Sunday, November 29, 2020

The Perils of Programming (the Tsunami2 Steam Decoder, step-by-step)

While the title of this post may remind you of that fun serial from yesteryear, thankfully programming a DCC decoder won't kill you. But after going down the rabbit hole of DCC programming, you may feel a little like you got hit by a train.


See what I mean?

Believe it or not, I started working on New Haven K-1d #359 shortly after I got it back during the Springfield show last January (which seems an eternity ago). The engine was perfect mechanically, but the TCS decoder in it was an older decoder and the motor control was erratic. A new TCS decoder didn't improve things much, so by the time summer rolled around I decided to try a Tsunami2. A quick swap-out improved things dramatically, but unfortunately while I was doing the final install, I managed somehow to fry it. That was in August. Thankfully, my friend KayleeZ hooked me up with a replacement decoder, which - having learned a lesson or two along the way - I installed this time with no problems.

But installing the decoder is only the first step. Sure, you could just accept the factory default settings, but what fun is that - especially when you've worked on a steam locomotive and have your own ideas of how you want it to sound?

Admittedly, the Tsunami2 sounds great right out of the package. But one thing the folks at Soundtraxx can't do for you is set the chuff rate to match your specific locomotive. You've got to do that yourself. So, back in September I started doing just that (and that's what's going on here).

Unfortunately, things have gone a bit sideways during the past almost-three-months (in both good, as well as not-so-good ways), so I'm just now getting back to this programming project - and wanting to finally finish before it gets to be a FULL YEAR before the #359 is back in service(!).

Since I'm a bit anal OCD thorough with such things (see pic above), I read through the Tsunami2 Steam User's Guide, the Technical Reference manual, and the Sound Selection Reference. Since my main goal was to get the chuff rate dialed in, I also checked out Soundtraxx's great video on that here. I even bugged George Bogatiuk quite a bit about it - and he was very patient and super helpful answering all my questions.

I have a hard-wired cam on my other Tsunami1-equipped K-1 moguls, but unfortunately, the Tsunami2 doesn't have that capability and uses a "digital" cam instead. Long story short, you adjust CV114 to get the engine to chuff 4 times per driver revolution and, once set, the decoder is supposed to match that rate to the turning of the motor and thus have the chuff rate be correct through all speed steps.

I'll get right to the punch line: It took me a lot of fiddling and I still don't think I have it as perfect as I'd like (or as perfect as the hard-wired cams), but it's very good and MUCH better than the old throttle/speed step-based chuff synch. If you don't already have a cam installed on your engine - or even if you do and don't feel like wiring it - the Tsunami2 gets you 90% there, IMO. And that's close enough for most folks - especially when you consider all of the other new features in the Tsunami2 vs. the Tsunami1.

As for the general decoder programming itself, I've included it below 1) as a reference for the future, and 2) as an invitation to you all to let me know how you'd do it differently . . .

  1. Did a full/clean factory reset of the decoder.
  2. Read the values from the decoder into JMRI's DecoderPRO.
  3. Saved that file as a master.
  4. Changed the long address from "3" to "359"
  5. Reduced the Master Volume (CV128) from 192 to 80 (didn't want to risk the amp in the new decoder blowing out my old speaker).
  6. Momentum Settings
    1. Set Acceleration Rate (CV3) to 150
    2. Set Deceleration Rate (CV4) to 255
  7. Function Map
    1. Moved Dimmer from F7 to F11
    2. Moved Brake from F11 to F7
  8. Changed Brake Rate (CV117) from 0 to 127
  9. Sound Settings
    1. Exhaust Select - "Light 1"
    2. Slip Rate Control - "Medium Slip Rate"
    3. Dynamo Select - "Dynamo 1"
    4. Whistle - "CN Flat Top 3-Chime" (though I'm still deciding...)
    5. Bell - "Heavy Brass Medium Slow"
    6. Injector - Lifting
    7. Reverser - Johnson Bar
    8. Airpump - Cross Compound
  10. Saved the file to DecoderPRO.
  11. Set the Dynamic Digital Exhaust (DDE)
    1. Changed side rod clank high & low from 0 to 255
    2. The factory settings had been:
      1. CV2.503=60
      2. CV2.504=150
      3. CV2.512=32
    3. Turned momentum off (set CV3 & CV4 both to "0")
    4. Warmed up the engine by running it 2 minutes in each direction
    5. Did the DDE calibration (see Steam User's Guide p. 22)
    6. New settings changed to:
      1. CV2.503=46
      2. CV2.504=253
      3. CV2.512=65
  12. Finally set the chuff rate (CV114) per the process outlined in this video.
    1. For this particular engine, it looks like a value of "67" matches better than the default/factory value of "57"
  13. Reset the momentum
    1. CV3=150, CV4=255
  14. Saved the file to DecoderPRO.
A big part of my process for clearing the fog inherent in any new endeavor is to go DEEP into the rabbit hole . . . heh - I think I can call this case "Mission Accomplished." I still want to fiddle a bit with CV114 to see if I can get the chuff synch even better, but the main thing now is to actually put the #359 back into service and make sure it runs, acts, and sounds like I want it to.

'Cuz if it doesn't, I'll be going back to the workbench with it. And after over 10 months, I'd really like to avoid that!

If any of you out there have experience programming Tsunami2 steam decoders, I really hope you'll weigh in tips & tricks in the comments - or contact me directly by email. I'd love to know what you would have done differently - and if you have any advice/suggestions for anything else I should be sure to do.

Meanwhile, I'll untie myself from the proverbial railroad track, dust myself off, clean off the programming bench, and get to work on something else - maybe even the layout! 

Thursday, November 26, 2020

Skirting "New London" Staging

To those of you in the US - Happy Thanksgiving! And no matter where you are, here's hoping today - and every day - you're able to enjoy some quality time with your family, despite the current crazy circumstances.

Speaking of crazy, the crazy long work hours I mentioned in my last post may finally be calming down from "crazy long" to just plain "long" :^) so I hope to be able to get to the layout a little more often than just a few hours on Sunday afternoons. But even a small block of time can be very productive if you have a specific project in mind, and the materials on-hand to do it.

By way of quick background, "New London" staging represents Fort Yard in New London, Connecticut, where trains from the east (Providence, Boston), and northeast (Worcester, Maine) will originate on my layout. Also, as on the prototype (though not modeled), there's an interchange with the Central Vermont at New London as well. The staging yard itself is - and will remain - "off stage" to support the illusion that the trains coming from there are coming from "the East or Northeast." As such, it's located in my workshop (an unfinished portion of the basement) - WAY offstage from the rest of the layout. Unfortunately, that also means it's subject to dust and such.

Thus the "boxing in" which was the subject of my last post. And here's where things stood at that point:

Like many/most layout owners, I take advantage of the area beneath the layout for some storage. In this case, I gathered all the random construction materials (foamboard, cardboard) from around the rest of the layout and put it all here. That certainly decluttered the rest of the basement, but now I had all that clutter here.

And what's the best way to deal with clutter? "Get rid of it" you say? Well, I suppose you COULD do that. But what if you're convinced you'll need it "someday?"

Just hide it!

And that's what I did, with some super simple and inexpensive skirting . . .

I started by hot gluing clothespin "clips" on the back of the fascia.

Then it was just a simple matter of rolling out and clipping up some landscape fabric. I had 3' width on-hand, but depending on your layout height, you may want wider/taller fabric. To secure the end of the fabric at this door . . .

. . . I just used some duct tape. See what I mean? Easy peasy - and inexpensive!

But, despite the inexpensive nature of this approach, you can see it gives you all the visual benefit of more elaborate (and expensive) skirting. And it literally took me about 30 minutes to do - start to finish.

Now, admittedly, my standards for a staging yard in an unfinished portion of the basement are a bit, um, "lower" than they might be on the rest of the layout. In other words, I haven't decided yet whether I'm going to use landscape material for all my skirting. But given how quick and easy it is to install - and given how outrageously expensive curtain material would be for a large layout like mine - I may just figure that it'll do just as fine a job and blend into the background.

If folks are paying any attention to my skirting, the layout isn't as compelling as it should be. And we can't have that. :^) 

One final step I took - and which, unfortunately isn't really easy to notice in the photo above (so click on it for a larger view) - is that I "filled in" all the open areas (except the access hole in the back left corner) with cardboard. Not only does that cover the remaining benchwork, but has the practical benefit of keeping things from falling to the floor. And that's a good thing.

What's not such a good thing is discovering a switch point that has come unsoldered. UGH! I don't know whether all my vacuuming of the yard pulled up this point, or how it might have happened, but fixing it is now at the top of my to-do list for the next time I have a spare 30 minutes or so to get back to the basement.

Here's hoping you're able to get to your layouts as well - whether today (if you have the day off) or sometime during the upcoming weekend. In the meantime, here's wishing you and your families health and happiness today and during the upcoming holiday season!

Friday, November 20, 2020

Update on Layout & Life: Boxing in New London Staging

What a crazy bunch of weeks it's been! It may seem like I've fallen off the planet since my last blog post was waaaaay back on October 30, and I've even missed not one, not two, but three Wordless Wednesday posts. That has to be a new record - and not a good one.  So if you've been wondering what I've been up to, or if I owe you an email, etc. this post will let you know what's going on & will bring you up to date.

Long story short: You may have heard there was an election recently. I was pretty heavily involved in the days leading up to it, and then very heavily involved in recounts (all at the state level, btw). After all that was said and done, I got a significant promotion and as a result - and I guess as I should have expected - my life went from being just very busy to hyper overdrive. But I know I'm in the right place since I find that I have to pull myself away from work rather than dread doing it. So that's been filling just about all my time lately. Fortunately for the layout, 1) it won't (hopefully shouldn't) always be this way. This is the inevitable ramping up and steep learning curve time. 2) I've actually been able to get to the basement for a few hours each Sunday.

So Beware! This post is super heavy on photos, but it should be a quick read with just captions. And when you get to the end - whether all in one sitting, or viewed over a couple of days - you (and I!) will be all caught up with where the layout is Right Now . . .

I decided to try and get the last of the layout "heavy construction" finally done. I'd been wanting to "box in" New London staging since it's the only part of the layout that's in an unfinished part of the basement and subject to dust. And I figured this would be a LOT easier than dismantling staging to finish this corner with studs, sheetrock & dropped ceiling. This photo and the next shows the first stick of "roof & valence support" going up.

I spaced the supports around the perimeter and put one in the middle to support the "roof girders" that would come later.

Basement time is usually Sunday afternoon, but if I'm able to get some hobby time on a weekday evening, I'm trying to dial-in the decoder on K-1 #359. It has a Tsunami2, so no chuff cam. Jury's out on whether the new "digital cam" can be made to be as good. I'll letcha know...

Back to the basement! Clamps are your friend when working alone (an unfortunate reality these days). Since this is "only" staging, I decided not to bother painting the backdrop or do any real "finishing" (taping/topping seams, hiding screws, etc). But I did want a little bit of a finished look. So instead of buying regular masonite - and to keep the area nice and bright - I got white finished masonite that's typically used for kitchen/bathroom backsplashes and such. In this photo and the one below, I'm positioning the backdrop and holding it up with clamps.

One annoying reality of doing this after the track is all in, is that you have to have to put up the masonite twice - once to mock it up for marking, then for final installation.

But the backdrop is only the "sides" of the box(ing in). I wanted a lighting valence, and I figured that would support the "roof" as well. Here's the first piece going in over the east end of Saybrook (the only portion of finished layout that's located in the unfinished part of the basement).

See what I mean about clamps? Here, I've already screwed in & secured the far end of the backdrop, and I'm gluing one side of the splice between the two sections of backdrop.

One of the challenges of gluing backdrop sections together is how to clamp them while the glue sets. Here I've used a long piece of wood to "extend" the clamps along the seam.

Once the backdrop was in place, the next step was to add "roof girders." These were made from two 1x3s screwed together to make an L-girder 1) to make it more rigid across the span, and 2) to provide a wider base of support for the foam board roof.

For additional rigidity and support, I added a cross piece and a diagonal brace.

And here's the first piece of valence going up! At first, I lined up the top of it with the top of the backdrop - but then I realized that wouldn't cover the edge of the foam board roof that would be sitting on top of the backdrop. Since the foam board is 1.5" thick, I raised the valence an additional 1.5" above the top edge of the backdrop.

Here's a better view of the "raised" valence. The foam board roof will rest on top of the backdrop & girders and nest in behind the valence.

Here's my trick for making sure the top of the girder lines up perfectly with the top of the backdrop and holds it there while I screw everything together.

Valence finished! Next comes lighting . . .

For the lighting, I decided to try out some LED tubes. I got a 6 pack of 4 footers from Amazon for $35.

They're very easy to install - basically just install the clips & clip them in. But I did run into a problem with the very first one . . . Apparently, the east end of Saybrook is exactly four feet wide. Problem was - the tube - with the plug - was too long & wouldn't fit!

One of the lessons I'm learning over and over again while building this layout is that you can never anticipate every single problem. And trying to is an invitation to Analysis Paralysis. It's often better to Just Get Started and deal with problems as they come up. The problem with the light length was a perfect case in point. I ended up just routing out enough material to accommodate the plug. Turned out to be a fine solution to what I feared would be an impossible problem!

Lighting done!

And now the roof goes in . . . This was a relatively simple matter of laying the foam board on top, snugging it against the wall and corner, and tracing the outline of the valance so I could cut it to fit.

The roof used up two 4x8 pieces of foam board, cut into three sections to cover the whole staging yard.

But hopefully you'll agree, it came out pretty nice!

That last pic there shows the state of things as of November 20. The idea will be to cover the "slot" between the fascia and valence with some sort of curtain whenever I'm doing any cutting in the shop (that's the area I'm standing in in the photo above). There's really nothing left to do with the boxing in, but I will need to do more on the "east end of Saybrook" area: Vinyl backdrop & paint - and of course structures and scenery.

But it looks like Major Construction on the layout is finally done! The only thing left to do is decide whether to add any valence to the rest of the layout. I'm still mulling that over. I really like the shadow box effect here (and I have it in the Saybrook Scene as well), but I don't know yet if I want/need to replicate that effect across the whole layout (see Mike Confalone's Allagash Rwy for an example of not using valences).

So all that's left to do here is to install the 2nd/last shop light over the bench (I moved the two shop lights from above staging), and do a massive cleanup of this whole area. Those who know me well know that I'm pretty OCD when it comes to keeping my work areas clean and tidy - so the state of things here is a HUGE departure from my norm!

And hopefully soon there will be at least a small departure from what's become the "norm" in my life lately and I'm able to post more frequent layout updates. Thanks for being patient and for continuing to follow my progress. As always, I appreciate any feedback & hope you'll stay tuned!