I’ve recently started to resell DelTang’s Rx102 receiver, which is intended for use with live steam or large scale trains that have power requirements that go beyond the current handling capabilities of the Rx65 (by use of an external ESC and reversing switch). While the Rx102 is highly configurable, it deviates from many of the “standard” DelTang binding and setup procedures, instead relying on jumper plugs for setting most functions. We’ve set up a special page just for the Rx102 programming options, which you can view here.
I picked up one of the Bachmann EZ-App HO RS-3s to assess its suitability for a dead rail conversion. The plan, overall, is to use the mechanism and electronics to power an On30 “doodlebug.” For my use, I didn’t really care about the roadname, so my Bachmann pusher got me a Pennsy unit like the one shown here.
My initial tests have been on powered track, using an MRC Tech III power pack. The pack has reasonably accurate meters for voltage and current, and can reliably deliver a couple of amps to the rails at up to about 14V, so it’s a decent test supply for model trains.
For my initial tests, I followed Bachmann’s included instructions closely. I downloaded the app to my iPhone 6s, powered on the loco, and launched the app. And … nothing. It took several attempts to get the app to recognize the new loco. Once the app found the RS-3, I was able to change the loco name, and it recognized it every time I powered up the loco.
When everything’s powered up, and you first launch the app, you’ll see a list of your locos, and options to connect or disconnect. Locos that you’ve accessed in the past, but are not currently powered on will read as “not available.”
The app allows for standard, single train control, or a mode which allows control of multiple locos from a single device. So far, since I only have a single EZ-App loco, I’ve just used the standard control. By default, the throttle layout is what Bachmann refers to as “classic.” There’s a big slider for speed, and buttons for direction, long horn blast, short horn blast, bell, and lights. There’s also a little fly-out menu for some additional sounds.
Speaking of the sounds … The sound implementation is a little strange. Instead of coming from the locomotive, the sound is produced by the phone. And frankly, they’re horrible. The diesel sound is a generic EMD prime mover, and sounds to me like a turbo-charged EMD 645. There are loops for the throttle notches and sounds that ramp between the notches. Unfortunately, the loops don’t match well to the transitions, and there are often gaps in the sound when ramping up and down. The horn sounds sort of like a 5-chime Wabco, and while the short sound is passable, the long horn is one of the worst jobs of looping I’ve ever heard. The bell, if you can call it that, is reminiscent of the old PFM sound system bell, only worse.
In order to move the train, you need to first tape the start-up/shut-down control. The noise will begin, and after the startup sound finishes, you should have control of the train. Sliding up the throttle control will cause the loco to move out smoothly. Control is reasonably good, and the loco seems to run well. Tapping the “gear” icon reveals an advanced settings screen which allows adjusting momentum effects and maximum speed. What I don’t see are controls to change the interpretation of what “forward” is. This is important for locos like the RS-3, as some railroads ran them long-hood forward, while others ran them short-hood forward. I also don’t see any provision for consisting.
My next tests were to see what the lowest acceptable operating voltage would be. The results were certainly not optimal for 2-cell LiPo packs. At full charge voltage (8.4v), operation was fine. However, as I decreased the voltage, performance degraded rapidly. At 7.4v, the loco would run about 40% of the time, and a 6v, there was no response at all, except that the head and back lights would flash indicating low voltage. Simulating a 3-cell pack, the results were better. I quickly realized, though, that there is no low-voltage cut-off for LiPo batteries! A 3-cell pack should never be allowed to drop below 9V, and as noted, the loco still runs with the voltage below that minimum.
I opened the model up to access the board and see if there was any indication of a way to remedy this. The BlueRail board, while very large, is well labeled, mostly. There are only a couple of mystery connections (one, labeled “+ SC -“, and a series of jumper positions). The board looks well made, but is much larger than it needs to be, leaving plenty of potential for miniaturization. The only part that can’t be changed is the Rigado Smart Bluetooth module, which handles all of the communications and control functionality. The external parts are for the power supply (left 1/3 of the board), high-current switching and motor drive (middle of board), and LED drivers for up to 4 LEDs.
There has been indication from BlueRail Trains that future boards will feature provision for battery connections. Hopefully, low-voltage cutoff will be a part of that functionality.
I will be continuing with the conversion project, and will post updates as I progress.
The Dead Rail Society has launched their new web site, and you can find it at http://www.deadrailsociety.com/
The new DRS site is a wealth of information regarding dead rail systems, especially those from Tam Valley (DRS founder Duncan McRee is the owner of Tam Valley Depot). Most other systems are also represented.
I’ve gotten into a little round-robin group with some fellow narrow-gaugers — Chris McChesney, Gary White, my old friend Matt Matthews, and myself. Of the four of us, three are Maine modelers. We get together on Tuesday nights for dinner, and then work on each others’ layouts, shoot the breeze, or just plain play trains. Last night, we were at Matt’s house, and the evening was spent talking about future plans, and a little impromptu operating session on a nifty little switching layout Matt had built for his son.
The layout is similar to the classic Inglenook Sidings arrangement that’s a whole 1 foot by 4 feet in N-scale. (Yes, last night was old farts switching in N-scale. Man, those couplers are small! And the MicroTrains coupler clones made by Atlas and Bachmann are horrible!).
On Matt’s variation of Inglenook, the main line (where the train “comes in” and “goes out” is the long track curving off to the far right. It’s long enough for a single locomotive, seven hoppers and a caboose. The “track-to-be” in the foreground is the lead, and holds the engine and two cars. The remaining two tracks are coal tipple tracks, and each can just hold seven cars.
It took us about a half hour to run the scenario — our train was to bring in three empty cars and take out seven loads from the tipple. At the beginning of the operating session, one of the tipple tracks had three loaded cars, the other had four. The “rules” dictate that time must be allowed for the brakeman to walk between the switches and cars, and also to set the brakes as needed.
On the way home, it occurred to me to build something along these lines, most likely in a larger scale like HO or On30, for a little operating fun, and as a display layout to show off the dead rail gear in the On30 Guy’s train show booths.
The details are still being hammered out, but in the near future you’ll be able to order your Deltang transmitters and receivers through The On30 Guy, along with some common accessories such as switches, batteries and connectors. I’m also working with my friends at Berrett Hill to develop a few specialized accessories to ease installation and operation. Keep your eyes on the site for more details as they develop.
As many of you have noticed, I’ve started work on a primer for those interested in switching to Dead Rail operation, with a concentration on the Deltang series of 2.4GHz DSM2 radio control modules. For folks who don’t care about sound and want the simplest setup possible, I think this system represents the best value currently available.
While Dead Rail is far from being “plug-and-play,” there are some interesting things on the way that will go a long way to easing the transition.
As I get more locomotives converted, I’ll show the steps involved in each one that I have. In the mean time, enjoy the information that’s in the primer already, and if you have questions, please don’t hesitate to use the Dead Rail FAQ section to ask them.
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Today, I converted C&S Forney #6 to dead rail operation using a Deltang Rx60-1 receiver. I completely removed the Bachmann electronics to make room for a two-cell LiPo pack and other required electronics. The receiver itself is about 10mm X 15mm X 2mm, but the batteries, charge jack, and power switch take up most of the space in the tender.
I chose #6 because it was the worst runner of my Forneys, suffering from electrical pickup problems and a balky mechanism. Not so any more. She runs very smoothly now…
I still need to figure out how to make the headlight work. There are a few function pads on the receiver board, but I’m not sure which one is the correct one in this case — or the what polarity should be.
[UPDATE 2/17/2014] I wired up the headlight LED through a 680ohm resistor and got in to the programming for the receiver. After a couple of attempts, I finally figured the programming sequence out and got the headlight working. For the moment, it’s programmed so that the light is on by default, and the function button on the transmitter turns the light off.