I enjoyed working in N, and the tiny space I had available made it the only option really, but a few things are beginning to frustrate me:
- the obvious - it's so SMALL! My eyes are starting to get long-sighted now and working in this size is only going to get harder
- to achieve decent running, the track needs to be SO CLEAN - a dust particle is a big deal to an N gauge locomotive
For my next layout I'll have much more space (well, once I've cleared out a huge built-in cupboard, dismantled it, redone the flooring, decorated the room etc. - not to mention decided how to dispose of my current layout - so its not exactly imminent!) so I started mapping out what I could achieve in 00 gauge. I want a continuous run, but only have about 3 feet depth (plenty of length). So I ran into all the predictable 00 issues = unrealistic tight curves, only being able to run short trains, trying hard to disguise the 'train-set' look . . . No, 00 is not for me, sorry.
So I planned out what I could achieve in N. Double track, long trains, sweeping curves - so much better than 00 - only I knew my frustrations above would still be there. What to do?
Then I thought about 0-16.5 (this is 0 scale 7mm:ft narrow gauge running on 16.5mm gauge track)
- huge scale where you can actually see everything!
- tight curves are realistic (ish)
- short trains are realistic
- these narrow gauge railways have so much character (e.g. Talyllyn)
- they are cheap Hornby ones of relatively poor quality
- they are largely only available secondhand
More research showed that actually some of the Hornby mechanisms are better than others, and there are other options (e.g. Bachmann, Model Power). Hence I sourced a good condition second hand Hornby 'Bill' on eBay - which I am told is a much better mechanism than the ubiquitous 'Smokey Joe', mainly due to reduction gears - and tried it out on a small length of 00 track. It ran pretty nicely on DC actually (though looks ridiculously toy-like of course!)
IMG_8008 by Pink Nosed Penguin, on Flickr
IMG_8009 by Pink Nosed Penguin, on Flickr
IMG_8029 by Pink Nosed Penguin, on Flickr
But of course I am a DCC convert and am aware that a decent decoder can improve the quality of slow running. I also am vaguely aware of the concept of 'stay alive' modules (though they were always far too big for my N gauge locos). More research showed that the 'Rolls Royce' solution for this is the Lenz 'Gold' decoder with a 'Power-1' stay alive.
A stay alive is basically a large capacitor that stores energy so that, if contact with the track is lost for any reason, it can supply the decoder temporarily until contact is restored. Of course the larger the capacitor the more energy it can store, but such a capacitor is physically large too. Lenz have managed to get the largest 'energy-store to size' ratio currently available (AFAIK) through the use of clever electronics:
Ref: http://www.rmweb.co.uk/community/index.php?/topic/51053-keep-alive-stay-alive-decoders/page-21. Use of very high performance capacitors to reduce the size.
2. Use of low voltage capacitors to unsure maximum charge can be achieved.
3. A DC-DC converter to get all the power out of the capacitor.
Not only that, but the Lenz system even continues to receive the DCC signal when contact has been lost!!! They do this (according to the same reference above) by:
4. Comparator input circuit to amplify a miniscule DCC signal to something readable.
The reference goes on to say:
The amount of increase in performance of all of this is huge, (1) gives you a 200%-300% improvement, (2) gives you a 75% improvement, (3) gives another 300%-400%, and (4) allows you to drive the train. Take all of this in to account and the Lenz solution is equivalent to having a capacitor twenty five times the size of the simple solution used by the other manufacturers.
So I just had to try this out!!! I purchased the two Lenz items (not worrying that combined they cost twice as much as the actual loco!). The small circuit board is the decoder, and the larger black-encased module is the Power-1:
IMG_8032 by Pink Nosed Penguin, on Flickr
I used this Hornby link to show me how to install the decoder to my Bill. Here are before and after shots of my temporary attaching of decoder to the loco chassis:
IMG_8013 by Pink Nosed Penguin, on Flickr
IMG_8033 by Pink Nosed Penguin, on Flickr
With my hands in my mouth I placed the loco on my test track and connected to my DCC controller. It runs - yay!
But not only that, it runs for several seconds when no contact with the track!
But not only that, it receives DCC instructions whilst not in contact with the track!
Slow running for such a cheap 'toy' mechanism is not bad either:
So, to continue my experiment with 0-16.5, I have now ordered a 'Mars' Smallbrook kit to convert my Bill into a Peckett style Saddle tank in 7mm:ft scale, in which I am hoping to hide the electronics! The arrival of this kit is now eagerly awaited (!) though I am away over half term so may not be able to continue with this for a short while . . .
Sorry for such a long post (did anyone reach the end of it?)!