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:
- Click the Menu button 5 times to get to the "SET LOCO" menu
- Click the Select button once
- Use the Up and Down buttons to change the locomotive address
- Use the Menu button to move the cursor to the right
- 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:
- Click the Menu button 7 times to get to the "CONFIG FUNC" menu
- 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.
- 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.
- 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!):
- Overview of the ProtoThrottle menu map
- ProtoThrottle manual (goes into each menu in detail)
- Configuring the brake
- Configuring the lights
- Configuring the throttle notching
- ProtoThrottle FAQs
- ProtoThrottle blog
You'll also definitely want to join the ProtoThrottle io group at https://groups.io/g/ProtoThrottle.
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!