Tuesday, July 20, 2021

Wordless Wednesday #359 - Found at an Antique Shop


ProtoThrottle - Programming & Configuring

Going into all the intricacies of decoder programming and ProtoThrottle (PT) configuring is beyond the scope of this post, but I hope giving you a quick overview of what I did will remove some of the mystery and encourage you to try it yourself. My new friend Pete Mulvany did that for me, so I'm hoping to be able to do a little bit of that for you.

Just by way of background, I'm using an NCE DCC system and LokSound Select/V4 decoders, so YMMV. I also have a LokProgrammer and, while it certainly makes remapping functions much easier, such remapping isn't always necessary. As long as your PT is configured to recognize the function keys on your decoders, you're all set. But we're getting a little ahead of ourselves...

First, make sure your PT and receiver are communicating. Click here if you need help setting up your receiver.

Next, use your DCC system to set CV3 to 80 and CV4 to 255 (this will make sure your engine coasts and needs the brake applied in order to slow down and stop).

Then, input your locomotive number into the PT:
  1. Click the Menu button 5 times to get to the "SET LOCO" menu
  2. Click the Select button once
  3. Use the Up and Down buttons to change the locomotive address
  4. Use the Menu button to move the cursor to the right
  5. Once the address/loco number is correct, click the Select button to save.
Finally, make sure that the Horn, Bell, and Brake functions on your decoder are recognized by the PT:
  1. Click the Menu button 7 times to get to the "CONFIG FUNC" menu
  2. Click the Select button once to get to the HORN function. On most decoders, the horn function is on F02 - and that's the default value on the PT. If the horn on your decoder is mapped to a different function key, use the Up and Down buttons to change the function number to match what's on your decoder.
  3. Click the Menu button to toggle through the other function choices. BELL is typically F01. BRAKE will typically be either F10 (ESU) or F11 (SoundTraxx). PT default is F10, so be sure to change this in the PT to match whatever your brake function is on your decoder.
  4. Once you're done configuring your PT (all the functions set on the PT match what's on your decoder), click the Select button to save.
This is enough to get you started, so go try it out! Don't worry... I'll wait here...

<dum de dum dum dum de dum...>

Now that you're back, if you're like me, you're pretty psyched to be able to operate your locos with actual levers rather than buttons.

But WAIT! There's MORE!

There are lighting functions to be mapped (in the decoder) and configured (in the PT), braking functions to calibrate, and notching effects to get the loco sounding Just Right as you notch through those cool 8 detents on the throttle. As you can imagine, individual preferences on all this are practically endless, but here's a very quick overview of what I did with my LokSound decoder equipped diesels (note: I have Select/V4 decoders. LokSound V5 decoder programming differs slightly, especially wrt the braking function. Also, I model the late 1940s, so there's little lighting, no ditchlights, etc):
  • Mapped separate functions for front & rear headlights, including dimming functions (using the LokProgrammer) & configured the PT lighting knobs to match those functions (using the CONFIG FUNC menu). Click here for the guide I used - or better yet, see if PeteM will be willing to help walk you through it :)
  • Mapped the brake function to the "dynamic brake" logical function (using the LokProgrammer), including separate "Drive" and "Stop" modes so that when the brake is set, I can move the throttle (rev up the prime mover) without the engine moving. Click here for the guide (and scroll down to the Appendix for the Loksound-specific instructions - NOTE: braking setup differs between Select/V4 decoders and V5 decoders).
  • Configured the PT brake using the OPTIONS menu on the PT to get the most realistic braking effect:
    • Set VAR BRK to ON
    • Set BRK TYPE to PULSE
    • Set BRK RATE to 0.2s
    • Set BRK ESTP to OFF (leaving it ON, which is the default, sends an emergency stop signal to the layout when the brake lever is moved all the way to the right)
  • Set the following functions in the PT "CONFIG FUNC" menu:
    • HORN - F02 (default)
    • BELL - F01 (default)
    • BRAKE - F06 (how I've mapped my brake function on my ESU decoders, so its status shows up on the screen of my NCE dogbone throttles)
    • BRK OFF - F--
    • AUX - F05 (Sets the PT AUX button to Drive Hold. I've mapped ESU's Drive Hold function to F05 on my decoders so its status shows up on the screen of my NCE dogbone throttles)
    • ENG ON - F08 (default)
    • ENG STOP - F-- (default. You may want/need to change this if your decoder uses separate starting & stopping function keys)
    • THR UNLK - F05 (works with "CENTERED" below so that when the reverser is centered, moving the throttle only revs the prime mover, but doesn't move the loco)
    • REV SWAP - F-- (I don't use this, but you may if you need to reverse the reverser when the loco is in a consist)
    • CENTERED - F05 (see "THR UNLK" above)
    • ALERTER - F-- (I don't use this, but it's a cool feature for keeping engineers alert ;^)
    • COMPRSR - F09 (how I've mapped my compressor sound function)
    • BRAKE TEST - F--
    • F.HEAD - F00 (default headlight function)
    • F.DITCH - F-- (I don't use ditchlights, but you may)
    • F.DIM#1 - F23 (how I've decoupled & mapped the dimmer function for my headlights)
    • F.DIM#2 - F-- (I don't use)
    • R.HEAD - F22 (how I've decoupled & mapped the rear headlight)
    • R.DITCH - F-- (I don't use)
    • F.DIM#1 - F24 (how I've decoupled & mapped the dimmer function for my rear headlight)
    • R.DIM#2 - F-- (I don't use)
    • UPBTN - F03 LAT (I've mapped the UP button to play the coupler clank which is on function 03 in Loksound decoders. I have it LATched so that the first press is the coupling sound and the second press is the uncoupling sound)
    • DOWNBT - BRKTEST (a new PT feature - Pressing the DOWN button starts the brake test routine)
  • Configured the notch settings (click here for more details)
    • Noted the speed steps where my prime mover sound changes (e.g. on my RS-1 decoder, the first transition happens at speed step 8, the second transition happens at speed step 16, etc.)
    • Used the "NOTCH CFG" menu on the PT to set each of the 8 notches at a speed step somewhere in the middle of the range noted above (e.g. NOTCH 1 is set at 4, NOTCH 2 is set at 12, etc.). This leaves you some room for additional adjustment, if desired.
Heh - now that I've typed it all out, it sure looks like a lot, but it really isn't. And I have to, again, give a special shout out to Pete Mulvany for guiding me through the process. It's a testament to his teaching ability that, once he led me through, it all clicked and I GOT IT.

I just hope by putting this all down here, that you'll get it too.

In the meantime, if you want more detail, these documents will get you started (just beware - rabbit holes abound, but they're fun!):

While I've focused on the ESU/Loksound decoders here, Soundtraxx/Tsunami users will want to be sure and check out this article on configuring an Athearn GP40-2. And here's a step-by-step on configuring the ScaleTrains GE-9-44cw. Also, be sure to check out Tim Garland's great overview article in the August, 2018 issue of Model Railroad Hobbyist. Tim's a professional railroader and he provides invaluable experience and insight for the most realistic setup.

I hope you've found this post helpful - or that it's at least piqued your interest in this cool new technology. I want to give a final BIG THANK YOU to PeteM for all his help demystifying all this for me, and a special thanks to Scott Thornton, Nathan Holmes, and Michael Petersen for developing the ProtoThrottle - a truly revolutionary product in our hobby!

Monday, July 19, 2021

ProtoThrottle - Unboxing & Introduction

Is it just me, or is time flying by Way Too Fast?! Seems like just the other day that I posted a layout update. But nope - that was way back on June 6(!) In fact, other than Wordless Wednesday posts (which haven't even been every week :^( I haven't done but two substantive posts since February (the other one was way back in April).


In my defense, there are/were good reasons for the hiatus since early June - ranging from irritating (not one, but TWO special legislative sessions) to wonderful (a week-long visit with my parents, our wedding anniversary, and a few fun roadtrips). And summer is here, with all its goodness as well as busy-ness.

But despite it all, things have started to perk up a bit on the Valley Line - I had my first ops session in 18 months, and I acquired a few new items, all of which have definitely sparked more enthusiasm for getting to the basement.

One of the first things I got was a new air compressor for my airbrush. Here's what I've been using up to now . . .

A bit of overkill, eh? Yeah - and sounds as loud as you'd expect. Even having it in another room and running a long hose from it to the 'brush didn't help matters much - especially according to the cats (that would always run for cover). So now it's where it belongs and where it can be used more appropriately - the garage.

Here's what I got to replace it . . .

MUCH nicer, smaller, quieter - and mounted just under where I do my painting. Thanks to Randy and Bill for the recommendation

But as wonderful as it is, my new compressor isn't the most exciting acquisition  . . . 
As you've probably guessed from the title of this post, that honor goes to the ProtoThrottle.

Obligatory unboxing photo #1

Obligatory unboxing photo #2

I'm blessed with a wonderful Missus who, as we were approaching our anniversary, reminded me that I had not only failed to let her know what I'd like by way of a gift, but she still "owed" me a 25th anniversary gift from last year(!). So after some hemming and hawing about not "needing" anything - and her reminding me that these gifts are in no way about "need" - I figured a ProtoThrottle would fit the bill nicely for both occasions :^)

I definitely think I made the right choice. I just wish I'd decided to get one sooner!

So, without any further ado about that, let's see what I got . . . 

The ProtoThrottle will work with any DCC system, but the first thing you need to realize is that you can't just get the throttle by itself - you need also to get a receiver to allow the throttle to communicate with your particular system. In my case, I got the NCE-compatible receiver. I also got a fascia-mount holder, just because.

You probably already know that the ProtoThrottle is a wireless DCC throttle that mimics an EMD diesel control stand, and you've probably heard that it's complicated to set up and there's a steep learning curve. I can attest to the fact that it's pretty intimidating at first, but once I got the throttle and receiver to communicate, I was running trains with it in under 5 minutes.

However, getting it to communicate with the receiver was a little bit of a challenge - and getting it to work exactly the way I wanted with my decoders took a bit more time. I'll cover setting up the receiver in this post and will cover optimization later.

There are 3 steps to setting up the receiver (as outlined in the manual, which can be found here):
  1. Configure the DIP switches
  2. Connect to the command station
  3. Configure the ProtoThrottle (hereinafter referred to a "PT")
As I mentioned, I have an NCE system and the PT receiver connects to the NCE cab bus using the supplied phone-like cable. The "Base Address" of the receiver and the "Base Address" configured in the PT need to be the same in order for them to communicate. You change the receiver's address using the DIP switches.

This is where I got a bit mixed up. Read on to avoid my mistake.

According to the manual, you add the value(s) of the "BASE ADDR" DIP switches that are in the ON position to get the receiver's base address number. These switches were all off on my receiver when I, um, received it. So I figured the "BASE ADR" of the receiver was 0 (zero).

Next, you go into the "COMM CFG" menu on your PT to make sure the Base Address is the same as that on your receiver. On mine, it was "00" (the default) so I figured I was all set.

I wasn't.

After some minor frustration, I finally decided to try and just change BOTH addresses. First, I changed the DIP switches on the receiver thusly:

Note that the switch above "1" in the "BASE ADDR" section of the receiver is now pushed up, set to ON.

Then I went into the COMM CFG menu and changed the BASE ADR to "01"

And just like magic, it WORKED!

The manual says that both "the throttle and receiver ship with a default base address of zero" and that "any address will work as long as both the throttle and receiver are configured to the same value." I'm certainly in no position to dispute the guys at ISE, so I'm just sharing my experience. YMMV.

The only other thing you have to consider when configuring the receiver is to be sure it doesn't have the same "CAB NUMBER" as any of your other throttles. 

<begin sidebar>
You do have a list of the cab addresses of your throttles handy, right? :) Here's mine:

Don't worry if you don't have this info, yet. I finally got around to compiling my list after an ops session where things went crazy sideways when somebody brought a throttle with the same cab address as one of mine. Unbeknownst to me. I quickly figured out all my addresses and have maintained a list ever since. I strongly suggest you do too!
<end sidebar>

Like with the BASE ADDR, the receiver's cab number is determined by adding up the values of the DIP switches that are pushed up/set to "on" As long as that number is different than all your other cab numbers, you're all set.

And that's IT! for setting up the receiver. It actually took you longer (probably much longer) to read this post than it will take to actually do it. But hopefully you found the process easy to follow and realize it's easier than you might have thought. I do strongly recommend you read over the receiver setup manual though - especially if you have a DCC system other than NCE.

Once the receiver and throttle are communicating, you just use this throttle like you would any other. Assuming you haven't remapped the horn or bell functions in your decoder(s), it'll work just as you expect. But to get the MOST FUN out of the ProtoThrottle, you're going to want to change some CVs  and make sure the PT brake is using the brake on the decoder.

But those details are for another post. In the meantime, you can just enjoy using a throttle that actually has a THROTTLE lever as well as a reverser lever and a brake lever. No more pushing buttons!

And if you don't have a PT yet - and especially if you do - be sure to check out ISE's website and the super helpful folks over at the PT group to learn more.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have some switching to do . . .