DCC decoder swapping between locomotives?

Calzephyr Mar 12, 2019

  1. Calzephyr

    Calzephyr TrainBoard Supporter

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    I literally have hundreds of n scale locomotives which were purchased as DC only. Over the past few years I began buying DCC & DCC/sound models... with an occasional DC only model when deep discounted. DCC decoders are not cheap... and I prefer the TCS drop-in ones. I could easily drop $5 grand to decoder equip every one of my DC only models... which does not settle well with me since I would rarely run them. Many of the drop-in decoders fit multiple models... which means I could swap out decoders depending on what I feel like 'playing' with. My concern is contant swapping could damage decoders... so... I wonder if this practice is being done by others trying to save on buying decoders.

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  2. Atani

    Atani TrainBoard Member

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    I wouldn't swap a decoder between locos, it will invariably result in a problem down the road with loss of contact between the PCB and frame halves. Most DCC PCBs are thinner than the DC only PCB that comes with locos so there is already going to be challenges in this area (usually solved with a solder blob on the contacts if required).

    Also for less used locos I'd recommend a hardwired decoder and you can pick these up for relatively cheap online when purchased in bulk ($10-$15 generally). I've got a large collection of DC locos that still need decoders and this is the route I'll go for them if/when I get around to getting them ready for running again (many will be left in the scrap bin for parts)
     
  3. JMaurer1

    JMaurer1 TrainBoard Member

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    I LOVE everything about TCS decoders...except the price. I have dozens of older Atlas locomotives that require the TCS CN decoders (MSRP $49 each). I also remember how everyone including the NMRA was originally saying that decoders would eventually cost $5 once enough manufacturers started making them (I knew that was a lie even at the time). Even the simplest install is not THAT quick and easy, I would consider swapping shells in order to run 'other' locomotives, but not decoders. Just too much work and running the risk of damaging the decoder. Also, in my case, I would have to reprogram the decoder so all the speeds matched (for MU running). While I hate the thought, you are just going to have to bite the bullet and buy decoders as needed and/or thin down your locomotive fleet. I know that I have easily 10 times more locomotives than I will even need for anything I ever build or want to run.
     
  4. Atani

    Atani TrainBoard Member

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    That is the theory for most technology items like this. The cost of parts in a decoder are generally *VERY* low but the R&D, support and licensing (sound locos) is where the cost really comes in. In theory you could use a few SMD components (ATTiny/PIC/etc) to create a PCB for under $5 likely today but most people wouldn't go for that route due to the challenges that come with SMD components (reflow, etc).

    I'm in the same boat likely and another good reason for some of the older DC locos I have to sit in the scrap bin for parts :)
     
  5. bill pearce

    bill pearce TrainBoard Member

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    Not only would you damag the decoder PC board, but the constant removing and replacing the shells, and in some cases loosening and tightening the screws that hold the frame halves together will not go well.
     
  6. MK

    MK TrainBoard Member

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    All the above and not worth it. Also it becomes a real pain if you do a lot of speed matching with speed curves, etc., unless you have profiles set up for each loco in JMRI. But you still would have to reload each one as you swap to a different loco. And all the possibilities of damage (both decoder and shell) as noted by the people above.

    Here's an analogy. You have a fleet of cars but only one battery where you swap it between cars. Oh yeah, each have radio stations and power seat position presets. Remove the battery and there goes the settings! :D

    Oh yeah, that's like the politicians saying "Once the bridge is paid for there will be no more tolls." o_O
     
  7. Ryan Wilkerson

    Ryan Wilkerson TrainBoard Member

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    For some seldom used locos of the same type and fuel tank/truck color, I just install DCC into one and swap frames. Then it just takes changing the decoder address and it's up and running.

    Also, if you run a group of locomotives in say 3 or 4, you can possibly create one or two dummies so they roll freely and don't require a decoder.

    I ended up selling some locos to both defray the cost of decoders AND reduce the number of locomotives needing decoders (2 birds with 1 stone).
     
  8. Inkaneer

    Inkaneer TrainBoard Member

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    Maybe it is time to thin the herd??? A lot of us and probably more on the scale of 'most of us', have more locomotives than we actually use. I think the 'feeding frenzy' that accommodates new releases has a lot to do with it. I sold off some of my locomotives. Hated to see them go but hey, I survived. Getting ready to sell off some more too. First to go are the ones that are not easily converted to DCC (need frames milled) then come the ones that I've either lost interest in or do not fit in with my proposed future plans. Planning to do the same with rolling stock too.
     
  9. DCESharkman

    DCESharkman TrainBoard Member

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    Right now I am seeing about a 25% decoder failure rate, and that is on decoders that have never been in any other locomotive. SO moving them around seems like a fool's errand to me. And I have more than enough right now to replace rather than invite more possible troubles.
     
  10. Calzephyr

    Calzephyr TrainBoard Supporter

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    Yikes... failure rate seems high... new decoders??? Why is that happening???
    Based on that stat... 13 of the 52 decoders I just bought will be DOA.

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  11. DCESharkman

    DCESharkman TrainBoard Member

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    Some of the failures are for decoders installed years ago, I have only had 1 defective new decoder out of the last 50 or so I have purchased to install. Some are because of a known issue with a bad code load in TCS decoders and the balance are all Digitrax and a reason I have stopped using Digitrax completely.
     
  12. jdcolombo

    jdcolombo TrainBoard Member

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    In addition to everything else folks have said, I'll add this:

    David, you just won't do it. Honestly. It sounds so simple in theory. Take the decoder board out of Loco A and put it in Loco B.

    But it's not that easy. Even "drop in" boards require you to remove the shell from the donor loco, loosen the frame screws to get the old decoder board out, then take the shell off the target loco, loosen THOSE frame screws, get the "drop in" situation in the frame, tighten the screws, reprogram the decoder to a new engine number (and maybe reprogram the speed curve, since no two locos run exactly the same), check to make sure it all works, get frustrated when it doesn't (which will be often - usually the result of poor contact between the motor brush contacts and the board), fix it, then put the shell back on.

    Think about it. How many times would you REALLY do this? You'd get to the point where ballasting track would be a more attractive option (and when you've gotten to that point, all hope is lost :)).

    The reason decoders aren't $5 is the same reason 50" LED TV's aren't $100. Someone probably could build a basic bare-bones 50" HDTV for a parts cost less than $100. But instead of making a $100 TV, the manufacturers add features: 4K, wide color gamut, motion interpolation, on-board IPTV capability, etc., etc., You could make a $5 decoder, but it wouldn't have the terrific motor control ESU and Zimo have; wouldn't have 50 different lighting options; wouldn't have four or six function outputs, etc.

    Technology has a very predictable cost curve. At the beginning of new tech, it is VERY expensive and only crazy first-adopters buy it. Then the cost drops rapidly, but eventually the curve flatlines, because manufacturers add new "features" rather than reduce prices. And even though people would have been happy with that $100 50" bare-bones LED TV 10 years ago, today they WANT (or think they want) 4K capability, motion interpolation, 64-zone black adjustment, on-board ROKU, etc. So the price never drops below $500.

    It ain't gonna work, David. Trust me. :)

    John C.
     
  13. Calzephyr

    Calzephyr TrainBoard Supporter

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    Yes... thinning the herd has been on my mind for a while. I have a bunch of older non-DCC friendly locos which may never see daylight again. I could probably find two or three dozen of those to put on eBay which could finance upgrades to DCC friendly locos. Some of those non-DCC friendly models are not produced by another manufacturer yet... so parting with those might be difficult.

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  14. tehachapifan

    tehachapifan TrainBoard Member

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    It's a good time to sell. Seems everything N scale is fetching about 3 times what it was a year or two ago.
     
  15. MK

    MK TrainBoard Member

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    Provided you can bank the money. Else the new stuff you buy will be 3 times the cost also. :D
     
  16. DCESharkman

    DCESharkman TrainBoard Member

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    I am not seeing that!
     
  17. BNSF FAN

    BNSF FAN TrainBoard Supporter

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    Me either. Any tips on where to try and sell to get those kind of dollars?
     
  18. DCESharkman

    DCESharkman TrainBoard Member

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    Here is the stack from the last 2 weekends of working with the speed matching: IMG_0793.JPG

    All decoders were installed at least 3 years ago
     
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  19. tehachapifan

    tehachapifan TrainBoard Member

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    Maybe there was just a crazy dip a couple years ago, but it seems like prices for the same (used) N scale stuff came way up this past year or two. If nobody else is seeing it, maybe it's just what I'm looking at.
     
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  20. JMaurer1

    JMaurer1 TrainBoard Member

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    I believe that prices have increased some, but I don't think we will ever see people paying hundreds, let alone thousands of dollars for MT cars ever again. Engines seem to have slightly higher prices usually because they already have a decoder or sound installed saying the buyer the effort or they haven't been run in awhile.
     

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