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Discussion Starter #1 (Edited)
Hello Everyone,

I finally made the jump to DCC this evening. Though I'm facing a few issues, watching multiple trains just sit on the layout waiting, with lights on and not moving is awesome. Better yet, bright lights without having to put the train into "back to the future" mode is great!

I'm using an NCE Powercab and I'm working on converting two trains (HO Scale). I purchased TSC decoders just for the simple fact I didn't have to worry about pulling bulbs and installing LEDs (I was hoping for a Plug N Play solution). These are non sound.

Life Like Proto 2000 Alco PA (Decoder Purchased: DP2X-UK) using default non LED bulbs (Note for future searches, workaround below)

There are two bulbs in the front, one is working (the lower bulb which I actually never noticed until now) but the Mars light bulb is not working (works on DC). I'm concerned I may have purchased the wrong decoder (DP2-LL instead?). Is it possible to get my mars light functioning again? Train is using the default bulbs, no LEDs.

Bachmann Spectrum USRA Light 4-8-2 Mountain Locomotive (Decoder Purchased: DP5) using default non LED bulbs

As above, train moves forward and backwards with no issues. This steam engine has two bulbs. A headlight bulb and a "firebox bulb". The headlight turns on and off no problem. The firebox bulb though stays on constant, there doesn't seem to be a way to turn it off. This might be a feature and not a bug, but I'd love to enable the flickering feature if possible and better yet, turn it off when not in use.

I've emailed TCS support but with how many trains our out in the wild, I'm not sure they'll be able to help (if they have a solution I'll be sure to post here for future searchers).

Slightly unrelated newbie question: If I have a train on the mainline running, is it ok to just leave the other trains "parked?" If you don't plan to use them for a while, should they be removed from the track?
 

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It is not neccessary to remove a parked train from the track while running another.

I would look at the decoder CV matrix and find out what you are able to control with that model decoder. You may have to program (or even rewire the connections, see below) the CV for the firebox bulb and the MARS lights to get them to respond.

Most simple decoders have extra outputs to use for supplementary lighting. The amount of wiring or available pins or solder pads on the decoder will dictate how many extra outputs you have.

You will have to consult the decoder manual to find out this information. You will also have to figure out how the existing lights are wired into the circuit.
 

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As Michael stated, you do not need to remove a locomotive from the layout. However, you can park it on a siding and use a SPST switch to cut power to the siding. That shuts down the decoder so it's not just sitting there generating heat.
 

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Plug and play depends more on the locomotive than the decoder. You can purchase just about any type of decoder with pre-installed pin connectors these days, and provided the loco is equipped with the right kind of socket (8 or 21 pins), they do plug right in. However, in order to get the lighting control you desire, you still may need to do some rewiring and soldering.

As MichaelE suggested, carefully review the documentation that came with the decoders. This may allow you, by changing some settings, to individually control the lighting. If not, purchasing a higher level decoder may be one solution.

One of the beauties of DCC is that you CAN leave your locomotives parked anywhere you please, without worrying about electrical isolation. Sure you can do it if you want, but why bother? The only reason I could think of is that you're drawing too many amps for your system, and there are better solutions for that (power boosters).

As far as the firebox goes, remember that heating that big boiler full of water to operating pressure takes a long time (unlike a diesel, which is warmed up and ready to go in a few minutes). On the Valley Railroad, our firemen report on and start firing a full 24 hours before the loco goes into service. If the loco will be used again within 72 hours, we almost always keep the fire up (it takes far less fuel to keep hot than to warm it again, especially if you're not pulling steam out). Locos really only go "cold iron" when they're headed for an extended period of maintenance (we dump the fire, then either use residual steam to move it to the engine shop, or move it with a switcher). So that light being on all the time isn't really unrealistic.
 
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Discussion Starter #5
Thanks so much for all the feedback. There's a lot to learn. This decoder, I think is called a two function decoder. There appears to be two CV's (front lighting and rear lighting). In the case this loco, there is no rear light. I tried to change the setting on the "rear light", hopping that might be connected to the MARS light, but no luck. The smaller of the two LEDs however I'm able to program just fine. So the MARS light must not be getting power for some reason.

I noticed that on the main board, there are 6 wires facing north. I have a feeling, the three wires on the left (which control the smaller, lower bulb) are powered by the decoder. But the three wires on the right (marked WBR) aren't getting power.

I really thought I'd done enough research on the decoders I'd chosen. I'm not completely sure if it's possible to rewire anything with this type of decoder (I've attached some pictures). It's just a small square. Here, you're looking at the Lifelike P2K Alco PA. I had chosen this decoder because it was the decoder shown on TCS's how to guide for the Alco PA. However, looking at the image again on their website after purchase, I realise the person doing their install, did not have three wires on the right of the chip board like mine does (WBR).

Thanks for tips on leaving the DCC trains on the track. A nice feature. Power isn't an issue as my layout is very small. Good points on the firebox!




IMG_20200526_205648.jpg IMG_20200526_224908.jpg IMG_20200526_224919.jpg IMG_20200526_224953.jpg
 

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I have the same ALCO PA as you do, although unfortunately, it's a New Haven livery model, and therefore has neither the second headlight nor the Mars light. I'm guessing you have a different livery, and therefore different detailing. I also have a TCS DP2X decoder installed, although mine does not have the "-UK" suffix. Is it possible you purchased a board designed for UK use, which may have different functionality and / or voltages than the US one -- specifically without Mars light functionality (my DP2X instructions specifically say that the Mars light is separately adjustable; does yours)? Or are you in the UK?

I noticed 2 other potential issues. One is that, on the back page of the Loco manual, under instructions for DCC conversion, the first step is to replace the bulbs with ones rated for higher voltage. So you may have burned out the bulbs. You may want to test on DC again and see if they all still work. Secondly, the pads on the left side of the main circuit board, labeled WBR, typically indicate the wiring colors White, Blue, and Red. I notice that yours don't appear to be connected like that, which may also be causing the trouble.

Good luck.
 

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Discussion Starter #7
I have the same ALCO PA as you do, although unfortunately, it's a New Haven livery model, and therefore has neither the second headlight nor the Mars light. I'm guessing you have a different livery, and therefore different detailing. I also have a TCS DP2X decoder installed, although mine does not have the "-UK" suffix. Is it possible you purchased a board designed for UK use, which may have different functionality and / or voltages than the US one -- specifically without Mars light functionality (my DP2X instructions specifically say that the Mars light is separately adjustable; does yours)? Or are you in the UK?

I noticed 2 other potential issues. One is that, on the back page of the Loco manual, under instructions for DCC conversion, the first step is to replace the bulbs with ones rated for higher voltage. So you may have burned out the bulbs. You may want to test on DC again and see if they all still work. Secondly, the pads on the left side of the main circuit board, labeled WBR, typically indicate the wiring colors White, Blue, and Red. I notice that yours don't appear to be connected like that, which may also be causing the trouble.

Good luck.
Thanks for the reply! It's my understanding that the UK version is simply oriented 90 degrees off to more easily fit into European-manufactured locomotives. But other than that, they are basically the same decoders.

One nice thing about these TCS decoders (or at least this one), is that changing the bulbs is not required as per the manual. They were designed specifically to be plug and play with 12 volt bulbs. Heh though, I suppose not with the MARS! Like you, I had wondered if perhaps, by chance, I'd popped the bulb. But nope, once you place it back onto DC, it's fine again and the MARS light looks great.

Good point about the wires not matching up. I had wondered about that too but because it worked on DC, though perhaps best not to move them? I suppose at this point, matching them up couldn't hurt (your thoughts/expertise on this and tips are welcomed)

I would have been happy with the single bulb that seems to be working but it's just so darn dim. The voltage is obviously much lower on it.

At any rate, I really appreciate everyone's comments, sometimes a simple sentence leads to another idea. I've yet to hear back from TCS customer service. I'd be curious on their take. Worst case, I force myself to put LED bulbs in. I love the look of this train and it's a real smooth runner. I'm determined.
 

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Discussion Starter #8
ok, soooo it looks like I was able to fix the issue! Well fix is a bit of strong word. Perhaps workaround would be a better term. For future searchers, this is what I did:

This is for the Life Like Proto 2000 Alco PA (Decoder Purchased: DP2X-UK) using default non LED bulbs (I never did figure out how to turn off the firebox on the other loco. It looks good, but I worry the bulb will eventually die out)

The first thing I needed to figure out is how these bulbs work. As I learned today, I may understand software, but I certainly am not a hardware guy. This train has two bulbs:

Mars Bulb: This bulb has three wires. Red, White & Blue. It has two filaments inside of it and one shines bright while the other shines dim. This seems to be how the bulb achieves the MARS effect. Using a 9 volt battery I figured out the following:
  • Red = Positive
  • White = Negative (Dim Light)
  • Yellow = Negative (Bright Light)
Note: Your wires may differ. See the picture attached to the begining of this post before you start

Smaller "always on" light:
This bulb as it turns out is definitely not a 12 volt bulb. I figured this out when I attached it to the 9 volt battery and said out loud "Oh wow it's so bright compared to when it's innside .... oh insert curse word." What I did manage to figure out was:
  • Black Wire = Negative
  • Yellow Wire = Positive
  • Bulb does not like being attached to a 9 volt battery. Pretty before go pop. Oh well, your sacrifice to science was appreciated little bulb.
The "workaround:" With the little bulb shot, I figured I would play around with the board and figure out if I could get the mars bulb to shine bright. This is what I noted

Left Side of the chipboard: There are three "prongs," They are R, Y and D. We are interested in the middle prong or "Y." This seems to provide power.

Right Side of the chipboard: There are three "prongs," on this side they are "W" "B" and "R." We are interested in the "R".

To make the mars light shine bright, simply move the red wire attached to the MARS light to "Y" (left side) and move the blue wire to "R" (right side). Tada, nice bright MARS light. You can touch the blue wire to "B" if you want, all that happens is the mars light shines super super dim. So not enough power. If you really want the second filament to light as well, attached it to either "B" or "R." Honestly though, that's just going to be far too bright.

Set CV49 to MARS (Value = 2)

Additional Notes:
Though I lost the low voltage "always on" light (bottom bulb), the brightness was so low, it wasn't a real loss. The MARS light is bright enough to light up both port holes. Here's what you'll notice, the MARS light is really bright, like UFO level bright. It's not prototypical at all. But I'm happy with it for the time being. Another option is to set CV49 to "Rule 17" or value "8." This allows you to dim down the light using the number 4 on your keypad. Too bad rule 17 could not be combined with Rule 2. Or even better somehow attach two rules to the light function, that would be sweet. Alas, I don't think this is possible. Side note: CV values are pretty awesome once you get the hang of it.

What I'm not sure about
This decoder is two function. What the second function on this board is, I have no idea.

What I learned
I have no idea what I'm doing, but I'm learning. You really learn a lot in this hobby. Far more than you think you will. As I see so often on these forums, I really do think LED is the way to go. And though when I started, that was off the table, moving the wires around and even a little soldering is not nearly as hard as you might think. At some point, I'll upgrade to an LED (what voltage, resistors etc I'll need I have no idea, I'm not even sure how much power is coming out of the board, 12 Volts if I had to guess).

But this will suffice and looks better than no bulb at all :)

IMG_20200528_110013.jpg
 

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I think your rewiring may have simply bypassed the circuit for controlling the Mars light, but whatever works.

The decoder paperwork has a lot of options for configuring the Mars light, and I still think your answer may lie there, but as I don't have the Mars light on my loco, I can't actually see if it works...

And FWIW, electricity is not my strong suit. Maybe someone else can weigh in on it?
 

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Discussion Starter #10
So I think the issue here, is that because this small chip just plugs in, there isn't a whole lot of options (correct me if I'm wrong). If I'd purchased a chip that had wires coming out of it (Digitrax comes to mind), then it's simply a matter of matching wires up according to the spec sheet. I'm sort of restricted by the default P2K board.

I'm pretty new to this, but if I had to do things over. I think the default board is just junk. I think it would be better to keep the decoder but replace that horrible motherboard (?) with something better, then rewire with LED's. I'm not sure if it's possible, but that's me thinking out loud. There's just no diagram to what exactly each part of the default P2K board does and watch exactly the decor controls on that board.The other option would be to buy a decoder that has wire and just wire the lights up to the decoder directly, I suppose.

Before doing this I tried running the train in reverse, forward, slow fast, nothing caused the Mars light to active. This TCS Decoder has two functions, I tired setting those as dim, high, on FWD and Reverse, nothing worked. The only thing that did work, was the small headlight. Basically what I've done here is just rewired the Mars light it to what the front light was connected to. That got the light on, then I programmed the F0F CV to use the Mars feature.

With some further CV tweaking the light isn't as bright and the Mars shuts off above 30% power (Auto Mars). It's not prototypical, but it's close.

On a side note... TCS Support got back to me, here's what they had to say:

The DP2-ll has an intentional solder bridge between F0F and F1 which is typically not connected. In some LifeLike locomotives it is, but is also equally possible that F0F is used for the Mars. If you set the locomotive to reverse, the Mars may come on. If so, you can simply reprogram the output. If the physical bulb itself is wired to F1 which does not exist on the decoder, you can simply add a jumper wire or move the connection to F0R.

On your Bachmann locomotive, if there is not a separate wire you can see for this function that comes from the tender, this light is powered by the track voltage and not the decoder. Unless YOU ran a wire for the function, or an extra wire is present between the loco and tender, this light cannot possibly be controlled by the decoder.
 

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No, a decoder with wires wouldn't be any different. The pins just substitute for the ends of the wires, is all. I guess you could put the wires to connections they weren't intended for, if you wanted, but I'm not sure what that would buy you.

Here's the thing, though. If it works properly in DC, then there's nothing wrong with the motherboard (and since a P2K is one of the best brands out there, I'm not inclined to fault the mobo.

So you have a couple of possibilities:
1) Defective loco. Not likely, if it works in DC.
2) Defective decoder. Always a possibility; it happens.
3) Decoder with insufficient features to do what you want. Again, unlikely -- that decoder is widely recommended for the loco.
4) Decoder not programmed correctly. You can try resetting to factory defaults (CV8=8) and trying again
 

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Discussion Starter #12
bangs head on desk

That's a good point, after looking closer at the wires you're correct, For some reason I thought you manually attached the wires to something.

  1. Correct, works in DC
  2. Could be but I do think it's working ok.
  3. I thought of this too but because it's two function and well, there's two lights, unless I'm missing something, the decoder is probably just right for this loco.
  4. This I tired as well but to no avail
Let me ask you this then. When you're staring at the motherboard, how do you know what the decoder controls. For example on this board, there are two pins at the bottom and 6 pins at the top. The top three left seemed to control the smaller bulb (this bulb I could turn the light on and off using 0/headlight button). The top three right, controlled the mars but no matter how I programmed it (and it's pretty straightforward), the light just would not turn on it.

I guess what I'm asking is, when you buy a decoder and it says "two function" and you know your loco has two functions (forward and reverse bulb in most cases, two front bulbs for me), how do you know what on the board the decoder is going to control? For example here is what my decoder does:

543306


But here's the thing, my wires don't really match those colors. So you sort of have to guess I suppose. Take this comment from TCS

If the physical bulb itself is wired to F1 which does not exist on the decoder, you can simply add a jumper wire or move the connection to F0R.
How do you know what part of the motherboard controls F0R and what is F1?

By the way, I know everyone on this board volunteers, so seriously, thank you for taking the time to respond. I hope to pass this forward.
 

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The pin arrangement tells you what input / output on the decoder that is tied to. If you were not using a plug and play install, you would have to solder wires (of the colors shown) to various places in the loco to get everything to work properly. Since this decoder has pins, and the mobo has a plug, that's already been done for you at the factory. Assuming the board is not defective.

On the DD side, there is no logic in the mobo; it's just a way to hold various circuits, etc. F0F and F1 would refer to solder pads / circuits on the mobo, and have nothing to do with the decoder. What they're saying is that on their decoder, pins 3 and 6 are intentionally connected, to allow different lights to function from the same CV. The decoder provides the brains... all the basic connections are on the mobo. To see what's wired to what, you have to trace the circuits.

A "two function" decoder means it controls the motor and lights, as opposed to a single function or "stationary" decoder, which has no motor control. You have to look at the specs of the decoder to see WHAT, exactly, it should be able to do and how fine the control is. It sounds like this one should work; the AutoMars function seems to; you can modify the speed table so that 30% throttle gives you a more appropriate speed.

Rereading TCS's reply to you, it doesn't sound like they actually understood the problem, and they're trying to pin the issue back on Walthers. My loco and DCC chip are 12 years old; it's not like this is a new setup you're trying.

You might try Googling the topic. I Googled "mars light on p2k loco with tcs dp2x decoder" and see several results that look promising (and apparently, a similar problem exists with the equivalent Digitrax decoder).
 
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