Catching the DCC bug

Is it Possible to Partially Adopt a Command Control System?  You Might Be Surprised.

Today it’s a model railroading article.  Fair warning…

This April I made the mistake of attending our local train club’s semiannual meeting.  It was a mistake because a subset of the membership had set up their modular layout, a layout that used a digital command control (DCC) system to control the trains.  As it happened, I had brought my only DCC-equipped locomotive to the meeting (quite accidentally– it’s a custom painted loco that just happens to have DCC on board).  Well, once I saw what was going on with the modular layout, I had a Gru moment (“Light bulb!”).  A few minutes later I was driving my train around with an app on my cell phone.  I was hooked.  I’d caught the DCC bug.

Here’s the problem: I have a fairly extensive, operational, conventionally-controlled (DC) model railroad.  One that has about 100 locomotives altogether, and not configured to run DCC.  Making a switch would be, shall we say, monumentally expensive.  Not to mention, a LOT of work.  And fairly unpopular at home, for both of these reasons.  I gave up on the idea.

… right up to the moment when I checked prices online and discovered that one could acquire a DCC base unit for a lot less than I had thought.  OK, I thought, this requires some creative thinking.  And viola! I hit upon a multifaceted solution to the conundrum.

Behold my wisdom:

  • Finances.  I proposed to fund any new DCC equipment by selling off surplus hobby assets.  Only when I had such money would I spend it on DCC stuff.  This proved an acceptable plan to the finance committee.
  • Scope.  I decided that converting my whole railroad, all eras, was still prohibitively expensive (even at $20 per decoder, that’s a couple grand.)  But then I considered the fact that my era-based operating scheme meant there was never more than about 20 units active at a time.  Perhaps I could just pick one era and convert only that.  But, how does one do a partial DCC implementation?
    • And I quickly realized that if I simply put another DPDT switch in front of ONE of the cabs on my 2-cab electrical system, I could instantly go back and forth between DC and DCC!  I didn’t have to make a complete commitment!  Throw the switch to DCC, flip every block switch to ON, and we’re off and running.
    • I also quickly realized that the best target era for DCC is my modern era, dominated by UP and BNSF.  Nearly all my modern locomotives are DCC-ready, so there would be minimal soldering or conversion required.

And just like that, I was ready.  I sold a couple of high-dollar items, acquired a used MRC Prodigy Advance 2 system, soldered some new connections behind the control panels, installed a program track, and within a few hours that lone DCC loco was running on the rails.  I used the rest of the surplus cash and picked up three decoders, found another one I’d pulled from a prior purchase, and installed these decoders in select locomotives.  Now it’s a regular DCC fleet!  Five units are up and running, ready to earn their keep in the modern age (both thematically and philosophically).

So now, I just have to get comfy with CV’s, consisting, various function keys, 8-pin/9-pin/21-pin decoder installations, sound installations, and a whole host of new DCC jargon.  Plus, I need to acquire the Holy Grail, that MRC wifi hub, so I can drive trains from my phone again.

The beauty of it is, I didn’t have to spend a fortune, or destroy my layout; it’s completely flexible.  I can run DC or DCC.  Like AC/DC, but without the schoolboy shorts.


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