dcc help for very new modeler

Discussion in 'N / Z Scale Model Trains' started by brasseagle, Nov 10, 2008.

  1. brasseagle

    brasseagle New Member

    I want to do a small 2'x4' simole atlas layout.

    its going to be in the 40-50's so i can have a steam and a diesel engine.

    4-5 turnouts, building and other lights on a seperate control

    my need for help is this...
    1.low priced dcc hopefully below 125 or near to control 2 locos sound, speed, lights

    2.can any brand dcc equiped loco work with any brand dcc controler

    3.how can i work my turnouts? with the regular switches but not sure how to power this

    i was thinkin the atlas or bachmann dcc for the price

    thanks for any help
  2. pgandw

    pgandw Active Member

    2. Any brand DCC decoder can work with any control system. If the decoder has many functions built in, then some controllers cannot access the higher number functions. These higher number functions are generally not used very often, so not having all 28 functions on your controller is usually not a big deal.

    3. Keeping your turnouts independent of DCC has its advantages. Less cost, the ability to throw the turnout to get rid of a short circuit. If kept independent of DCC, you can use manual or powered throws - the latter with the switch machine of your choice.

    1. The only system I would consider for $125 or less is the MRC Prodigy Express. The Bachmann EZ DCC unit is very limited in capability. Next step up from $125 is Digitrax Zephyr and NCE PowerCab.

    But the real cost is going to be driven by your intended operations.

    Do you intend to have 2 operators - each with his own throttle? If yes, Bachmann EZ DCC is out, I believe. And you should price your systems with the second added throttle - which will blow your $125 budget, but can be done for around $200-$225.

    Do you want to customize each locmotive's settings through changing CVs? If yes, Bachmann EZ is again out. Prodigy Express does not read back CVs on a programming track, but will write them. You have to keep track of the values you have written. Prodigy Advance2, Zephyr, and PowerCab all have CV readback for the programming track. Zephyr and PowerCab have available computer interfaces, which allow the use of Decoder Pro (free software) to very easily program decoders and CVS. MRC has announced an expensive wireless computer interface with proprietary software to achieve the same end for the Prodigy series.

    The Atlas DCC set is no longer in production and has many limitations - I don't recommend it.
  3. brasseagle

    brasseagle New Member

    how can do i wire the power to the switches?

    what is CV?
  4. pgandw

    pgandw Active Member

    CV = configuration variable. It is a table in the decoder's permanent memory that tells it such items as volumes for various sounds (sound decoders), starting voltage, maximum voltage, momentum, 2 or 4 digit addressing, enable operation on DC, etc. Each decoder manufacturer provides a list of adjustable CVs by decoder model. By writing new values to various CVs, one can change the performance characteristics of the locomotive. The processor reads the values and computes drive for the motor or other functions accordingly.

    For your wiring questions, I would strongly recommend purchasing one of the books on wiring. If using Atlas track, the Atlas book is the cheapest, and provides very simple directions using Atlas electrical components (link: http://www.atlasrr.com/wiring.htm ). If not using Atlas components, this book would be my recommendation: http://kalmbachcatalog.stores.yahoo.net/12207.html

    Both books in their current edition talk about wiring for both DC and DCC. They will give you more information a lot faster than spending hours putting together diagrams and text from around the net. And you have the info as a permanent reference at the layout.

    Assuming you have Atlas switch machines, there are 3 terminals on the machine. The center is common, and goes to the power source. The outer 2 throw the turnout one way or the other, and are hooked up to momentary switches to control the machine, one for each direction. Note that both momentary switches may be combined into a single unit such as the Atlas controller or an SPDT momentary toggle. One side of the momentary switch goes to power, and the other to the switch machine. The diagrams in the suggested books will be very helpful in understanding this paragraph.

    A caution: Atlas switch machines (actually any twin coil switch machine) will cook itself if power is left on for more than a second or so. And Atlas switch controllers have a reputation for occasionally sticking in the "on" position, causing the meltdown. This is in addition to guests or children keeping the button pushed down or holding the toggle on. The safest way to preserve twin coil switch machines indefinitely is through the use of a capacitive discharge (CD) power supply. The CD unit provides a jolt of current to throw the turnout, and then limits (or turns off) the current to a safe level.

    hope this helps
  5. brasseagle

    brasseagle New Member

    what is the cd power supply---is it a seperate power supply for the switches?

    if i just use the atlas stuff is there a small power supply i can get to run building lights and switches seperate from the power supply?

    which is better zephyr or prodigy express?

  6. steamhead

    steamhead Active Member

    A CD (Capacitor Discharge) is a power supply you can use to power the switch machines. It is not obligatory that you use one. You can use a small power pack from WalMart or Radio Shack that puts out 12 volts DC. These don't have too much capacity so I would use one for switches and one for lights. You can do fine with the Atlas stuff, but do buy one of the books mentioned above to get a good understanding of how these things work.
    If I was just starting out, I'd do without the DCC system and just get some experience with a power pack, which you can pick up for a few bucks on eBay. Once you have some experience with the building & operation, you can make the jump to DCC.
    Good luck and ask all you want...!!! There's a bunch of very knowledgeable and helpful folks here to help you get over the bumps in the road.
  7. brasseagle

    brasseagle New Member

    if i wire up my layout as one continuous loop so i only can run one train dc will it probably be already wired for a zepyhr or prodigy express later?

    know any good sites for cheap trains and track pieces?
  8. pgandw

    pgandw Active Member

    With Atlas track and turnouts, no insulated rail joiners are required for one train operation (unless there is a reversing section). Hook up the power pack (or DCC system) to the track and go.

    Another thought: start your layout with just a single train, a loop with a spur or two, and a DC power pack. Add some scenery, and make it look good. Try switching the spurs.

    Next, add a passing track. Change the scenery, and add a couple more buildings. Then when money and time allow, expand to the full Atlas track plan (or another plan of your choice). The progressive nature of building the layout will allow you to develop your skills and knowledge, and put more focus in your desires. Your "final" layout will be the better for it.

    I fully agree with steamhead - start small and simple, using a DC power pack and a single train. That is exactly what I'm doing, even though I've been in and out of the hobby for 30 years. I'm building a 48" x 70" table in HO with an oval, a passing siding and one or two spurs. Inside the passing siding will be an HOn3 loop to later be converted into a switching line. I'm using sectional and flex track to start, and will convert to handlaid at a later time. This will be a portable, small layout to test some of my concepts, and serve as a test track for my locomotives as I build/bash them from kits.

    Finally, explore the other Forums on the Gauge, especially the Technical, HO, DCC forums, and look at past threads. Try the search function. Many of your questions have been asked before, and better answers may have been provided.

    my thoughts, your choices
  9. brasseagle

    brasseagle New Member

    thanks for the help i will probably start small and dc and convert.

    which would u recomned for later prodigy or zephyr?
  10. steamhead

    steamhead Active Member

    Hi...I have a D'trax Zephyr for my 14'x 17" layout. Some here have expressed negative opinions on this system, but I find it can do all I want to do, or are able to do, and can handle three different operators (no more would fit, anyway...).
    I have no experience with the Prodigy system so can offer no opinion on it.
  11. 60103

    60103 Pooh Bah

    As one who has used neither, I always suggest using a DCC system that you can get local support for. Your hobby shop may prefer one or the other, or the local club may use one.
    Or you may like one controller better than the other; they're like TV remote controls (do you find yourself changing channels when you want to turn the volume down?) and you may develop a preference.
    Best of luck limiting your purchases to what will fit on your layout.
    While starting with a DC pack may look simpler, if you want sound you should start with DCC.

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