Battery Power It Is

IMG_0777Back in June of last year, I commented that I was considering getting rid of DCC and sound in my locos, and going with battery-powered radio-control. Yesterday, I was again at Steve Fisher’s layout for an operating session.

Many of Steve’s locos have now been converted to battery power, and operations were vastly improved over previous sessions. While there are several reasons for the improvement, the battery power is a significant contributor to the improved operational reliability. On this visit to Steve’s, I was running trains instead of dispatching. Steve Sherrill, who was the yard master and who is also a major proponent of battery operations, made sure that all of the trains I ran were battery powered.

It was  so much fun!

Here are some of the pluses to going battery/wireless, from the perspective of actually operating the trains all day:

  • I was never affected because someone else ran a switch (or ran past an inappropriately placed gap).
  • I was never affected because there was some mystery electrical problem.
  • I was never affected because of dirty track.
  • I was never looking for a place to “plug in” my throttle.
  • Control was super-smooth.
  • Operation is really simple.
  • My ears weren’t tired at the end of the day due to the barrage of train sounds and men shouting over the din of the trains — I didn’t miss the sound one bit!

For my layout-in-progress, there’ an additional advantage:

  • No more track wiring. Since there’s no power to the rail, there’s no need to run out track buses and reverse loop controllers and frog wiring. And, there’s no throttle bus to run out, either.

As with anything, there are some drawbacks to going this route:

  • Cost: As I mentioned previously, the cost is about $125 per locomotive. Some of that cost would be recouped by selling off my DCC gear.
  • No visiting locos: Once I removed the DCC system from my layout, there won’t be any way for visitors to bring DCC-equipped locos to run on my layout.
  • No sound: Is this really a disadvantage? I don’t really think so, but some will.
  • Loco modification: All of my existing locos will require modification.
Rx60-1-N DSM2 receiver and Tx21 transmitter from Deltang (

The bottom line is that I will be making the switch. It will mean some money spent and some work involved, but I think it will be well worth it in the end. I really like the simplified control — a speed knob and a direction switch (if you’ve been keeping up with  me elsewhere, you’ll notice that I’m really trying to reduce complexity in my life wherever possible, preferably before I have another mental meltdown). Simply grab the controller associated with the loco you want to run, turn it on and turn on the train, click the direction switch for the direction you want to go, and spin the knob. If you really must, you can turn the headlight on or off, too.

I had originally thought that I would want to do a lot of surgery to install the charging plug and the power switch, but decided that it really doesn’t need to be that complicated — I’ll just put them under the coal loads or in some other easy-to-reach location and be done with it. The coal loads are easily removable on the Forneys, with the only caveat being the water fill caps.

Servomotor (Servomechanism)
Servomotor (Servomechanism) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I also mentioned in my earlier post that I was considering not using the servos for switch control. While I’m still somewhat on the fence about that, I will probably go ahead with the servos, if only to support my friend Kevin at Berrett Hill Trains, and the new Touch Toggle (TM) controls he’s manufacturing. While that does mean some wiring, at least it’s pretty much a plug-and-play setup. On Steve’s layout, some of the switches are controlled using the Berrett Hill system, and they work very nicely.

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Radio Control v. DCC/Sound for the Corrina & Searsport

This is going to come a a shock, and I almost can’t believe that I’m actually contemplating this: the removal of most, if not all, of the electrical wiring from my layout, and switching to battery-operated radio control. I’d probably also lose the servo-controlled turnouts in favor of hand-throws.

Deltang Tx21 Transmitter
Deltang Tx21 Transmitter

I’m contemplating this after seeing first-hand the performance of the radio throttles and receivers from Deltang at an operating session on Steve Fisher’s layout this past weekend. A few locos had been stripped of most of the electronics supplied by the manufacturer to make room for the receiver and batteries. With the exception of one transmitter battery going dead, they ran all day! No stopping for shorts or mystery DCC problems (which did occur).

Deltang Rx41D-8 receiveer
Deltang Rx41D-8 receiveer

The receivers are as small as 3/8″ square, and each 3.7V battery is about 1″ x 3/4″ x 1/8″ (one or two are required for each engine, depending on its size). Transmitters are about the size of a cigarette pack, and run on a standard 9V battery. The cost per loco is about $125 for a transmitter, receiver, batteries, and a power switch and charging plug — about the same as adding DCC and sound to a new loco!

The trade-off is that I’d have to give up sound and the dubious advantages of DCC. In return, no finicky decoder programming, reverse loop and frog wiring. In fact, no layout wiring at all.

Prior to about 5 years ago I didn’t own any sound-equipped locos, and very few of my friends had sound. I wasn’t originally going to have sound on my layout — I didn’t consider it to be worth the cost. At the time, one of my favorite layouts to operation on didn’t even have DCC — it still used DC cab control. And I was having more fun running trains than I do today.

Hmm… this is actually beginning to look rather attractive….

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