Getting started in DCC

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Getting started in DCC - MRH Issue 2 - April 2009









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Rio Grande Dan's picture

Getting Started has been the

Getting Started has been the one thing that has been holding me back from DCC.

Now after reading this article for some reason I feel a scene of total relief. I have been building Model Railroads for 43 years and had the cab control thing down Pat.

I have built over 100 control panels for myself and friends and could lay out the wiring for a 10 train operation in a day. Then draw up a schematic and lay it out on Plastic, plywood, metal, Masonite, or any other material and have it all drilled painted and ready to go in a few days. I new how to wire up every aspect of a large or small pike and assemble and build up a set of wire harnesses that were beautiful.then in 1997 I set the hobby aside for 9 or 10 years moved 3,000 miles across the United States.

about 2 years ago I started drawing track plans and looking for Hobby shops and buying Track and how to books again. one day I found a model Train Hobby shop on a antique Furniture trip threw Pennsylvania with my wife and there it was "Mainline Hobby Supply" on Blue Ridge Summit in PA. It had been 10 years since I had been in a real Model Train store and there was so much new stuff I couldn't believe it, and that day I was introduced to DCC.

I was totally dumb founded as to how it worked I spent 3 hours talking to the owner Brian and he told me about DCC and about all the advantages. I didn't really understand it but I new I had to have it especially after he showed me 2 of the new DCC Blackstone HOn3 K-27 2-8-2 steam locomotives.

I bought the 2 engines that day but didn't buy the DCC system just then.I did have 4 books or magazines about beginner DCC. But I was still lost I already had 5 Controlmaster XI top of the line Power Transformers with pulse Frequency control, Pulse Width control, Momentum adjustment control each has an Illuminated Voltmeter & an Ammeter for the Standard Gauge portion of my last Pike and 2 Troller Transistorized Autopulse Twin Momentum 5 Transformers for my HOn3 portion of my last Pike and the DCC systems are not compatible with these DC controllers.
in august of 2007 I drove the 100 miles back to Mainline Hobby supply and bought the "Lenz" Digital/Plus DCC Set 100 for $314.95 on sale plus a Magna Force DCC power supply.
ever since that day it has set on the top shelf of my roll top Desk right in front of me and I have been afraid to do anything with it.
That is until tonight after reading Getting started with DCC. I'm not sure why but, this article has inspired me to go open the box for the second time and read the instructions with a whole new view and now I just realized thanks to Model Railroad Hobbyist Magazine I'm ready to go with DCC. It's easier to use than I ever thought and with the decoders at under $18.00 U.S. I can change a large number of engines over to DCC without ending up in the poor house. what a great article Thanks MRH I may actually have trains running by next Saturday.
What a great Easter Present you have given me and what a great load you have taken off my back with this article.

Rio Grande Dan

jbaakko's picture

Joe, are those ExactRail wood

Joe, are those ExactRail wood chip Gons I see? How do you like yours? I have to mail mine back, it got damaged in the packaging, and is missing the brake platform.

joef's picture

Josh, you have a sharp eye

Yep, Josh, those are ExactRail cars. I hope to do a First Look on them in Issue 3 ... complete with a full page Click-n-spin!

Joe Fugate
Publisher, Model Railroad Hobbyist magazine

Joe Fugate's HO Siskiyou Line

ChrisNH's picture

Old Timer

The "old timer" section really hit the nail on the head. At the end of the day so much comes down to "how easy and/or convenient is it to operate a cab?". I completely agree a good throttle needs to be fully functional in one hand. Its a lot like buying a camera. There are a lot of fine technical differences that may or may not actually MAKE a difference.. but how it feels in your hand and how easily you can make it take a picture.. thats the real measure!

Recenly I was becoming dissatisfied with my Digitrax DT400. Not because of the little knobs, I am fine with those. However, I was frustrated with the buttons and spent too much time looking at the throttle. I lost track of the number of times I did something by accident. I could push in the throttle to change direction but not with one hand. I have also used the large NCE throttle.. I liked some things better but it too seemed cludgy.

Now, I kept using my "layout owner" DT400 because most of the local layouts I op on are throttle shy, so I bring mine and use it so others can use the owner's throttles. However, recently I operated on a well stocked layout and was handed a UT4. Within minutes I heard angels singing and my eyes rolled into my head in rhapsody. Well.. no.. but close..

This throttle had a toggle switch for direction. I can hold it sideways in my hand, rest my thumb on the throttle wheel, and my forefinger on the direction toggle. The locomotive is dialed in with physical number spinners, I can't unselect my loco by accident. I never had to look at my throttle.. I knew what direction my loco was going by the feel of the toggle on my finger. I completely lost myself in what I was doing, completely unconcious of the throttle I was using.

I have not used the NCE cab throttle, just their monster throttle.. so this not comparitive by any means.. my point is that the throttle makes all the difference.. and even within a manufacturer you will find different throttles with different feels. My contentment with my Digitrax system has skyrocketed. Would I buy it again today? I don't know.. I bought it a long time ago when NCE was Wangrow and cost twice as much. Also keep in mind that I use N and have no sound locos, so operating the throttle and direction is truly all I care about.. the DT400 is great as the "only throttle" with all its options, but now I need to find a way to get myself a UT4 for just running..


“If you carry your childhood with you, you never become older.”           My modest progress Blog

joef's picture

Glad you found the old timer section helpful

The "Old Timer" and "Junior Hoghead" mini-commentaries are fun - they give our editorial staff a chance to comment on articles using these two alter-egos ... and to do it in a way that's both entertaining and informative. And they can remain safely anomyous - not unlike Ray L Rhodes in Model Railroader's past.

I believe point and counter-point discussions really help you refine ideas and help you decide what fits you best.

Joe Fugate
Publisher, Model Railroad Hobbyist magazine

Joe Fugate's HO Siskiyou Line

MRH vol 2 and DCC article

so true...all of it.

OPS with DCC, the only way to go.

thanks for the MRH!!! 


You are perfectly right about DCC. I have too many DC engines  and do not want to convert them. It's costly.I have several DCC engines as well, so my layout will control both DCC and DC. My loast layout was all DC, using  3 cabs and (3)  3Pole 4 position rotary switches to alow a selection of which cab will operate witch track. I left the 4th position for DCC. I planned to use a isolated staging area for DCC and DC. I can be troublesome for visitors,but with a little help it works out. T Asousa

kcsphil1's picture

But how costly is it really?

If you are planning to convert to DCC as I am, why not spread out the cost?  Then it comes down, and you have th eopportunity to add new features and decoders as they develop.  Me, I'm about ready to go out and buy my first basic DCC set (perhaps I'll celebrate NAtional train Day tomorrow and do just that), but that hasn't stopped me from pricing decoders for my loco fleet.  Since I've settled on a system, I figure I can buy one or two a month and do the conversion slowly.

From that angle, conversion is not dollar expensive, but it may be more time expensive then you might like.

Philip H. Chief Everything Officer Baton Rouge Southern Railroad, Mount Rainier Div.

Rio Grande Dan's picture


Read the article in issue #2 of MRH magazine and If you go to the Monday movies page on this web site there is a 4 part series on DCC that will give a great explanation and incite to The world of DCC and help you figure out which system you want to get started with. It will tell you how you can start by setting up engines with decoders for under $20.00 each as far as the main DCC system it can cost from a couple hundred Dollars to more than $1,000.00 depending how many add on you need and how state of the art you are wanting to go with engines, switch machines, lighting systems,and everything else. Read the articles They helped me alot and I guarantee they will help you. They should answer your questions and tell you how to start small and grow as you go.


Rio Grande Dan

kcsphil1's picture

Already done my research

Before the MRH article came out.  I've done store test drives on four systems around the area I live in, read lots of articles, posted questions to 4 different yahoo groups I belong to, and am comfortable with the direction I am taking.  

Philip H. Chief Everything Officer Baton Rouge Southern Railroad, Mount Rainier Div.

Excellent article on DCC

Joe, great job on this article.  A few comments and experiences I've had at a large club layout.

First, the club layout runs both DC and DCC cabs simultaneously.  So that means there's still block selection panels (we have a relay system with a control panel at each end of the block, so no matter which direction you're running in, you can "get your cab" before you enter the block).  When someone "runs a block" it's true that there is the equivalent of a short, and it causes some problems in that power district, but has never caused the system to burn out.  Each block is protected by a circuit breaker, and this helps prevent layout-wide issues.  We run Digitrax, and currently only have 3 power units (command station and a pair of boosters), but have 10 more boosters on the docket for installation.  When we started, the DCC environment didn't include sound and only a handfull of members were running DCC.  That ratio is reversing, with a number of the old "die hards" who would never give up their DC finding themselves with some newer models that came equipped with DCC... so when they start using it, they just love it.  So, if you're careful in wiring and operating, you can run both modes at the same time on one layout, but it does require the operator to stlll spend some time "running the layout" rather than just "running their train."  With over 120 members, it's not likely we're going to get rid of "dual mode" operation any time soon.

Dual mode also brings up another situation that I've encountered.  Because of our model of running DC and DCC together, I tend to set CV 29 to disallow "analog conversion."  That way if I accidentally run into a DC block, my train simply stops.  But nother side effect seems to be that with analog conversion turned off in the decoder, the response on the decoders is better.  I'm not 100% sure if this is true for all decoders or all environments.  I have noticed that the ...ahem... MRC sound decoders in Athearn units (and perhaps some others) are listed as "dual mode" decoders, and even turning off analog conversion, well.. doesn't.  At least not on the units I've experienced.

As for BEMF in consists... I have a number of BLI locos that have BEMF turned on, typically with their QSI sound boards.  They run in consist just fine with only a tiny bit of bucking at different speeds... and at slow speeds that BEMF seems to help smooth out the operation of the consist.  So, I guess it's a YMMV scenario.  I found that the Proto 2000 locos with QSI (especially the freight units) would buck and grind as you suggest, even on tangent track, so I looked at the settings in my Broadway locos and adjusted the Proto units to similar values using Decoder Pro (a tool I can't speak highly enough about, especially for complex decoders with all those indexed CVs!) and the bucking and fighting diminished significantly.

LokSound decoders from ESU have shown me some excellent BEMF characteristics... I have a Division Point DT-6-6-2000 that I put a Baldwin LokSound decoder in, and not only does it sound great, but I can get it to crawl smoothly, with or without a train, at 7 seconds per tie... without any kind of hiccough.  Users of the new Paragon2 from Brodaway have also reported stellar slow speed operation on their new units.  So you're absolutely correct that BEMF is the way to go for smooth slow operations.  It's easy to make a train go fast smoothly... but it sure isn't so easy to make one look great running slowly!


Overall, excellent magazine... keep up the great work... and I enjoyed your DVD series too!



duckdogger's picture


First off, MRH is a timely medium executed very, very well.  Great job.

While I'll never have another 60th b-day, I still function reasonably well and the digital world does not give me pause.  This article is excellent.  I perceive it as objective and well documented based on the actual usage by you and your peers. I feel a lot more comfortable with "fleet" type decoders based on your review.  Nothing beats video to document a visual component such as lighting.

Still undecided, but now influenced by Digitrax and their capibality to mesh with the SoundTraxx free standing Surrountraxx via on-board transponders.  The sound fidelity and range, in particular the bass, afforded by book shelf sized speakers should be a real plus.  I have yet to hear one, but my expectation is high as I have demo'd a lot of on board speakers and find the low range too thin.

Again, excellent job.

Getting started...

Hey Dan,

I know you will get comfortable with DCC soon and when you do you will not look back.  At least that is my take on it.

I bought the 2 engines that day but didn't buy the DCC system just then.I did have 4 books or magazines about beginner DCC. But I was still lost I already had 5 Controlmaster XI top of the line Power Transformers with pulse Frequency control, Pulse Width control, Momentum adjustment control each has an Illuminated Voltmeter & an Ammeter for the Standard Gauge portion of my last Pike and 2 Troller Transistorized Autopulse Twin Momentum 5 Transformers for my HOn3 portion of my last Pike and the DCC systems are not compatible with these DC controllers.

I noticed that you have a couple of Troller's.  I here bad things about them and the transistors failing but I have a couple of Trollers and have always like them.

One thing about DCC systems.  I heard something mentioned about the Digitrax Zephyr allowing one to use a couple of DC packs as throttles.  Not much help if you already bought a Lenz system though.

Good luck with the DCC!

Digitrax Zephyr

Yes the Zephyr does allow you to use two DC power packs as throtles. They work but you don't get the convenience of being able to walk around with your trains. For that you need either DT400Rs or UT4Rs and a UR-91 hooked up to your Zephyr. Of couse you still to plug in to Loconet to acquire the locomotives at least until the duplex versions coe out in the next few weeks.

Digitrax will let you run a non-decoder equiped locomotive at address 0 but I never liked the idea of doing that. In the long run, you're better off getting decoders installed in all of your locomotives.



DCC convertion

Can I get some clarification from the writer how can I use the DC layout for DCC and DC seperatly.

What position have tobe the togel switches when running DCC?

How thw DCC operats without blocking track if I have to stop a train for a passing second train in a fiddel

which is under a tunel


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