In with Mulitmaus, out with the Mobile Station

A nice package arrived - in fact a somewhat delayed Christmas gift - in the form of this Roco multiZENTRALEPRO system!  My new DCC system is here! The main attraction for me to this system is the wireless hand-held (not infrared, with which I had an unfortunate experience years ago).   It was also a consistently highly regard from other users of the original Multimaus (which is important) as well as including a lot of other features that would allow me to grow beyond my original Trix Mobile Station set up.

These sort of decisions are not easy....the cost of the system is a huge factor, in addition to the 'opportunity cost' of not choosing another systems that - in many ways - have other advantages (for example, I looked at Digitrax, which would be a lot easier in terms of support here in the US given its wide adoption, and also considered the command stations from EsU and Viessmann, as well as the new Mobile Station from Trix, among others).  Well, I've made my choice!
The Multimuas Pro (seemingly identical to the traditional Multimaus except its wireless...and blue) is packed with the multiZentrale (the actual command box), a disc with the Rocomotion software (which seems to be a port of the Railroad & Co. software, which I didn't know) a couple of cables, and a manual.
The multiZentrale (err...command box) seems small based on all the functions we've come to expect from these little boxes, but I suppose that's the way things work in the digital world.  This Roco system is also compatible (as far as I know, I'm still learning so I'll find out) with Lenz's X-Bus system, which seems to offer a lot of interesting expansion opportunities.  I also like the fact that it has a dedicated 'output' for a separate programming track which will come in handy.  Programming with the Mobile Station was an exercise in futility (I've been using a Sprog II for programming duties to avoid the MS)
Unfortunately both the main and the programming output jacks require some sort of proprietary jack, and only one cable is provided for output to track, so I'll need to go and buy another cable that will work if I'm take advantage of the convenience of the programming track output.  Strangely, the cable Roco provided is very specifically designed for the HO gauge track, which seems sort of narrow-minded on their part.  Easy to fix with a snip and a little soldering.  It also comes with a USB cable.  If your like me, you probably have a billion of these already from all the other computer junk we've all been buying the past several years!
Of course, the real star of the show for me is the controller.  This is a huge shift from my Mobile Station, and is a radical departure from almost every other DCC controller/throttle out there.  Yes, you could say its toy-like, but I actually like the color.  So far, it seems to be the most ergonomic controller I've ever seen...can you say one-handed operation?
A new controller also means getting used to the menu structure and navigating my way through the various options.  So far, it has felt quite comfortable.  There was a moment of tension as I finally got to the point with everything connected and my first locomotive entered to see if it all works...and I let out a huge sigh of relief when it did work!  So far, no signal issues and really exciting, almost liberating, feeling as I can now walk completely around my entire layout without having to leave my controller on the other side of the room (or plug my controller in once I get to the other side of the layout).   One of my debates about this investment was some question about how much I really needed a wireless controller for such a small layout....well, I have to say, I'm glad I made the jump because this wireless operation is pretty awesome!

This system also features turnout control and route control options (and with the Rocomotion/Railroad & Co software, PC operation!), which were interesting to me for potential in the future, but I just couldn't 'get' the idea of having to switch back and forth between 'engine' and 'turnout' modes.  That opinion has changed given my brief experience with this unit and I can totally imaging converting my turnouts so that they can be controlled with this unit.

While I wish that the display offered a bit room for more than 5 characters for loco identification, I suppose that will be something I can live with.  I do like the fact that they are very large and visible characters!  The dial, with its 'center stop' and forward / reverse controlled by turning the dial either left or right is something I'll have to get used to.  The other strange thing is the power requirements (18-24VDC; 16-18VAC)...seems a bit high for N Scale, but since I'm also able to use my Trix transformer to power this system (it does not come with a power transformer), I'm not as concerned as I should be since this is the amount of voltage that I've been using for several years (still seems high....glad I put in a bunch of extra circuit breakers!).

So, despite a somewhat hefty price, I have to say I feel pretty happy with my investment.  I've only spent about 90 minutes or so running trains (mostly discovering that all my ballasting and rail-painting has still left a lot of residual gunk on my rails, so more cleaning is clearly needed) but it was a very fun 90 minutes.  More on this in the future!


Learning to Love Ballasting

Yeah, not really.  I thought I would enjoy ballasting but the anxiety with what it might do to my precious turnouts sort of ruins the whole experience for me.

The good news about 'being at the ballasting stage' is that I'm not at the stage shown in the photos above or below! Nope! The layout is wired and we're down to the scenery portion of our hobby.  

I also learned an important thing about ballasting that I know I've read a dozen times, but somehow interpreted and applied incorrectly.   We've all heard that you need to 'wet' your ballast with some mixture of water and dish soap...this is to help the glue actually flow into and around the ballast instead of 'balling' up on the surface.  For whatever dumb reason, I always interpreted this as combining the water, soap, and glue in one mixture, but its actually two separate applications! Duh! I have to say, the wet water applied to the ballast before dropping the diluted glue onto it makes a huge difference.  I really need to pay better attention.
And its taken a while...the above photos were taken SIX MONTHS ago!  Wow.  I wonder if this extension was a great idea...the money, time, and now additional track and switches to maintain...I seriously do hope I made the right choice to expand this much.   There is a part of me that is saying 'should have kept it simple!'!

What I will have - when its finished - is a decent sized passenger terminal so I have a place to park my Thalys and other passenger trains.  On the other side of the terminal, near the turnouts, is a small two track engine servicing area so I have a place to park locomotives no longer in use.  You can pretty much picture the Baden-Baden passenger station that will go in the foreground at the stub ends of these tracks. Of course, more urban environments and streets in from of the station as well.
Backing up a bit, you can see most of the layout, and the portion of the layout I've traditionally used for photos...downtown is just out of the photo on the left, and the freight yard can be seen on the left as well, before it curves around my "U" to the passenger terminal.
Most of my switches seemed to have survived the ballasting process mostly undamaged....save the occassional random ballast getting stuck in a nook or cranny where it shouldn't be.  I've got one Unitrack switch that may need to be replaced, but was able to repair a Minitrix polarized frog turnout where the power for the frog wouldn't switch and would cause a short when either the points touched the rail, or a car went across it.  I'm kind of happy that I was able to fix that!

So the layout progress rolls on....I'm actually looking forward to the next stage...scenery is one of the enjoyable parts, and I even built my own 'static grass' applicator from an electric fly swatter to do some fancy flocking work.  Woohoo!


Locomotive Roster: ACTS Class 66; Kato 10820

Time to take another look at one of the trains in my collection...the Kato ACTS Class 66!  I'd never seen one of these before I noticed this available at the usual N scale on-line retailers....what struck me was the color scheme on this particular model...bright green and gray?  Very modern and very interesting in my opinion!  I also like the Dutch slogan on the side of the locomotive ("vervoer dat spoort" which Google Translate interprets as "transport line" which sounds somewhat under-whelming).

When the locomotive arrived, I thought I had made a terrible mistake...this engine is under-sized!  What did Kato do?!!!  Well....nothing.  As I've since discovered, the prototype is noticeably and significantly shorter than a 'standard locomotive'.  According to Wikipedia, it measures 3.9m /  in height, compared to an SD-40-2 which measures about 4.8m/ 13'7" or a more plausible comparison to a NS 1600 class or BB 15000 which measures 4.3m / 14'.   It still looks quite strange behind some rolling stock, and definitely looks a bit weird next to other locomotives.

Another interesting thing....this is a Japanese made model of a Dutch prototype based on an English version of an American-designed, Canadian manufactured locomotive.  In other words, this is a locomotive created by EMD (or whatever they are called now) for the UK, and now proving quite popular all across continental Europe!

Conversion to DCC was as easy as it gets.  A very straight forward removal of the shell reveals the hefty metal chassis and the NEM 651 socket (NOTE: Please read the comments if you are looking for additional information on the decoder install for this locomotive...as with many things in this hobby, not everyone has the same experience!  Some others have shared their problems which are good to note!).
After removing the 'dummy plug' that sits in the NEM 651 socket, the appropriate decoder  (I used a Digitrax DZ125IN, which is small enough not to be an issue) is then easily inserted and VOILÀ! Your digital!  No problems or hassles at all with this install, and took all of less than 2 minutes!  It would be nice if Minitrix's NEM 651 plugs were so easy to use!  I think it would also be nice if Kato (clearly having some knowledge of the NEM 651 standard) were to start adopting it for its US models which (as far as I know from observing) often require a full board replacement and are specific to various models.  Let's not even talk about Kato's Japanese offerings....
One area where the locomotive does not live up to some of the standards that have been set by other European manufacturers is that the printing on some of the small letters and numbers is not quite as crisp compared to what you would find on a Minitrix or Fleischmann model today (and others).  Nothing that can be noticed with the naked eye in normal operation, etc...  but it is a somewhat more apparent in some of the photo close-ups.  I'll be the first to admit that this is rather on the picky side of things.....
In terms of operation, however, Kato seldom leaves anything left to be desired and that is true with this locomotive!  It is very smooth running and seemingly will have a lot of pulling power (have not really put it to the test on my 3% grades....yet).
The lights are provided by LED's, which are an appealing white color - and not the irritating 'blue white'-but a nice solid white color (not "sunny white" either however).  There are no red lights for the reverse direction.  I don't know how I feel about that myself, but I thought I would mention it.
In sum, there's never any buyer's remorse with these Kato engines....a great price for solid value!  I only wish that Kato would produce more locomotives rather than continue to produce so many that have already been well-covered by Fleischmann and Minitrix!


Train Show! UNW Model Railroad Club Show in Seattle*

This past weekend I once again had the opportunity to attend one of the larger train shows here in my neighborhood.  The United Northwest Model Railroad Club has an exhibition/swap meet show which seems to get bigger and bigger each yea.  While the show itself gets bigger, I was pleasantly surprised to see an even bigger- in fact, dominant - exhibition of N Scale layouts.

I don't know if these means that N Scale is growing in popularity, or that the smaller size and convenience of the various N Scale module systems just makes it naturally a lot easier for layouts to be created and set up for events like these, but there must have been around 6 or 7 good size N scale layouts, to perhaps 2 or 3 each in HO and O.

I'll attempt to show a few pictures of the layouts that I came across in more or less the order in which I saw them.  Unfortunately, I didn't think to take notes so I can't credit the various clubs or individuals that were behind such great works.

To start, love the beautiful track work on this layout.  Truly humbling!
Something that's hard for me to do on my home layout is to use the zoom on N scale from a distance.  A little blurrier than I would have liked, but I still really like this scene!
Another shot of the same area from a different angle:
 A different layout, this time with a Pennsylvania GG1 racing towards us....
I got pretty excited with this layout....I was fortunate enough to see the "Little Joe's" in operation in their last year of service on the Milwaukee Road, so this really beautiful model in N Scale really caught my eye!
 It wasn't just electrics on this layout...a nice roundhouse full of steam!
A really nice section where the main lines go through a valley / cross bridges....the below photo only gives a small impression of this marvelous work:
Of course, in addition to the N Scale Layouts, there was lots of other stuff.

This layout  / diorama has been present each year.  I don't know quite what to make of it, but it seems to be an O Scale diorama of an abandoned mining line with lots and lots of rusting material strewn all over.  Its a fascinating diorama that always invites my attention!
Its always nice to see what the dealers have available....I have a soft spot for O Gauge/Standard Gauge Tin plate trains...
And there was plenty of dealers with modern American products in all scales....some N Scale shown below....
The food:
And of course, something for me!  Found the below kits - which I was frankly surprised to find! - at prices well below what I would have paid on eBay!  I've been looking for any of these old Arnold kits for a long time, so I was pleasantly surprised with this little souvenir (okay, "freaked out" is a better term)! The Vollmer bank and the modern Kibri station were an added bonus!
* Not really in Seattle, about 30 miles North and East in a town called Monroe.

N Scale Nostalgia: Trix 1972 Katalog - Updates

I missed a few interesting items from the 1972 Trix Catalog in my last post....Martijn mentioned the NS1100 series  set that he picked up back in those days in the comments on the original post, and here it is on Page 11:
Also, I was looking at the various modesl for the UK that, like the North American models from those old days, Minitrix no longer produces or markets.  Here is page 19, with our representatives from the UK:
And you'll notice, of course, the old British Rail posters that Minitrix also featured in its catalog, which is shown at the top of this post. 

Finally, as I think about 1972, and the history of N Scale, we should remember it is almost (or just) about 50 years old (history of N Scale from an American perspective here at "Bills Railroad Empire", a view on the early innovations of Arnold at the "Guide to Z Scale", and there are other sites that go into more depth on the Tri-ang, Arnold, and history ofother pioneers, but I can't find the links at the moment - if you have some good links, please leave them in the comments!)!  Perhaps for some, the past 'quality' issues of this scale make it our history one of pain, rather than celebration.  However, you look at it, it is interesting.  For me (as mentioned below) and others, there are pieces of this scale going back to my childhold in the 1970's that perhaps turned to an influence on my now.  Who knows?

Finally, I wish to thank Scaleenine blog for the inspiration for sharing some of the ideas and memories from these older catalogs and companies.  I was really inspiried by his posting on Rivarrossi.


N Scale Nostalgia: Trix 1972 Katalog

1972...what a year.  Do you realize it was almost 40 years ago? So what would life have been like for our great ancestors who were alive at the time?  What would they model? What tools and practices would they apply?

Surprisingly, they will probably be using the exact same darn stuff we have today.  Especially if you buy from Minitrix!

The other thing you'll discover is that, well, it was a different time, indeed.  Apparently it wasn't just the hip rock scene that was 'dropping out'....take a look at these wacky psychedelic graphics that permeated this 1972 catalog!
Can you say groovy?  Was N scale really that cool back then or was it just Minitrix ("go pound sand you Roco nerds!"?  Sadly, these are mysteries that none of us will ever know.  And if you do claim that you 'know', please note that I have evidence of psychedelic graphics in your so-called 'train catalog', so your memories are...well, a bit suspect.

So taking a gander (as the kids used to say back then) at this catalog, we see something we see in catalogs today....icons that signify a specific feature or function. Guess what the below icon means?  It means "New", it took me a minute despite the fact that I know "neu" means what it sounds like in English as well as German!  But the font in the graphic? Its more like the security codes you need to enter to post a comment!
Anyway, getting into the actual content...on the first page you are introduced to this interesting scene....yes its a train being packed in with kids holding their Minitrix boxes!  But I have to say, that conductor dude is one scary character....doesn't he look a bit like this guy?  And check out the hat on that lady (!) ...is she their teacher? Mother? Some sort of supernatural witch that haunts the 'bahnsteig" to entice young children to trade their Minitrix sets for East German Piko sets?  We will never know.
Your probably wondering, "Hey, man, we know all about that scene, what about the loco's, man? The LOCOS!?"  Funny, because the trains are pretty much...exactly what we have today.  Yep, 40 years on and the catalog is pretty much made up of the exact items we have in the shops right now.  Well, they look really similar....
Okay, I'm being too cynical, and your probably right, I mean, Minitrix surely isn't using the same casting on its Nohabs that it was 40 years ago could it?  I mean, they are owned by MARKLIN! Surely that means that all modern Minitrix trains are the second best trains (or anything) on the whole planet (MARKLIN! being first, of course)!
And yet, there are some hidden gems in this old catalog....for example, there you see at the bottom two electric locomotives that today are still highly sought after.  They are both basically the same, except one is in the colors of SNCF  (France) and the other in the colors of the NS (Norfolk Southern, who strangely enough operate a railroad in Holland!).  How do I know they are sought after? Because they are darn hard to find...its like every modeler of both the NS (okay, the REAL NS...Nederlandse Spoorswegen, not that copy-cat branch line that runs on the East Coast of the US!) and SNCF are crawling eBay each and every day to outbid each other in their desperate attempts to get their hands on one of these little gems!
So what is the asking price for one of these NS 1100 items (Old Minitrix Catalog Number 51-2933-00)?  The 1972 Prijslist (that's "Price List" for all you non-Dutch speakers) is for 67,50.  I'm assuming that's in Dutch Guilders.  And yes, the 'comma' (for my American / Canadian, and other frontier cultures)  is intentional; they use a 'comma' where we use a decimal point....perhaps they appreciate the nice pause that a comma gives to a sentence and recognize that this is a useful feature to be had when quoting a number?  I think its a great idea!

Back to my point....so I tried to determine what the 1972 exchange rate to USD would be for 67,50 Guilders, and I couldn't find anything.  I was really curious to find out if the average eBay price for one of these (nice ones for $150, well used $75 or so?) would represent a good investment of those 67,50 Guilders 40 years ago.  If anyone can figure that out, I think it would be interesting.

This tells me something else, if there's so much (apparent) demand for these old (and by today's standards, poorly detailed, painted, and antique mechanics, although not as bad as some from the same era as they still run well) why on earth wouldn't you re-release these models again?   Yes, I know its expensive to do all the CAD, production, etc... for a new model (I don't know HOW expensive though), but given the investment in some really niche modern releases, I have to imagine that the big German companies are missing HUGE markets.  But, what do I know?

Here's something from the catalog that basically defined the Minitrix brand in my mind since I was a child....that ubiquitous U30CG!  Yeah, remember when every Class 1 railroad in the US had one of these?  Seriously, I've always thought this was a very unusual choice for Minitrix to make for one of its few US models (if you didn't follow the link to Wikipedia, only about 10 were made, and only Sante Fe had them).   On the other hand, I love it...its ugly enough to be cool in my opinion!  And it also doesn't look like anything else in the US, so its got a real distinctiveness to it that I like.
Flipping forward a few pages....we get to see a couple of cool posters Trix had out at the time.  I wonder how they look with a black light? In all seriousness, this was cool....giving away posters that are kind of hip?  Why don't they do that today?
By page 34 we get to the REAL international flavor of ye olde' Minitrix of the 1970's!  Two F-Units in the color schemes of the Canadian National and the Canadian Pacific!  Unfortunately, while the catalog makers place a cute little flag next to every little non-German train throughout the catalog, for some reasons there is no Maple Leaf flag on these two trains sets? Perhaps it wasn't clear to the editors of this catalog exactly which country the CANADIAN National or CANADIAN Pacific were located in. 
In addition to the self-promoting posters that Trix was providing, they have little pictures of apparently real railway posters throughout the catalog.  In fact, I think these are pretty darn cool, and would not mind one bit having a few of these today.  Here's a scan of a few of them from several of the pages in the catalog:
The Swiss were well represented in the above set, while below we see some from Scandinavia....

A few German posters....I really like the poster in the center.

That's it for trains...the remaining pages showcase the track and other accessories (again, the same exact things that are in their catalog today....40 years later!  Can you think of any other company on the planet that can acutally do that! What a business!) until we arrive a whole new world.

At the end of the catalog, we leave the world of trains and enter the world of desperate toy-maker diversification schemes...okay, that's not nice, cause these actually look pretty neat.  They basically seem to be very similar to the Erector sets that were popular in the US.  Kind of neat, and an unusual item marketed by Trix that I wasn't aware of.
A more detailed view of this line of products.....
Okay, that ends this diversionary post that is a look back at the products of days long past.  Well, not really, as a lot of this is still sold new.  That amazes me.  Anyway, hope you like this, I have a lot of fun looking at these old photos and I hope you enjoyed it too! 

UPDATE: More related info this post here.