I was lucky enough to be modelling in the 1980s, and also to have a reasonable income at the time, so Lambing Flat acquired a small fleet of brass locomotives to handle the traffic in the days of DC. When I went DCC in 2006, I was suddenly without all my favourite NSWGR steam locomotives and had to keep traffic moving with a few r-t-r locos, some of which weren't quite what one would expect to see on the Blayney-Demondrille cross-country line! It had always been my intention to fit sound chips to my old brass locos as the opportunity arose. Between the magazine and the other parts of my life, it was quite a while before that occurred. The first to be converted, about a year ago, was 5262, a Classic loco, fitted with the 3650 gal. tender that originally came with my Mansfield 50 class. (I have an aversion to having things as the manufacturer intended!)
The conversion was reasonably straightforward, chip and speaker in the tender, rewire the loco and fit a plug between engine and tender. Reassemble, test, program and she was soon doing what she was designed for, hauling trains!
Here she is, trundling into Lambing Flat.
About four months ago, I decided it was about time I got another of my favourite locos back into service, this time Classic Brass P class, 3324. This loco has always been one of my very favourite engines, and had given over 20 years of reliable service as a DC powered loco. I was expecting a similar trouble free conversion to the 50 class...
Boy, was I mistaken! The actual fitting of the chip and speaker was just as simple and straightforward as with the 50 class, but as soon as I got it on to the tracks... nightmare! It shorted out, the bogie wouldn't stay on the tracks and half the time it wouldn't move at all (though the sound system would merrily chuff away as if it was!) What had happened to my lovely, reliable DC loco!
After a week or two of fiddling and modifying, I finally managed to get it going reasonably well. I had managed to track down most of the shorts (amongst other things, the brakegear would touch the wheels, the bogie wheels would touch the bogie frames and the loco mainframes and cylinders). A bit of readjustment of the 'bits', some paper superglued onto parts of the frame and a bit of grinding here and there had her going most of the time and a slight loosening of the gearbox coverplate got rid of most of the stalling (but not all). However, no matter what I did, I could not get it to run with a front coupler on (which it did perfectly well for years under DC).
I had heard that locos can be 'temperamental' under DCC, but this was ridiculous! The only thing I can think of to explain it is that the shorts were always there, but DC is a lot more 'forgiving' of intermittent shorts than DCC and so the loco would hesitate momentarily, then carry on, rather than shut down as it does under DCC. the stalling issue was probably likewise hidden by the characteristics of DC (if it doesn't start, give it more juice!) I think that I had unconsciously adapted my driving style under DC to accommodate the loco's idiosyncrasies, but under DCC, where I have set up the locos to behave like the real thing (lots of momentum) and drive them like one would a full-size loco (open the throttle to where I want the loco's speed to be when it has finished accelerating and let the software in the chip take care of the acceleration, then shut off 'steam' when I want to stop and let the loco 'drift' to a stand, or use the 'brake' function to stop sooner if needed). This method of driving locos definitely adds immeasurably to the realism of the layout, but it does cause problems with locos that aren't quite right. Despite this, however, there is no doubt that the average locomotive runs much more smoothly under DCC than under DC.
Anyway, back to the saga of 3324. Today I decided to see if I could solve a few of the problems that still afflicted her, and after much frustration and head scratching, I have almost managed it! The main problem was with the front bogie, it was still very temperamental and would still short out or derail every now and then. A very close inspection revealed that the bogie wheels were moving back and forth a little and coming into contact with the front of the engine frames and the guard iron (the piece of metal pointing down in front of the leading bogie wheels). A bit of grinding with the Dremel and some paper superglued on to the bottom surface fixed that. Testing was reasonably successful, but at abrupt changes of gradient (a bit of bad track in the engine siding - it has been referred to the Per Way dept for action!) I discovered that the guard irons were momentarily touching the track! Some more filing and that problem was taken care of. Buoyed by this success I fitted the front coupler (a loco that can't shunt from the front end is a bit of a nuisance on LF). First curve it came to (1m radius!) and it was in the dirt! Another close inspection revealed that even though I had cut a notch in each bogie sideframe to clear the coupler back in 1984 when she first entered service, it wasn't enough and the bogie was fouling the coupler. Why this hadn't been a problem back in DC days is still a mystery... Anyway, a bit more cutting and filing and that problem was behind me!
State of play is that 3324 now goes around all the curves and through the less than perfect track on the layout, but still occasionally 'gets stuck' and stalls (a tap on the cab roof gets her going). If anyone has any ideas about solving this one, I'm all ears!
Here is the culprit...
Considering that she was last painted in 1984, and has had a lot of handling since, she isn't in too bad a condition, but she definitely is in need of a 'tune up' of the weathering. That is the next job on the agenda...
So what have I learnt from this? Well, had I known how difficult this loco was going to be to convert to DCC, I think I might have sold it to a rich collector and invested in a couple more Trainorama 32s! (They look great once the strange gap in the barrel of the chimney is filled and the wheels painted, they run beautifully and are very easy to fit with DCC.) However, it has highlighted that no matter how well brass locos run under DC, they can be temperamental under DCC and it pays to check them very carefully for shorts and binding.