Programming lighting effects on NCE, TCS and Digitrax 123 decoders

This weekend’s project turned out to be more of a doozy than expected.

Step 1: Clean the wheels. Spread regular metal polish thinly on the rails, ran a loco in place at full speed for a minute or so before thoroughly cleaning the wheels and track off, spreading a thin layer of no-ox-id on the track, running them in circles for a bit, and cleaning everything thoroughly.

Step 2: Program the decoders for lighting effects.

What I wanted was something more prototypical than the vanilla “Headlights on with F0, front on going forwards, back on reversed” approach. I decided that I wanted front lights to come on with F0, dim with F4, and rear lights (when applicable) to come on with F1. They would stay on regardless of direction, because what engineer says “Back half a car, better turn this light off and -get up- this one on”. Really! Fortunately for me, I really only have 2 kinds of decoders. Digitrax 163 series (FX3), and TCS. This meant that I only had to spend hours wading through manuals instead of days…until the addendum at the end for NCE.

Starting with Digitrax, I decided on F4 for dimming because you can’t remap that.

The digitrax decoder manual is horribly outdated. Don’t even look at it! It talks about CV61, which hasn’t been relevant since the FX3 163s came out a decade ago. Somehow, digitrax hasn’t updated it to include what you need for 163 and 165 decoders!

Now, it took me a while to figure this out….the first thing to tackle is function mapping. CV33, 34, and 35 control the applicable functions. CV33 is F0 on your cab (controller) in the forward direction, CV34 is F0 in reverse, and CV35 is F1 in reverse. Function 1 on the decoder is the white wire to the front headlight and function 2 is the yellow wire to the rear headlight. (I will not be abbreviating these to F1 or F2.) These functions are the same whether there are visible wires or the LED is mounted on the locomotive’s circuit board or decoder. Thanks, NMRA!

In order to control these function wires seperately, you must change CV33-35. By default, CV33=1 (white wire/front headlight on in forward only) CV34=2 (yellow wire/rear headlight on in reverse only) and CV35=4. (green wire in either direction, not applicable in this circumstance.) We want function 1, the front headlight, to come on regardless of direction, so we keep CV33 at 1 and also set CV34 to 1. This means F0 does the same regardless of direction. The rear headlight (yellow/function 2) is function key-less, so we map it to F1 by setting CV35 to 2. If you have more lights, you can map F3 on your cab to be the rear light by changing CV37 to 2 instead of CV35

You can do more calculations including more CVs/functions using this digitrax link

Stopping it auto-dimming on reverse was, as it turned out, impossible. Therefore, if you want a headlight that dims on command with F4 but also dims on reverse, program CV49 to 104. I ended up setting it to 0, since I’d rather have constant headlights all the time than dimmable ones that mess up when you reverse. This means all my future decoders will probably be TCS…

Moving on to TCS (Train Control Systems): TCS decoders generally have more lighting options. They have become my favorite decoders, being only slightly more expensive with more functionality.

In TCS decoders, the front and rear headlights are controlled by 49 and 50. To set the front headlight to manual, set CV49 to 32, and CV50 to 32 for manual reverse. To have the front headlight dim on command from F4, set CV49 to 40.  Next, I remapped the reverse light from F0 to F1 by setting CV34 (reverse light function wire) to 4.  Easy peasy! I didn’t bother with any rear dimming.

The only complication I had (besides the units with TCS CN decoders refusing to dim) was my RS-10 – It’s set up for long hood forward operation. This means that front is rear and rear is front…the decoder is programmed for the correct direction of travel, but that doesn’t change what is physically wired to what. Since it’s TCS, not a problem. Set CV33 (what would be the front light) to 4, and CV34 (rear light come front) to 1. Next up, this means that F4 dims the rear headlight, so switch the CVs for 49 and 50. (CV49=32, CV50=40). Voila!

I hope this answered a few questions for you. I do have more DCC projects coming up, so keep tuned!

Update: NCE (North Coast Engineering):

It took me a while to figure out NCE decoders. I didn’t have any when I originally wrote this article but recently installed an N12A0 into my Atlas SD7 – A Great Northern unit that runs long hood forward.

Important: NCE does not use CVs 49 and 50 to control anything. They configure functions with CVs 120 to 128 instead.

As with other decoders, CV 33, 34, and 35 map functions (lights) to the function buttons. CV33 is F0 forward, CV34 is F0 reverse, and CV35 is F1 in either direction. By default, as with Digitrax and TCS, these are CV33=1, CV34=2, and CV35=4. To control the front light with F0 in both forward and reverse, set CV33 and CV34 to 1. To control the rear light with F1, set 35 to 2.

What’s that? You came here for directional lighting? Good, me too. This is where I had the CV49/50 problem. CV 120 and 121 act the same way as 49 and 50 on Digitrax decoders. To stop lights from being directional, just set 120 and 121 to 32. If you try to set one to 40, though, it just dims on reverse instead of with a button. Dimming isn’t something I plan to figure out in the near future though.

Special case: As I mentioned, this was a long hood forward locomotive I was programming. This means I had to do a number of things. After setting CV29 to 39 while consulting this calculator (and being very sure to tick the long address box, otherwise the locomotive wouldn’t respond) I tackled the problem of the light outputs not being reversed with the direction. It was easy, though, just had to remap the functions. CV33 and 34 control the short hood, which on a LHF locomotive is the rear end, so I had to set them to be controlled by function 1, setting CV33 and 34 to 2. The long hood light, now the forward, is controlled with F0 by setting CV35 to 1.

Next up may be MRC, as I have that one locomotive….time will tell.


Tote dat barge, smash dat ridge

On today’s episode of “What that crazy guy is doing”, we find him in his basement with a large mallet.

Oh, did I get ahead of you? Sometimes I do tend to skip to the fun bit.

On my last blog post, I was adding a road and a hydrocal base. This I enjoy. Let’s pick up where we left off…

After a day or two of spreading chunks of plaster around the house, I had pretty much all the hydrocal in place except for between the west switch of Nelson and the backdrop. At the same time, I put rock castings on using thicker hydrocal as a sort of glue. If you like sculpting hydrocal (I don’t) you can use it at the same time to make the rocks blend in better by creating more rock face around them. I plan to do this with slower drying sculptamold later. I do not enjoy creating detailed cliffs.

I think that extra inch or two all along helped a lot.

Meanwhile, I decided a high cliff face like there is right beside the Keenleyside dam would be fab. I hope I don’t end up tearing it out. Another thing I’m doing, since hydrocal costs about a fifth as much as sculptamold by weight (probably a twentieth by size) is rough in the various protrusions so only a thin coat of sculptamold is required.

Also put in a few bits up the line past Labarthe.

Now we come to the precursor to the smashy bit…

That steep face on the left that just doesn’t look right? Yep, that’s the one. Several reasons it needed to go:

  1. It was too close to the tracks to put any rock castings on
  2. Didn’t work with the lay of the land
  3. (most importantly) there was no equivalent prototype cliff, just a big ol’ load o’ trees.

That brings us up to speed. If we go back to this post we can see what the base looks like, especially in this picture. I took out the cardboard support and let it slope gently, adding some compression to the hillside which I’ve lately found is nice.

I also winged it with laziness on the lake side of the track, since it was too steep. I wadded up some newspapers, tried taping them down unsuccessfully, and ended up just plastering over them to give a rough shape and then shaping it more as the plaster dried. I’m absolutely shocked something so lazy worked.

Finished avalanche slope – I mean hillside:

In person, it’s miles better. Lumpy, but better.

I also realized that operations and videos would be a lot better if I had somewhere for trains to go once they were past the tunnel, so I added another mile of mainline run by saying “to hell with ideals, I’m building a temporary bridge”

So I cut a wide piece of plywood in the hopes that it would stop derailed rolling stock from falling off, and since I was out of flextrack, patched my 3 longest scraps together and caulked them down right on the plywood.

That gives me some sort of staging…problem is, 81 can trundle right up into it, but staging an eastbound? Have you ever tried to back an N scale train with a mix of body and truck mounts up a steep grade and around curves?

Let’s just say tomorrow’s project is adding some scenery around the bare bits so that my trains have somewhere to fall.

Additionally, I’m in an art show this weekend, so it’s amazing I’m doing anything down here at all. Procrastination? Nope, I’m not using real life as an excuse not to play with trains!

I totally know what I’m doing.

Deck’s pretty much done. All the boards are down, and all that is left are about a thousand screws once that foot of snow disappears. Waiting for that, I got a few things done. I apologise for the mess in the photos, it’s a symptom of my laziness.

Big problem: Sawdust. Sawdust EVERYWHERE. The best way to make a model railway is to build all the benchwork, and then get on the less dusty things. Too bad I’m not doing it that way.

Biggest offender? My mitre saw that spews everywhere. Look at this:

Soo…I built a workbench just for the saw, using all the bits of plywood I had lying around as well as a bed that I had made for my grandmother to sleep in. Said bed was made from leftover bits of deck. Reduce, reuse, recycle!

So here it is. Only thing I bought new were the legs, and 4×4 cedar, while expensive, smells so lovely I left it in my car for a week.

The hood takes care of 90% of the sawdust. Wunderbar! You can also kind of see the backdrop that we ‘finished’. My artist has decided that paint can go wash itself down a sewer, and we’re doing the rest of them digitally.

Ironically, backdrops lead us on…

First thing I did was redo the abutments. There’s $40 I wish I hadn’t spent. MEASURE IT RIGHT THE FIRST TIME OR BE DUMB AND POOR LIKE ME. I somehow neglected to think about the height of the step that the bridge would sit on verses the height of the top, and there wasn’t really any way to fix it and have it look like it was anything but some weird concrete patch job at the bottom.
Next up  was a bit of scenery. Why not try a lattice? Oh, and throw some random bits in there too…I totally know what I’m doing.

Edit 11/16: Don’t use cardboard for a lattice. It’s far too thick and lumpy to work with. I hope I’ll be able to work with this section but there’s a chance a later post will show a conspicuous hole here.

I had to replace the original raised plywood because there was no way I was going to get anything acceptable out of it. So, some 3/8″ plywood with masonite glued on for road? Yes, I think so. I’m going to learn how to actually make stuff in sketchup and have shapeways print this bridge, and pray that it looks good.

Also did the bit between the tracks and Kootenay Lake/River. While in the area I took about a trillion photos of cliffs and rock formations, so I’ve got this pretty well in hand.

Oh yeah, that’s when I realized I had a problem…I can’t do that backdrop later, I have to get it done and in place first. Damn you, immovable load bearing wall!

So I made a road instead.

I’ve been struggling with the roadways in the pulp mill, seeing as there isn’t room for anything realistic. Or so I thought…the upper deck will protrude quite a distance beyond the lower deck at this point due to the 1-turn helix that will both simulate the 1km long Bulldog tunnel and get the track over the nod-under. I realized that I could jam the road in here comfortably if I redid my benchwork a little bit. I replaced 4 joists with longer ones, and constructed a 20′ wide road out of 1/2″ ply. My concept is that it will kind of disappear into the trees. I really hope I can manage that.

Here’s the current plan. Anything to the right of the left-most grade crossing is just roughed in.

Here’s to hoping it will look good!

Riding the Hotshot from Nelson to Trail!

Well folks, I’ve been meaning to get this up for a while. Part 2 of 3 of this series… a few days after chasing the hotshot from Nelson to Trail, and a 90km bike ride on the old Nakusp and Slocan from Nakusp to Rosebery and back (few photos, I’ll tack it onto part 3) I made my way to Nelson at 4 in the morning yet again. This time, I was to set out on a cabride on the hotshot to Trail. Before you go alerting the proper authorities, signatures were placed onto paper and there would be no recompense for any limb severing encountered.

Let’s start the previous day: As I’ve gone over in my Kootenay division operations post, the hotshot is brought from Cranbrook to McConnel (east of Creston) by a CPR crew, then is handed to a KVR crew that takes it into Nelson in the wee hours of the morning. A second crew takes it from Nelson to Trail and back to Nelson, leaving at 0630 and arriving back between 1600 and 1900. From there, its third crew takes it from Nelson to McConnel, where they swap trains with the CPR crew that brought another hotshot in, and the third KVR crew takes the hotshot back into Nelson. See the cycle?

Okay. Good. That’s the only thinking you’ll have to do reading this.

The previous night, one of the units on the hotshot coming to Nelson from Cranbrook died and they tied up at McConnel. This meant that on this particular day, it was a double length train, with double the work and (nearly) double the locomotives. As luck would have it, the same locomotive was on the point as the previous adventure.

The day started out with some ‘fun’. Nelson yard these days is basically being used as an extension of (or staging for, if you are a modeller) Trail yard.  What you see to the left are concentrate cars, as well as some empty acid tanks and various other cars. We had to fish out some cars from near the far end of there to add to our own train, so we departed much later than we would have liked.

At long last, we were off. I was falling asleep because, after the aforementioned 90km bike ride, I got to sleep at 2am. I had to leave for Nelson at 4. Whoo!

Now, I was pretty excited when we got to Taghum. Nothing like riding over the bridge you’re in the process of modelling.

The sun soon came out to show off how beautiful the Kootenay river can be.

The Boundary sub’s speed limit was 15MPH instead of 20 due to the derailment at Cora Linn dam in the spring, so we just enjoyed the ride.

Just before 9, we came into Castlegar. The train is about to cross the Columbia river, which it will follow all the way to Trail.

Coming up to what should be a familiar scene to my readers…

After we dropped off the empties in the yard to be taken to Celgar by the Kraft switcher, we paused at the crossing at the south end of the yard.

At the time on the Rossland sub, the first 10 miles were restricted to 10MPH. That was a damn long hour.

Leaving Castlegar, the line climbs up a light grade, and between Kinnaird and Blueberry Creek is high above the Columbia river on a glacial bench.

Surprising me, Matt Robson was still in the area, filming his video that will be released soon. Here here is at Poupore, the siding at the top of the 3.6% grade that brings the line off the bench.

A mile from Birchbank (See that sign over there that I definitely didn’t cut off?) a washout occurred in the spring. If it’s starting to sound like CP had a lot of problems in the spring, and you weren’t paying attention, they did. 2 derailments and a washout in series, closing the line for much of 2 weeks.

Just before Tadanac yard in the Trail smelter, the line crosses Stoney creek and immediately hits the north switch.

Stopped in Trail yard:

Photography isn’t allowed inside the complex, so I’m afraid there’s a lack of cool industrial photos. The Trail switcher was in the yard with 2 GP38-2s when we pulled in, they’re the ones who do all the hard work, switching the cars from the hotshot and going up the 4.1% grade to Warfield.

The yardmaster is hard at work:

Here we are, having coupled onto the train for Nelson.

…And this is when more fun started. After some calculations, we realized that because of the number of units we had there were problems with the marshaling of the train. Rather than actually worrying about it, since it was already an extra-long day, we just set out the first few cars that were the problem and got on our merry way.

Funny things happen when you combine lack of right-of-way maintenance with predictable consists.

Anyways, all units online for Poupore hill!

Oh yeahhhhh.

Actually, the last photo contains a bit of a problem.  It’s a looong way down to lower China Creek on the other side, and the bank is being seriously undercut feet from the roadbed. Trees are going down, and the CPR’s putting large rip-rap to try to stop the problem. There’s a definite worry that the entire bank of unstable glacial till might just go, taking the railway with it.

Anyway, back through the hour of yawn…I can’t even remember it.

Here’s Castlegar station in its current location outside of the wye.

We picked up over 40 loads from Celgar at Castlegar, making our train about 4500′ long – longer than the siding at McConnel! Saw-by time. Luckily for us, we got word from the RTC that while we were on the Rossland, the speed limit on the Boundary sub had been raised to 20MPH for the first time since the derailment. Small blessings! It felt like warp speed.

Here, we can see the tail end of the train as well.

Passing the Cora Linn dam…

…and the site of the derailment in spring. One of the concentrate gons nearly hit the lunch trailer.

Oh hey it’s that bridge I’m modeling.

All aboard the creative caption train!

About halfway between Taghum and Nelson, we met a grizzled friend.

Along the CP mainline, far too many bears are struck by trains. They eat fermented grain spilled from grain cars, in effect getting them drunk, them stumble around in the wrong direction while the train comes through. However, down here, there are no grain cars and the trains are moving half or a third as fast as on the mainline…this guy got away with room to spare!

Mmm, beautiful Kootenay river.

Here’s a view of Nelson and the city’s surroundings.

Now how did this end up there?

And, a final shot.

All told, it was a long 12 hour day, and we all slept well that night. I’m very grateful to the crew and management for letting me do this!

Part 3, biking the C&W and N&S…coming…eventually.