Author Archives: I.G.O.T.A.®
CMR Products was founded in 1990 by Bob Hartle. He loved model railroading from an early age, having his American Flyer trains running around the Christmas tree every year.
After his sons were born, he returned to the hobby. He loved tinkering with his electronics. Projects from flashing crossing signs and Lionel animation turned into DC walk around memory throttles for the Club’s layout.
Bob was one of the main drivers behind the I-80 group. This is a group of model railroaders that focus on operating layouts on a regular basis. It was fun to see what people did with their layouts and travel all over the eastern US to do so.
Bob always said “There’s Trains, and Everything else.” These were words he lived by. If it involved trains, he was happy to get involved. Bob wanted to make the model railroading hobby affordable to everyone, so he developed the CMR Products business.
Our goal with CMR Products is to keep with Bob’s philosophy, Offer great products at great prices. We strive to do just that.
We want to partner with you to grow your knowledge in the hobby and build that layout you’ve always wanted to. We have built over 15 layouts in our past, and have learned so much over the years. Let us help you with your model railroad!
Digital Command Control can be very scary to get into. I know that was my hesitation when starting the DCC System on my N Scale layout. Worse yet, my family had been using and installing Digitrax for years. What should I be scared of? Over the next couple weeks, I’ll be reviewing the DCC Basics. I’ll discuss decoder selection and installation, the command station, wiring basics and more.
Selecting Your Decoder:
While selecting your first system should be our first topic, most people have come across or operate regularly on someone’s layout that already uses Command Control. Why else would you want it? So our first goal is to get that favorite unit of yours on a layout as soon as you can.
Each manufacturer should have a decoder selector tool on their website. One of our vendors, Digitrax, has a page located here (https://www.digitrax.com/products/engine-matrix/decoder/) so you can select your scale, locomotive manufacturer and model, and the site will provide you with a list of decoders that best fit your equipment.
In this example, it shows me that I should pick from a DN163A0 or SDN144A0 for this engine. (S=Sound, D= Digitrax, N=N Scale). When you select your option, you see the product, additional information about that decoder, and any important Notes for you. With the SDN model, the note reads “Frame Modification Required”, maybe that’s something you are not equipped to do. Maybe the result is a hard wired decoder (example DN136D). Finding the decoder was the easy part.
Ordering and Installing Your Decoder:
There are many places to purchase your decoder, your local hobby shop, train shows or online. If you are looking online, we offer a wide verity of decoders directly on our website (https://www.cmrproducts.com/store/). Once you have your decoder in hand, you can install it and take it to your friend’s house to be programmed. Maybe that installation is more than you can handle, or maybe you need some help first. You can find a lot of videos online, including Digitrax’s website that demonstrate the installation of various decoders.
If you want to avoid the hassle of installing the decoder, you can have an authorized dealer install those decoders for you. CMR Products is a certified Digitrax dealer that has completed their Dealer training course at their headquarters. We have years of experience installing decoders and will be able to find what best meets your needs.
What about the Bells and Whistles?
These decoders don’t just run the locomotive; they have all sorts of additional functions (specifically the multi-function decoders). These can run alternating ditch lights, sound, directional headlights and more. Contact us with additional questions and we will be able to help you out with your decoder selection and additional needs.
Till Next Time
I’ve always compared DCC systems to phones. Depending on who you talk to, you will get a different opinion. Is Apple the best or Android, What about Blackberry? Each phone will drive someone to emotion, whether that is good or bad.
DCC systems are very similar. Whether it’s Digitrax, NCE, Lenz or MRC everyone has an opinion on what system is best. I’ve personally used most of the systems and found that each offers its own uniqueness. What features are you looking for? What things should help me in my decision? Do I need a Computer Science degree in networking to figure any of this out?
Some of the things that I considered when I selected my first system
- How big is my layout going to be? With my N-Scale layout, I’m planning on having a number of people over to operate the layout with me. This could be up to 10 people at a time (10 Throttles). Each of those people would be operating 2 engines, so I need something that will at minimum operate 20 locomotives, + staging, yard and spares, a most 50 units.
- How should I program these units, are they 4 digit addresses or only 2? I personally like using the 4 digit number on the cab, so I prefer 4 digit addressing
- Do I need a 5 amp system, or is 2.5 enough?
- Do I want accessories on the layout? (Well yes!)
- Will I be operating sound units? (of course)
In looking what’s out there, I considered that Digitrax, MRC, Lenz and NCE all could meet my needs. The smaller systems (Digitrax Zephyr) would be stretched too far for the number of users that I’m planning, while the others would be fine.
The biggest consideration that I had was the Output current. With sound units, 5/8/10 amps would be more appropriate, to allow me the maximum number of units with sound. This focuses me on NCE or Digitrax as my leading systems. Now it’s down to look and feel, options and accessories that are available.
Other things I considered for my selection, what does everyone around me run? For me, Digitrax is by far the most common system used around me. While people do use NCE and MRC, I have a lot of Digitrax resources at my disposal. These resources were available for me to answer questions, test the system out, and work with.
When selecting your next system, here is my main recommendation… Try them out if you can. Head over to local operators layouts and give them a try. Ask lots of questions on how they like their systems, things they would like to do different. See what fits your needs. Purchasing a DCC system is an investment, but its well worth it in the end.
Over father’s day weekend, we hosted an operating session at one of our local layouts. I was discussing how we would have ran the large yard I was stationed in under a DCC system. We laughed at how hard it would have been. I had 10 engines in the engine facility, 2 trains moving around the yard and I was running 2 more sets of engines breaking down trains. This would have been virtually impossible under a DC system… and its commonplace in DCC. That’s the biggest reason I made the jump into DCC.
Till Next Time
CMR Products is now offering two new models the HO C30-7a and C36-7 locomotive shells produced by Big Dawg Originals. These shells will fit on Atlas C30-7 frames. These are undecorated polyurethane shells. No additional detail parts are included in the purchase. We are expecting our first shipment of these shells in July. Pre-Order yours today! Also keep in mind our custom painting service that we offer.
50 of these units were originally built for Conrail (6550-6559). Both the C30-7 and C30-7a were 3000 horsepower, but the C30-7a did this with a 12-cylinder engine instead of the normal 16-cylinder engine. This provided Conrail the same horsepower but at a fuel savings. You can tell the difference by the number of High Doors, C30-7a had only 6 while the C30-7 had 8 doors.
Norfolk Southern (8083-8132) and CSX (7095-7115) inherited these engines after the Conrail purchase in 1999.
599 of these 3600 horsepower GE locomotives were produced over their 12 year production run (1978-1989). The majority of these units (422) were shipped to China Railways. In the United States, a number of Class 1 Railroads purchased this locomotive including Conrail – 25 (6620-6644), Missouri Pacific – 60 (9000-9059), Norfolk Western – 31 (8550-8530) and Norfolk Southern – 12 (8531-8542).
Other railroads to use these units included Union Pacific (former MP engines) and CSX (former Conrail) through mergers or purchases.
That is the question I’ve been toying with since I was introduced to Digitrax. I’ve been trying to get sound in locomotives since I was very young. I remember taking tape recorders and a microphone and trying to record running diesel locomotives, so I could put that same tape recorder under an engine facility. At that time, that was as close to “real sounding” I thought I would ever get.
When I was exposed to Onboard, I found out that we could put running sound in locomotives. While it was very large, clunky and required a dummy unit (usually), it was exciting to get running sound on a locomotive or two.
When I started with DCC, sound was just a novelty. The only issue is that sound is terribly addicting. It starts with 1 unit sitting in the engine facility, the idling 567c humming under that heavily weathered GP9. The clicks of the engine, and it brought me back to the times when I was recording with my tape recorder… I need MORE!
Is it loud enough?
Well it can be yes. We have had demonstration engines running at train shows that people would stop by because they heard it. Only to realize it was a GE 70t with sound. If the speaker is good quality and baffled correctly, it will project sound very well. Also, you can get them very small. For HO Scale, you can use N Scale sized decoders for those very small engines.
I bet it’s expensive
Well in comparison to your non-sound decoders, yes it is expensive. Depending on the manufacturer, you can have anywhere from $50-$160 per decoder. Digitrax is on the cheaper side of this, with QSI, Lok and SoundTrax offering the premium sound decoders. The biggest difference, other than the price, is the sound quality. How many onboard sounds are available for selection with CV settings, etc. CMR Products currently stocks a selection of Digitrax Decoders and some Soundtrax decoders. We also have access to QSI Titan decoders.
Picking the Decoder
I would first recommend checking out the various sites as they have sound templates available to you to review. Listen to how the decoders sound for your locomotive (both steam and diesel). If you have questions Contact Us on our Custom Order page. We will let you know our recommendations for the unit you are trying to put sound into, what speakers you should look at and what to expect cost wise.
Key Points on Manufacturers
Digitrax is your entry level sound system. They are fairly cheap $50-$75 per decoder and supply a good quality sound. Lok Sound is big on your Function Keys, they give you a lot of optional sounds you can turn on and off. Soundtraxx is all about size, they have your super small sound decoders, but they are not programmable. QSI has true stereo sound, that’s programmable. you can have your horn shifted to the front speaker, other sounds to the back.
Hope that gives you some Ideas on what you can do with sound. – Aric
Based on comments from people that have seen our End of Train device on our Truck, we are going to offer a limited run of our Truck Hitch “FRED”. (patent pending)
History of the Flashing Rear End Device (FRED)
In 1969, Florida East Coast Railway began replacing the crewed cabooses at the end of trains with these devices. Other class ones quickly latched onto this idea, and FRED devices became commonplace by the 1980s.
Originally just a air line terminating unit with a flasher, these devices now send air pressure readings and telemetry readings back to the crew in the cab to notify them of fluctuation in air pressure or accidental disconnect. These also have evolved from pure battery powered models to now include small air powered generators to keep them running.
The FRED Kit comes with an aluminium coupler modified to allow the FRED Device to slide in. This coupler will fit a 1.5 or 2 inch trailer hitch.
The FRED is connected to your truck with a 4 or 7 pin trailer connector. This will light up with either your breaks (Solid Light) or when turn signals are on (Flashing Light).
The FRED Box comes pre-assembled with your choice of Yellow or Gray box, and with/without radio antenna.
Prices start at $250 and up, depending on the options you select.
We are taking pre-orders now on our website cmrproducts.com with an anticipated delivery date in late August. Order quickly as we are planning on only 25 units in this run.
CMRProducts.com is proud to announce the release of 3 new products in our Digitrax line. We are offering 3 polyurethane cast replacement items for your digitrax throttles.
First our replacement battery box cover, available in grey but can be painted to suit your needs. This reinforced battery cover will take a lot more abuse from the constant opening and closing of the battery box. This is made from the same durable polyurethane that our BigDawg Originals line of shells is cast from!
Next are two battery box cut off switch kits. These kits will add a button to your UT4 or DT402 throttle to allow you to cut the power from the battery. This prevents battery draw between sessions, so you don’t need to bother pulling the battery out. Again these are available in grey but can be painted. Maybe a color to match your railroad, so that your throttles stand out in a crowd?
Adding a Switching System to your new Layout
With the addition of a few sidings, a staging area and a ramp out of my first town, the question is posed to me, when is your first operating session? Operating Session? The layout isn’t even wired yet!
The question that was posed does make me wonder though, which system do I want to use and how do I implement it?
Which Switching System is the right system?
This is quite a hot topic if you ask anyone in the group. Everyone has their own opinions and each system has it’s pluses and minuses. So I won’t get into which system is the “Right” or “Correct” system. You guys can fight that one out on your own.
What I can say is what is out there and what drove me to the decision that I made.
The 4 main systems I’ve seen are
- Car Cards – Each car has its individual card that has a slip of paper designating current and next destination
- Car Routing Lists – Each car has a list of multiple stops along the layout, as this is accomplished, the current stop is checked off and the car is routed to the next stop.
- Switch Lists – Computer generated switching lists and train orders containing how the train should pick up and drop off cars from industries along the way
- Pin System – Colored pins on cars designating towns and industries
Within the operators group that I work with (I-80 Group) there are many examples of each of these systems. Each layout has their system honed to a well oiled machine. I’ve had the opportunity to operate on a couple of these layouts and here is my take on things.
Example – Dave E. – Jamestown NY
This was one of the first layouts I visited outside the Clarion Club. I was amazed by how the layout ran, and is still one of my many favorites to visit. Upon arriving at your assigned job (yard!) you are greeted with a list of trains that need to be made up, car cards in boxes and the work begins. My co-operator will pull cars from industries while I start making up trains. The cards have the car number, car type and road name on them, along with an insert saying where the car was to go. Nice parts of this setup is everything is planned out, as if the cars were left in the perfect location for the operation. Dave’s team makes sure our operations go well, and probably hours cleaning up after we leave. I know the first time I was there, I didn’t understand the “Hold” section in the car holders… let alone that there were industry specific holders around the area I was assigned. I imagine now that the person that was cleaning up after me cried in pain as they had to pull out each car to see where the card belonged. Let alone those cars that left without their card. Utter nightmare… I’m so sorry for the pain I know I’ve caused.
There are several reasons that I don’t think this system will work for me right now. First and foremost, I would need to not only renumber all my duplicate cars (Off hand 30 LEF&C Box cars?? ) It’s N-Scale! While I’m young and I can see the numbers (sometimes), I’ve found myself getting frustrated trying to find a car number in a string of cars with the same road name. Not to mention I would need to create cards for each car. I remember doing this with my dad for the club layout. What fun.
Another reason is there are a couple very short people in my house that refuse to play with their own toys, and want to play with mine. There are a number of times I’ll arrive at my layout, two chairs are side by side and Ellie (11) and Cam (7) are switching cars between all the tracks. I could imagine them playing 52 card pickup with my car cards as well. I could see myself pulling out my hair just trying to keep things in order between sessions. Where is the card for this car?? Why is there a tank car in this tree? Cam were you playing with Daddy’s trains… Giggle giggle… runs away.
While a very good system, this probably won’t work on this layout… for now…
Car Routing List
Example – Jim B. – N-Scale – Clearfield PA
This was my first operating N-Scale layout that I had an opportunity to run. The layout was kept in a garage in Jim’s backyard. As you arrive in the layout you see similar boxes to a Car Card system. The main difference was the cards had multiple industries listed on them. This card had every stop the car would make, in order, around the layout. Key points about this was design and flexibility. All the planning was already complete for the layout. the only issue was when new cars were added to the layout, you would need to add a routing list for the car. Flexibility existed because trains were not set, and errors could easily be overcome with the next train through. You missed a car… No issue next train can get it.
There were a couple of things I would issues converting to my layout. First again is the individual car numbers… Still can’t see. Next I could only imagine getting by some crazy timing, all the cars on the layout needing to be in a 3 car long track. In addition, this system is best for a layout that is already built. Since I’m just starting out this would need to be redone and redone again. A spreadsheet or database would make this easier, but still would need to be redone as the layout grows.
For reasons similar to the car card system, this one will probably not work either.
Example – Tom S. – Mars PA
I’m a computer nerd by trade and by choice. I spend most of my day on the computer and most of my evenings as well. So when I heard a computer system could run my layout, setup my switch lists… Dynamically as the trains are going around the layout! Awesome… let me try this out.
Had the opportunity recently with Tom’s layout. While still in the first stages, I definitely could see some great points to the setup. First the system would be able to setup trains based on what was in the yard, and what should be going out. Then tell the crew what engine to put on the train and off we go.
It would be able to setup which cars get set off at what industries, track contents and make appropriate moves of cars. This car has Garbage in it? Well it shouldn’t be set out at a feed mill for loading…
The system also operates close to prototype operations, giving that realistic feel.
The system is very flexible. We were able to assign specific tracks for cars, change industry capacities with just a couple of clicks, and as towns were added, the system continues to grow with you. These are some big pluses.
While this would be great to have on my layout, the same issues keep coming up. The system is only as good as the information in it. A philosophy of Database Administrators “Garbage in = Garbage Out” If the cars are not where the computer thinks it should be, then the switch lists are incorrect. 2 little creatures moving cars around the layout would cause me to lose all the time typing into the system. Still can’t see car numbers and I’m still too lazy to renumber everything by hand.
Example – Bob H – Miola PA
My first experience with the Pin system was Bill D. layout in Punxsutawney PA. Color coded pins representing towns and industries. After the colors were decided, it was a fairly simple system to operate. I figured it out the first time I operated it.
I had the opportunity to see how Bob developed his layout pin system, town development, industry placement and how things have changed over time.
The biggest benefit with this system is the car numbers don’t matter. So what if you have 30 cars with the same number… the trash can lid on the roof tell you where to go. The system is also flexible, cars get missed, moved, misplaced and set into trees along the rail line… no problem, put the cars on the track, remove the tree debris, and move them to the closest passing siding.
Setup? Outside repinning the layout and the pin design, the layout mostly runs itself. Trains are ran as needed, if a schedule exists, awesome, but not required.
Problems – Realism. There are trash can lids on your cars. In N-Scale they are not trash can lids, they are the size of a VW Beetle. So realism is thrown right out the door. Also attaching them and throwing the car balance off is sometimes an issue. In HO or O scale, the pins that are commonly used are small and don’t really affect the balance of the car. In N-Scale, this starts to be an issue, and in Z it would be about impossible.
So I reviewed the systems that I’m familiar with and came up with some issues that I need to overcome with my design.
- Need something that is resilient to children. Not child proof, just something that can recover when they are using the layout
- Little to no modification of rolling stock. I find myself without much time now, adding this work to the layout is just not in the picture at this time. I have enough problems getting engines decaled
- Minimal maintenance, Audits of the layout are good, audits of the layout all the time are bad. Double checking every car position just before operators arrive while keeping kids away from the layout? Highly unlikely
The system I’ve chose was the Pin system due to it meeting most of my requirements… aka I’m too lazy to renumber everything I own and my kids keep moving my stuff around.
What system is best for you? I would try them all out and find the things that work best and customize it to your ideas. The best part about an operations group is there are regular operations on a number of layouts. All with their individual takes on operations. Try a couple out. Try them ALL out. Once you see what works for them, you can make something that works for you too.
Key thing to keep in mind, No system is perfect, and everything has it’s quirks. Learn how each layout owner designed his system and learn from it. Mold your system into a blend of all those systems in the past. Make something that works for you and your time. It’s a hobby after all, let’s make it fun.
Next time I’ll explain how I’m developing my version of the pin system to make it work for me.
CMRProducts.com is proud to announce the release of new products from Big Dawg Originals.
Norfolk Southern SD60e, MK5000c (Phase 1) or MK50-3, Baltimore & Ohio SD20-2 (also owned by CSX), and the Western Maryland GP9m Cab. All of these HO Shells/Cabs can be special ordered. We have the SD60E and SD20-2 available in stock and in our store.
Additional N Scale products coming soon!