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Hello Everyone!

After building my Dad’s old Marx O-27 train into a layout last winter I am starting my own HO, DCC layout and I could use some help, advice, or whatever and I figured this would be a good place to come to.
(http://www.modeltrainforum.com/showthread.php?t=24531)

At this point, I haven’t even started planning a layout yet, I just bought a couple of Athearn DCC Loco’s and have set up a test track (some may even call it a lab) and have been playing around for the last few weeks.

This stuff is not at all foreign to me; I am an Electrical/Network Engineer in real life so 8-bit CV registers are right up my alley. For those of you who don’t know, IP addresses on the Internet (at least in Version 4 – even in Version 6, there’s just more of them) work the exact same way, (i. e. 10.0.0.1 or 192.168.0.1)

Anyway, here’s what I have:

Digitrax Zephyr Xtra Starter Set
PS3 Computer Interface
2 Athearn Genesis DCC Loco's (FP45 & GP50) and a Bachmann 2-8-0 (DCC but no sound)
A Computer (Windows XP) running JMRI and connected to the PS3 via USB cable and a Loconet cable between the PS3 and the Digitrax Cab

Generally, things are going well, but I'm having some intermittent issues. Right off the bat, I'm glad JMRI is free because if I paid for it I would be unhappy - it seems there are a lot of little nuances I would otherwise describe as bugs. In fact, all of my issues are JMRI related.

I haven't yet actually figured out how to use the Layout Editor or Panel Editor and the JMRI manuals and tutorials that I have found are not very good - the main tutorial is for the wrong software version of JMRI!

Ok, so forget about that, I've just been manually trying to pull up throttles and program decoders.

Nuance #1 - Apparently, each time you open a throttle or programming window, a new virtual slot is opened in JMRI. If you don't go to "Monitor Slots" under the “LocoNet” menu and free up all those old slots, God only knows what will actually occur when you try to run your Loco. This is a big pain in the ***, thank God I figured it out (it took a couple of days), but is there any way around this?

Nuance #2 - This one I first uncovered when trying to modify a throttle. After I modified the throttle I saved the page and then tried to re-open it - which worked, right up until I selected my Loco - then the default throttle would re-appear Ok, so I finally figured out that it's not good enough to save the panel and layout in the "File" menu as I had been doing (and as any normal computer literate human would assume) - no, no, you have to “Export current throttle customization to roster” to the Loco roster entry in the "Edit" menu; kind of a nice little gotcha there huh? Good thing I do this kind of stuff for a living or I would be ready to through this stuff in the trash.

Nuance #3 - I can add a new roster entry without issue and am even able to select the exact decoder model from the list. All is well; I get the Comprehensive Programming Menu, and am able to fully utilize that functionally.

*** On a side note, I vastly prefer just editing the CV's directly by reading the manual, it seems that while the GUI is nice, one little mis-click can cause lots of unintended "features" – especially on the dual function Athearn decoders. I have learned that they don’t communicate with the programming software real well – the manual tells you all about this one – but because of that, using the “write all sheets to decoder” button is generally a bad, bad thing – especially if you just went in there to change one little thing – as a result, I’ve learned the hard way to simply edit the CV’s directly ***

Ok, so that's fine. I added the roster entry, programed the decoder as desired, and added my throttle to the roster entry - no problem right? Wrong? Every time I want to go back in to edit the decoder, all I can get to come up is the Basic Programming Menu, even "Single CV Programmer” will not work and I am left with no choice but to completely delete the roster entry, and re-create it in order to get the Comprehensive Programing Menu to appear - WTF? Then, I have to go through the whole process with the throttle, again, as well.

I've tried to resolve this issue on both the mainline and programming track and the same thing happens every single time for both of my Loco's. Does anyone have any ideas? I must be missing another JMRI “gotcha” here.

So, yeah, things are going well but I am getting pretty frustrated by what should be absolutely mundane issues, like I said, most of the issues appear to be bugs in JMRI to me.

The idea at this point is just to set up a lab and experiment with all this stuff, the last time I built a model train I was about 10-12 years old and had a DC layout, so I have some catching up to do. I am going to buy some switch tracks and some switchers (I hear tortoise is pretty good but have also seen on YouTube a guy that just uses R/C airplane servos to actuate the switch) either way, we'll see how that goes.

I have also been thinking about Kaddee couplers. I just want to have certain cars that are Kaddee capable, so it won't be every car on the layout. If I understand things correctly, I just need the couplers and the Kaddee delayed magnets at key points in the layout; is this correct? Also, how do you know what size Kaddee coupler to use, I see all kinds of sizes, and they're all for HO, there must be some method to the madness there?

Thanks for any help you guys can offer - as frustrating as it is, at times, this is fun for me - you guys too I imagine.

Thanks,
Josh
 

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If you just want to program CVs only, just use the Zephyr instead of JMRI. It is easier to use JMRI once you are self taught. There should be a tab with all of the CVs in JMRI which will allow you to set individually as you please instead of the grouped item tabs. Which unit is the programming track wired to? The PR3 or the Zephyr? Are the Athearn locos sound equipped? Slots via loconet are memory space in the Zephyr. It has a limit of 20 addresses.
 

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I have also been thinking about Kaddee couplers. I just want to have certain cars that are Kaddee capable, so it won't be every car on the layout. If I understand things correctly, I just need the couplers and the Kaddee delayed magnets at key points in the layout; is this correct? Also, how do you know what size Kaddee coupler to use, I see all kinds of sizes, and they're all for HO, there must be some method to the madness there?
Dealing with just the KaDee part of the question here (I'm clueless on DCC).

It is true that KaDee couplers and strategically placed KaDee magnets will let you uncouple cars with KaDee couplers. However, many modelers use KaDee couplers on their entire fleet of rolling stock -- even if they never do any uncoupling. This is because KaDee made the first operating knuckle coupler in HO, and even though others have now copied their design, KaDees are still the best made, most reliable knuckle couplers.

All of the different couplers that KaDee offers have been designed to allow you to put KaDee couplers on almost any piece of rolling stock ever made. (A lot of the odd designs are for locos.) But most cars can use either their #5 or #148 coupler. Look under "Conversions" on their website for specific recommendations for specific car types.

You can also call them during business hours and ask for Sam. He is very knowledgable and helpful.
 

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Discussion Starter #4
If you just want to program CVs only, just use the Zephyr instead of JMRI. It is easier to use JMRI once you are self taught. There should be a tab with all of the CVs in JMRI which will allow you to set individually as you please instead of the grouped item tabs. Which unit is the programming track wired to? The PR3 or the Zephyr? Are the Athearn locos sound equipped? Slots via loconet are memory space in the Zephyr. It has a limit of 20 addresses.
Thanks Jerry,

I probably will just use the Digitrax cab from here on out – that’s actually how I started the first few days.

The issue is that the “CV” table in JMRI only comes up under the “Comprehensive Programmer” – which I get every time I make a new roster entry. However, when I try to edit an existing roster entry, I only get the “Basic Programing” menu; which pretty much just allows you to change the locos’ address.

Yes the Loco’s are sound equipped and I have a programming track wired to the Digitrax cab and the PS3 (wires to each, soldered on each end of the track).

Dealing with just the KaDee part of the question here (I'm clueless on DCC).

It is true that KaDee couplers and strategically placed KaDee magnets will let you uncouple cars with KaDee couplers. However, many modelers use KaDee couplers on their entire fleet of rolling stock -- even if they never do any uncoupling. This is because KaDee made the first operating knuckle coupler in HO, and even though others have now copied their design, KaDees are still the best made, most reliable knuckle couplers.

All of the different couplers that KaDee offers have been designed to allow you to put KaDee couplers on almost any piece of rolling stock ever made. (A lot of the odd designs are for locos.) But most cars can use either their #5 or #148 coupler. Look under "Conversions" on their website for specific recommendations for specific car types.

You can also call them during business hours and ask for Sam. He is very knowledgable and helpful.
Ok thank you – most websites don’t really tell you what the differences between couplers are, but I’ve noticed that many of the different couplers have the same instruction manual – I just didn’t want to buy a whole bunch and figure out they were the wrong size or something.

Thank you – I’ll check the conversion table and go from there.
 

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My focus is on refurbishing HO models, so I do not spend much time programming CV's. What I do is on a programming track with the DCC system. Others swear by JMRI. Specifically for doing advanced programming like your doing. I think there is a user group on yahoo specifically for JMRI users.

Kadee couplers are automatic with magnets, etc. However, the majority of people who use them do not use the uncoupling features. There are hand held tools that will uncouple couplers any where on the layout.

Study the various options of Kadee couplers. The purpose is mainly to allow the positioning of the coupler head so it is at the correct height and at the desired location relative tontine car. Both are important to insure the cars stay coupled and on the track. You should get a height gage to allow you to hold the height properly. It should be perfectly centered or slightly high. Never low.

There are a number of other variations that depend on what you want to do with your trains.
Larry
Check out my blog:www.llxlocomotives.com
 

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You should have an amplifier for the sound decoders as the normal program track power is not reliable with them. I use a Soundtrax PTB-100. It goes between the program track outputs and the track itself. I don't think you want to have 2 program track devices wires connected at the same time as it will probably cause communication issues. If you want both programming sources to have access to the same programing track, you should wire a DPDT switch in for that selection.
 

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In JMRI when you want to edit a roster entry, highlight it and click the program button or just double click the decoder listed for that roster entry's loco. It should bring up the full menu with all of the tabs.
 

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A tip on the uncoupling magnets. While the Kadee under the
track units work well, you can also use the new rare earth
magnets which are more powerful. Be sure to use a steel
magnetic enhancer under the magnets.

Also, never use the under table magnets in your main lines
or on curved track. You will get unexpected uncoupling.
Kadee has an under the
table electromagnetic uncoupler that you can use in your
mainlines.

You also should do some practice using the HOG (hand of God)
uncoupling method. Use a 6 or 7 inch plastic or wood shaft with
one end ground to nearly a point and flattened. It is inserted
into the Kadee knuckles to manually open them. Invariably you'll
want to uncouple where there are no uncoupling devices.

While an adapter car with horn hook couplers on one end and a
Kadee on the other can get you by temporarily, it seems
a substantial hinderance for any switching operations.

Don
 

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Discussion Starter #9
OK, thanks for all the help guys.

I think part of my problem is that I am running JMRI on an old broken down machine that I have re-built countless times – it was one of the first 64-bit AMD processors, and it’s terrible (the very reason I’m solely Intel now). I don’t even run a 64-bit OS and it still is painfully slow – an upgrade may resolve some of my issues.

Anyway, I uninstalled JMRI, and re-installed it. Now, all is well, and it is working much, much better. When I try to program, I get the full menu, instead of just part of it. The throttles are saving correctly, though I’m still having the multiple “in use” slots issue, but things are working better now. I’m not sure what to say for it, as far as I can remember I didn’t change any settings or anything – but evidently something got screwed up with the installation.

Thanks for all the advice on Kaddee. That’s down the road a little ways yet, I haven’t even got that stuff ordered yet – and with the holidays – it’ll be next year before I get that going. I have some old HO rolling stock from my childhood (yes, a dozen or so cars actually survived) but they have a really old style coupler and won’t couple to my new DCC locos and they also have plastic wheels. So, I was thinking of doing metal wheels, adding some weight to the cars (they are really light), and possibly going with Kaddee couplers, though I’m not at all against the HOG approach either. Since I need new couplers anyway does anyone have any recommendations? Is there a brand that’s physically identical to Kaddee without the auto-functions?

Anyway, Kaddee is a ways off yet, I just wanted to get one set of couplers and a magnet and play with it for now. When I actually get a layout planned, we’ll see if I go with them or not.

As for the programming track with both the cab and PS3 connected simultaneously, I had the same thought and wondered if that was a problem. That said I’m not in programming mode on both devices at the same time. But maybe that is causing an issue – the wire to the Digitrax Cab actually broke off a few days ago and I haven’t re-soldered it back on yet because I have been using JMRI for the decoders.

But I have actually just been programming on the main most of the time anyway, for me, in the little lab I have set up, there’s basically no difference anyway. And the main is only connected to the Digitrax cab, the PS3 has to go through it – so maybe I’ll just disconnect the cab from the programming track and use the PS3 exclusively and see if the situation improves.

Also, I’ve noted that there are some discrepancies (even on the vendor website) with default decoder settings. For example, I’ve tried to reset CV 8 to a value of 8 as the manual says will load default settings, and it also say I can set CV 30 to a value of 2. Now, I don’t know if that works or not, because the multi-function decoders will not read-back a CV, but the loco does not function correctly until I manually go in and reset each CV to default. I’ve also noted that the default configuration in the manual that came with the loco will not work, and I actually need the default configuration found on the Athearn website – it’s a nightmare. Since the CV’s don’t read back, it’s a trial and error approach to figure which CV is being mis-configured and causing the whole loco to break down. There are also a couple of CV’s listed in the manual (with default values) that are not listed in the website configuration guide. So, I’m left with little choice but to experiment and come up with a hybrid default configuration – it has taken me days just to figure out what the actual default configuration is - are these normal problems? Are you guys used to things like this?

I’m certain I have the right manual, both on the website and on paper – it’s not fun. I have a spreadsheet with my own, trial and error, configuration that I know works now – it seems like that’s step #1 since the documentation is not 100% accurate. The website manual is the most accurate by far, but even that has a few discrepancies – I’m just kind of wondering if this is normal – it seems to me like it is because I have the same thing with both locos from Athearn – I haven’t really messed with the Bachmann yet.
 

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Go to the decoder manufacturer site and literature. The train manufactures change the brand of decoder as one gets more popular, they have trouble keeping their descriptions up to date. The decoder people use slightly different methods in certain CV functions, such as reset.
Good luck,
Larry
 

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There are other knuckle coupler brands but Kadee is the
'standard' and from my experience works better. While
the various makes are compatible with each other you
will be better off staying with one make.

Don
 
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