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Thread: Converting Locomotives to DCC

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    Default Converting Locomotives to DCC

    I might as well get this over with. I searched by found nothing. I began seriously getting into this hobby 20+ years ago and then had kids. My trains have been boxed up for most of that time and I have a nice collection of mainly Atlas/Kato diesel locos with a couple of others thrown. Mostly GP 30/35s, a U25B, an SD45, an E8/9 and a couple of others. All are DC and none are DCC ready. DCC was a wonderful fantasy for the most part when I bought these. I can only run probably three locos on the layout I'm planning so I don't need all nine, but you know how that goes.

    Is it worth the time, money and hassle to get these converted. I know about Aztec (I live an hour from his shop) for new frames and all that. But I'm going to want to pay someone to do the install. I'll have to pay for decoders anyway. I know the cost of the new frame and the install likely won't equal the cost of a new DCC ready loco, but then again, the new loco is probably a better machine. But its not the money so much as the hassle. I'd rather be playing with my locos instead of sending them off to be retrofitted for the next six months.

    For the record, a DC layout isn't an option. I want the ease of DCC and I'm not a huge fan of wiring work. The easier, the better

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    Welcome to nSn.

    I had 30 Locos converted to DCC 4 or 5 years ago. At that time it was do it yourself or pay an expert to do it. I paid an expert and don't regret it.

    But today they're so many steam and diesel locomotives that have DCC decoders installed at reasonable prices. Kato is one exception but supposed to be a easy drop in type DCC of conversion. This is hearsay on my part I've never done it.

    If it were me I would sell all the DC locomotives and buy all new DCC locomotives. There is no waiting and you can start running as soon as the first one arrives. Of course you'll need a DCC system but they are plentiful and not real expensive.

    Anyway welcome to N Scale and you'll find plenty of info and helpful members. Some will be jumping to help out.

    See ya
    Ron
    "Men go and come,
    but earth abides." Ecclesiastes 1:4

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    So, do I understand correctly that money is not really to be considered? That if you're willing to just buy new DCC-equipped locos (or at least drop-ins with decoders), you're also willing to pay what it costs to retrofit the old ones?

    I ask, because that would mean we could focus on the question of whether the locos themselves are good enough to bear conversion, and to compare the hassle/time factor of conversion vs. the convenience/cost of a new loco.
    Never mistake a guy who talks a lot for a guy who has something to say...

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    Greetings and welcome,

    Some of the locos you have are pretty easy installs (e's and sd45-depending on version) and its probably something you could handle. I would start with those to get the hang of things and gain some experience. The GP's and U boat would be just a bit trickier. Check out the TCS page ( http://www.tcsdcc.com/public_html/Cu...ch/search.html ) and review the install instructions. They offer lots of pictures and you should be able to get a feel for the install from the pics.

    If you want to have someone else perform the surgery, you could try Tony's Train Exchange ( http://www.tonystrains.com/products/tteinstall.htm ) who have been doing these installs since the early days of DCC.

    I think its worth it to do the conversion on the atlas/kato models. They are quality engines and have a lot of life left. I don't know what you have as "others" so I can't comment on those as to worthyness to convert. But if they are good runners on DC, then they are likely candidates to convert.

    Also, I would recommend getting JMRI (Decoder Pro) when you get a DCC system. It greatly helps in the ease of programming the engines.

    Cheers,
    Craig
    Last edited by vikingservices; 12th Jan 2013 at 12:26 AM. Reason: modified sd45 statement

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    Quote Originally Posted by TwinDad View Post
    So, do I understand correctly that money is not really to be considered? That if you're willing to just buy new DCC-equipped locos (or at least drop-ins with decoders), you're also willing to pay what it costs to retrofit the old ones?

    I ask, because that would mean we could focus on the question of whether the locos themselves are good enough to bear conversion, and to compare the hassle/time factor of conversion vs. the convenience/cost of a new loco.
    More or less. I won't say money isn't a concern, but if I'm going to convert the older engines to DCC I want to make sure I'm getting something worthwhile in the end. I'd rather take a loss and sell the old engines and replace them (or some of them, I don't need nine for my planned HCD layout) and have quality, modern motive power than spend money and have something less than optimal. I'm guestimating that each loco would be between $50 and $100 to convert without the decoder. It might be cheaper to sell and replace maybe even a wash selling nine and replacing with maybe three.

    And you are right Craig. Those engines aren't the big deal the Atlas GP 30/35's will be. I've found that out today while looking around.

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    Seems to me the cost of a new engine and new decoder, even drop in, is likely to be near or over $100. I think it would be less expensive to have someone convert the current ones. Decoder costs $30 and the install is not going to be over $70 I would hope. At that point is is a push. If you really like the current locos, and they run well, then have them converted. If you would rather have new, sell the old to cover some for the cost.... comes out pretty close to the same thing.
    Sean McC

    "No man is a failure ...

    who has friends." -- Clarence

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    Quote Originally Posted by flyfishnevada View Post
    I'm guestimating that each loco would be between $50 and $100 to convert without the decoder. It might be cheaper to sell and replace maybe even a wash selling nine and replacing with maybe three.

    And you are right Craig. Those engines aren't the big deal the Atlas GP 30/35's will be. I've found that out today while looking around.
    The GP's aren't really that bad. I like the TCS CN style decoders for these, it requires very little change to the frame (file a channel), minor soldering, but it does require you to split the frame and take it apart.

    Tony's charges about $70 with the decoder.

    The only other thing I would say about the GP30/35's is that the newer ones have the "Scale Speed Motor" which may be desired.

    Cheers,
    Craig

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    I appreciate the input. It's beginning to sound as if it's a wash but I also know that this hobby has sputtered to a stop for me several times and usually due to money (not as big a problem anymore) or running into something that like this that killed my enthusiasm. I'm going the easy route and purchasing a few new locos sounds easier. I can do the others one or two at a time or sell them. But spending time worrying about conversions is likely to get me off track (no pun intended) and cause yet another run at a working layout to bog down, especially if it's not going to save me wads of cash.

    A couple of new diesels isn't going to kill me (I want to buy new ones if I'm being honest - that's half the fun isn't it?). I can put off the conversion or sale until later. Unless someone offers a compelling reason to convert, I think I'm purchasing a couple of new locos.

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    Nothing will kill your motivation like trying to convert old loco's to DCC, buy ready to go. Once you're happy with what you have, try converting. But you'll run into problems, what should go smoothly suddenly has a problem like a light won't work or the decoder won't program right. You'll pay someone to do it and they'll do something wrong and be a jerk about fixing it. There's so much that can go wrong and be horrible.

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    Converting older DC locos to DCC is not a big deal if one has the time and patience. Just get familiarized with the loco using the spookshow page. http://www.spookshow.net/locos.html (unclick boxes to select only the ones you want to look at by vendor category).
    Then study this site examples, a nice blog about installing hardwired decoders. http://n-scale-dcc.blogspot.com/ It will be very useful to study how the frame is milled for isolating the motor and make space for the decoders on the chassis. He mainly uses TCS decoders, while I prefer digitrax DZ125.

    Buy some 603 LED's or whichever you would like to use as lights. Soldering them is the trickiest part. Can get them from Far-east on ebay for a song or pay through your nose on US DCC sites. Some might also sell already wired LED's for a much higher price. Need a 360ohm resistor for each loco for light (I use SMD resistors). Get some heatshrink tubing (www.mpja.com http://www.mpja.com/prodinfo.asp?number=16326+HS or DCC sites) for the soldered points for the install.

    A dremel with cut off discs, good hobby knife with #11 blades, a few needle files (www.widgetsupply.com) and a good soldering iron with a needle tip (www.mpja.com) and you are good to go. Develop skills as you go.
    Ganesh

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    Quote Originally Posted by baronjutter View Post
    Nothing will kill your motivation like trying to convert old loco's to DCC, buy ready to go. Once you're happy with what you have, try converting. But you'll run into problems, what should go smoothly suddenly has a problem like a light won't work or the decoder won't program right. You'll pay someone to do it and they'll do something wrong and be a jerk about fixing it. There's so much that can go wrong and be horrible.
    I think you hit the nail on the head. There is a lot of what ifs that you just don't get when you buy a new loco. My SD45 and the E8/9 are pretty easy and I'll do those for sure. The others will sit in favor of buy a couple of other new DCC ready or equipped locos. Then I can convert or sell at my convenience. I'm planning on getting a couple of steam locos (the IM cab forward and maybe a GS-4), so I'llhave plenty of locos to run while I figure out what to do with the old ones.

    I know I don't have the patience to wire and solder the way that's needed to do it myself. I can admit two things I lack are patience and attention span

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    The oldest-made loco I own is an Atlas GP35 with a 1992 Atlas copyright stamped on the frame, so it's pre-DCC spec. It does has a split-metal frame and a light board. I know there are no drop-in decoders for this, but is it already DCC-friendly to some extent?

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    As long as it's a split frame motor you SHOULD be able to convert. Just google it and see if there's any tutorials, there's tutorials for almost every loco out there, and if there isn't it probably means it's such a PITA no one has done it.

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    Quote Originally Posted by MetroRedLn View Post
    The oldest-made loco I own is an Atlas GP35 with a 1992 Atlas copyright stamped on the frame, so it's pre-DCC spec. It does has a split-metal frame and a light board. I know there are no drop-in decoders for this, but is it already DCC-friendly to some extent?

    Metro,
    Here's link to an actual step by step tutorial on an Atlas GP30/35 like yours. It's an install for a TCS CN-GP decoder. These are designed specifically for these locos and are top notch decoders.

    Install requires very little milling to the frame, nothing that can't be done with a file, snap saw or jewels saw and a file with minimal soldering.

    http://www.tcsdcc.com/public_html/Cu...N_GP30-35.html

    Hope this helps?
    The Little Rock Line blog


    “Never argue with an idiot. They will only bring you down to their level and beat you with experience." George Carlin

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    For locos where space for a decoder is tight, try one of the small Z scale decoders, like the TSC Z2. I've put that one in a few older locos. Only thing is that they don't have as many function outputs.


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