Small Layout Ideas – Prototypically Whimsical

In model railroading, many times we have layout owners who have “fun” with their names, locations and purposes for their layout. You cannot be in this hobby very long without hearing names like the “Gorre and Daphetid” or the “Gum Stump and Snowshoe”

This month we will take a look at a Prototype that decided to use whimsical names for locations along it’s route and became know as the Celestial Railway.

Jupiter and Lake Worth Railway (aka The Celestial Railroad)

Southeast Florida during the early days (prior to the Florida East Coast Railroad) was not easily traveled. There were treacherous reefs outside of the barriers islands and the Intercoastal Waterway did not exist as it does today.

Northern newspapers advertised hunting and fishing trips into tropical Southeast Florida around Lake Worth and the West Palm Beach area. Steamboats would carry passengers down the Indian River and arrive at Jupiter at the far end. The passengers would then disembark and travel overland their destinations in and around Lake Worth. The problem with arriving in Jupiter by steamboat was that it was an “end of the line” settlement with little to offer tourists. Even in 1900 the local population of Jupiter Inlet was 145. Traveling on to Lake Worth, seven miles southward, meant bouncing in a hot, bumpy stagecoach.

In the late 1890's the area was becoming a vacation spot
In the late 1890’s the area was becoming a vacation spot

So was born the Jupiter & Lake Worth Railway on July 4th 1889. Work on the roadbed is said to have began in October, 1880, but due to the limited cargo holds of steamships coming from Titusville, it took almost 10 years before the last rails were set in place.

The 3ft narrow gauge line linked the dock at Jupiter with Juno at the head of Lake Worth. The old site of Juno was near Oakbrook Square and PGA Boulevard. Present day Juno Beach is north of the original Juno by about seven miles. From here passengers boarded boats for the rest of their journey south.

Dora Doster is pictured on the front of Celestial Railroad engine #1
Dora Doster is pictured on the front of Celestial Railroad engine #1

There were no other settlements between Jupiter and the end of the line at Lake Worth when the railroad was built, but with high hopes, the railroad created the locations of Venus and Mars. The total railroad was seven miles in length. The stations from North to South were:

  • Jupiter (mile 0)
  • Venus (mile 3)
  • Mars (mile 5)
  • Juno (mile 7.5)

Officially the names were derived from Roman deities, but it did not take long for a British journalist in an article published in March 1893 in Harper’s New Monthly Magazine to label the line the “Celestial Railway” and the name stuck.

Boats similar to the above would provide passengers and freight traffic to the line.
Boats similar to the above would provide passengers and freight traffic to the line.

Nearly 100 residents showed up for the grand opening and given a free train ride from Jupiter to Juno which took a half-hour. Once the train reached Juno it had to go backwards the whole seven and a half miles since there was no way for it turn around. It enjoyed six years of service hauling freight and passengers.

Operations on the line were very simple. There were no turning tracks, so the locomotives always pointed towards Juno, forcing trains making the return trip to go in reverse. Fare was rather high for the time, being 10 cents per mile, a total of 75 cents one way. At it’s height the line ran four trains daily, except on Sunday when only two trains were run in the afternoon. The line ran a flag stop service along the line as well.

The line carried building materials for the the Hotel Royal Poinciana on Lake Worth
The line carried building materials for the the Hotel Royal Poinciana on Lake Worth

The railroad had only two locomotives, both were Baldwin locomotives with 4-4-0 wheel arrangements. The line operated with two combines, two passenger cars, two flat cars and one boxcar. Freight traffic headed north would consisted of coconuts, pineapples, dates, citrus, sugar cane, turtles, fish and early vegetables. Southbound traffic included building materials and merchandise.

Ben Hill Doster, moved his family to Jupiter, Florida about 1894 to help his recently widowed sister, Mrs. Gus Miller, on her homestead there. Mr Doster ran the store on the pier that was built for the Celestial Railroad. The pier was built on pilings over the river. The tourists coming down the river by steamer always found their way into his store, and he became a sort of first official greeter for the community. He met many wealthy and distinguished people. At one time President Cleveland and his party, en route to Palm Beach, stopped briefly and had dinner at the little hotel before continuing on.

Dock construction at Jupiter
Dock construction at Jupiter

The materials for the Royal Poinciana Hotel in Palm Beach were transported on Celestial Line, but Henry Flagler (owner of the Florida East Coast Ry) felt that they had charged him too much for their service. He tried, unsuccessfully, to buy the line, so when his Florida East Coast Railway tracks were laid they bypassed Juno.

When the Florida East Coast Railway finished it’s line to the area in February 1894 the need for the steamships and the Celestial Line ceased to exist. The Jupiter and Lake Worth Railway was abandoned by June 1896. Boats were eventually able to make the entire journey without the aid of rail or coach when a canal was dug between the two waterways that the railroad connected; this is now part of the Intercoastal Waterway.

Jupiter and Lake Worth number 2
Jupiter and Lake Worth number 2

The rails and right-of-way remained where it was until the 1930s. One wooden tie was found along the former right-of-way as late as 1998, and was donated to the town of Juno Beach. A portion of the old right-of-way was used for U.S. 1.  Today, over 100 years after the line’s abandonment, the flat grading of the former right-of-way can still be seen in the northeast corner of the Juno Dunes Natural Area

More information on the exact route of the line can be found in the book Retracing the Celestial Railroad by Geoffrey Lynfield. The book was written in 1982 and can be viewed on line at http://ufdc.ufl.edu/UF00101446/00044/5j.

 

Layout Spot Light – The Bigfoot Spotters Excursion Railway

Every so often I come across layouts that just, lets just say “scratch that itch”. So it was when I saw the Bigfoot Spotters Excursion Railway (BSER) by Chris Walas. I found the BSER while looking for inspiration for a pizza layout.

IMG_6363_zps9abbc4f5

Per Chris; the subject for my 2013 pizza Snowflake challenge. The railway will be the Bigfoot Spotters Excursion Railway (BSER). Perched high atop Mt. Hooey, the railway provides paying customers with a revolving 360 degree view of the entire Mt. Hooey area, where Bigfoot is seen abundantly. I know this sounds mundane, but I’m hoping to add some silliness to it all.

IMG_6371_zpsb0573785 IMG_6370_zpsaa08e6f5 IMG_6369_zps9c761bb4 IMG_6368_zpscb0587f4 IMG_6362_zps35511028 IMG_3118_zpsf10c1160

I think it is a job well done. The full build article can be found on the GnATTERbox at http://forum.gn15.info/viewtopic.php?f=1&t=9101&hilit=BSER.

Now for Something Completely Different

I have been posting to this web site for some time now. Most times I will get out one article a month but things have been busy here and I have not had much time. Hence I have missed a couple months during 2015. I believe people like the site as I get 100-200 views every day. I write the articles in on this website because I enjoy sharing the many facets of the hobby.

I have decided to change things a bit. I have added some free advertising for a few of my favorite model railroad information sources like Model Rail Radio Podcast, A Modelers Life Podcast and Model Railroad Hobbyist Magazine. I think since they provide a free service to us why not advertise for them.

The look of the site will also be changing as well. The old way “works” but I want things to be organized a bit better. Honestly the subjects of the site have changed over time and I need to update the content with better menus, links and searchable content.

To encourage more content, I am opening up the site to others who would like to write articles, post photos of your work, industry news and upcoming events. If you would like to join the fun, feel free to contact me at info@smallmr.com.

I want to thank everyone for reading!

Model Railroad Control Systems – The Next Generation

Recent technology growth combined with innovative modelers has created a whole new trend in Model Railroad Control Systems with electric power. Prior to 1990, most control systems were DC with block control in the smaller scales or AC in some larger scales. There were some radio controlled systems, but there were only used in the large scales and garden railways.

Basic DCC Setup
Basic DCC Setup

After 1990 several individuals and then manufacturers started to bring DCC systems to the marketplace. For a brief history of DCC I suggest checking http://www.nmra.org/dcc-working-group and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Digital_Command_Control. DCC revolutionized the way we run our railroads and brought simplification in the wiring of the layout. The drawback to DCC was in the added complexity to programming the locomotives and the other devices that use the DCC signal. The train power and the control method were still tied together.

JMRI-Feature

 

Today much of the complexity for programming has been alleviated by the use of software, especially by the wonderful people who support the JMRI open source software. JMRI brought us plain English and simple screens to program our locomotives. Some DCC system manufacturers have also tried to make programming less complex and have provided (or are developing) simplified programming into their control systems.
Even with all these developments there are still limitations that plague us when we want to operate our railroads. These include:

  • Dirty track causing stalling or command issues
  • One way communication to the locomotive
  • Command/network issues on large layouts
  • Control blocks on large layouts
  • Shorts
  • Network issues
  • And many more…
JMRI and the WiFi Throttle allow remote control with current DCC technology
JMRI and the WiFi Throttle allow remote control with current DCC technology

I have a very simple view of train control; I break down most issues into two categories: Control Issues and Power Issues. Some problems will affect both but these are the two things we must accomplish and need to be reliable as possible. Analog (DC/AC) and DCC systems combine Control and Power into the same feed. This of course has been by necessity. I believe that technology has progressed far enough that the two should be separated.

Power Delivery

You have only two choices for getting power to your locomotive today, by rail or by battery. Obviously in small scales battery is not an option (yet). But in HO scale and larger it is a viable option. Battery allows uninterrupted power to the locomotive. Even a poor running locomotive can smooth out and crawl on battery power. Battery power does require work to get the maximum battery in the small space of a locomotive, tender or a dummy unit. It is only a matter of time before manufacturers design the locomotives to accept batteries. Most modern diesel fuel tanks are about the right size for a battery pack. A simple clip could be produced to make swapping the battery very simple. Steam locomotives only need the top of the tender removable or hinged.

I still use an MRC power supply for small layouts running one locomotive
I still use a Railpower power supply for small layouts running one locomotive

Rail power is a must for small HO locomotives and smaller scales but this does not mean the control must come that way. By removing the control from the power source, we are free to modify the power for improved usage. For instance capacitors can be added to provide enough extra power to glide through the pickup and track issues. You are also able to add a rectifying circuit so that polarity of the track did not matter. You could run on DC or AC.

Control Systems

Before DCC we simply increased or decreased the power to make the locomotives go faster or slower. Reverse the polarity and the motor would run in the opposite direction. DCC allowed us to send a constant voltage and let the receiver make sense of what the signal inside the power said to do. In such DCC (and its forbearers) allowed the use of a constant power supply.

DCC is similar to AC and uses a wave form to send the signals through the rails
DCC is similar to AC and uses the wave form to send the signals through the rails

Very small radio control receivers came next. These allowed larger scales to add receivers to their locomotives and run batteries. Radio Control (RC) has come a long way in recent years. The advent of small RC cars, planes, helicopters and drones has caused a revolution in control systems and battery technology. RC chips have become very small and LiPo batteries of immense power output are small enough to fit inside an HO locomotive.

LiPos come in many shapes and sizes
LiPos come in many shapes and sizes

Bluetooth technology came to the mainstream with the cellular phone. Early Bluetooth did not have good range and was hard to sync and used a lot of power. Over the last few years the technology has progressed and a new type of Bluetooth called Bluetooth Smart (a.k.a Bluetooth low energy/Bluetooth LE/Bluetooth 4.0) has made its debut. Bluetooth Smart is a low energy version that also has a range of a football field or more. Bluetooth allows for two way communication and is inexpensive to integrate. Since most mobile devices already have Bluetooth Smart technology in them, we just need to equip the thing you wish to control and write an app for that mobile device.

 

Bluetooth Smart receiver size sample
Bluetooth Smart receiver size sample

Bachmann in conjunction with BlueRail Trains have already begun shipping blue tooth chips in ready to run train sets. BlueRail has stated that it will be coming to market very soon with receivers for the aftermarket. Word on the street, is that Tam Valley Depot will soon be coming out with a Bluetooth Smart receiver of their own.

Where To From Here

I believe that we are the edge of a major change in the hobby. Soon you will be able to control your trains from any mobile device independent of any control box across the room. The powered rail will be a thing of the past or will be modified to the point that wiring and maintenance is minimal. My one major concern is that the technology will move faster than standards can be put in place to make sure everything plays nice together. If several manufacturers all start installing Bluetooth, what language in the background will be used to make sure everything works together. Bluetooth and RC are just the tools to deliver the message. How that message is formatted and what it says are up to company that designs the receiver and the app. From my understanding BlueRail has developed its own system around the Bluetooth signal and currently cannot talk to a DCC sound receiver or anyone else’s technology. BlueRail has stated that they intend on sharing their technology but since it was developed alone without thinking of existing systems how robust is it? These things remain to be seen.

Tam Valley Depot System works with existing DCC technology
Tam Valley Depot System works with existing DCC technology

The radio control market has already progressed to the point of a few ready to go systems on the market and guess what; none of them work with the others. To run a locomotive on another RC system means swapping controllers in the locomotives. I see no reason for the Bluetooth offerings to do any different. I also would hate to see all the amazing sound decoders we have all paid a lot of money for, have to be removed and something else applied just because there is not a standard.

The only manufacturer who has made compatible equipment that I have seen is Tam Valley. His systems piggyback with DCC so you can add RC to a DCC locomotive. You can keep that Tsunami sound and add RC to it.

NMRA

I feel now is a time for a call to action on the part of the NMRA to review where this hobby is going with remote control technologies and define some rules before a lot of people find their way down the primrose path of proprietary equipment. This is why the NMRA exists and why it should be supported. I recently put my own money down and became a member. Setting standards are very important for the good of the hobby, and I see this new technology as both a great leap and possibly a great divide for the hobby.

What of the Old Technology?

As with any new technology we need to see how the market embraces these new technologies. Is DCC dead? Not yet, after all I know people who are still trying to purchase old Lionel and American Flyer throttles. Our hobby tends to move slowly and I am sure DC and DCC will be alive for some time to come. I have always believed that variety in the hobby makes for a good hobby.

Free-mo Car Float Module Design

Since I did the first article, Free-mo Module Concepts – Rail-Marine back in August 2013, I have been toying with plans for a Free-mo module set loosely based on the N&W Detroit river operations of the 1970’s. The original N&W yard was located in Detroit adjacent to the Ambassador Bridge to Canada.

The car float yard was part of a larger yard used for various purposes. Satellite images of the yard are available in Google Earth’s historical data from 2002. A close-up look shows that the tracks available to the car float aprons were a small group of eight tracks. I will refer to these eight tracks as the car float yard. The rest of the adjacent yard appears to have been used for other purposes. Using the Ruler tool in Google Earth, the total length of the car float yard was approximately 1,800 feet. That equates to over 20 feet in HO scale. The tracks varied in length from about 1,000 to 1,200 feet (11.5 to 13.8 feet in HO scale). None of these measurements include the switch lead.

N&W Car Float Yard in 2002. The tracks on the lower left that terminate just beyond the bridge were used for the car float operation.
N&W Car Float Yard in 2002. The tracks on the lower left that terminate just beyond the bridge were used for the car float operation.

As can be seen in the satellite images, the N&W had two car float aprons. The eight tracks were used to service both aprons. The largest car float, the Detroit, was four tracked and had a length of 308 feet. If we use 300’ as the maximum length for a track, then a float could take a maximum of 1,200’ of cars. This is equal to the length of most of the tracks in the float yard, so one track equals one car float of cars.

A closer look at the apron and switch lead shows the seperation from the rest of yard. A connection to the other yard was available much farther down the switch lead.
A closer look at the apron and switch lead shows the seperation from the rest of yard. A connection to the other yard was available much farther down the switch lead.

Another interesting operational aspect of the N&W car float yard is that it had a short (for prototype) switch lead. An industry was located at the end of the lead that limited the amount of usable lead for the car float operation. There was also a small passing siding and a connection to the rest of the yard.

The switch lead had to share space with an industry and the adjoining yard.
The switch lead had to share space with an industry and the adjoining yard.

For the car float operation, a short switch lead works fine. Loading a car float must be done slowly and with only a few cars at a time. Loading cars must be done by alternating cars on each side of the float when loading and unloading. If only a single 300 foot string of cars (remember max length for one track on a float is 309’) was switched at a time, a 500 foot lead (5.75 feet) is adequate for switching the car float with a locomotive and up to two idler cars.

For my design, I have to consider how large the module set will be because I will have to transport it all. I have found that 4’ modules are easy to handle if I am by myself. A stack of 4 modules (6.375” tall) with 1.25” spacers would be 30.5”. I will add 4” casters to the bottom of the stack which will add 5” in height for a total stack height of approximately 35.5”. These dimensions should be able to fit in most minivans. I do own a pickup truck with a full size bed (4’ x 8’) but I cannot always guarantee that I will always have it available. Making the transport size as small as possible allows for flexibility.

Module Plan
Module Plan – red lines indicate break points for modules

The track plan I developed is a through design with a double track main line. All turnouts that deviate from the main are #8 while yard turnouts are all #6. The main line moves to the outer edge of the modules to make room for the float yard in the center. Crossovers are provided at each end so trains may enter the yard from either end. The top two yard tracks are for arrivals and departures. The four lower tracks are for shuffling cars to and from the car floats. Each track is at least 8’ feet long which can hold just over half of a car float full of cars. This arrangement allows room for unloading a full load while accepting traffic on the A/R tracks and a full car set ready to be loaded.

The Detroit captured in a satellite photo just before being scrapped
The Detroit captured in a satellite photo just before being scrapped

The extra space between tracks resulted from difference in geometry of the #8 turnouts. I decided to leave the spacing and allow the main to be some distance from the yard tracks to add some visual interest. I am planning on filling those areas with crew shacks, parking, yard/marine debris and other items.

As with all plans, this one has a few disadvantages that are readily apparent to me. The top A/R track is shorter and will only accept an inbound train of 6.5’ in length. Since there are two A/R tracks, the train can be broken if necessary. There are no provisions for locomotive or caboose storage. This should not be an issue as this is not a classification yard. Locomotives and their cabooses are expected to leave soon after arrival. The size of the car float will require an additional module of 5-6 feet in length. This will be an odd size and not fit the stacking I can do with the yard. The yard lead will require an additional five feet of space minimum. I can see no way around this and will most likely make the lead modules match the size of the float module so I can at least stack them together.

This design is not set in stone yet, but I do want to move forward soon. I would like to at least have a working set of modules for the yard by the 2016 National Train Show in Indianapolis. I welcome all comments and suggestions. I will post revisions here as they happen.

Small Layout Ideas – Quincy and Torch Lake Railroad

I recently acquired a copy of the new book, Rock Down, Coal Up – The Story of the Quincy and Torch Lake Railroad by Chuck Pomazal. It did not take me long to read the whole book, cover to cover. I have always thought the Q&TL was an interesting little industrial line and, to some extent, my Peshekee River Railroad was inspired by the Q&TL. This new book brings forth many finer details about the Q&TL that show a small industrial narrow gauge layout can have a lot of character and modeling potential.

Copper Region of Michigan
Copper Region of Michigan

The Q&TL was a 3 foot narrow gauge railroad that operated 6 miles of main line in the copper country of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. The purpose for the railroad was to move copper bearing rock from the mines on top of the hill above Hancock to the mills The railroad operated from atop the hill above Hancock and ran the six miles to the mills on Torch Lake. On the return trip, the railroad would bring coal back up the hill to the boiler houses that kept the hoists and other equipment running.

No 6 Shaft Rock House
No 6 Shaft Rock House

At first glance, it appears that there is not much to the operation of the railroad with the same cars going back and forth with either rock or coal. A closer look at the complex track arrangements and learning of the multiple expansions show that there was quite a bit to this little railroad. What is most appealing (at least to me) is how most of the equipment is so well documented. This is because when the line stopped in 1945, the equipment was just left where they ended the day. Most of the equipment stayed where it was for almost 30 years before most of the equipment was removed. Even today, two of the original steam locomotives are still on the property and have been moved to a location that is safe and available to visitors to the site.

Locomotives on display near hoist house.
Locomotives on display near hoist house.

The six miles of main line consisted of a 1.5% grade from the top of the hill to the mills on Torch Lake. There was also a 3.5% switch back to access the coal docks at water level. The same drop-bottom cars (referred to as rock cars) were used for hauling coal back up the hill to the boiler houses. At the top of the hill above Hancock there were several mine shafts. These shafts had been expanded and new shafts opened over the years. There were also boiler houses, hoist houses and various other mining support buildings. This created a maze of tracks to collect the rock, weigh it and then move it to mill at the lake. On the return trip, the rock cars with coal would have to be shuttled to various points to feed the furnaces at up to five boiler houses and the coal shoot for the locomotives themselves.

Rock Cars stand where they were left when the mine closed.
Rock Cars stand where they were left when the mine closed.

Several factors make this railroad a fine subject for a small model railroad. The average length of a train would have been 12-15 cars. Larger trains were run on occasion, but only after the last locomotive, a Baldwin 2-8-0, was added to the roster. The cars were short at no more than 24′. The line did transfer other cargo periodically as the line also had several flat cars and a couple gondolas. These were in the range of 30′ cars. The line had a few cabooses, but no two were alike. they ranged from a very short bobber to an old passenger car that was shortened and had a copula added.

No 1 Mill circa 1890 as viewed from the lake. Note the trestles  entering the building from each side.
No 1 Mill circa 1890 as viewed from the lake. Note the trestles entering the building from each side.

Although the northern Michigan scenery is very beautiful, Modeling the Q&TL would not require expansive vistas. The railroad was built on the side of the hill, so the railroad can be modeled with a natural backdrop of the hill. As shown in the book, even the top of the hill had some natural and man made scenery blocks. Most of the mining building were large and flats could be utilized for most. i also found it interesting that some of the snow fences were made from very tall poles with 10″ wide boards applied to create a very tall wall. This would also serve very well as a backdrop/view block.

Q&TL Mogul at work in Hancock. Note the square water tank and the snow fence in the background.
Q&TL Mogul at work in Hancock. Note the square water tank and the snow fence in the background.

Unique buildings and equipment also make the Q&TL very unique. The round house was built in several stages and the walls are made of local stone cast of during the mining process. The original turn table was a 50′ armstrong model. The water towers were square, enclosed and of unique design with horizontal internal tanks. There were several styles of rock cars, but all functioned in a very similar fashion. Most also used shorter wheelbase trucks. Most of the locomotives were 2-6-0 moguls but there was a couple 2-8-0’s. One of the 2-8-0 locomotives was an outside frame locomotive that had twice the pulling power of the Moguls. This was locomotive #6. The outside frame reminded me of some Colorado narrow gauge locomotives.

Quincy Mine Locations
Quincy Mine Locations 1902

Getting back to the book, Chuck Pomazal has assembled a wealth of information and history about the Q&TL. The book includes scale drawings of all the rolling stock and locomotives. there are also drawings of key buildings like the roundhouse. The book includes many photographs of the line both while in service and after abandonment. All in all I highly recommend the book even if you do not plan on modeling the Q&TL. The details within the book inspired me to add little bits to my Peshekee River Railroad to give it some additional character.

Quincy Stamp Mill Location 1890
Quincy Stamp Mill Location

The book may be purchased from the Quincy Mine Hoist Association. A portion of the proceeds goes toward the Locomotive Restoration Fund. Today, locomotive #6 is being restored and is located at the refurbished roundhouse in Hancock. The Quincy Mine #2 Shaft House, Hoist House, Round House and several other building are part of the Quincy Mine and Hoist : Keweenaw National Historical Park. I highly recommend a visit to the mine and the wonderful G Scale layout they have that represents the Q&TL.

Small Layout Ideas – The Palmyra and Jacksonburgh Railroad

The area of Michigan that I live in has a colorful history when it comes to railroads. Every major eastern carrier at one time crossed lower South East Michigan through Monroe and Lenawee Counties. This article will take a look at one of the first and a little branch line that has survived since the beginning.

The railroad to this day runs through the downtown of Tecumseh.
The railroad in its early days (about 1855) in downtown Tecumseh.
The railroad still runs through downtown Tecumseh to this day.
The railroad still runs through downtown Tecumseh to this day.

HISTORY

Even before Michigan became a state, the territory funded a railroad to assist with the growth and development of the area. In April of 1833, a charter was granted to the Erie and Kalamazoo Railroad Company by the Michigan Territorial Council to construct a railroad from Port Lawrence (some these days refer to that area as Toledo) on Lake Erie to Adrian in Lenawee County, and then on across Michigan to the Kalamazoo River, which would give access to Lake Michigan. Construction reached the city of Adrian in 1836 becoming the first railroad in the Michigan Territory. Horse teams were used along the line. Even so it was the first railroad trip undertaken west of the state of New York. The first steam locomotives (Baldwins) arrived and operated in early 1837, with an average speed of 10 miles per hour (16 km/h).

Artist's depiction of an early Erie & Kalamazoo train.
Artist’s depiction of an early Erie & Kalamazoo train.

It should be noted that although the railroad was started in Port Lawrence, MI a dispute over the area (see Toledo War) and a compromise backed by President Andrew Jackson resulted in Port Lawrence being handed over to Ohio and Michigan receiving the upper peninsula in exchange for the loss.

Palmyra and Jacksonburgh
Taken from a 1876 Lake Shore and Michigan Southern Route Map, the Palmyra and Jacksonburgh is highlighted in yellow. the LS&MS had control of the line by this time.

Railroad construction was becoming so popular that even before the Erie and Kalamazoo tracks reached Adrian in 1836, the new Palmyra and Jacksonburgh Railroad Company (under the control of the Erie and Kalamazoo) received a charter to construct a branch railroad 46 miles long. The line would run north from a junction with the Erie and Kalamazoo near Palmyra (Lenawee Junction) and proceed through Tecumseh, Clinton and Manchester into Jacksonburgh (later called Jackson) in Jackson County.

Lenawee junction as it looks today. The south line goes to Toledo, while the west line goes to Adrian. The line going north is the Palmyra and Jacksonburgh Railroad The east-west line used to cross the north south line in the middle of the wye. The line to the east was removed in the 1980’s.
Lenawee Junction today
Lenawee Junction today

Construction began in 1837, the year that Michigan became a state. From Lenawee Junction on the Erie and Kalamazoo Railroad, the new Palmyra and Jacksonburgh Railroad reached Tecumseh in 1838. The line did not proceed any further for 20 years as the railroad struggled survive. In 1844 the state took control of the line and in 1846, the state sold its Southern Railroad (including the Palmyra and Jacksonburgh Branch) to a new company, the Michigan Southern. Under its direction, construction began again, and the Palmyra and Jacksonburgh Railroad reached Clinton in 1853, Manchester in 1855 and Jacksonburgh in 1857. The Jacksonburgh Branch (as it was called then) was completed, forming the first rail connection between Lake Erie and Jacksonburgh, Michigan.

The line crossing the River Raisin
The line crossing the River Raisin south of Tecumseh.

The line was known as the Palmyra & Jacksonburgh Railroad for some time after completion even though it was operated by the Lake Shore & Michigan Southern until 1915 when it was rolled into New York Central Railroad. As with the rest of the railroad industry the line began to see much less traffic after 1930 and again after WWII. In 1965 the tracks between Clinton and Jackson were abandoned and removed, cutting the branch off from Jackson Michigan. The New York Central folded into the Penn Central Railroad in 1968 and in 1970 the Penn Central filed for bankruptcy. In 1981 its successor, Conrail, filed to abandon what was left of the lines that crossed southern Michigan including the Palmyra and Jacksonburgh line from Lenawee Junction to Clinton.

SMRS Route Map Today
SMRS Route Map Today

In 1985 the Southern Michigan Railroad Society, led by three high school students, purchased the Clinton Branch and transformed it into an operating railroad museum. The society continues to preserve, restore, and to educate the public about the first railroad in Michigan. They offer various trips on the remaining tracks of what used to be an operating railroad, and work on a volunteer basis. They offer various tours of the line and support local community events.

PASSENGER TRAFFIC

As with most early railroads, passenger traffic was a primary purpose for the railroad along with freight. In the early days, rail was the primary mode of transportation. In the early 1900’s the line saw at least 8 scheduled trains per day.

The schedule from 1910 shows that eight passenger trains a day passed Tecumseh. Although located on a branch line the line saw a lot of traffic.
The schedule from 1910 shows that eight passenger trains a day passed Tecumseh. Although located on a branch line the line saw a lot of traffic.

By the 1930’s the car had taken a sizable bite out of the passenger traffic. The New York Central started using rail-cars to service the line. The last scheduled passenger train on the branch was in 1939.

Lenawee Junction Depot sometime around 1900
Lenawee Junction Depot sometime around 1900

INDUSTRIES

The line operated for so long that several industries have come and gone on the line. In the early days, the area was mostly agricultural. The major towns on the line  were Tecumseh, Clinton, Manchester and Jackson. Jackson was the largest city to be served and generated through traffic for Toledo along with interchange to the Michigan Central. Today only Tecumseh and Clinton retain the old tracks.

Clinton Sanborn Map showing track arrangement. Note how the Atlas Feed Co. requires a switchback.
Clinton Sanborn Map showing track arrangement. Note how the Atlas Feed Co. requires a switchback.

Prior to the railroad entering town, Clinton was on the primary stage coach road between Chicago and Detroit. Industry grew fast to take advantage of the new rail line. In 1840 the Atlas Feed Company was in operation and the large Clinton Woolen Mill was organized in 1866. By then the following businesses were found in Clinton: 4 dry goods stores, 4 groceries, 4 shops, 1 hardware store, 1 cabinet shop, 2 millinery shops, 1 barber shop, 1 paint shop, 2 meat markets, 2 saloons, 4 wagon shops, 2 blacksmith shops, 1 grist mill, 1 plaster mill, 1 shingle factory, 1 depot, 1 tannery, 1 refreshment room. The railroad had a small yard and a large freight house to service the wide array of businesses. The freight house survived until it was torn down in 2010.

The Atlas Feed mill circa 1923. Note the forground tracks that led to the switchback.
The Atlas Feed mill circa 1923. Note the foreground tracks that led to the switchback.

Clinton and the surrounding area was one of the largest wool producers in the US. The Clinton Woolen Mill manufactured cloth for soldiers in both World Wars and during the Spanish American War. It also produced material for fire, police and school uniforms and for automobile upholstery. In 1957 the Mill closed because the automotive companies, chief users of the mill’s wool, had begun to use synthetics as upholstery fabric.

Clinton Woolen Mill
Clinton Woolen Mill
View of unique track arrangement in Clinton. because of limited space, the railroad had to cross it's own track twice to access the mills.
View of unique track arrangement in Clinton. Because of limited space, the railroad had to cross it’s own track twice to access the mills.

Tecumseh was a small farming community up until the late 1800’s. With the arrival of two additional railroads (Detroit, Toledo & Milwaukee and the Detroit, Toledo & Ironton) several industries developed south of the downtown near the crossing. Tecumseh had two small railroad yards. The North Yard was on the original Palmyra and Jacksonburgh line and was just north of downtown. adjacent to it over the years could be found the stock pens, team track, lumber yards and coal dealers of many small rural towns.

Sanborn Map of North Yard area
Sanborn Map of North Yard area

The South Yard was just south of where the DT&M crossed the Palmyra and Jacksonburgh Railroad. The DT&M did not last long on it’s own. It fell under Vanderbilt influence early and was operated by the Lake Shore and Michigan Southern. The DT&I line merged into the old DT&M line (around 1895) just before the crossing the Palmyra and Jacksonburgh line. Up until Henry Ford ownership, and a rework of the line, the DT&I operated through trains on the DT&M line to Dundee to gain access to Detroit. The South Yard handled interchange to the DT&I and serviced several larger industries south of downtown. Up until the great depression these included a foundry, equipment manufacturing, fencing company and a mill. Many of these businesses went away during the depression. The Tecumseh Products Company acquired one of these building near the south yard in 1934 and over the years became the largest industry in the area.

South Yard and adjacent industries that later became part of Tecumseh Products
South Yard and adjacent industries that later became part of Tecumseh Products. At this time the South Yard was nothing more than a pair of tracks.
The Quaker Oats Company was near the north end of the South Yard
The Quaker Oats Company was near the north end of the South Yard
View of southern portion of the South Yard showing one of the branches into the Tecumseh Products Factory. The building in the upper left is the old Quaker Oats plant.
View of southern portion of the South Yard showing one of the branches into the Tecumseh Products Factory. The building in the upper left is the old Quaker Oats plant.
There was only one track connecting the  Palmyra and Jacksonburgh line to the old  DT&M line. A portion of the old DT&M line and the interchange track are still there today. The Building in the upper right was used by both the DT&I and the LS&MS.NYC over the years for a variety of purposes.
There was only one track connecting the Palmyra and Jacksonburgh line to the old DT&M line. A portion of the old DT&M line and the interchange track are still there today. The Building in the upper right was used by both the DT&I and the LS&MS/NYC for a variety of purposes.

A few sidings and industries existed outside of the towns as well. One of the more interesting was the Potato Chip operation that was located exactly half way between Clinton and Tecumseh. In the 1930’s there were 31 potato chip companies in the City of Detroit. These operations required a a large quantity of potatoes to meet demand. One of these farms was located exactly halfway between Clinton and Tecumseh. The farm had it’s own spur and warehouse for the shipment of the potatoes. Remnants of the siding and a portion of the warehouse still survive.

Old potato warehouse and siding.
Old potato warehouse and siding.

The area around Tecumseh and Clinton has also seen a large number of gravel pit operations. In the years between 1900 and 1950 these were serviced by the railroad. In more modern times (1950 until the line was abandoned) newer industries were located on the line such as automotive parts manufacturers.

Abandoned turnout into automotive industry.
Abandoned turnout into automotive industry.

Today, the line still exists between Lenewee Junction and Clinton but there is a gap in the line where the tracks cross the Norfolk Southern (ex Wabash) line. Since the line was officially abandoned back in 1981, the Norfolk & Western at the time, removed the crossing. Today, excursion trains are operated on the line between Tecumseh and Clinton by the Southern Michigan Railroad. The Southern Michigan Railroad uses a unique variety of old equipment including the only example of a GMD GMDH-3.

Michigan Southern color tour excursion crossing  Red Mill Pond just north of Tecumseh
Michigan Southern color tour excursion crossing Red Mill Pond just north of Tecumseh

Modeling Possibilities

The Palmyra and Jacksonburgh line has something for almost everyone. It has existed sine the 1840’s and was in continuous revenue use until the 1980’s so it is sutable for almost any era. It is small enough to modeled as a whole or there are many small portions to inspire a small switching layout or puzzle.

Old critter abandoned on one of the old industrial sidings.
Old critter abandoned on one of the old industrial sidings.

Battery and Wireless Control for HO Scale

In the prior article, Deadrail for Free-mo, I gave a short preview of a battery locomotive setup that I would test at the upcoming Free-mo event at the National Train Show (NTS) in Cleveland OH. In this article we will examine the components and methods used to build and control the locomotives in the video.

Since that video was made, I have used this locomotive setup at two separate Free-mo events, the NTS in Cleveland and an NMRA Michiana Education & Technical Conference in Middlebury Indiana. At each event, I was able to run the locomotives for up to three hours before having to swap out the batteries. With a charge time of about an hour, I was able to keep running while charging another and I kept a third ready and available. This allowed me to do quick battery changes and have very little down time.

Dual unit setup comprised of GP30 drive unit and GP35 dummy locomotive with battery pack
Dual unit setup comprised of GP30 drive unit and GP35 dummy locomotive with battery pack

NOTE: For simplicity and ease of setup, I elected to use a two unit setup. One powered and one dummy for the battery. If I had a cab unit (with full-width carbody), I would have tried to fit everything in one locomotive. Even so, the use of two locomotives looked very prototypical.

Some may ask, “Why go to batteries at all?” I recommend trying a battery locomotive to see how smooth the locomotive will run. I have found that 90% of the issues with running ability of a given locomotive disappear as soon as track pickup is eliminated. Bad runners smooth right out and run flawlessly. The setup presented here, after conversion, was able to run in speed step 1 with a train of 10+ cars and just creep along. Try that with any rail pickup system. The battery pack I used was only 7.4 volts. I have found that with batteries, you do not need 12 volts. 7.4 volts ran the locomotive at a smooth prototypical speed.

Drive Locomotive

Life-Like Proto 2000 GP30 drive unit
Life-Like Proto 2000 GP30 drive unit

The drive locomotive is a Life-Like Proto 2000 GP30. The motor and drive line are stock with the exception of axle gear replacement (a known problem on these locomotives). The stock electrical board has been replaced with a Tsunami TSU-1000 Digital Sound Decoder. A portion of the rear weight was removed to make room for a DS1425-8 Speaker. The lamps have been replaced with LEDS.

Overview of Tsunami installation in the GP30
Overview of Tsunami installation in the GP30
Closeup view of the plug for the pigtail to connect the unit to the dummy battery unit. The extra plug is to make conversion back to rail power simple.
Close-up view of the plug for the pigtail to connect the unit to the dummy battery unit. The extra plug is to make the change back to rail power simple.

The only addition to prepare the locomotive specifically for the battery and wireless setup was the addition of a pigtail to connect the unit to the dummy unit that would hold the battery pack and receiver. I also added a second plug to the old track pickup wires. In this way the locomotive can easily be changed over to rail power.

View showing the pigtail exiting the chassis . Note how some of the front area has been cut away to make room for the plug
View showing the pigtail exiting the chassis. Note how some of the front area has been cut away to make room for the plug

Dummy/Battery Locomotive

For the Dummy/Battery locomotive, I used an old blue box Athearn GP35 dummy locomotive. I purchased it very cheap from E-bay just for this setup. The locomotive had clearly seen better days, but for a test it worked just fine. The prior owner had added a lot of weight to the interior of the locomotive. I stripped all weight from the locomotive except the weight in the fuel tank.

Inexpensive Athearn dummy locomotive used for carrying the battery pack.
Inexpensive Athearn dummy locomotive used for carrying the battery pack.

This provided a very generous area for an off the shelf RC battery pack, DRS1 receiver and an alarm to tell me when the battery was low.

Battery locomotive components from left to right: Battery, Low Battery Alarm, DRS1 reciever
Battery locomotive components from left to right: Battery, Low Battery Alarm, DRS1 receiver

The battery I used was an 860mha 7.4V 35C battery purchased at a local RC hobby shop. The battery came with standard connectors for connection to an RC vehicle and charging. Although these connectors were large, retaining them made charging simple.

7.4V battery pack used for this setup  shown connected to the charger  between usage.
7.4V battery pack used for this setup shown connected to the charger between usage.

For the wireless receiver, I used a Tam Valley Depot DRS1 system. The unit receives the DCC signal, marries it to the power source (battery) and then passes it through a connector to the GP30 Drive Locomotive.

All components placed in the shell. I used double sided tape to hold the receiver in place.
All components placed in the shell. I used double sided tape to hold the receiver in place.

To make sure I did not run the batteries too low, I used an alarm circuit board that is commonly used in RC helicopters. This device will sound an audible alarm when the battery has reached a preset low voltage. I opted for this over a traditional board (which would just shut down) so I could identify issues vs low batteries.

Another view of the interior of the dummy locomotive
Another view of the interior of the dummy locomotive

Once the batteries are in place and the unit re-assembled, it was just a matter of connecting the pigtails from each locomotive and placing them on the track.

View showing the pigtail which will connect to the drive unit.
View showing the pigtail which will connect to the drive unit.

Transmitter and Radio Control

Diagram courtesy of Tam Valley Depot
Diagram courtesy of Tam Valley Depot

The Transmitter is the second part of the Tam Valley Depot DRS1 system. The transmitter is a simple board that connects to the DCC command station (no booster). It transmits the DCC signal directly to the receiver in the dummy locomotive. It will also connect to ANY DCC command station/system. To make my system simple and transportable, I used the system described in my prior article Low Cost/Low Effort DCC for the Small Layout. Since the signal is handled by the transmitter and the battery provides the power, boosters and network (Loconet) are NOT required.

Tam Valley DRS1 Transmitter
Tam Valley DRS1 Transmitter

Batteries

The full topic of batteries is WAY beyond the scope of this article. Even so some basics need to be covered. I strongly suggest a trip to the local RC hobby shop (more of those than train shops these days). When I tell them I am trying to RC trains, they always say “COOL” and provide all kinds of help. For more detailed information you might want to try Battery University’s web site.

Supply List

Drive Locomotive = LifeLike P2K (gears replaced)
Dummy Loco = Old Athearn GP35
Deadrail System = Tam Valley (http://www.tamvalleydepot.com/)
Decoder = Tsunami (http://www.soundtraxx.com/dsd/tsunami/1000.php)
Battery = 860mha 7.4V 35C (local RC hobby shop)
Protection = Venom Low Voltage Monitor (http://www.amazon.com/Venom-Voltage-Monitor-LiPO-Batteries/dp/B0064SHG0Y)

What are LiPo batteries?

LiPo batteries (short for Lithium Polymer) are a type of rechargeable battery that has taken the electric RC world by storm, especially for planes and helicopters.

LiPos come in many shapes and sizes
LiPo battery packs come in many shapes and sizes

RC LiPo batteries have three main things going for them that make them the perfect battery choice for RC over conventional rechargeable battery types such as NiCad, or NiMH.

  • RC LiPo batteries are light weight and can be made in almost any shape and size.
  • RC LiPo batteries have large capacities, meaning they hold lots of power in a small package.
  • RC LiPo batteries have high discharge rates to power the most demanding electric motors.
  • In short, LiPo’s provide high energy storage to weight ratios in an endless variety of shapes and sizes.

It wasn’t until LiPo battery technology arrived on the scene that batteries and RC became small enough for smaller trains.

There are a few down sides with RC LiPo batteries however; once again proving there is no perfect power solution.

  • Although getting better, RC LiPo’s don’t last that long, perhaps only 300-400 charge cycles (much less if not cared for properly). That said, I have heard some people getting over 1000 cycles if all the rules are followed.
  • Safety issues – because of the volatile electrolyte used in LiPo’s, they can burst and/or catch fire when mistreated.
  • RC LiPo batteries require unique and proper care if they are going to last for any length of time more so than any other battery technology. Charging, discharging, and storage all affect the lifespan – get it wrong and a LiPo is garbage in as little as one mistake.

LiPo battery cells are 3.7 volts each. These cells are combined to make higher voltage batteries. The batteries I used came pre-packaged as a pack of two 3.7 volt cells to make a 7.4 volt battery. You can buy cells individually to make your own battery packs.

Single 3.7 Volt battery cell.
Single 3.7 Volt battery cell.

Charging LiPo Batteries

Charging RC LiPo Batteries is a topic in itself. LiPo batteries have some very different characteristics from conventional RC rechargeable battery types. Therefore, charging them correctly with a charger specifically designed for lithium chemistry batteries is critical to both the life span of the battery pack, and your safety.

Maximum Charge Voltage and Current

A 3.7 volt RC LiPo battery cell is 100% charged when it reaches 4.2 volts. Charging it past that will ruin the battery cell and possibly cause it to catch fire. This is important to understand once we start talking about Balancing RC LiPo batteries.

It is critical that you use a charger specified for LiPo batteries and select the correct voltage or cell count when charging your RC LiPo batteries. If you have a 2 cell (2S) pack you must select 7.4 volts or 2 cells on your charger. If you selected 11.1V (a 3S pack) by mistake and tried to charge your 2S pack, the pack will be destroyed and most likely catch fire. Luckily, all the better computerized chargers out there these days will warn you if you selected the wrong cell count. I charge mine in a ceramic cup to contain any possible issues and I never charge unless I am present.

All LiPo battery chargers will use the constant current / constant voltage charging method (cc/cv). All this means is that a constant current is applied to the battery during the first part of the charge cycle. As the battery voltage closes in on the 100% charge voltage, the charger will automatically start reducing the charge current and then apply a constant voltage for the remaining phase of the charge cycle. The charger will stop charging when the 100% charge voltage of the battery pack equalizes with chargers constant voltage setting (4.2 volts per cell) at this time, the charge cycle is completed. Going past that, even to 4.21 volts will shorten battery life.

RC LiPo Battery Charging Current

Selecting the correct charge current is also critical when charging RC LiPo battery packs. The golden rule here used to be “never charge a LiPo or LiIon pack greater than 1 times its capacity (1C).”

For example a 2000 mAh pack, would be charged at a maximum charge current of 2000 mA or 2.0 Amps. Never higher or the life of the pack would be reduced. If you choose a charge rate significantly higher than the 1C value, the battery will heat up and could swell, vent, or catch fire.

Once again, the four main things that shorten LiPo battery life are: HEAT, OVER-DISCHARGING (voltage & current), OVER CHARGING (voltage & current) & INADEQUATE BALANCING.

RC LiPo Battery Balancing

For a single cell (3.7 volt LiPo battery) you don’t have to worry about balancing since the battery charger will automatically stop charging when the 100% charge voltage of 4.2 volts is reached.

Balancing ensures all cells are always within about 0.01-0.03 volts per cell so over charging or discharging of one or more cells won’t ruin your battery pack, or worse become a safety issue from overcharging a cell.

You don’t have to balance your RC LiPo battery pack each time you charge it. Most will agree every 10th to 20th time is fine with a healthy battery pack. The problem is knowing if your pack is healthy, cells in older packs may become unstable? As far as I am concerned, if you have a good balancer or balancing charger, use it at every charge, or at least at every 2nd charge (I do).

RC LiPo Discharging/Usage

During use (discharge) you never want to discharge too much and drop below the minimum rating for the battery. Some LiPo batteries come with a circuit board that will automatically shut down if the minimum voltage is achieved. The small batteries that fit HO scale model railroad applications are very small and would rarely come with this device. These boards are available if you are creating your own battery pack.

PC Board used to monitor and shut down the circuit when a minimum voltage are achieved.
PC Board used to monitor and shut down the circuit when a minimum voltage is achieved.

I use a Venom Low Voltage Monitor created for the RC helicopter market which makes an audible alarm when the battery reaches a pre-determined voltage. This way the locomotive does not just shut down and leave me wondering. The alarm also reads out the current voltage of every cell, giving me confirmation of the charge status of the battery.

Venom Low Voltage Monitor
Venom Low Voltage Monitor

 RC LiPo Storage

Leaving a full or low charge in a LiPo battery while in storage can also affect the life span of a LiPo battery. Any good charger will also have a feature for discharging/charging the battery for storage. If you do not plan on using the battery within a couple days, take the time to use the storage feature.

Summary and Additional Information

For my installation I had the luxury of using a dummy locomotive to hold a very large battery pack. The battery lasted about 3 hours under operations. I am sure a dead run at max speed would yield a lower time. Even so three hours is more than enough time to complete most operation scenarios.

Tam Valley Depot offers a book that is a good beginner’s guide to Deadrail. The book is available through their web site. In the book Duncan McRee uses a much smaller battery than I did with good results. He also fit it into an On30 locomotive that had much less room than I did in the HO setup described here.

The payoff! Running smoother than silk with batteries and wireless control.
The payoff! Running smoother than silk with batteries and wireless control.

Low Cost/Low Effort DCC for the Small Layout

dccIf there is a chance that I am going to run more than one locomotive at a time on a layout, I will use Digital Command Control (DCC). I have heard many people complain that DCC is difficult, to expensive and takes to much time to learn/setup. Granted DC is simple to hookup to a loop of track. The locomotive is already setup to run and it takes a knob and a switch. But if you want to run more than one train at a time on DC, you have a lot of work to do. The work is not just in setting up block control but you must work to run the trains by throwing switches to power blocks as you move around the layout.

In this article, I plan to show what DCC equipment and configuration I use. The setup is much easier than it appears and once it is setup, it is very mobile and always available. To replicate what I have done you will need and probably already have:

  • Computer (can be an old machine or a laptop)
  • Wireless (most home networks have this)
  • Smart Device (phone or tablet)

Keep in mind that these items are NOT dedicated to serving your layout. I use the household computer everyone else uses. The wireless came with my internet DSL service and I use the smart phone I have for daily use. These were all things that are quite common in most households these days. Sometimes I borrow (well maybe steal) my kids iPod Touch to run my trains if I need an extra throttle.

The following article assumes that you are using Windows 7. The software outlined will run on many versions of Windows and even Linux.

DCC Basics

I will not attempt to describe all the technical bits about every component of a DCC setup. We will keep this simple and just focus on what is necessary. If you want to read more of the technical side of things, you can get that at http://www.dccwiki.com. Here we will look at the basics as they apply to the small layout. We are going to assume that the maximum number of trains running at any given time will be four. This includes all locomotives pulling power, even if they are just sitting and not moving. If it is receiving track power we have to consider it running.

A DCC “system” can be defined as “a set of components packaged together”. The products of main stream providers of DCC (like NCE, Digitrax, Lenz, ect..) sell “systems” and components. The most basic components of any DCC setup (notice I did not say “system”) are:

  • Command Station
  • Booster
  • Throttle
  • Decoder

The illustration below shows the relationship of these components in the simplest configuration.

Basic DCC Setup
Simple DCC Setup

Command Station

The Command Station is the brains of the system and is a computer of sorts. all the major manufacturers make and sell Command Stations. Many command stations include the booster. For the small layout, full size commercial systems can be too much, and in my humble opinion, can be overly complex.

Since a command station is a computer of sorts, why not use a real computer? Most of us have computers and some may even have old ones doing nothing. Why not put it to use running trains?

JMRIFor my command station I use a computer, the Java Model Railroad Interface (JMRI) software and a little device called a SPROG. JMRI is free and the SPROG currently lists for $105.00 USD (includes power supply and shipping). Compared to other starter DCC Command Stations (averaging $200 for starter sets) this is very affordable.

 

SPROG II shown, a newer version 3 is now available
SPROG II shown, a newer version 3 is now available

JMRI is licensed under the Free Software Foundation’s “GNU General Public License” which means it is free for any hobbyist to use. JMRI is capable of all Command Station functions and meets NMRA DCC standards for output. This means it will work with any decoder that also meets that specification (and most do).

Before connecting the SPROG to your computer you need to install JMRI. Download the JMRI that is appropriate for you. I always select the latest production version. Downloads are available for Windows, MAC and Linux. Although the install is pretty easy, make sure to follow the installation instructions to avoid issues. There is a Yahoo JMRI Group with lots of other modelers who are more than willing to assist with any issues you may encounter.

JMRI comes with several programs which assist with running trains, programming decoders and more. We will just use DecoderPro for now.
JMRI includes several programs which assist with running trains, programming decoders and more. We will just use DecoderPro for now.

Once JMRI is installed, it needs a device to convert the signal into two wires for the rails. This is where the SPROG comes in. It connects to your USB port and then to the rails. The SPROG comes with a power supply and all connections are clearly marked on the front of the SPROG. Setup the SPROG and install the drivers as outlined in the SPROG Instructions. The SPROG comes with a disc that contains all the drivers required for the SPROG. Again, follow the supplied instructions.

Once the SPROG is installed, start JMRI DecoderPro. You will see a screen similar to the following.

DecoderPro_noconnection

To connect JMRI to the SPROG, you need to tell JMRI that you have a SPROG. The instructions for this are outlined in the SPROG documentation but for simplicity all you need to do is go to Edit->Preferences and click connections. In the drop-down, under System Manufacturer, select SPROG DCC and under system connection select SPROG. The final selection is Serial Port. You will most likly have more than one selection here depending on your version of software and computer type. On my Windows 7 machine Com 5 worked. If you make a selection and it does not connect to the SPROG, come back to this setting and choose the next one. When done your screen should look similar to the following.

SPROG-Setup

At this point save the settings and JMRI will reset. The JMRI screen will show the connection and you should be all set to program and run a single locomotive.

JMRI DecoderPro showing connection to the SPROG
JMRI DecoderPro showing connection to the SPROG

Throttle

JMRI comes with throttles to run trains from your computer screen. This is fine if you are sitting at a bench and testing, but I prefer a walk around throttle.

JMRI basic throttle
JMRI basic throttle

I use the WiFi Throttle app that is available on both IOS (WiThrottle) and Android (Engine Driver). The app works on any smart device that uses IOS such as iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch or Android devices like smart phones and tablets. A WiFi network (most home wireless networks have this) will also be required. The app comes with a free lite version or you can purchase the full app if you want extra features. I ran on the free version for over a year before I paid the $9.99 for the full app.

iPhone WiThrottle
iPhone WiThrottle

To setup this feature, the computer with JMRI installed needs to be on a network that has a wireless (WiFi) router (NOTE: the computer does not have to use the WiFi, just be on the same network with it). Within the JMRI DecoderPro program you will need to open devices and active the WiThrottle Server located under throttles. Once activated, start the app on the smart device and the app should automatically find it. For more detailed instructions refer to the JMRI web site.

Starting WiThrottle Server
Starting WiThrottle Server

This tool allows any smart device with the app work as a DCC throttle. I have been upgrading my iPhone every two years and I keep my old phones just to use for running trains. Since many other people I know have smart phones too, I setup their phone with the free app and let them run trains when they visit.

WiThrottle Server window will be visible when the server is running
WiThrottle Server window will be visible when the server is running

Booster

The booster is sometimes referred to as a “Power Station” and is responsible for combining the intelligence from the command station with the power of the power supply. So far the setup above is only powerful enough to run a single locomotive at best. To do more we need a booster.

SBOOST from the makers of the SPROG
SBOOST from the makers of the SPROG

For the small layout running just four trains, a single booster should be sufficient. We could use a commercial booster with the SPROG but they can be expensive. The SBOOST from the makers of the SPROG is more than enough for our needs and at $100 it costs much less than other commercial boosters. Although one booster is more than enough for a small layout, those who choose to also use the same equipment on a larger layout can run multiple boosters. See the SBOOST user manual for more information for larger layouts.

 

JMRI/SPROG DCC setup with wireless throttles on smart devices
JMRI/SPROG DCC setup with wireless throttles on smart devices

Decoder

Decoders come in a variety of sizes, power and abilities. The one thing I recommend is that the decoder be as NMRA compliant as possible. Some sound decoders require special equipment to program them. I stay away from proprietary software and hardware as much as possible.

DecoderPro Roster
DecoderPro Roster

Many people are put off when it comes to programming decoders. Having to figure out what a CV is and then all the steps to program them is a royal pain. I have always used JMRI for programming decoders and cannot imagine having to do it any other way. JMRI DecoderPro will read all the settings from your decoder and display them in an organized manner. You can then review them (most with simple descriptions) and adjust accordingly. The best thing is that DecoderPro saves your settings and builds a list (roster) of all of your locomotives and their settings.

DecoderPro Programming Screen
DecoderPro Programming Screen

The abilities of the programming with JMRI DecoderPro are far beyond the scope of this article. More information and detailed how-to’s can be found on the JMRI web site and in the Yahoo JMRI User Group. My personal recommendation is NEVER PROGRAM WITHOUT IT!

Summary

For me the JMRI/SPROG DCC setup is perfect. I use it on my large home layout with two boosters and on my small modular layouts with or without the booster. For the cost ($200.00 total for me) it gave me wireless control, easy setup and I can manage and save all the settings for my locomotives. You can expect to pay significantly more for a commercial system with radio control.

As a final thought, I have recently been experimenting with using this same setup to run Deadrail (use batteries and eliminate track power). I am so impressed with the results so far that I plan on converting all of my HO and larger scale layouts to some form of Deadrail. The details on this will be featured in an up-coming article. In the mean time see my other article Deadrail for Free-mo on my first Deadrail test using JMRI/SPROG and the Tam Valley DRS1.

Deadrail for Free-mo

Did a quick video of the new setup of an HO scale Deadrail System. Deadrail is when there is no power to the rails and the trains run on batteries. First tests look VERY promising. I plan on trying a series of tests on the Free-mo setup at the National Train Show in Cleveland OH next week.

SPECS:
Deadrail System = Tam Valley (http://www.tamvalleydepot.com/)
DCC system = JMRI (http://jmri.sourceforge.net/), SPROG II (http://www.sprog.us.com/), WI Throttle (http://www.withrottle.com/WiThrottle/Home.html)
Decoder = Tsunami (http://www.soundtraxx.com/dsd/tsunami/1000.php)
Battery = 860mha 7.4V 35C (local RC hobby shop)
Protection = Venom Low Voltage Monitor (http://www.amazon.ca/Venom-Voltage-Monitor-LiPO-Batteries/dp/B0064SHG0Y)
Drive Locomotive = LifeLike P2K (gears replaced)
Dummy Loco = Old Athearn GP35

I plan on trying a series of tests on the Free-mo setup at the NTS next week. This is going to be a very large layout with multiple loops. Should be a good test bed for endurance and battery life.

The smoothness of the locomotive is unbelievable!

everyone should do something small

%d bloggers like this: