Stv Rr

Discussion in 'HO Scale Model Trains' started by itdincor, Jan 2, 2007.

  1. itdincor

    itdincor New Member

    Following is an introduction to myself and the projected Swede Town Valley Rail Road.

    I am Kenneth Johnson, 60, and have wanted a layout for fifty years. I live on a remote Alaska island, 575 WSW of Anchorage, Alaska. Due to a nomadic life and 24 years working the sea, a layout was impracticable until now. They don't fit well on boats, which were my home for a quarter century.

    The RR will be 5' X 10', HO gauge. I had at first thought to use Code 83 rail, but have now decided to use Atlas Code 100 Flex Track and Peco #6 turnouts, for reasons of economy, durability, reliability, ease of installation, and general track strength. As with everything else, weathering will make the major difference. The time period will be, I think, the 30s or early 40s. But, my primary emphasis shall be steam. In any event, as it will be my personal toy and not a life style, this hypothetical RR will not be especially prototypical.

    Control will be DCC, as I have nothing to unlearn, and choice of brand and model is the next major decision. Advice on that would be appreciated.

    Purchase of motive power has begun this day. A Bachmann three truck Shay and a Climax from, and a new Rivarossi Heisler from Mizell Trains, which I feel lucky to have found. Rolling stock purchase will begin soon.

    The RR will be based on Bo Justusson's three level logging/mining RR, which may be seen at This layout will be modified. As it shall be on a 5' X 10' surface, there is room for a large radius oval for long haul freights and passenger service, eventually. I hope some day to have a couple of larger locos for same.

    Scenery will require a great many trees, and I am now researching construction methods. Also, as I spent 24 years asea, there MUST be a harbor, and I will have a roundhouse and turn table of some sort, some where.

    Anyway, I just want to say hello. Between this forum and, I suspect there will be more good advice than I can absorb.

    And, the first major question: which DCC brand might be the best for my situation? I am computer savvy to a degree, and desire something more than a beginner's module, yet since I have limited funds cannot afford (nor shall I need) the best and most expensive.

    So, whaddaya think? Which DCC for me? Biased personal opinions are EXACTLY what I want!

    Thanks in advance.
  2. Ralph

    Ralph's for fun!


    Welcome aboard! I'm a DC guy but I'm sure a number of members here will have some DCC suggestions for you. Glad you can join in the hobby now that you're on dry land! Your location fascinates me! How's the hobby supply situation there?
  3. pgandw

    pgandw Active Member

    What island are you on? I spent 3 years in Kodiak, and 3 years in Juneau in the '90s myself. And I assume nobody else in the town or village is likely to be operating with you - this will be a solo operation when you are doing anything more than watching a train go around a loop.

    As for DCC, any of the major starter systems (MRC Prodigy Advance, NCE Pro Cab, Digitrax Zephyr) should give you what you need for quite a while for your layout. The questions are 1) what features are critical to the way you want to operate? 2) What limitations are show stoppers for you?

    Any decoder can work with any DCC system as the signal format between command station and locomotive is an NMRA standard. However, the protocol between command station and throttle is/can be proprietary which locks you into a particular manufacturer for the control system.

    Digitrax Zephyr is probably the most popular starter system, but that means little to you since there are likely no other users until you get to Anchorage. The same with the jump ports - they are of little use to somebody starting with DCC from scratch. The Zephyr has a power pack format, not a walk-around handheld like the other 2. Which format is better for you depends on how you want to operate. Zephyr also has a "feature" called zero-stretching which allows you to run 1 non-converted DC locomotive under DCC control. However, many locomotives complain (motor noise and slow speed) when operated in this mode, and no locomotive without a DCC decoder should be left standing on live DCC rails. Neither MRC nor NCE offer zero-stretching.

    MRC Prodigy Advance (MRC has just announced an update called Prodigy Advance2) used to have the drawback of no available computer interface. MRC is supposedly coming out with one. Both Zephyr and NCE have the computer interface included or available at extra cost (depending on model). The interface allows one to program the decoders directly using a computer and software called Decoder Pro (open source at sourceforge). Most decoders have a lot of CVs (configuration variables) that you can program to tailor the operation of your locomotive to suit your desires. Examples include programming speed tables, sound volume, lights, etc, and all are more easily accomplished with Decoder Pro and a computer than with the DCC systems.

    NCE's main limitation is a recall stack of 2 with the starter system. More than 2 locomotives can be operated, but only 2 are kept in immediate memory. Also, because the handheld contains the command station, unplugging the handheld to plug in somewhere else brings everything to a halt. Addition of a Smart Booster resolves these issues but at added expense.

    All 3 systems can have additional throttles with various capabilities added on - but unless you use the Zephyr and want to walk around, there would be little need unless you have a friend operate with you. Wireless throttles are available for all 3 systems as well, but the Digitrax wireless requires plugging in to change locomotives being operated. The MRC wireless has been announced, but I have not seen any in the hobby shops yet.

    Check out the DCC forum on the Gauge for a lot more information and references and links.
  4. itdincor

    itdincor New Member

    Well, thanks, guys; I really do appreciate the answers. I feel the three most important decisions are track, turnouts, and power/control. I really want to start out correctly.

    To answer the questions, I live in Sand Point, on Popof Island in the Shumagin Archipelago. It's a village of 950, 2/3 Aleut natives, with commercial fishing as the economic base. I fished a long time - too long - myself, and am selling my boat to a nice couple. They are financing the STVRR! If anybody else in town has a layout, I've never heard of it.

    I really could never recommend a life at sea to young folks. It beat the livin' yin-yang outta me, and left me half crippled. But, it was quite a life!

    As for DCC, have been looking into Digitrax Zephyr mostly, but am in the process of educating myself. There are a lot of choices - with everything! This can be a complex hobby.

    Have just bought a Camelback switcher from Tower Hobbies, so now my primary motive power is complete. Next comes track, power, and rolling stock. Scenery will have to wait for a while, but not so long. Will have to learn how to scratch build, to save money. I can't pay $50 - $270 for a kit! Good grief: are those things solid gold?

    The underbase will be 1" plywood on 4x4s (all free), with foam board over that. Will take a belt sander to the plywood joint, to ensure an even transition. Have been picking up a lot of tricks from this and the forum; real gold mines of info.

    For elevation, I am leaning towards building up height with foam board (NOT bead board) and contouring it with foam from spray cans, and then "adjusting". I can easily scrounge scraps of stuff for this. Seems quick and easy to me, especially considering the messy and labor intensive alternatives I've read of.

    Anyway, will check out the suggestions concerning DCC, and the DCC forum.

    Thanks again.

  5. Russ Bellinis

    Russ Bellinis Active Member

    Do you have room to access all four sides of your 5' x 10' table? I ask because 5' will be too long to reach, but if you have the access around the table, you will never be more than 2.5 feet from any part of the layout.

    Scratch building scenery is a great way to learn to scratch build and a great way to save money. Have you checked out "Robin At His Best" in the academy? If you haven't, take a look. Robin passed away a while back, but he did some amazing work with cardboard, cereal boxes (euphemistically referred to as "cereal board" here on the Gauge) and what ever flotsam and jetsam he found to finish off his models with. He did it all in n-scale, and I doubt he had more than a dollar or two invested in any model he built. His models rival $100.00+ craftsman kits for detail.
  6. Jim Krause

    Jim Krause Active Member

    Hello from Montana and welcome. Are you on home generator power or a grid? I've often wondered how DCC would respond to voltage fluctuations on a generator. Sounds like a very interesting project that you have planned. I'm a logging modeler and logging history nut myself. Formerly from the Seattle area, where the big trees used to grow.
  7. itdincor

    itdincor New Member

    Well, as for access, I am planning on a popup or two. These could be tricky to work in, but otherwise, with walk around space, the whole room would be completely used by the layout. I can't afford that much space. Anyway, a couple popups, and a "long grabber" ought to solve most of the access problems. I hope.

    As for scratch building, took a look at Robin's work here. That man had the skills of a true artist! Amazing is a word that's wildly overused these days, but the only one that actually fits his work.

    Concerning power, our local system has four different Cat generators, and will this year begin installing a pair of 500 Kw wind generators. Here in the Aleutians we have a LOT of wind. Considering also that we have power outages fairly often, I ought to buy a good UPS, such as I have for the computer. Good idea, methinks. Thanks for bringing up the subject, as I'd not thought of it.

    As for the logging aspect, I come from a long line of Oregon Swede loggers, and am fascinated by the old time era. Indeed, my original home of Swede Town Valley provided masts for the Kaiser's yacht! The area was known for long, tall, straight, strong timber. All gone now, of course.

    My grandpa Emil used to rhapsodize about the sound of a Shay on the logging lines, so I HAD to buy at least one! Wish I could afford the best, but what whiskey and women did to my money.... Indulged in wayyy too much of each, but happily have given them both up. Just a usually happy me and a happy dog, now.

    Any idea where I could find an MP3 of a running Shay? Never have heard one in action.

    Later, fellas. Gotta decide on couplers. Likely Kadee #58s, as Segent seems too spendy and complex for me at this time.

  8. Jim Krause

    Jim Krause Active Member

    Just saw a video on the RFD channel last night that had some Shay footage on it. I was also watching a video that I shot in 1998 at The Mount Rainer Scenic Railway when they had five steamers pulling a fan trip special. Quite a bunch of noise. It was hard to separate the various loco's. There was a Heisler, Shay, Climax, 2-6-2 tank rod engine and a 2-8-0.
    I just checked Trains magazine but didn't see anything on MP3 format. Lots of stuff on VHS and DVD's
  9. Russ Bellinis

    Russ Bellinis Active Member

    Duck under hatches can get to be real pain in the back in a hurry. If you have room to move it out away from the wall to get all of the way around, but don't want it out in the middle of the room all of the time, why not mount the layout on locking tool box casters. That way you have the layout back against the wall. If you have a derail, you can unlock the brakes and rool it out to access the back, then push it back in place afterwards.
  10. itdincor

    itdincor New Member

    Locking casters, eh? Now, that's a good idea. I'd have to lighten up the construction though. 1" ply and 4X4s would be pretty heavy to move around. And pull the carpet, lay linoleum.... Well, since the room won't be used for anything but sleeping and bookshelves, maybe I could permanently move the whole thing away from the walls. 18" wouldn't make all that much difference, I guess. This is a good idea, and I'll have to think it over. Access is mandatory, after all, and my body is pretty beat up, so I may very well reconsider the original concept, and trade space for access.

    Also, I must make a decision on couplers. Even though they seem the most realistic, I don't feel ready for Sergents, so Kadee it is. 5s or 58s ... one or the other. Seems to me that standardization from the beginning is best.

    I really have to dig around this forum more. Find recommendations on affordable but good quality rolling stock, how to find out which rolling stock is applicable for the 20s to early 40s, etc. Lots of learning for me, but it is enjoyable, and already I find forum members to be helpful and kind to a RR ignoramus. That helps. It really helps.

    OK; later, fellas.

  11. itdincor

    itdincor New Member

    Well, I bought a Digitrax Zephyr from Can't recall who in this forum suggested them, but he was right: best price I could find out there, $160. Am in contact with First Hobby concerning the correct decoders, which will soon be purchased.

    Now, couplers, couplers, couplers. And the cheapest source for Atlas track and Peco switches. Have budgeted $2,000 for this, and boy is it going fast!
  12. itdincor

    itdincor New Member

    First, a question: had been planning to use foam over plywood, but after reading a thread here, am a bit concerned about fire possibilities. Any suggestions for an alternative surfacing over the ply? It's probably in a thread I've not yet found. Lotta info here.

    Well, anyway, still under budget, but no couplers yet. Even so, all the basics are in the mail now. Locos, rolling stock, half a dozen buildings, NMRA and KD gauges, paints, weathering supplies, glue, brushes, cork roadbed, Digitrax DCC, decoders, Atlas Code 100, four Peco turnouts, ... argh! A lotta STUFF! Also need to buy a couple cheap cars to practice weathering and painting with.

    I'm in it to the hip, now, and that's sure.

    After re-measuring things, it seems to me that the suggestion of placing the layout on lockable casters is a good one. This means that I'll have to build lighter than 4x4s and 1" ply, but that's fine. It doesn't have to support a REAL train! Ordinary 2x4s or 2x2s and 1/2 ply, adequately braced, ought to work well. The problem with a layout in this old shack is building and keeping level.

    Anyway, guys, thanks for all the suggestions and moral support. Imagine I'll be leaning on you for quite a while. But, everybody here seems to enjoy helping each other, which is how I think the whole world should be, actually.

    Later, fellas.


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