This has been a frustrating year for the Potomac & Patuxent Railroad. The conversion of the railroad to digital command control (DCC) has not gone smoothly or expeditiously. The decoders that I needed were not commercially available until April, although they had been demonstrated at the NMRA convention in Madison (July, 1997). The first installs went fairly well (see below), but I ran into some unexpected problems during the summer. When I tried to start two road locomotives in the same power district, I experienced booster overloads. Working with my dealer, we diagnosed the problem. Digitrax readily exchanged the 5 amp boosters for 8 amp boosters, although one of the 8 amp boosters had to be returned because of a damaged connector—another delay. With the booster upgrade, I had to acquire two new power supplies.
By late summer, the boosters and power supplies were installed. At this point, I discovered that the booster overloads had been masking another problem. The 3.5 amp decoders that I had installed in the Weaver Alco FA-2 and FB locomotives could not handle the load at start-up. The locomotives would jerk forward, stall, reset, and try again. After analysis and consultation with my dealer, we decided to try larger decoders. My dealer sent me a 5 amp Digitrax decoder. This seems to have solved the problem. That happy event occurred in November.
Another source of frustration has been the DCC conversion of the All Nation diesel switcher that I acquired in 1997. When I first sought advice from Digitrax Technical Support in May, they (and I) thought we were dealing with an AC motor as used in older Lionel equipment. I was told that I would have to wait for the release of the decoders optimized for AC motors. Those decoders became available in September. By then, however, I realized that the diesel had a universal AC/DC motor. After further consultation with Digitrax Technical Support and the Digitrax DCC Special Interest Group, I discovered that the AC motor decoder was not needed. The decoder that I had in May could have been wired into the circuit. Because of mechanical problems with the gearbox, I have decided to upgrade the locomotive with a can motor and new drive train.
As part of the decoder installation into P&P locomotive #67, a Weaver USRA 0-6-0, I reengineered the method of power pickup from the rails. Phosphor-bronze wipers were installed on all tender wheels. Since the decoder is in the tender, flexible wires were used to carry power to the can motor. This conversion went fairly well and #67 has been a reliably running locomotive. It is ironic that the two remaining steam engines have been less trouble with DCC than the diesels. Decoders and directional lighting were also installed in P&P Plymouth industrial locomotives #52 and 55.
The delays encountered with the DCC conversion provided an opportunity to work on scenery. Considerable progress was made at Chesapeake Junction and Potomac Yard. The track was ballasted and basic scenery was installed including dirt, grass, trees, and telegraph poles in some areas. I still need to build a B&O-style tower to control Chesapeake Junction. Eventually, I would like to add a replica of Tower RO that stood at the north end of Potomac Yard.
The East Washington Branch became operational in August. This industrial section features handlaid track (code 125 rail) on HomaBed roadbed for the “mainline” and cork roadbed for the industrial sidings. Both Caboose Industries manual controls and Tortoise switch machines move Old Pullman turnouts. The next challenge is to build the industrial structures that are served by the sidings. This branch was the unfinished piece of the original trackplan.
Two locomotives were added to the roster this year. In April, a B&O GP-9 road switcher from Red Caboose was acquired to take the place of the Mikado that was sold last year. The use of this locomotive means that I have to move the timeframe on my railroad to 1956 for that is when the B&O acquired this locomotive. In October, the P&P took possession of an EMD SW-9 switcher, manufactured by Atlas O. This locomotive is awaiting attention from the P&P paint shop. Then, the electrical shop has to install a DCC decoder.
I attended the Lehigh Valley Limited, Fall Mid Eastern Region Convention, in Allentown, PA, sharing a room with Bob Schildt. We spent most of Saturday and Sunday doing layout tours or rail fanning; missing all the clinics. We saw some very nice model railroads.