wire:     Purchase a good quality wire for your layout, credit to David E.    Although difficult for me to gauge quality of wire there are qualified electrical technicians at various outlets who should be able to  answer and provide guidance appropriate to your needs.    Stay away from aluminum wire.
  • Routine maintenance is required.    Dirty track, dead spots, shorts all work negatively.     Make sure the system has continuity of current throughout the layout. 
  • All metals will oxidize… some more then others.     It’s easy to remove by simply cleaning  your track periodically.    
  • Do clean the wheels on the prime movers and locomotives.    I’d even  go so far as to clean all the wheels on your train cars as well.   Make it a part of your bi-annually (More often as needed)  routine maintenance.   
  • With most DCC systems you’ll find an instruction manual.    Toward the back you will find a section entitled “Trouble Shooting”.     You’ll find some of the answers you are looking for. You can also check DCC – Answering those difficult questions right here on BarstowRick.com.
Setting CV’s:
  • As David E. tells me, when setting the CV’s,  “You have to plow through it.”   Kind of like experimenting with it until you finally catch on.  Here on BarstowRick.com, you’ll find a chapter dedicated to Setting CV’s and another on Speed Matching.     Credit to David E. and a shout out of thanks to him for his extremely helpful contributions.   Feel free to check- out the two posts.     Some are in PDF format and you can download it to your computer and keep it on file for future reference.

“Environmental Build-up,”     New to Model Railroaders:  

Although the terminology “Environmental Build-up,” might be new to model railroaders, we’ve been cleaning brass and nickel silver  rails, for what seems like eternity,   uhh…err forever!   I’d like to be able to say  I coined  it… but the professional cleaning circles beat me to it.

  • Environmental Build-up:   A oily residual, positive Ions attracting negative Ions (Compared to magnets that attract each other),  causing a build up or collection of microscopic  dust, dirt, hair follicles, animal and human dander,    And any dirt particulate  caused by smog, construction dust and in general dirty air.   Here in Big Bear Country, we have to deal with airborn sap from the pine trees.   Sticky stuff!    Never mind the dust that comes with the pee gravel (They import from the desert) and throw around on the snow and ice after our winter snow storms.  It is like a sticky talcum.  Never mind what that does to us humanoids with allergies….grrrrrrr!
  • This can cause intermittent electrical contact as in poor performance of our engines and flickering lights in our passenger cars.   Said another way:    It is oil build up which can be caused by touching the track, natural oils in our skin,  transferring to the track  or from having excessive lubrication on our   wheel sets and internal gears in our locomotives.    How about those detergents some use to clean the track that leave a residual that attracts dirt like a magnet, causing the same problem?   Was I talking about Goof Off?    Yes!  That way we get to clean the track over and over again.   Did you just say Job Security?   You did.   Yep, you are so right and attentive.
In case you or I missed it the first time, as a reminder.
  • “”You need good continuity throughout the whole system    You can’t have loose connections, dirty contacts or track.    It doesn’t matter if you are operating with AC or DC.,””   credit to Greg M.

Resources:  Suggested Reading.

One  of many places you can go to and for help and advice is any of the model railroad wig wags (magazines) and books.     Any book that explains how to wire your railroad, as in “DCC How To’s.”   is what I would consider to be mandatory reading.   That is… for me of course.  I highly recommend you make it mandatory for yourself.

I recommend you read:    Five Steps To Trouble Shoot Your DCC Layout,   December 2009 , pg 48, authored by David Popp, of the Model Railroader Magazine.     It is worth the time, it takes to give it a read,  although a bit elementary Watson!   Perfect reading and a good introduction,  for all of us  newbie’s to DCC.   I won’t repeat what’s been discussed over there, except by coincidence.

Here on BarstowRick.com there is a series of How To’s and Discussion on DCC switches.    One of those talks about how to spot check your switches / turnouts before you install them and it includes a list of tools that will come in handy.   See:   DCC Pre-install Spot Checking your Switches.

You might want to check out how shorts can compromise our DCC systems is:  DCC Friendly Series, Part 2.   You’ll find answers  to a nagging  question, “Does Shorts compromise our DCC equipment including the Decoders?”   Ok, maybe it leaves a bit to be desired but it answers the questions as best as can be expected, under the  present circumstances.

Check out DCC Guy.    Although he and I don’t always agree and I hate to send you over to him, his website is loaded with information appropriate to DCC.     Just ignore his take on DCC Friendly, gosh  what was he thinking?

Maintenance Issues and Education: 

DCC Education, excellent track work, well chosen switches, pre- installation checks, isolation gaps cut in properly, short circuit management, periodic and proper maintenance and  plenty of wire drops.   Will resolve most DCC Issues.

In Closing but never finished:

One principal to keep in mind.   If man created it, built it and operates it, it can and will break.    Said another way:   Play with it long enough and you’ll break it.   Yes, it’s fixable but sometimes at a cost.  

We need to be proactive in the management of our layouts as opposed to reactionary.       Although, I can assure you when  troubleshooting  your layout it will be reactionary management, at best.

In  general bad advice can have the same affect as not knowing how things work, with regard to  the electronics on our layouts, you can quote me.
Turn to those with experience and know how, I said that?   Only over and over again!   Got’s to drive that point home.

More to come as this will be a work in progress.    Feel free to check in and see what’s changed or not.    Do feel free to add or make a comment, see comments box below.   You are well on your way to trouble shooting your own layout.

Now let’s get back to playing trains or railroading in miniature.


DCC – A Basic Introduction

DCC was made to be simple, as in easy to use or User Friendly, Plug and Play.     For the most part it is.

This next video is A Basic Introduction to DCC.     This will get you started in the right direction with some simple illustrations and explanations of terminology.

When I was first introduced to DCC I found it to be easier and simpler then I thought.     I was sold on it immediately.     It was an easy install and works very well  on my layout.       More on this later.

DCC Model Trains and Railroads for Beginners Tutorial

Although this video will be too basic for advanced DCC model railroaders, it should be of help to beginners who often struggle to understand railroading terminology.

The important thing when getting started; is not to be put off by anyone who likes to criticize others in the hobby. It is easy to do especially when you come to know more than those who are just getting started. So, just learn things one step at a time, and enjoy the process of developing your skills in the hobby. Listen to those who offer a positive contribution and have fun!    Thanks for watching MTR.

Here’s another video you may want to check out.      Here you will get a picture of variable DC as compared to the constant AC for DCC.

DC to DCC 101

DC aka “Direct Current” to DCC aka” Digital Command Control” 101, thanks for watching, IMRRO.com.

Pretty basic stuff and a great introduction.     Yes, you could of found this on You Tube like I did.     Do consider and remember here at BarstowRick.com, I’m selective as to what videos I present here.     More bad information out there then good.    All for the purpose of helping you get started …without experiencing the pit falls I did.

You may hear in some videos that you need to buy a booster to power up the rails.     Most command stations have more then enough power to operate our home layouts.   Anything in the range of 2.5 amps to 3.5 amps is a safe zone to work in.   It’s when you get into the larger club layouts things change dramatically.     More on this in other posts.    See the post:   DCC Friendly Switches the discussion on Shorts.  

One more video I would recommend you watch.  I’m not able to link it here on BarstowRick.com.   It is:    Dream-Plan-Build, DCC From Start To Finish, Special Project Edition.     The presenter is Dave Barkley, a practicing lawyer.    The DVD is produced by Kalmbach Publishing  aka Model Railroader.    If you haven’t already seen this it’s worth the time to sit down and watch it.

Terminology:  There is an error above and I’ll let you find it.    The author talks about briefing you on railroad terminology.     In the world of Toy Trains and Model Railroading the terminology used is not Railroad or the lingo used by the Rails, it’s model railroading terminology.    Then they go on to talk about DCC terminology and once again screw up Railroad Terminology, misusing it for the most part.

Grump, grump, grump…well they do…badly.

From The Side Door Pullman:     How about, “From the for what it’s worth department?”

The word “Common” gets used a lot to describe a common bus, a ground and etc..   Unfortunately it’s like other terminology we model railroaders use or misuse.  In the world of model railroading the first use of “Common” described a “Common Wire,” method of wiring in your model railroad.    It’s an older method of wiring and at this point should be outlawed.     Although, I know of one layout where it actually works out well…to a point.    But that’s a different story for another time and place.   You’ll find the story here on BarstowRick.com.    I’ll let you dig for it.    See:   Select Categories and look for Common Wire or better yet “Dance of the Common.”   No dancing girls you can find them elsewhere.    However, the use of the descriptive word,  “Common,” here in the last video is not the same thing.     Hurrrumph!

Everyone wants  to coin a term or two and/or   be known for something oranother .    Redefining model railroad so that none of use understands what in the world they are talking about.

Now go have some fun!    It’s time to get your toy train or model railroad built, up and running.


DCC – CV’s = Configuration Values

CV’s  Setting The Configuration Values for Best Performance:

Answers to those difficult DCC questions.

Knowing what to do with CV’s or some idea how to set them up can be extremely difficult to understand.   What values should I set my CV’s to, I asked my fellow model railroaders?    Then someone threw at me all kinds of log rhythms and mathematical equations in hopes I’d  figure it out. Can’t say that helped me much.   Not that I’m not capable but I heard myself asking “Why, should I go to all the trouble?”   Thinking out loud that this is more trouble then it’s worth.   After all DCC should be User Friendly, Plug and Play.

You need to know, the answers  to my questions haven’t come easily.    To most newbies and some of us old timers in the hobby this was/has and still is a real source of frustration…frustrate, frustrate, frustrate!

David Eaton, aka Sharkman one of our illustrious TrainBoard.com, members.   Once again comes to our rescue.    It took me two or three readings before this started to make sense.    It’s like decoding a message from the other side of the moon.     Uhh…err…this isn’t David’s fault.   The ones that need to apologize for the confusion is the designers of this system.    Or not!        I wish this could be simpler but no one asked me.   Grin!

What you are about to study may inspire more questions then answers.    Be patient it will come to you and you’ll catch on quick enough .

As for me this is the kind of information I’ve been asking and looking for, for a long… long time.     Answering my questions one right after the other.

The main question being, “What Configuration Values do I need to set my CV’s to?    David answers that question and more.    Now I have a better understanding of CV’s and so will you!

David Eaton’s Presentation:

DCC – CV’s, Setting Actual Values.

For Example:    A Model= EMD SD-70M
Locomotive Address = 9800
Decoder model= DN163K1B
Family= Series 3 with FX3, silent, read back.

DCC loco address number=”9800″
This is a  long address, Long is greater than 127.

CV1         Short Address (2 Digits) value = Maximum value of 127

CV2         Start Volts = 0
This is loco power at throttle position 1 when not using speed tables

CV3        Acceleration Rate = 8
This is Momentum that slows acceleration

CV4         Deceleration Rate = 8
This is Momentum slows deceleration

CV5         Max Volts = 0  (These are 0 because the speed tables are being used)
This sets the maximum speed at full throttle

CV6         Mid Volts = 0
This is the setting to the speed at half throttle

CV7         Version ID = 51
Reserved CV for the Manufacturers model number

CV8         Manufacturer ID = 129  (Digitrax)
Reserved CV for Manufacturer ID and also Decoder Reset

CV9         Motor Drive Frequency = 0 (This adjust the frequency of the DC pulses)
This is a setting for noisy locomotives, By varying it, some quiet down

CV17       Long Address = 230  (Value usually calculated by the controller)                       This CV holds the part of the Long (> 127) address

CV18       Long Address = 72    (Value usually calculated by the controller)                       This CV holds the other part of the 4 digit address.

CV19       Advanced Consist address = 0
For Advanced Consisting, the Advanced Consist address is stored here

CV20       Advanced Consist direction = 0
This is for the loco direction in the consist

CV29       Configuration Register
CV 29 holds several pieces of information for the setup of the decoder. Each bit position represents a number and the final value of CV 29

CV29.1            Normal direction of motion =  0
This is determined by adding all of these pieces together as shown

CV29.2            Speed steps      28/128                                2

CV29.3            Analog conversion mode                           0

CV29.4            Use Speed Table On                                   16

CV29.5            Addressing Mode  Long Address         32

——————————————–Adds up to:       50

CV55       Solo operation droop compensation for speed stabilization = 6
This is the setting for BEMF for the locomotive running alone.

CV56       Advanced consist droop compensation for speed stabilization = 0
This is the revised setting for the locomotive if running in a consist

CV57       Speed Compensation Control = 0  (BEMF Settings)                                         This is the “strength” of the BEMF force

CV65       Kick Start = 2
This CV controls the setting so the locomotive starts at throttle position 1

CV66       Forward Trim = 84
(Value)/128 is the multiplier to speed up or slow down in forward direction.

Speed Table CV’s

CV67   Step 1              0
These are the 28 steps of the speed table

CV68   Step 2              15
Values can span 0 (All Stop)  – 255 (Full speed)

CV69   Step 3              28

CV70   Step 4              41

CV71   Step 5              52

CV72   Step 6              61

CV73   Step 7              70

CV74   Step 8              78

CV75   Step 9              86

CV76   Step 10            92

CV77   Step 11            98

CV78   Step 12            103

CV79   Step 13            108

CV80   Step 14            112

CV81   Step 15            116

CV82   Step 16            120

CV83   Step 17            123

CV84   Step 18            126

CV85   Step 19            128

CV86   Step 20            130

CV87   Step 21            132

CV88   Step 22            134

CV89   Step 23            136

CV90   Step 24            137

CV91   Step 25            169

CV92   Step 26            140

CV93   Step 27            141

CV94   Step 28            142

CV95   Reverse Trim 84
(Value/128) is the multiplier to speed up or slow down in reverse

These are the actual settings from one of my locomotives. Trim is only available on Digitrax decoders and is the most powerful and fastest way to speed match locomotives. I omitted a few of the advanced CV settings because I thought this may be overwhelming enough.

The settings you have here will run a Kato SD70M at a scale full speed of 80mph.  It also has momentum settings to double the momentum of the dual flywheels in the Kato units.

I decided that it was also best to save the lighting CV for when you are comfortable with these. They are very similar for CV 29 in that the effect settings have a Register construct for all of the lighting effects.

When I program decoders, I start at CV 1 and plow through essentially in order.

As I have said before, I will try my best to answer any DCC questions you have and help you understand the what and the why of DCC.


David C. Eaton

A shout out of Thanks to David C. Eaton for the advice and help found here.

Armed with this information shared I can move forward to better train operations and performance from my locomotives and diesels.   The information shared here will be of great interest to our local BVMR’s.   Those fellow model train enthusiast who stop in to visit here at BarstowRick.com will benefit as well.    In time we all will realize the significance of this gift.



DCC – Speed Matching and Consisting

Speed Matching, Consisting and Much More:     We will defer to David Eaton’s  PDF for the answers.

How do we speed match our locomotives and diesels when we want to lash them up, operating multiple sets?

Answers to those difficult DCC questions.

DCC can be just as frustrating  to me as this new fangled computer.     Finally I’ve either wised up or gotten smarter over night.   I’ve wanted to post David Eaton’s PDF here for sometime.   I couldn’t figure out how to transfer data from the PDF and copy it  here to BarstowRick.com.   Well, I haven’t figured out how to…yet, ever hopeful but I fumbled onto a way to link his PDF.

Speed Matching, Consisting Locomotives and those dreaded CV’s can be sources of frustration for those who operate with DCC.    How do we go about Speed Matching the locomotives when we want to “Consist” or I’d prefer to say “Lash-Up” a number of locomotives or diesels?    

David Eaton aka Sharkman, provides answers to this difficult question.    David E. is a qualified engineer in the sciences of  engineering electronics    His DCC presentations will open doors you and I thought were impossible.

David Eaton’s Speed Matching Paper v2(1)    Click on the link and you are headed for some of the best advice out there.

As a reminder if it’s green you have the clear board to highball down the main to the PDF.   Click and scroll.

A shout out of thanks to David E., for allowing me to post his well prepared  PDF.  

More To Come:  

David also sent me information on how to set those CV’s.   Values Needed to set your CV’s.    This is exactly what I’ve been looking for, for sometime.    Thanks David!     See:  Setting CV’s.