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Author Topic: Stan Ames was RIGHT!!  (Read 10569 times)
Jim Banner

Enjoying electric model railroading since 1950.


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« on: March 04, 2007, 12:31:53 AM »

Last October, on the old board, Stan Ames  told us about a new decoder that worked in spite of dirty and/or corroded track.  It even worked, he said, with tape over the rails.  Based on what Stan said, I ordered one of these decoders, specifically a Lenz Gold Maxi, for further testing.  With my garden railroad under 3 to 4 feet of snow, I had to wait until today to properly test it.  And test it I did, at our local model railroad show, before many members of the model railroad fraternity and some members of the public.

The demonstration was simple.  One Aristo-Craft Little Critter locomotive fitted with one Lenz Gold Maxi Decoder running on one five foot section of brass rail with tape over both rails on a one foot section in the middle.  The decoder requires rechargeable batteries so I used 3 NiMH portable telephone batteries, each rated at 3.6 volts 320 mAh.  A switch was installed in series with the batteries so that they could be turned on and off, and a pair of 5.6 volt zener diodes were installed in series across the batteries to prevent excessive charging voltage.  Due to the nature of the test and the small investment in batteries, no current regulation was used.

The first test consisted of running the locomotive along the bare brass track, over the tape insulated section, and back onto the bare brass.  This simple test created a sensation among experienced model railroaders, particularly as the locomotive ran equally smoothly and at the same speed both on and off the tape.  The concept of battery backup is simple, but to see it operating so smoothly is amazing, even to those of us in the electronics field.

The second test was to run the locomotive back onto the tape, this time stopping, reversing, starting, stopping, again reversing, all while on the tape, then accelerating quickly off the tape.  All of the DCC users and many of the astute dc users immediately realized for themselves the significance of this second test - that the DCC signals were being picked up right through the tape.

Most of the observers accepted that technology had solved the age-old problem of dirty track.  A few wanted to know how this was possible.  These were mostly technical people in the electronics field, but included a nuclear physicist and a retired university professor.

Not surprisingly, a number of members of the general public who had come to the show to see some trains run saw nothing new or exciting in these tests - all they saw was a knob being turned and a locomotive running as a result.

There were some very interesting questions raised.  The most common were what about H0 and what about N scale.  (The answer was that both the Lenz Gold JST for H0 and the Lenz Gold Mini for N scale work with capacitors to create "electronic flywheels" to help the locomotives get over the dirty spots.)  Other questions included how big should the batteries be (The answer was that it depends on the ratio between dirty and clean track.  With mostly clean track, the battery can be small, just big enough to meet the current demand.  If the track were 100% dirty, then you would need a battery big enough to meet the ampere hour demand.)  And a related question was how much of the track could be covered with tape and the locomotive still work (the answer would seem to be ALL OF IT.)

The answers to the last two questions lead me to speculate on a whole new way of operating trains, one perhaps not even foreseen by Lenz themselves.  That would be to purposely prevent the decoder from picking any power from the track by isolating the decoder from the wheels with capacitors.  This would force the locomotive to rely completely on the batteries for power, just as battery powered trains already do.  The downside of this would be having to charge and maintain batteries.  The advantage of this would be that locomotives could be fitted with sophisticated DCC decoders at a fraction of the cost of radio receivers plus auxiliary function control modules.  Operation would not require track cleaning, which many find a nuisance.  And as a bonus, this type of operation would not require any DCC boosters as the power would be supplied by batteries, not by the rails.  The control for a typical backyard railway could then be a low cost, introductory level DCC command station/throttle/low lever booster unit such as a Zephyr or a Bachmann E-Z Command.  I am sure this would have no appeal on huge layouts where you must walk along with your train, but would be ideal for the average, suburban backyard sized layout that can be controlled from the patio while sipping a cool one and listening to the burgers sizzle.  Please keep in mind that this mode of operation is only speculation at this time.  It will be a couple of months before the snow is gone from my outdoor layout and I can start on testing this concept.
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« Reply #1 on: March 04, 2007, 01:23:57 AM »

No.
He's not.

But, I'm done messing with it.

There was one missing bit to this ongoing tirade, and this is it.
Wonder who is going to write the review?

At least the plan has become clear.
Hope you learn to like batteries.
« Last Edit: March 04, 2007, 01:43:16 AM by Curmudgeon » Logged
bobgrosh

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« Reply #2 on: March 04, 2007, 03:48:23 AM »

I have to agree with TOC on this one.

The "NEW" decoder accomplishes little that could not be done with any decoder where you can access the + and - outputs of the bridge. Added battery backup years ago with LGB and Digitrax decoders, ran the tape on track test and impressed visitors.
But what happens after a year of use? What will it take to manage battery levels and charging rates? Will it play nice with other non battery trains. What happens to the other trains when the battery backup returns to contact with the rails after a relative long period on the tape and needs to provide a heavy charge to the battery? How much surge current does it draw? What are the effects on programming the CV's? How does it effect Transponding or NMRA feedback from other locos on the same track. How does it effect block detection?

Quote
The advantage of this would be that locomotives could be fitted with sophisticated DCC decoders at a fraction of the cost of radio receivers plus auxiliary function control modules.
  Not really. You can only fit them with the gold decoders. the name alone should tell you the cost. Try adding a function decoder and see what happens when the loco runs on tape. Try adding a Sound decoder, know of one that will still blow a whistle on command while NOT getting the DCC signal? What about the battery backup for the sound? Can it share the one used by the Gold decoder?
How is this cheaper? You have the cost of DCC AND the cost of battery.
Try fitting the decoder, speaker, sound card, batteries for the sound card, AND BATTERIES AND CHARGING CIRCUITS for the Gold decoder in a Bachmann open trolley or a LGB Forney. For that matter, try putting just the stuff for the Gold decoder in any small 0-4-0 without a tender. Yea you can remove weights and get it in some of them. If you run big locos that weigh 50 pounds and have dozens of electrical pickups then why bother?

Try running six locos with battery backup on the decoders for ONE YEAR, then you will know the answers to these questions, or call me and I'll 'splain it t'ya.

Listen to TOC, he may be a curmudgeon, not go into detail, be a little   gruff at  times, but he is right. Grin
BOB

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Tony Walsham

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« Reply #3 on: March 04, 2007, 05:03:05 AM »

You never know who actually reads some of the stuff posted here and at other forums.

It might even be someone with no vested interest in DCC who uses DCC and has actually investigated at least some of the possible pitfalls that may beset the battery back up idea.   

I think wiser heads will wait and see how the idea measures up under controlled conditions with testing done by truly independent users, and not the "silent" partner to a wife who is the Lenz importer.  Wink

I think Bachmann would do well to consider the interests of all the various types of LS users who make up their customer base, and insist that all future DCC sound decoders be at least capable of manual chuff triggering and reed switch activation of basic sounds, such as Whistle/Horn and Bell.  After all, what is the sense of alienating a potentially large market that is becoming increasingly irate at the prospect of having to rip out and discard a factory fitted item that they don't need or want, when it would be relatively simple to keep them happy as well.
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Tony Walsham
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(Remote Control Systems).
Kevin Strong


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« Reply #4 on: March 04, 2007, 01:55:26 PM »

Not meaning to throw more fuel on this fire...

First, let me say that I'm in no way arguing the results of this demonstration. It certainly sounds impressive.

A few questions that come to mind:

First, Jim states the size and capacity of the batteries would be proportional to the amount of dirty track you have. Fair argument. From a practical standpoint, I have a few observations:

If your track is only "mildly" dirty, then this sounds like a reasonable alternative. Put a small battery in with the electronics and little glitches are a thing of the past. However, not seeing the "little" glitches, you begin to lose perspective of how dirty your track really is. Soon--and without your ever knowing--those "little" dead spots have become much larger dead spots, and your reliance on your "little" battery becomes more and more. Soon, your battery is insufficient, and you need a larger battery. And soon after, your track pick-up is so bad that your battery isn't getting properly charged, either. Just because you're compensating for flaws doesn't mean they're not causing problems.

Here's a parallel scenario--Digital video casettes (MiniDV and other formats) are designed for 100 passes before any signs of bad video start to appear. Sounds great, right? That's because the signal from the tape goes through a digital scrubber that corrects dropped information before it gets sent to the TV. Look at one of those tapes without any correction, and you'll see that they're marginal after four or five passes, and absolutely unusable after around 20 passes. It's the digital fix that keeps them going--much the same as the battery back-up.

Second, recharging the batteries. Say I know I have moderately dirty track, so I want to use a decent-sized battery with a good capacity. Which battery technology do I use? How responsive are the various forms of batteries to intermittent charging? What about the chances of overcharging? Without a current limiter in the battery charging circuit, you can't call it a "trickle" charge. Battery charging circuits aren't what I'd remotely call "one size fits all," so I'd need to specify which kind of batteries I want to use, and get a proper charging circuit for them. Gel-cells are historically fairly tolerant of through-the-track recharging, but they're the most unwieldy of all the batteries. The space that would be occupied by a low-capacity gel-cell battery could be occupied by a full brick of NiMH batteries with six times the life. At that point, I may as well cut the leads to the track altogether.

Which brings me to my third observation. If I'm going to go through all the trouble to install this system, including a block of batteries with enough capacity for running the train (because of the two reasons stated above), why would I want to bother with track pick-up after all?

The Cost-savings myth:
Yes, the DCC decoders are less expensive than the individual R/C receivers. How much varies, but let's call it an average of $50 difference. That's a significant difference. But, that's offset by the cost of the necessary components for track power--a $300+ power supply to be strong enough to run multiple locomotives, and the cost of rail clamps to ensure proper electrical conductivity between rails. On a 400' railroad, this could run upwards of $300. I'd have to equip 12 locomotives with DCC before I began to see a cost savings. (Remember--the cost of batteries is the same, because I want to equip my trains with enough battery capacity to carry me through moderately dirty track.)

There's nothing wrong with DCC, but it needs clean track. Compensating for the occasional dirty spot is admirable, but it's not a panacea. If you purposely buy a system to run on anything less than 100% clean track, just cut your wires and go battery. Think of it in terms of a computer. You can buy a UPS to compensate for the occasional power glitch. But don't expect to set your computer up in the middle of the living room with no wires attached and expect it to run long. That's what laptops are for. You can buy DCC with a power backup. You still need to clean your rails. There's no getting around it.

Later,

K
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japasha

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« Reply #5 on: March 04, 2007, 02:27:47 PM »

Okay all of you. We forget that Bachmann has the technology to put standard R/C into their locomotives. I have a number of Bachmann locomotives that run with the original R/C unitsfrom the early ten-wheelers. This is much better tha nyou think as my locomotives are wired to run on either track or battery power.  The recievers are modified to run on 18 volts.  This has been cheap and reliable over 17 years of use and allows me to run my stuff on other railroads that don't have track power.

The real problem with the industry isn't whether the unit will run on crappy track or whatever, the best method odd control is via radio. Less interference and all. The major proble  thus far is that there are only two frequenceies with the method I use. Since I don't run more than two locomotives at a time, this isn't a problem.

What we really need to do is talk to Bachmann about a R/C board with battery or track powered provisions that have multiple address capability.

I have found that having a battery powered locomotive on my track powered layout is very useful, especiall when cleanign the raisl first.

The battery ca[pacity problem is solved by havign a nice boxcar witha a pair of lead-acid gel batteries inside. They will run damn near all day on a single charge. 

DCC for outside is not the way to go because of the additional issues of track contact and power drop. Simple track power with R?C is the best and battery with R/C is the next best overall.

The original Bachmann R/C is very sophisticated for the application. Some simple mods and address programming would make it an OEM breakthrough again. This is what we should be bugging the Bach-mann about.
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Hunt
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« Reply #6 on: March 04, 2007, 03:55:29 PM »

I think wiser heads will wait and see how the idea measures up under controlled conditions with testing done by truly independent users, and not the "silent" partner to a wife who is the Lenz importer.  Wink
Tony seeing this is Jim Banner's Topic some could be misled with your statement I quoted.

Does not Jim Banner qualify to you as a truly independent user? If not, why not?
« Last Edit: March 04, 2007, 04:19:22 PM by Hunt » Logged
Steve Stockham


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« Reply #7 on: March 04, 2007, 04:52:42 PM »

  I'm one of the r/c battery mafia so I'm sure that my sentiments will be questioned as somewhat skewed towards r/c battery power. I find Jim Banner's original post to be intriguing! I am certainly not going to go out and change over to DCC because of it though. There seems to be a concerted drive to push DCC as well as major resistance by the r/c battery community (well, DUH! anybody could see that from the recent threads on all of the forums! Roll Eyes)
  I don't have an axe to grind. I am not a dealer or retailer so I have no hidden aganda. I am merely one of the majority of large scalers that want to run their trains the easiest and most enjoyable way possible! As far as I have seen, that means r/c battery control. Does that mean what we have will always be the answer? Of course not!
  I didn't get into r/c battery right away. The cost for starting up is somewhat steep and I wanted to be sure before I took the leap. Now, I'm happy that I did.
  Jim Banner has a new set up that seems to address one of the major glitches that I see with DCC and outdoor railroading. "Seems" is the operative term! The technology is improving all the time and I will be interested in seeing if this does indeed make outdoor DCC a more viable option. I truly hope that it does signal an overcoming of this "hurdle" so that significant technological progress can continue. The hobby can only benefit from it.
  Conversely, I am happy with what I have today! The technology is older and more established (i.e. "reliable") but that doesn't mean that it also isn't continuing to be improved! I will say that there is a mountain of technical research on r/c systems that one can peruse in order to make an informed decision. There is not nearly as much on this new DCC (for obvious reasons) and some of it still seems "fuzzy".
  I will wait for complete testing and technical data to be made available before passing judgement. I do hope that it does everything that is being claimed for it! This shouldn't be a "we vs. them" argument. If somebody has some kind of hidden agenda then I would respectfully suggest, for the sake of the control system that is being espoused and the hobby in general, that any affilliations be above board. (We had this problem over on the MLS Forum and it was solved by this very stipulation!)
  It's entirely up to you guys but it's getting to the point that people aren't reading the entire posts for the content but look to the poster and immediately decide to agree or not agree simply because of who that person is! (Battery r/c vs DCC, Republican vs Democrat, Conservative vs Liberal, Yankees vs Red Sox.....they're interchangeable! Wink)
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Tony Walsham

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« Reply #8 on: March 04, 2007, 05:53:24 PM »

I think wiser heads will wait and see how the idea measures up under controlled conditions with testing done by truly independent users, and not the "silent" partner to a wife who is the Lenz importer.  Wink
Tony seeing this is Jim Banner's Topic some could be misled with your statement I quoted.

Does not Jim Banner qualify to you as a truly independent user? If not, why not?

Hunt, you are quite correct.
I wrote that incorrectly.
What I should have said was "promoted by" the "silent" partner to a wife who is the Lenz importer.
I have no quibble with the independence of Jim Banner.
However, it is usually very simple to "test" a concept indoors on 5' of track.  I believe Lenz actually demonstrated the principle a couple of years ago at Nuremberg.   
Is this Lenz system readily available in the market place yet?
If so, what are the part numbers?
What I would like to see is the long term testing by an independent observer of the idea on an actual outdoor railroad, not just a 5 foot length of track indoors covered by one foot of tape on each rail.
Once again, I must stress I have no argument with the concept of DCC.
What I would like to see is Bachmann, and other LS manufacturers, take into account the members of the LS market place who do not want to have to purchase equipment they do not need and will have to discard in order to get what they do want.
By all means offer extra add ons but make them optional add ons not compulsory purchases.
Another LS manufacturer tried the same thing and look where that got them.
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Tony Walsham
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Hunt
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MBB


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« Reply #9 on: March 04, 2007, 07:18:06 PM »

Hunt, you are quite correct.
I wrote that incorrectly.
What I should have said was "promoted by" the "silent" partner to a wife who is the Lenz importer.
For those who do not know, Tony is referring to Stan Ames.
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Hunt
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« Reply #10 on: March 04, 2007, 07:54:23 PM »

Back to the original subject -- Stan Ames was RIGHT

I read Jim is confirming, based on his testing, Stan Ames is right about the assertion a DCC signal can be received by a decoder capable of utilizing capacitance pickup without direct contact with the rails so long as the decoder is powered. His post is follow up to a discussion on the old board about DCC Hybrid drive.

The everyday practical use of the DCC Hybrid drive technology by a large scale modeler with an outside layout will be determined by comparison to other available choices.
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Jim Banner

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« Reply #11 on: March 05, 2007, 01:36:46 AM »

Thanks, Hunt, for hitting the nail on the head.  In his earlier (October) posting, Stan Ames made the outlandish sounding claim that a certain Lenz decoder could run on battery backup and could pickup up DCC signals through tape on the rails.  And that is exactly what approximately 150 model railroaders here in Saskatoon witnessed this weekend.  That decoder is the Lenz Gold Maxi, available from Tony's Train Exchange for $63.95.  Tony's also has the Lenz Gold JST for H0 and Lenz Gold Mini for N scale.  All can be viewed at this link:
http://www.tonystrains.com/products/lenz_decs.htm

I think receivers complete with motor controls and function outputs for lights and sound systems are about $100 more than Tony's price for the Gold Maxi, but if I am in error, I am sure someone will correct me.  As such, I believe these decoders may be a viable alternative to radio control when it comes to battery powered layouts, particularly small to medium sized backyard layouts.  I appreciate Tony Walsham's open mindedness on this, and absolutely agreed that an indoor test on five feet of track is not an adequate substitute for outdoor testing under various conditions.  With that in mind, I can hardly wait for my railway to thaw out so I can get started with these tests.

I agreed with Steve Stockham and would NOT advise anyone with a large investment in battery power with radio control to toss it all out and re-equip his fleet with a new control, as long as he is happy with the setup he is using.  Just like I do not generally advise anyone in small scale to toss out his block control system as long as he is happy with it (and many are.)

Kevin Strong asks a very good question:
Quote
Which brings me to my third observation. If I'm going to go through all the trouble to install this system, including a block of batteries with enough capacity for running the train (because of the two reasons stated above), why would I want to bother with track pick-up after all?

Sending high frequency signals over wires instead of through air is pretty common.  Think of high speed internet being sent over phone wires and TV signals being sent coaxial cables.  With our railways, we need tracks to carry our trains, why not use them to carry control signals as well?  We certainly would not need large power supplies or boosters to feed power to the rails if we had onboard "blocks of batteries with enough capacity for running the train."   I feel the high frequency signals will probably not require rail clamps to travel from track section to track section (this is but one of a large number of things that needs testing.)

I suspect bobgrosh never made it past the third paragraph of my first posting on this thread.  If he had, he would have realized that the battery backup that he proposed adding to the + and - outputs of a regular decoder's bridge rectifier could only accomplish a fraction of what the Gold Maxi can do.  He may have run over tape on a track, but did he stop on the tape, reverse, accelerate, etc. all on the tape?  I don't think so.  And do I need to explain that if a decoder costs less than a receiver/controller then a decoder plus a battery costs less than a receiver/controller plus a battery??  I assume Bob is making the comparison between battery powered with radio control versus battery powered with decoder control.  But if Bob was considering only of the backup battery, I would be forced to admit that mine cost six dollars total.  Six little Canadian dollars at that.  I am glad that Bob could understand what TOC was saying, because I couldn't.  Except his kind wishes that I learn to like batteries.  If this all works out with the Gold Maxi, I guess I will have to do just that. 
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Kevin Strong


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« Reply #12 on: March 05, 2007, 02:41:09 AM »

Quote
Sending high frequency signals over wires instead of through air is pretty common.  Think of high speed internet being sent over phone wires and TV signals being sent coaxial cables.  With our railways, we need tracks to carry our trains, why not use them to carry control signals as well?

Interesting concept--not using the rails for power, just using them as a signal carrier. Essentially, battery R/C, but using a close contact induction loop instead of broadcast. If the signal remains strong through potentially long distances, it would have the distinct advantage of the train always being in range of the control signal--something that cannot be said of myriad R/C systems (even high-powered ones like Futaba, etc.)

How would that work with reverse loops? Would you still need to reverse polarity and the like, or can the carrier signal be put over the rails without a constant track voltage?

My only other concern with this would be that you may be limiting yourself to your own environment. Bringing your locos to run at a club display or friends' layouts wouldn't be possible. (Or, would you simply wire in a select switch for analog DC vs. DCC?)

(I'm also making the assumption that the various DCC systems have wireless transmitters.)

Later,

K
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Tony Walsham

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« Reply #13 on: March 05, 2007, 03:08:41 AM »

Hunt and Jim.
I am not disputing the technology has been made to work, and who knows, it may work so spectacularly well it will wipe out battery R/C as a viable alternative to cleaning track.

However, I doubt it will do it on price, using the costing example given.

Don't forget that the consumer will still have to purchase a DCC command station to actually transmit the DCC packets through the rails. 
To which must be added the cost of R/C DCC handpieces and associated paraphernalia to get them to work.  Whereas, any half decent battery R/C system already has the R/C component built in, and doesn't need a command station or boosters.

I would have thought that as Lenz successfully tested the hybrid system at Nuremberg a couple of years ago, the release of such a revolutionary system would be iminent.  Is it?
However, thanks to information supplied by Stan himself, I happen to know the big stumbling block is how to actually charge the batteries from the track in all circumstances.
So, as it seems the proponents of the Lenz hybrid system will probably end up advocating on board batteries only as the solution to dirty track, the only point of disputation really, is how the signals are delivered to the control equipment inside the loco(s).

I wish you all luck in solving the problems successfully and I also look forward to the release of data accrued by totally independent testers that confirms the claims currently being made for the Lenz hybrid technology.
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Tony Walsham
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bobgrosh

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« Reply #14 on: March 05, 2007, 01:33:06 PM »

...
...

I suspect bobgrosh never made it past the third paragraph of my first posting on this thread.  If he had, he would have realized that the battery backup that he proposed adding to the + and - outputs of a regular decoder's bridge rectifier could only accomplish a fraction of what the Gold Maxi can do.  He may have run over tape on a track, but did he stop on the tape, reverse, accelerate, etc. all on the tape?  I don't think so.  And do I need to explain that if a decoder costs less than a receiver/controller then a decoder plus a battery costs less than a receiver/controller plus a battery??  I assume Bob is making the comparison between battery powered with radio control versus battery powered with decoder control.  But if Bob was considering only of the backup battery, I would be forced to admit that mine cost six dollars total.  Six little Canadian dollars at that.  I am glad that Bob could understand what TOC was saying, because I couldn't.  Except his kind wishes that I learn to like batteries.  If this all works out with the Gold Maxi, I guess I will have to do just that. 


Yes, 7 years ago I did a demo for some visitors where the locos slowed gracefully to a stop on the tape, reversed the headlights, sounded the correct toots from the sound decoder, and gradually accelerated back off the tape. All that using thick black electrical tape on BOTH rails. I did it using two different brands of decoders and carefully setting up the proper CV's. I admit that several other brands of decoders I tried could not be made to do that even though they had access to the + & -. at best they could only cross the tape. Some could not even do that because they did not handle DC conversion in a standard way.

I would be more interested to know what happens when you INTEND to stop at a spot on the tape. Does the creep on stop feature work. Does it continue to creep off the tape in an attempt to regain track power?  According to the web site, it will not stop on a dirty piece of track but will creep to a clean spot. Does that work when loco stops while backing up?
I was able to get that to work years ago by adding a resistor and small relay, but I never got it to work in both directions. One thing I did not like was the drivers creeping when I picked the loco up and set it on a shelf. I had to add a cutoff switch. Does the gold decoder solve that problem?

Can you stop the loco on the tape and still be able to control the loco an hour later, 8 hours later? When the battery goes dead. Is there a way to have the decoder go to low power mode, IE turn off the smoke generator etc. when it looses track power?

I guess I have to get one to find out. All I've ever seen is a description of the test as Stan described it a and a repeat of the same test. Getting it to run on and off the tape is only the first step. There are a lot of other issues that have to be solved. Can you run a COMPLETE set of tests? Please include how the decoder handles DC stopping sections. How about DC conversion for analog operation? What happens when one of the drivers get jammed in a turnout, and shorts out the DCC signal so the booster shuts down? Does BMEF just keep applying more power until something breaks?

 

B0B

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