Battery Power It Is

9 February, 2014 Off By GMortensen

Back in June of last year, I commented that I was considering getting rid of DCC and sound in my locos, and going with battery-powered radio-control. Yesterday, I was again at Steve Fisher’s layout for an operating session.

Many of Steve’s locos have now been converted to battery power, and operations were vastly improved over previous sessions. While there are several reasons for the improvement, the battery power is a significant contributor to the improved operational reliability. On this visit to Steve’s, I was running trains instead of dispatching. Steve Sherrill, who was the yard master and who is also a major proponent of battery operations, made sure that all of the trains I ran were battery powered.

It was  so much fun!

Here are some of the pluses to going battery/wireless, from the perspective of actually operating the trains all day:

  • I was never affected because someone else ran a switch (or ran past an inappropriately placed gap).
  • I was never affected because there was some mystery electrical problem.
  • I was never affected because of dirty track.
  • I was never looking for a place to “plug in” my throttle.
  • Control was super-smooth.
  • Operation is really simple.
  • My ears weren’t tired at the end of the day due to the barrage of train sounds and men shouting over the din of the trains — I didn’t miss the sound one bit!

For my layout-in-progress, there’ an additional advantage:

  • No more track wiring. Since there’s no power to the rail, there’s no need to run out track buses and reverse loop controllers and frog wiring. And, there’s no throttle bus to run out, either.

As with anything, there are some drawbacks to going this route:

  • Cost: As I mentioned previously, the cost is about $125 per locomotive. Some of that cost would be recouped by selling off my DCC gear.
  • No visiting locos: Once I removed the DCC system from my layout, there won’t be any way for visitors to bring DCC-equipped locos to run on my layout.
  • No sound: Is this really a disadvantage? I don’t really think so, but some will.
  • Loco modification: All of my existing locos will require modification.
DelTang Rx60-1 DSM2/DSMX Receiver

The bottom line is that I will be making the switch. It will mean some money spent and some work involved, but I think it will be well worth it in the end. I really like the simplified control — a speed knob and a direction switch (if you’ve been keeping up with  me elsewhere, you’ll notice that I’m really trying to reduce complexity in my life wherever possible, preferably before I have another mental meltdown). Simply grab the controller associated with the loco you want to run, turn it on and turn on the train, click the direction switch for the direction you want to go, and spin the knob. If you really must, you can turn the headlight on or off, too.

I had originally thought that I would want to do a lot of surgery to install the charging plug and the power switch, but decided that it really doesn’t need to be that complicated — I’ll just put them under the coal loads or in some other easy-to-reach location and be done with it. The coal loads are easily removable on the Forneys, with the only caveat being the water fill caps.

I also mentioned in my earlier post that I was considering not using the servos for switch control. While I’m still somewhat on the fence about that, I will probably go ahead with the servos, if only to support my friend Kevin at Berrett Hill Trains, and the new Touch Toggle (TM) controls he’s manufacturing. While that does mean some wiring, at least it’s pretty much a plug-and-play setup. On Steve’s layout, some of the switches are controlled using the Berrett Hill system, and they work very nicely.