This is a chronology of my experiences with my Empire Builder by Digitrax.  This is rather lengthily and is only aimed at those who are interested in what a rank newbie had to do to get the system operational.  The test was originally posted to the DIGITRAX list on OneList.com.  Great resource!

With that...let the saga begin!!

DAY 1:


 I got a new Empire Builder early this week.  I spent the week reading the manual and visiting some web pages.  As others have already said, great page John Hill!...anyhoo...I built my power supply from a kit and added a nice case from Radio Shack. Looks real good! I followed the quick start instructions as best I could.   I have have had a cold for a week or so and my brain is mushy lately, but so far so good.  I hooked up to a piece of track and powered the booster up.  After a second or so a satisfying BEEP!  All is well.  I made sure  the I was set to N scale and run and plugged in the DT100r.  Wow!!  Display SE:L.!!!

After getting the hand of turning of the track power and the run state, it was time to try my Analog loco.  I choose an Atlas GP-40-2 which is an OK runner.  I opened up address 00 on the right throttle and my engine SCREAMED!  I thought I had destroyed at least the loco and maybe the whole system.... I yanked the plug out of the wall.....after pacing around and thinking about a big glass of rum, I remembered something about analog locos "ringing" on a digital track.  Ring my eye!  They SCREAM when they are sitting still.  At least this one did.  I took the loco off the track and repowered the system.  Got that happy chirp and set the loco back on the track.  This time instead of panicking, I opened the throttle a bit and she quieted down and started to move!!  SUCCESS!!  It was just "ringing".  I think this needs to be made a little clearer in the manual.  The sound is terrible and it seems like something is wrong.  In any case, the loco moved forward and back just fine.

Time for my first decoder install.  The one for the GP-40-2 seemed easiest, so that one was first.  Very simple, but the instructions lead you to believe you can get the PNP decoder in there with out taking the frame all the way apart.  I found I could not with out applying more force then I wanted to to the decoder.  After the decoder was in and the frame was back together, back to the track.  This whole operation took me about 15 minutes going REAL slow.  What do ya know... I opened the left hand throttle on address 03 and no screaming!  Forward and back and nice constant lighting!!  I was pleased.

Second decoder install.  I decided the second install would be the dn144k for one of my -9's.  This one looks a bit more complex.  You have to take the frame all the way apart and apply tape to isolate the motor brushes from the frame.  Ok.  Seems simple enough.  All those parts in there are mighty small: bearings, gears, contact plates etc. The instructions show you how to tape over the top and bottom of the motor to make sure there is not contact, but leave the ears of the brush caps exposed to contact the decoder using the tape that holds the decoder to its transport foam block.....The instructions also say "Do Not Remove The Kapton Tape From The Bottom Of The Decoder PCB".... looked all over that PCB for some tape and could not find any!!  I had not removed
anything except the tape holding the decoder to the foam transport block.  I know how product revisions go and I figured they maybe didn't need it anymore...ooops!...so I put the frame back together and inserted the decoder and instructed.  I set the -9 on the track and BLINK-BLINK-BLINK the lights start going!  Dang!!  I was sure I must have fried it.  Off goes the case and after about 10 minutes of trying to figure out were they could be a short I decided it had to be right where the ears of the decoder go over the frame.  I put a small piece of electrical tape over that part of the frame and replaced the decoder and what do ya know... ALL BETTER!

Over all I am really pleased... just tired... I wish Digitrax would put a picture of where there is supposed to be tape on the dn144k PCB in the little hand out so I could have been spared that short blast of fear.

I am done for tonight.   Tomorrow I will play with my PR-1 and then hook up to my layout and see how that goes.  I really don't expect too much trouble.
 

DAY 2:


Used two 9v Batteries to power the PR-1.  Good choice! Today I was able to program with no problems at all.  I WAS a little confused as I had read someplace that the motor would grunt or jerk to say "program successful", but I did not observe this.  Turns out on an N-Scale loco you really have to have your hand on it to feel the motor ack the program.  It is VERY subtle.  I was able to program the addresses and I played a little with a speed table and all that worked fine.  It appears the decoders support some lighting effects so I tried to change the settings to rule 17.  I assumed this meant that the lights should dim automatically when I stop the engine?  Didn't happen....As a matter of fact, on the GP-40, the rear light now is a random flicker when running in reverse... Very strange.  I think this is user error on my part and will look into it further down the line.

This is for all of those on the list like I used to be...on the fence thinking about DCC.  I worried about a bunch of stuff.  Is it hard to use, will I have to rewire the layout, can my fat fingers install those little decoders....Well, it was moment of truth time.  Would my layout handle the DCC with out having to be rewired?  I was not too particular when I was wiring.  I really don't have an electrical background and I just sort of used what ever I could get my hands on.  I KNOW in reading this list I am not setup optimally.  I have some LONG feeder runs of wire that are probably not heavy enough.....but ya know what?  IT WORKS FINE!! I can at this point only run three locos because I only have 2 decoders but this is a one man layout  with maybe 100ft of track.  I suspect I may MU from time to time, but I notice no slow downs at all except in one small area, my main yard.  My yard really only has one power feeder and I think I will add a few more.  I suppose I could be like the big boys and rewire with heavy gauge wire, and I may at some
point, but for now she works JUST fine!

The best part  of all this fun is not having to flip those darn block switches!  I got to just "play trains" for an hour or so after testing and I was running all three trains.  One thing about DCC you have to worry about running into other trains!  On a dual cab system, though possible if at a block joint, head ons are uncommon....I ALMOSt had one with my two DCC locos.  Forgot which one was on what throttle! (grin)

I am having a BLAST and I know these messages are long, but I am posting them for the absolute newbie like me reading this list.  I want them to see how I progress so maybe they will dive in to the pool feeling a bit more comfortable.  I though DCC was some sort of electro-wirehead super complex wizardry...I am an average model railroader. I have never built any of the fancy electronic doo-dads I see in the mags, but if you can follow the instructions in the average plastic structure kit, you can get DCC up and running...even if you do have to assemble the power supply! (grin).  Now, there is A LOT more to DCC that I do not understand, but even if my knowledge acquisition stopped at this point, it is already better than regular DC.

DAY 4:


Well, I think I may have some decoder trouble...  See if you all think I should send this one back to Digitrax.

If you will recall when I was installing my DN144k in my Kato -9, I mentioned that there was no "tape" on the back side of the decoder as described in the Digitrax instructions.  I installed it anyhow and got blinking lights.  After installing some tape, I was able to run and program the loco OK..... Well, I think I may have noticed a side effect  of that.  The loco runs really pretty slow at 99 power.  I do not have any speed tables and the power curve is a strait line from about 0 to 100% and I have even read all the settings from my DN146A and poked them into the 144k to see if I had a programming error.... so far no change.  It just seems to be getting low power.  I pulled the decoder out and reinstalled the light board and the runs at the top speed she always did, but with the decoder in, she is very slow.

Some Days Later:

I sent the decoder back to Digitrax, and sure enough it was a bad decoder.  Turns out what was wrong was on the back of the DN144k there is a strip of tape.  This tape was missing from this decoder and I didn't even think to look.  Digitrax was good enough to replace it with a fresh decoder with the tape and everything is fine once more!

Four Weeks Later: (Having too much fun to write)

Wow, it has been about 4 weeks now and I am really enjoying my purchase of an Empire Builder for my smallish home layout.  I know some of you will skip this message as it is mostly aimed at those who are new or about to be new Digitrax users.  This has been so much fun that I just want to share.  Old timers will find nothing new here.

I have installed several PNP decoders in Kato and Atlas N-Scale locos.

Atlas GP-40-2/DN146A.  This one was the easiest.  Plug it in and run for the most part, though the instructions said that I would not have to separate the frames.  I did.   I did not want force the decoder though they are tough.... I just like being careful.

Kato -9/DN144k.  This one was a puzzle to me at first.  You do have to disassemble the loco and place tape on the motor brush caps.  Not real hard, but a bit more work.  In the instructions it said there was also some tape on the decoder that was not to be removed.... I could not find that tape and installed anyway.  MISTAKE!  I think this blew up the decoder, though Digitrax replace it for free (what a company!!)  The instructions clearly mention tape that should have been on the decoder, but not where.  There was none (factory mistake) so Digitrax did the right thing.  If you ever need to know, there should be a small strip of tape between the front headlight and the next thick part of the decoder board on the track side of the decoder.  The replacement did as well as others I have since installed. Love the way those -9 run!!

Atlas SD-60/DN147A.  This was interesting.  The decoder went in really easy.  I did not have to separate the frame like on the GP40, but the decoder would not consistently program.  I have two of these engines, and the were both the same.  Some advice from Loys place I believe fixed the problem.  It seems the decoder flexes up just a bit near the point where the motor brush contacts touch the decoder.  After getting out the soldering iron and carefully putting a small dot of solder on the contact points on the decoder, everything worked great.

Atlas GP-7-2/DN120.  This was the most challenging. I used an Aztec frame and this means total disassembly of the frame, soldering of all the contacts and reinstall.  It took me about 2.5 hours but worked just fine!
 

Yet to do: 1 more -9, one more GP7-2 and a Kato SD-45.  I expect no problems.  I think I may want to start replacing the LED's with lights soon though (grin)

Other new experiences:

I have a turn table with nothing more than a DPDT for changing the polarity on the table.  This actually works pretty well, though I will probably get one of those nifty auto reverse modules from MRC..... Nice thing currently is that if you mess up and forget to throw the switch, the DB150 starts beeping to remind you!  Nice.

I MUed and DeMUed for the first time tonight!!  This really wasn't too hard except for DeMUing.  I had to go and get some notes from a message above to get un hooked.  It worked and is truly amazing!  If you have not tried it, give it a shot!

Only spot of trouble I am having is with 4 digit addressing and selecting locos.  I programmed all my engines for their road numbers in 4 digit mode.  It was easy to select the first couple, but after that it was hard for me to dance between them like I was able to do in 2 digit mode.  This may be fumble fingers on my part, but it just seemed to always mess me up.  Either I could not get the engine I wanted on the right throttle but could on the left or visa versa... also I programmed one of my engines for number 127 and I could NEVER select that.  I am not sure why, but that broke the camels back  I went back to two digit addressing and everything is much easier for me..... maybe it is a limit in my brain wiring or something.  I use the first and last digit of the engine number.  Works great and no duplicates so far (grin).

ADDITIONS:

By FAR the easiest decoder install to date is the Kato RS-2.  The PNP decoder by Digitrax for this loco is truly a joy.  It literally took less than 5 minutes. Yahoo!!!
 
 

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