Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Get Smart

Control or Kaos?

Remember "Get Smart"?  The old show with Don Adams as Maxwell Smart where the enemy was "Kaos".  Well, this isn't that.  It's just me trying to figure out how to control trains on my model railroad.


Here's the background.  Most everyone knows that train sets come with a "power pack". Hook it up to the tracks.  Turn the knob.  The train goes.  Simple.

What happens if you want to run two trains at once?  On the same track?  We'll, you could separate the track into sections and run each section with a separate power pack.  Each person runs a train through their section of track.  For a big train layout with lots of trains, this gets complicated, quick, but it is doable.  And, you need a person for each section of track.

The "holy grail" was to have each person run one train - just like a real train engineer runs a real train.  A bunch of clever people developed a number of ways of doing this over the years.  The first used relay logic that would connect your "power pack" to the section of track with your train on it, so you could follow your train around the layout.

Then came some really clever analog transmitter/receiver systems.  Power was always on the track, but each locomotive only "listened" to it if it received a signal from the "power pack" (now referred to as a "cab" - as in the controlling compartment of a locomotive).  So, the cab had a transmitter that send an analog signal in the rails to the locomotive that had a receiver tuned to listen to it.

There were various versions of this that had varying degrees of commercial success in the middle 70s and early 80s.  They were pricey, but quickly gained popularity among folks who were interested in trying to run their model train layouts like they were real railroads.

I was - or at least I was planning to - so I bit on one of the more popular systems called "Dynatrol".  You could run up to 16 individual locomotives with it.  The "cabs" cost about $100.  The locomotive receivers cost about $40 - in 1985 dollars.  I had a few cabs and a about 10 locomotives equipped.

Kids arrived.  Focus shifted.

Now, it's 30 years since I started with Dynatrol.  The world of model railroad train control has moved.  A lot.  Now, all the equipment is digital.   It is cheaper (in constant dollars).  It does more things.  Model trains can have realistic sound, for example.  But, it isn't free.  And, I have all this Dynatrol stuff.  I even bought more over the years - from ebay - for a song.  It all works. Sort of.  One by one, the locomotive receivers have failed.  There is a guy who operates out of his basement, who will fix these things - maybe.  But, his price is twice what an new digital receiver costs.

So, I'm afraid the handwriting is on the wall.  It's time to ditch the old Dynatrol and buy some digital stuff.

Which brings Kaos.

There are at least a half dozen manufacturers of digital equipment out there.  The good news is that the basic locomotive receivers are compatible between the manufacturers.  The bad news is that nearly all the other stuff you need is not.  And, there are levels of systems, and methods for expansion.


None of this is clear to me.  I've been all over the internet trying to figure out what I'll need and how much stuff to start out with.

So far, it's just been all Kaos.   I need Control.  Will I figure it out?  Maybe.

Anyone need some old Dynatrol?

No comments:

Post a Comment

Your turn!