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Convince me not to give up in frustration


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So, I have wired up my wall-hanging layout with a switchable DC/DCC system. I will have details up on my website soon, but suifice to say it was enough of a pain that I considered throwing my layout into the dumpster. A wall-hanging, limited space layout is not exactly a joy to work with.


I had thought the worst was over.


Today, I installed (or began to install) a Digitrax DN163K0a DCC decoder ( http://www.digitrax.com/ftp/dn163k0a.pdf )  into my Kato EF-66. It's a "plug and play" decoder, and ideally should have taken me about 15 minutes, tops. It basically involves removing the old circuit board, wrapping some tape around the pickup rails, and putting in the new board.


The LEDs on the new board are about 5mm too long on either end, which invoves either cutting them off and soldering new wire in, or, in the easier cae, carefully folding the leads to make them the right length. That part was a giant PITA, but worked out OK.


Installing the decoder seemed straightforward. I followed the steps (after getting the legible PDF from the Digitrax website). The whole works is held together with a stupid plastic clip on the top of the circuit board. Placing it on the track, the lights work, but no motor response. The manual says "ckecjk for shorts!", the only place being the taped pickups.


Try again. This time forward, no backward.

Agaiin, Backward, no forward.

Again. Lights only.

Again. Success! This is where I discover the LED leads are too long.

Again. Lights, forward.

The tape seems fine. If it's shorting out, I have no idea where.

I look again. Many times. I see no flaw.

I try it out again, and discover it works if pressure is placed on the clip holding the assembly together. As I don't really want to run a loco with no shell with a finger pressing on the top, I try taping it down, as suggested. No luck there.


By this time three hours have elapsed, and my profanity vocabulary is exhausted.


The cheaptastic plug holding the works together seems flimsy, at best. As installing the taped pickups likely creates tiny holes for shorts, I am at a loss as to how to proceed.


It's not like installing circuit boards is hard. I've built computers from scratch, and I've disassembled my computer's card reader to fix it. If this DCC stuff is this finicky, I'm at a loss as to why I shouldn't toss the whole works away, buy a Playstation Portable and play Densha de Go instead.


I really enjoy the modelling aspect of it. Unfortunately, all I've done for months is solder wire in extremely tight places to create questionable connections and now the damn thing doesn't work.


If anyone could supply information on how to make the stupid clip on top actually hold the assembly tightly enough to produce an electrical connection, I would be most grateful. Or any other advice, for that matter.


Thank you for reading this rant, I will try to be more coherent in the future.

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Martijn Meerts

The only suggestion I can think of isn't a very useful one as such, but you could consider using a standard decoder that you have to solder rather than a drop-in board. I've installed a few drop-in boards and plug & play decoders, and all of them have had issues. And then I'm not just talking about Kato for example, but also the big, expensive european brands like Trix and Marklin.


Would be easier to possibly give more useful advice if you'd post some pictures of the original board, replacement board, and the install.



In general though, DCC can be annoying, especially in N-scale, as it's very sensitive and power pickup isn't always the best. I've had decoders that took me days to get installed ;)

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Kashirigi - First off, besides the situation, it's good to hear from you again! Okay I'll say it, don't give up, I like what you're doing on your wall-hanging layout, you've convinced me to order the cars for my layout. There can be a lot of frustration in building layouts and problems that you never anticipated. (Like building a 16x12 layout only to find a water leak in one of your pipes which happens to be directly located in the ceiling smack in the middle of your layout--and yes I had to take it apart and move it before the plumber came.)

    DCC can be really tricky, even when you did everything right, it sometimes just doesn't work. I had one train, a Roco trans Europ, that had no space to install a decoder but was determined to do it. 6 hours latter and 2 fried decoders I finally got it to work--how? To this day I can't tell you but I will never open that train up again. There were many times I wanted to throw that train in the garbage but what I did to keep my sanity was stop working on it and work on something else on my layout, anything else. So this happens to a lot of us. I think one solution is to post pictures like Martijn suggested and some member or members can give you a step-by-step process of what might work.

    I look forward to hearing from you.

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Martijn Meerts

Another thing, no matter how frustrating model trains can be at times, or how long it takes before you can run something, the moment you see trains pulling into a train station and coming to a slow stop to wait there for a minute before slowly accelerating again is well worth it. Especially if you run with computer control, I can sit and watch trains run on my father's layout for hours, and still be amazed that everything works ;)


In a few weeks time I'll have some video's of my father's layout, I'll post them so you can see what I mean ;)

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Don't give up! This happened to me the first time I installed a DN163k0a, too.


The trick is to solder the pickups to the decoder board. The plastic clip does not work like it's supposed to. I swear this will end your frustration, and future installs will, knowing this step must be taken, be much easier.

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More detail.


If when installing a DN163K0a or similar decoder any of the following symptoms occur:

  • lights on, but no movement (same as symptoms of a shorted motor with a Digitrax 3-series decoder)
  • erratic movement
  • erratic lights

AND these symptoms disappear while pressing down on the plastic clip, then soldering the decoder in place is indicated. (Otherwise you may have an actual short that needs addressing. The tape that Digitrax supplies is pretty good, but you have to be sure to wrap the tape all the way around the brass pickups and not just on one side only, as the edges are conductive too. I wrap my picksups at least three times to be sure.)


This is actually pretty easy. Make sure the decoder is centered properly before you begin, because soldering it in fixes its location. You also need three hands. One hand holds the solder between the folded-over brass pickup and the contact pad on top of the decoder. One hand works the soldering iron by pressing gently on top of the brass pickup. One hand uses a tool like a nylon spudger or long tweezers to hold the brass strip down. If you don't do this last bit, the strip is springy, and will pop up when you remove the iron, leaving a mess of solder beneath. Yuck. It is hard to avoid melting the plastic side-frame a little bit, but it doesn't hurt anything.


Below is a photo of how it should look when complete.


I've done this install three times now. The first time was an afternoon spent cursing. The second time went better. By the third time, removing and clipping the LEDs and soldering the contacts in place was second nature. Trust me, it gets easier  ;D


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I even had the same problem with a Kato 29-351 decoder in the Kato E4 shinkansen. I eventually just wedged solder betwween the clips that kept the decoder in place but it effectively came down to that or running the train with my finger on it.

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I'm about to start trying to install my decoder again. I never considered soldering -- that's a great idea. However, it makes going back to DC more difficult if I need to. . .


I did buy a roll of kapton tape, because I'm convinced the stuff that came with the decoder was full of holes, and therefore shorts.


I tried wrapping it around more than once around the pickup rails, but all that did was make it impossible to hold the decoder board in, even with  tape.


I will post my results here when I can.


Thanks to everyone for your help and encouragement.




Thanks to CaptOblivious, a working solution has been found!


It's a little different and more easily reversible than your solution. You solder the connection to create an electrical connection, because none exists. I was hoping for a non-permanent solution, so I needed to substitute the solder for something else. I found a paper thin, easily cut conductor in my kitchen cabinet. I needed only two pieces of aluminum foil, about 2cm x 3mm. Fold the strips of foil in half three times or so, then slide the pieces between the brass tabs and the connection on the circuit board. Press the cheap plastic tab into place and all works like a charm. If you make the foil piece shorter than the brass tab, the connection will still be good, and the brass will wrap around nicely, not putting too much stress on the plastic clip holding the works together.


As an added bonus, it's easily reversible and takes much less fine motor skill than soldering.


I will take some pictures to show you what I mean in case it's not immediately clear.

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So here's my super-easy procedure:


1. Cut aluminum foil.


2. Fold in half three times


3. Cram under brass tabs.


4. Move on to next project.

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