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DCC

This is a description of the DCC component of my railroad model building business. If you are interested, I encourage you to have a dialog with me so that we can discuss your interests and what I can do for you.

I have also included a section on how to separately program the individual decoders in a multiple decoder installation. To jump to it click here.

Scope

I do not want to educate people on what DCC is and how it works. There is a lot of information available from the manufacturers of DCC products. Links to some of those manufacturers' web pages will be found below. In addition to the information provided by the manufacturers, you can find a collection of information, hints, tips, etc. at The World of DCC.

Once you have spent some time investigating DCC, I would be glad to help you with system and decoder selection.

The Importance of The NRMA DCC Standard and RPs

There are two important advantages in buying products that conform to the NMRA DCC standards and RPs:

For example, after looking at the products on the market you might decide that for how you want your model railroad to run and work, the Lenz controls (power station and cabs), Northcoast power station, and a mix of North Coast, Lenz, and Soundtraxx decoders will do the job. You want to know that all of those will work together, and, as important, if there are problems, that the manufacturers whose products you bought support the NMRA DCC standards and RPs which means they likely are working on fixing the problems.

I.e., to realize the above advantages of the NMRA DCC standards and RPs, you must choose manufacturers whose products you want to use are compliant with the NMRA standards and RPs.

Specific information on interoperability problems and workarounds can be found at The World of DCC.

What I Do For You

I am a dealer for Lenz, Loksound, NCE (formerly North Coast Engineering), and Zimo DCC systems and decoders, and for QSI, Soundtraxx and TCS decoders.

I install, program, and test Lenz, NCE, and Soundtraxx decoders. More on this below.

Price

Orders for DCC systems are special ordered from the manufacturer, so your orders must be pre-paid. In return for the wait for your order to arrive, I split my discount with you.

Decoder pricing is in line with "street pricing", which normally is a modest discount off the suggested retail price. Decoders that are special ordered may receive a slightly greater discount, while decoders sold from my modest on hand stock of decoders may be priced closer to SRP.

If price is your primary criterion for selecting a DCC supplier, please buy from the people whose prices are so low they can't afford to adequately support what they sell. Further, I do not "bid" against other dealers on price since the cost of the decoder is a small portion of the cost for a quality decoder install.

I am happy to provide support but since I offer a nice discount, I do not provide training on DCC installations and use; there many web sites out there where you can learn about DCC.

Installation

I install both sound and non-sound decoders, sometimes in conjunction with doing other work on your loco such as installing a custom drive.

Sound

Some characteristics on my DCC installs are:

Cam
exhaust synchronizing cams are fabricated and installed by me. A cam ensures that the exhaust sound always matches the loco speed. Note: this is dependent upon your preferred decoder providing for connection of a synchronizing cam, some newer decoders do not provide this, and for those decoder a cam is not used, rather the decoder's built-in "auto chuff" feature is used; the newer auto chuff decoders work quite well.
Speaker in the Boiler
the speaker is located in the boiler if that works, e.g., there is room. After many installs I haven't found an O scale loco where there wasn't room in the boiler for the speaker and its enclosure. The speaker is usually located in the smokebox unless the model includes internal smokebox detail that requires the speaker be located further back in the boiler.
Wiring Connectors
All wiring is connected via plugs so that the loco can be disassembled for maintenance without any soldering being necessary.
Fail Safe Connectors
Connecters are installed so they are unlikely to separate. They are selected to be appropriate to the current they have to carry, and when possible the wiring to the connectors is such that if the connector is reversed during maintenance, no permanant damage (smoke coming out of the decoder) will occur - reversing the reversed connector will get things back the way they were. All connectors are either marked as to the proper orientation for connection or are physically self-orienting.
Programming and test
DCC installs are programmed in accordance with the customer's requirements or what my experience and judgement indicates is appropriate. 2-rail 1.25" gauge models are fine tuned on my home layout where they, subject to minimum radius considerations, are run continuously to verify that their operation is acceptable. Sound volumes are set to what I think is appropriate. Note that many decoders include Back EMF sensing to provide smooth running. Those decoders are designed with the dominant market segment, HO scale, in mind. The default Back EMF settings from the manufacturer which work well with most HO scale motors may require adjustment for the motor in your O scale model. Such adjustment can be a time consuming process because that adjustment involves changing interacting variables, e.g., change 1 variable, test, change another variable, test and note the effect of the first change has changed too. Because of the time (cost) to make those adjustments, I do not strive for perfection if the adjustment proves difficult, rather I strive for "good enough" for my high standards, and leave it to the customer if they want to continue from where I left off. Similarly, the customer is free to adjust sound volumes, etc.
Documentation
The decoder install is documented with a sheet that contains all the CV changes from factory defaults along with a schematic of the installation wiring. This makes it easy for the model's owner to experiment with settings, to return the decoder to its as delivered state if desired, and will facilitate maintenance if disassembly of the model is performed.
Repeatability
I use parts and products in my installs that are commonly available so that if it becomes necessary to replace a component in the install, that component will be available (note, given the rapid rate of change in electronics parts, this cannot always be guaranteed).

Some Considerations in Selecting a DCC System

Below are some general guidelines for evaluating the various systems. Use them as launch pads for your process of selecting a system that meets your requirements.

General

Things to consider are the stability of the manufacturer. With DCC this is not an issue for decoders, because if you buy manufacturer A's system, and later A goes out of business, their decoders, if DCC compliant, will work with any other manufacturer's system.

If you can, talk to people who use the system. Why did they buy it? What do they like? What do they dislike? What is their experience with support? You can talk to me about the Lenz and North Coast systems. Other sources of information are the discussion groups for Lenz (group name is DigitalPlusbyLenz), NCE (group name is NCE-DCC), Soundtraxx (group name is soundtraxx), and Zimo (group name is Zimo-DCC) on the yahoogroups web site. Most of each group's members are proud owners of the group's brand of DCC equipment, so some of the input you will receive may be biased. Once your have purchased a system, the yahoogroups group for the brand you selected may become an alternate source of support.

The most important decision is the system (command station, booster (AKA power stations), cabs, and cab bus) which likely will be the largest single expense you will incur in switching to DCC. Do your best to buy something you will be happy with. Decoders are less costly, so you can experiment for less money.

One very practical approach (but a little more costly) is to follow a rule of thumb that is common in technology engineering: Plan to Throw the First One Away. [Meaning the the first development effort will yield experience that will guide the development of subsequent similar products. In many cases the subsequent product will be so superior to the first one that the first one will be completely obsoleted and rendered almost value-less by some measures by the subsequent product.] This means that the first system will, in addition to getting you converted to DCC, will provide invaluable learning experience. The second system will benefit from all the learning gained during the first system, and can be expected to be a permanent acquisition.

Another way to look at it is what limits you. If you buy a low cost system, use it until you find you are limited by its features. By that time you will have learned more about what you want vs. what is possible, and your next acquisition will be more directed toward meeting your (now refined) requirements.

So one could buy an inexpensive system, such as Atlas or MRC, and use it to learn about DCC. When you are ready to move on, pass it on to a friend.

Features

I used to have a long diatribe on this page about features. Since this issue is so complex, the diatribe was confusing. Here are some considerations for you.

Do all the cabs for the same manufacturer have the same functionality. E.g., do all cabs have 4 digit addressing? Do all cabs provide an indication of the speed you have selected? Do radio control cabs display the settings for the address being controlled? While this may seem important, I personally find it more interesting and fun to observe what the train is doing and control it from that point of view rather than worry about the speed setting shown by the cab. What programming can be done only on the programming track, and what programming can be on on the fly? I am sure you will come up with your own list after a while.

Cost

There are some subtile cost considerations. For example, most manufacturers use a proprietary walkaround cab plug-in panel that you have to buy from them. However, many, such as Lenz and NCE also provide for DIY panels that you can make yourself. Is the system upgradeable or do you have to purchase major components in order to get new features?

Documentation

Look at how much printed documentation is available and how long has it been available. Are all the new products documented, or do you have to call the manufacturer to find out how to use them or how to trouble shoot them? How often is the documentation updated, and how do you find out about updates (and how do you obtain them?)

Quality

Talk to people who use the systems you are considering. What is their out-of-the-box experience? What is their long term experience? How do they rate support? What is the turn around time if they send something to the manufacturer? What does it cost to have items repaired? If the manufaturer upgrades their systems, can your system be upgraded, and at what (probably estimated) cost?

An Approach to Cost Evaluatation

A suggestion on cost evaluation is as follows:
Decide how many amperes of current you will need for the trains you will run simultaneously; this will determine how many power stations you will require. Be sure to include power for lighted passenger trains.
Decide how many engineers you will want active (plugged in) simultaneously; this will determine how many cabs you will need. Road engineers may need different cabs than the yard engineers; how many master (full function) cabs will be needed?
Decide how many plug-in locations you will need at first and in your final configuration; this will help you determine the initial and long term outlay (and installation effort) for plug-ins.
Decided how many locomotives you want to equip with decoders initially and over the long term.

You now have the information to determine the initial and long term cost of each system that provides the features you want.

Wireless Control

Most of the major DCC manufacturers offer wireless control, some in more than one form. Here is my view of wireless control.

In addition to the wireless systems offered by DCC manufacturers, people are now using smart phones for throttles. Detailed information is beyond the scope of this web site. A little bit of searching the Internet will turn up lots of information, keywords would include
decoder pro smart phone wi-fi

NCE's system now seems to be mature, with many happy users. NCE offers a wireless version of all their cabs.

Lenz offers a unique and cost-effective approach. The hand held wireless control is an inexpensive cordless phone. A simple adapter supplied by Lenz connects the phone's base unit to the Lenz cab bus. Pressing buttons on the phone results in the desired control. It is simple to set up and work well. However, it is possible, as with the CVP RF1300 wireless cab, to produce undesired results by not taking care to press the correct sequence of buttons when doing something like selecting a loco or controlling an accessory decoder.

I use home made radio control on my Lenz system. It works like a charm, but does not have a display on the handheld transmitter (throttle). See my comment above about observing what the train is doing rather than what your throttle's display tells you.

If you are interested in how I modified the Lenz system to work with wireless control please see Wireless Lenz.

CVP Products offers their own DCC system, and also add-on wireless cabs for Lenz and other manufacturer's systems. The Lenz version works quite well, I use a now obsoleted CVP throttle with a display on my home layout. Whether I use the CVP throttle or my home grown wireless throttle is determined by whether the loco being controlled needs to have it sounds controlled, since the home grown throttles don't have enough controls to control sound..

Wireless control may make the walkaround plug in location a moot point if you plan to have all your engineers equipped with wireless cabs. However, hold off on committing to wireless until all the costs (transmitters, receivers, number of receivers required) can be determined. Note: wireless cabs, like many other DCC goodies, are great ideas and concepts that may prove to be of little interest or value once one has used a system for operations for a while.

It is important to get FM radio control. Infra-red control is less reliable, and you are required to aim your tranmitter at a receiver, just like a TV remote control, when you want to affect a change.

Decoder and Sound Installation

If you want me to install decoders and sound in your locomotives, I will ask you for your preferences in how you want the controls to work and what sound selections (e.g., whistle, etc.) you prefer. Note that if you change your mind after receiving the model back from me, it is relatively simple to make adjustments, and if you want I will talk you through the process on the phone..

Decoder installation done right is not inexpensive. People advertise decoder installations for costs that to me are extremely low. I urge you to shop around and be sure to specify what lights and functions you want. Find out whether you can remove the shell/boiler from the chassis without unsoldering decoder connections. I am a firm believer in plugs for all connections; however, plugs are time consuming to install.

The installation is not complete until the locomotive has been test run long enough to determine whether there is any infant failure (electronic components either fail right away or last a long time) in the decoder, and that things work as you have directed on the form. Decoders that fail during test running will be returned to the manufacturer for replacement at no charge to you. I do not install used decoders or decoders supplied by the customer.

It is possible that during the course of performing installations that other items needing attention will be noted, and that I will recommend to you that additional work be done. This is done in the interest of your finding a high quality satisfying model when you open the box, not in the interest of making work for me, since I have plenty to do.

Completed Decoder and Sound Installations

Please see the bottom of the completed jobs page for a partial list of the decoder and sound installs that I have performed.

Warranty

Decoder installations are warranted to work in accordance with the preferences form you provided me.

Decoders will have the full manufacturer's warranty. You should understand the warranty for your decoder so that if the decoder fails for any reason you will know what to expect.

Most manufacturers provide only a parts warranty, which means that I will charge you for my labor to replace a decoder I installed if it failed after delivery to you. Depending upon the warranty, the manufacturer may or may not charge for repairing the decoder.

Failures caused by improper handling, faulty maintenance, or abuse are not warranted by me. However, some manufacturers' warranties are surprisingly liberal in this area, such that if you make a mistake during maintenance and as a result the decoder is damaged, there may not be a repair charge. See the manufacturer's warranty for the facts.

Separately Programming Decoders in Multiple Decoder Installs

The information below presumes that you are familiar with both DCC programming methods and that you understand how they differ and why a special programming procedure is needed when one loco has more than one decoder in it.

I prefer this method over the decoder lock mechanism commonly available because addresses are easier for me to remember. The model you receive from me will not use the lock mechanism, rather it will be set up with short addresses in all decoders so this method works. You are free to convert to the lock mechanism if you prefer.

The DCC programmng method called Programming on the Main, which is abbreviated below as POM, is used for the procedure.

The requirements for this procedure to work are that each decoder in the loco has a unique short address in CV1, e.g., decoder A's short address is 10, decoder B's short address is 20, and decoder C's short address is 30. All decoders in the loco have the same long address, e.g., 1111 because you want them all to respond to commands without your having to change the address your cab is controlling. E.g., decoder A may control the headlight while decoder C controls the backup light; you want A to turn on/off the headlight when you command address 1111, the same for C and the backup light.

Suppose you want to change value of a CV in decoder A and not change the value of the same CV in any of the other decoders. You need a way to address each decoder separately in order to do this using POM.

For this to work you need to know the value of the short address (CV1) in each decoder, and the value of CV29 in each decoder.

To change the value of, e.g., CV33 in decoder A without altering the value of CV 33 in any other decoder in the loco, do the following:

  • Using POM while controlling address 1111, change the value of CV29 to 2.
    This will cause each decoder in the loco to listen on its short address, e.g.,
    decoder A will then listen at address 10,
    decoder B will then listen at address 20,
    and decoder C will then listen at address 30.
  • Change the address being controlled by your hand held cab to the short address of the decoder you want to program.
  • Using POM, change the CV you want to change. It may be possible to test the change using the short address.
  • If the result is what you wanted, now you have to change all the decoders, e.g., 10, 20, and 30, to listen to address 1111 again. To do that, using POM for 10, then for 20, then for 30, change CV29 to the value it had in each decoder before you changed it to 2.

    Once you are done with that you are back to where you started but with one of the decoders now altered to perform differently. You have not had to take the loco apart or disconnect any wires!

    There is a decoder lock feature that will allow you to control which decoder is programmed with POM. Only the decoder that is unlocked, assuming all decoders were locked when they were installed, will be programmed, and then only that decoder has to be locked. More efficient, however, this will not work if all decoders in the loco do not have the lock feature.

    CONTACTING ME

    Interested in learning more about 2-rail O scale? Please visit the O Scale Kings web pages.

    These web pages were designed and implemented by Rod Miller.