Controllers

I'd appreciate some feedback (sorry!) on currently available controllers as I'm about to buy one for the first time in nearly 30
years. I don't want to go with DCC for a couple of reasons that I'll mention at the bottom.
At first glance the Gaugemaster feedback controllers look attractive to me, partly because I have some tight curves and a hill and like to leave a train running while I do some shunting. However I wonder if anyone has tried them and whether, as I've heard for some feedback controllers, they do nasty things to your motors.
On the Gaugemaster website it says that they are not suitable for coreless motors or DCC ready locos. My stock is largely late 70s / 80s vintage RTR so I guess this is not a problem. However it is possible that I will be tempted by the vastly improved modern stuff. I assume that none of these have coreless motors but many of them are "DCC ready". I'm not quite sure what "DCC ready" actually means - is it possible to easily make them DCC unready?
My reasons for not wanting to go with DCC are first that I like having lots of wires. I'm not the most talented of modellers but being a mathematician, having wires everywhere is quite cool! Second because of its situation, my layout is only run about 5-6 times a year and will probably have to be dismantled for a very long time in a few years so it's not worth the cost especially as I have many locos.
All advice would be very welcome.
Steve
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Steve Noble wrote:

They are an established maker with a decent record. They work fine. I've had a "HH" handheld for years, and its fine, and works as expected. Don't run locos slowly for extended periods with it or they can get a bit hot.
The HH is not used much these days, the Pentroller is the preferred analogue controller, but I'm odd in scratchbuilding mechanisms with stupidly small coreless instrument motors.
If buying analogue again I'd go for one without feedback, but I'd be using DCC on any layout rather than test track.

Coreless motors are extremely rare in RTR stuff (I won't say unknown because there is bound to be one). So, you are unlikely to encounter a problem. The concern dates back some time to when RG4's first appeared and were cooked by various controllers; that led to a degree of over-protecting and over-concern. However, the pulse form of some controllers (and some DCC chips) isn't well suited to coreless motors, hence the note on Gaugemaster's site. Their non-feedback designs should be fine with coreless motors.
DCC ready. That's a very loose term in the industry. In many cases, the loco just has a socket/jumper for a chip set, then its no different to a DC loco except that the makers have made it easier for the owner to disconnect the pickup wires and insert a DCC chip. Those will not be an issue. Some locos are now shipped with DCC chips installed, but those chips can, in theory be driven on analogue systems. Its those that Gaugemaster are advising against.

If you like it fair enough. The hobby is supposed to be about enjoying things.

Reasonable. Though except for the conversion cost, there isn;t a reason to not change. Give it a few more years and analogue will start to look as quaint as 3-rail.
- Nigel
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On Tue, 4 Dec 2007 13:55:04 -0800 (PST), Steve Noble

As a control engineer now in retirement, I have always rated analogue to be superior to digital especially in the servo mechanism field.
DCC ready is not a problem.
DCC can be. I have several locos which arrived here fitted with chips and performed very poorly ( Bachmann & Hornby) on my DC analogue system until I removed the chip and fitted bridging links in their place.
I use 3 H&M2000 controllers as they keep the voltage chosen reasonably constant and thus simulate the variable speeds experienced by climbing hills etc. Typically 3 to 5 trains will be in transit with one shunter working somewhere. It is to be admitted that I have had component failures in two of them but fortunately the technology is still 1960's stuff and thus repairable ( as opposed to modern day fling it and buy a new one).
I have assumed that the use of fB in other controllers is to give constant speed for a given setting -- rather non proto typical and not involving "driving". No doubt someone will be able to correct me.
The idea that DCC is to be king I suspect is being rather ambitious as it is evident (to me ) that a common standard remains way off. It is not really good commercially to have such a thing. The Analogue concept is truer to the prototypical operation and provides me and I suspect many like me , with the true" hands on" feeling. The method of control used in DCC systems is more akin to running a CNC m/c or a PC game console -- not at all my idea of progress.
Regards
Peter A Montarlot
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Peter Abraham said the following on 05/12/2007 07:16:

At the Warley show, I was struck by just how much DCC was visible, both on layouts and trade stands. There is a common standard already, although it appears that there may be some issues with budget DCC aimed at the starter market. This is based on comments on various forums rather than first hand experience - I'm still at the "thinking about DCC" stage! My own feeling is that DCC is going to become king, in the same way as VHS did at one time, even if it was technically inferior to Betamax (cf analogue control).

I must admit that the idea of operating a model railway with a glorified TV remote control leaves me stone dead. The Bachmann Dynamis that everyone is raving about really does look like some sort of computer games console, but I think that again it's aimed at the starter market for which I'm sure it'll be absolutely fine. This is why I like the idea of the Digitrax Zephyr and its "jump controllers" - a bog standard analogue (non feedback) controller that can be used to control the train via DCC. You still have to do the programming on the main unit obviously, but you can have a nice big rotary knob and direction switch to drive the trains!
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Paul Boyd wrote:

I agree. Many DCC controllers have dreadful ergonomics.

Try it in your hand, its a lot better than you are suggesting. You need to assess it by hand, not by what you think it might look like.
I think its one of the better commercially produced controllers I've handled.

I think this is a good trick by Digitrax, though it has some limitations of being tethered.
For conventional controller rotary knob and direction switch, look at the Fremo Fred units, or the Uhlenbrock commercial version of the Fred. The Fremo Fred is the nicest digital controller I've ever used. You pickup the controller which is related to a single loco (write the name on the back!). Want a different loco, pick a different handset. Start the loco running. Unplug controller, loco continues, plug back in and drive some more. Total simplicity in one handheld unit.
( There is an option to swap up to four locos around on a single handset, but the layout I drove had things arranged with one handset per locomotive )
I don't think the Uhlenbrock Fred isn't as nice as the Fremo Fred, and I prefer the Uhlenbrock Daisy, but I can see why they chose to re-use the Daisy plastic case.
- Nigel (Professional ergonomist)
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On 05/12/2007 12:18, Nigel Cliffe said,

I saw it at Warley, although I didn't hold it. I just feel that it's the wrong way to be driving trains! Even with DCC, I would still want points and signals operated through a lever frame!!

I have a page on that in my "DCC file". I'm off to have another look at the website in a sec.

I hadn't appreciated that's how it works - that's a really nice idea. I also like the DIY idea - I'm sure that'll be cheaper than the Uhlenbrock version when making a few, especially as I'm the manager of an electronics sub-contract manufacturing company :-) Could something like the Zephyr allocate locos to a Fred? It looks like it ought to. I'm thinking of something like a Fred for favourite locos, and the Zephyr, with or without jump controllers, for the rest.
There's so much to learn!!!!
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But surely, you can do that with DCC, if you want to? Most DCC systems allow you to add sub controllers to the main unit. You then tell each sub which loco to control. You can make that as permanent, or temporary, as you want (or need).
What have I missed?
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Graham Harrison wrote:

The small size, the lack of buttons on handsets which might be pressed incorrectly, and when running an exhibition layout, nobody need touch the "dispatching" control system used to setup the handsets.
- Nigel
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Graham Harrison said the following on 05/12/2007 21:55:

Yes, you can, but the Freds are much smaller and neater units than any other throttle I've seen.

Ergonomics! Seriously, I just like the idea of the handheld throttle being very basic and simple. They can also be much cheaper, so it's more realistic to have one throttle per loco.
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Paul Boyd wrote:

Back on the commercial options, my mind is drifting back to the Digitrax UT4, perhaps in its "due spring 2008" wireless-radio-legal-in-EU form. Just set the silly loco address dials once and forget them. I'd need to check that the UT4 in wireless form is OK on a Zephyr (I expect it is, but would need to check). US price of the infrared/corded form is about $65, UK price is 50; I'd be tempted to import at that differential. Radio form for EU needs to wait for the spring.
Its a shame that the design of the UT4 is "half right"; the big control knob protruding over the top is a very good trick, but some of the remainder of the box is a bit of a chunky vero-box. Some investment in mould tools would be a welcome upgrade.
- Nigel
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Nigel Cliffe wrote:

Should be OK as the receiver will be connecting to the LocoNet LAN for communication with command station.
Chris
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Paul Boyd wrote:

Paul,
I have a contact in Fremo who has made Freds. Drop me an email if you want to take it further. Uhlenbrock Fred's come up fairly regularly on German Ebay (though not if you search the UK one, even with an EU wide search!), however, the case design is somewhat more chunky than the Fremo version.
As well as the Fred, look up the Fredi (Fred mk 2) and the MiniBox. http://home.arcor.de/ulf.mahrt/Minibox.html
The Fremo manual implies that "dispatching" on a Digitrax works for Freds. http://fremodcc.sourceforge.net/diy/fred/manual.en.html The Zephyr manual (p30/31) describes dispatching a loco. I could ask those I know at Fremo to confirm that the Zephyr works, the above suggests it ought to, but may be nice to get it from someone who has it working.
My Fremo contact is currently in New Zealand, but I expect he'll be back in a few weeks time.
The downside of all this DIY is the electronics knowledge required to put it into action. I lack the knowledge, so on my own, I end up back with off-the-shelf options.
- Nigel
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Nigel Cliffe said the following on 05/12/2007 22:51:

I did see the Uhlenbrock version, and whilst it looks nice in its own right, it's heading back towards clunkiness again! Once I've made up my mind, I'll take up your offer of the contact.

I have no problems with the DIY aspect, but looking through the Fremo site and all its wandering links has put me off slightly! I imagined I could download the bare bare board data (I only found a PDF) as well as the PIC program, and go from there. Then I realised that the calibration process involves running a DOS program natively, reading off some values, programming them in, then programming the PIC. It seems I have to request IDs as well. Having most of it in German didn't help my understanding! I'll persevere though, and if I can fathom it all out perhaps there's a service I could offer with appropriate permissions!
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Paul Boyd wrote:

Another little link on Jump Throttles:
http://www.cmlelectronics.co.uk/support/adding%20jump%20throttles%20to%20a%20zephyr%20command%20station.pdf
Which has the simplest possible voltage divider for a jump-throttle. 10k-ohm resistor ought to last at least a couple of hundred hours on one PP3 unless its put in a drawer and left on by mistake. (Or my sums are wrong!)
I'm sure someone with knowledge of short distance radio or IR circuits could make it wireless without much difficulty or complexity.
- Nigel
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No perfectly correct, a 10k load will pull about 1mA or slightly less as the battery voltage droops. A PP3's capacity varies a lot with brand but should be at least 250mAH, and over 1000mAH for a lithium type, so anywhere from 250 to 1000 hours!!
Jeff
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Jeff wrote:

Ta, glad my mental maths are correct...
I've now got interested in whether one could make an ultra low cost wireless version :-)
- Nigel
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Nigel Cliffe wrote:

Only if you can get ultra-lowcost bits and pieces. DIY electronics is becoming a niche hobby, not the viable alternative to purchase that it used to be.
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Wolf Kirchmeir wrote:

I know. Its been a continual drift for most of my adult life; as a teenager, some of my friends built their own stereo amps, cassette electronics, etc. By the time I was in my 20's, it was scarcely economic to do such; I looked and thought about it, then went to the local hifi dealer (though now I'm mid 40's, I have one friend who still builds audiophile grade kit, his latest power supply project must have cost several hundred pounds).
I appreciate that the solution today will be to either buy commercially or canibalise kit sold for other uses (eg. cheap R/C gear).
- Nigel
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Nigel Cliffe said the following on 08/12/2007 14:12:

At 41 3/4, it looks like we've had almost parallel lives! I started in electronics when I was 11. I rarely even make my own leads now because they're cheaper to buy complete, never mind anything like amps! I also built my own amp, cassette deck electronics etc in my time. I even built a ZX81 from a kit when I was at school!
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Eh?
Where it matters, the signal on the rails that controls the trains, a common standard has been in existence for 15 years. It's called NMRA DCC. Apart form a few rogue components, there is universal interchangeability at this level.
In other areas that do not concern control of locos, manufacturers are free to inovate on their own (e.g. Digitrax) or collaborate (e.g. numerous vendors supporting XpressNet and/or Railcom).
MBQ
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