Question Dipping My Toe In the Z-Scale Water

Doug A. Feb 16, 2015

  1. Doug A.

    Doug A. TrainBoard Supporter

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    Greetings Z-scalers!

    I guess I am one of you now, almost by accident. ;-) More on that in a second. You see, I'm an n-scaler at heart, and always will be...that part won't change. In fact I just started a new N layout! My thought has always been that I want to stay focused on N because it is ideal in my opinion and I want to stay somewhat in check with regards to my hobby budget. So any appeal Z has had was never enough to bring me around to the point of effectively spending part of my N budget on Z.

    Anyway, long story short, American Z Lines has their F59PHI Sets on an extreme sale and I bought two of them. I don't have any major plans for them at this point, but here is my purchasing plan:
    1. Buy a handful of Rokuhan track to get trains rolling.
    2. Later, buy one GP locomotive of some type for some freight service.
    3. Buy a handful of freight cars. I'm initially going to limit myself to no more than ten cars.
    4. Eventually buy 2 or 3 RDC-1's. (the line I want to model still runs them)
    5. Then stop.

    I like to think that I learned my lesson in N to avoid buying way too much stuff. The above is sufficient to run my joint commuter/freight line in its basic form. My goal is to really place focus on those items. So for the locomotives that means a good decoder and setting up all of the lighting packages with SMD's and doing some minor superdetailing. Same with the cab control cars...adding pickups and a decoder and then SMD's for lighting. Then perhaps a sound decoder in two of the coaches to sit behind the locos. Minor superdetailing of freight cars and some weathering of everything. So I get it....especially in Z this is all very intricate work and takes time and that is why I want to keep my collection pared down until I can get all of that accomplished. And yes, I know my way around little bitty drill bits. :-D

    At some point along the journey I intend to build a little bit more permanent layout which will likely be a smallish (2x4.5 or so) roundy roundy or some type of FreeMo-ish or T-Trak-ish modules with loops on each end. I have no major grand plans for the grandiose scenery or mega-long unit trains that is the strength of Z...the appeal to me is the compact layout with *reasonable* curves and a little run space between commuter stations. Let's call it "Z-Scale with an HO-state-of-mind." :)

    So, a couple of random yet somewhat related questions...

    1. Of the following freight locomotives, which would you recommend if you were only buying ONE:
    MTL GP35
    MTL GP9
    AZL GP7
    AZL GP9
    AZL GP30
    AZL GP38-2
    From a proto perspective, the GP38-2 is the best choice, but looking at photos online the MTL GP35 just looked better to me. (but not really available, either) Both looked ok though, and I'm sure there may have been photo issues too so I'm not dismissing anything. I really need one of the 30-series locos to start...the GP7/9 would be loco #4. (see below) The first loco would likely be a modern scheme UP loco. (versus, say, the old UP scheme AZL's GP30) I could change the era a bit and do a short line scheme on probably any of the locos....might consider that. I know it's not a feast of paint scheme riches in Z... well aware.

    2. Do Micro-Trains and/or AZL offer undec shells? I did notice MTL offers decorated "skins" (shells) although of course none available in my roads of interest. I don't have some super strong desire to custom paint a bunch of Z-scale locos, but I do have a couple of scenarios I'm looking at. And, especially would be interested in a couple of AZL RDC-1 shells, since they have to be a custom job anyway...I want to try an Alclad treatment on them.

    3. Is it possible to (relatively easily) do a low-nose conversion on the respective GP7/9's? The commuter line uses an ex-Santa Fe GP7u as their yard switcher so, if I did expand past 3 locos that would likely be the first if it was feasible. Not sure what's crammed in under the high short hood area.

    4. Decoder recommendations? Was thinking TCS or Digitrax but I'm not married to any brand...just whatever is the best solution overall is my goal. (being mindful of the lighting)

    Thanks for listening. Any other suggestions for a newbie Z-scaler are welcome.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Feb 16, 2015
  2. DSZ&N

    DSZ&N TrainBoard Member

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    #5 than stop ?? that's funny I remember when I said that. lets see where to start.

    1- One of my favorite locos is the AZL GP7 since you are modeling the UP that's the one you want it is a first generation model and uses a better motor. the drawback is a decoder needs to be soldered in. The rest all have semi drop in decoders made by TCS or digitrax. I love the TCS decoders by the way had a lot of problems with digitrax. I also like the way dc runs with the TCS unit. With the MTL products you will need to split the frame and do a little filing to fit the board in. the AZL has a board that goes in and than you just push it forward to lock in place. The AZL boards have a tendency to pop off in shipping so just a heads up. Again if your reasonably good with a soldering iron get the AZL UP GP7 and wire a TCS Z2 decoder. This combo is my most reliable engine and it pulls like a tank.

    2- Hit and miss on the undec shells AZL doesn't do them any more for lack of demand and at this point MTL is only making the F7 unit. Most people strip down a painted unit.

    3- not a lot of room to go down I would need to crack out the calipers to give you more info. I have all the engines you listed and can send pictures if you need.

    4- TCS get married to them, never had a problem with them. I will say I'm using a roco Z21 command center and digi trax might not play well with it. But I like to run my DCC loco on DC once in a while, and the TCS unit does this very well.

    hope this helps a little
     
  3. Doug A.

    Doug A. TrainBoard Supporter

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    Dave, thank you so much for the quick reply and the relevant and thorough answers. Those are hard to come by these days. ;-)

    Yes, I know...famous last words. I already got caught up surfing Shapeways and came upon some Bethgons...ugh. But, I'm really going to try and stick to this, almost as a challenge. Plus at some level there are only so many leaves on the money tree...

    Unfortunately, if I go with a GP7 it wouldn't be UP. I don't think UP has had GP7/9's for 40 years now. I would have to check rosters to see where I could go with that...probably a loaned shortline unit on the DGNO or something. So the GP7 has a better motor than the GP9, 30, and 38-2? How does that motor compare to the MTL Geeps?

    Huh, that I wasn't aware of...I thought MTL's Geeps came about well after DCC was even a question. Guess I shouldn't be too surprised, they were initially floating the idea that their N SW1500 wouldn't be DCC-ready either. Anyway, not a problem I'm no stranger to a soldering iron or a file.

    No, don't worry about pics. Thanks I appreciate it but it isn't something I'm even sure I'll approach.

    I've heard great things about TCS. I have a Digitrax system though, and I've bought almost exclusively all Digitrax for my N stuff and had good results. So...dunno we'll see. May do one of each in the F59PHI's and see how they behave.

    Thanks again!
     
  4. DSZ&N

    DSZ&N TrainBoard Member

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    The first gen GP7 used a faulhaber motor. the MTL uses a Maxxon. The newer azl uses a generic brusheless. Please don't get me wrong they run great but they are rated for a higher voltage 12v I think vs the 10v maxxon and faulhaber. I don't think this would be a problem in your case as it seem like you would be running at more scale speeds.

    If you go to zscalemonster.com I think he has either a video or instructions on the install of a decoder into any of the MT units good to watch
     
  5. DSZ&N

    DSZ&N TrainBoard Member

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    correction looks like the digitrax does not need to be filed sorry for the bad info the tcs one does.
     
  6. DSZ&N

    DSZ&N TrainBoard Member

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    one last thing. The F59PHI sets on sale are great little pullers but the cars leave a lot to be desired please don't think that is standard for Z scale. before you even open them PLEASE read the article on the AZL forum under AZL website talk post is called AZL F59PHI tips and tricks VERY IMPORTANT to get it running right.
     
  7. Doug A.

    Doug A. TrainBoard Supporter

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    Yes, thank you. I was aware of that article and have read a little about them. It's ok, they don't work well in N or HO either....lol.
     
  8. SJ Z-man

    SJ Z-man TrainBoard Member

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    The MTL GP35 (and the follow up GP9) run very well and pull 30+ cars. The later entry AZLs added a traction tire for the GP7s and then the SD7x series. Over the past 2 years, the new AZL lower cost brushless motor came into play. All run well. MTL's GPs were made partially in China (mechanisms) and they are no longer produced. Hopefully, we will see something new from them - - soon.

    As Dave commented, we have 2 drop-in boards. The MTL locos, Digitrax DZ123M0 needs a bit more on 2 notches, then drops in. The TCS MZA4 required loosing the frame halves quite a bit (and the bushings that MTL uses have location keepers on one side so they can come out and create issues squeezing it back together). The AZL decoders (Digitrax DZ123Z0 and the TCS AZL4) drop in relatively well. Still some push and shove and swipe of the file. Getting the PC boards to make goo contact to the motor tabs is the biggest issue.

    MTLs GPs were based on their F7 trucks from the mid 80's. The shell is much fatter than it needs to be. There are no road specific details. Their UP roof grey is *way* too light. AZL matches this very well. AZL used brass shims on the shell sides to noticeably narrow the body to near prototypical width and AZL adds many road specific details (horns, antennas, dynamic brake covers and tubes, etc.
     
  9. Doug A.

    Doug A. TrainBoard Supporter

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    Thanks Jeff, exactly the kind of info I was looking for.

    I kept going back to the GP38-2 being the best "fit", so I have an AZL Union Pacific one (hopefully) on the way, along with some Rokuhan track and a couple of freight cars. The price was right on the Geep, and I learned about a detail kit for it that addressed one my main concerns about it so I think it was a good decision as long as it runs decent.

    Also had someone message me out of the blue about a killer deal on an RDC-1 and a couple more freight cars. So, moving fast....still within my original spec with the exception of being a little out of order. Next up is decoders.
     
  10. Glenn Woodle

    Glenn Woodle TrainBoard Member

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    One problem with the MTL GP35 or GP9 or SD40 is they are out of production but available on Ebay. Your choice of road names may depend on your success in bidding. MTL F7's include both powered A & B units & are in current production. Older powered A with dummy B's may appear from time to time.

    GP35 may be best fit for "low nose GP9" unless you cut & swap shells.

    Undec shells are very scarce. You may be lucky to find decorated shells. Don't forget to check out factory weathered units.
     
  11. Doug A.

    Doug A. TrainBoard Supporter

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    Well, there still seem to be a few places that have certain roads in stock, but not many and of course not my roads. Regardless, I have my motive power for the foreseeable future. I will for sure buy another undec RDC-1 or two at some point but otherwise locomotive purchasing is DONE. Now I'm just waiting impatiently for stuff to arrive.

    I really appreciate all the straight shooting you guys provided. Very informative.
     
  12. Doug A.

    Doug A. TrainBoard Supporter

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    Jeff, I noted in another thread that you went "all the way" with advanced lighting for the F59PHI, and that you have photos you might be willing to share. Would you mind sending them to me? I can PM you my e-mail address or if you still have them up on FTP somewhere I can do that.

    I guess we could continue this discussion on lighting all the way around. I would also like to do:
    1. Color-correct headlights all-around. (this may already be the case?)
    2. Ditchlights on the GP38-2
    3. Lighting on the cab-control car. Assuming I'll add a decoder to handle that.
    4. Advanced lighting (and possibly interior lighting) for the RDC's. Don't know how tricky this might be.
    5. Interior lighting for the Bombardier's. Still not 100% convinced I'm gonna do this yet. I don't know how much of an interior there is or whether it could be made to look good...especially if whittling out space for a decoder in the cab car. And of course there's the issue of some type of pickup for the lighting, or a battery. Or a feed from the loco or cab car I suppose could be an option.

    Sounds like a tall order, I know. I'm prepared to really take my time, source the right components, and do it right...but I'm gonna need some guidance and suggestions. And if I find it just isn't feasible then I'm ok with that too. (and oh by the way I have a whole fleet of n-scale locos that need this treatment too, so I'm happy if I learn a few things, even in failure) I know that these lighting projects will take time, as I have little hobby time anyway, and right now I'm pushing to get my N-scale layout to a certain point of completion. But, I would still like to get the ball rolling, albeit slowly.

    EDIT: I don't want anyone thinking that I don't realize all of this is a LOT of work and takes careful planning, preparation, and mostly execution of cutting into and soldering very expensive little locomotives. NEVER will I take any of this for granted as it being easy or even achievable at all. But, it seems like you guys have the skins on the walls and can provide a place to start. By all accounts somebody has already tricked out the F59PHI, so at least there's a chance. :) I *do* know how to solder fairly good, and I can work in tight spaces and have all kinds of miniature tools at my disposal. Outside of that, I could just as easily make a big mess of things as not. lol
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Feb 18, 2015
  13. SJ Z-man

    SJ Z-man TrainBoard Member

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    I like your drive and motivation Doug. Some of us have the passion, time and skills. When I got started (back into Z) in 2005, I dreamt a lot too. :) When the GP35 came out a few years later, I had to shove a DCC decoder in it and do all the lighting. Split vertical lights, beacon, etc. It's a lot easier now. 0402 LED's, whether or not you buy them and attach the magnet wire (for under the shell path for ditchlights on the freights) or buy them from Richmond Controls already made), add EOT markers, etc.

    I can send you the 2 large Zip's via FTP. Send me a PM. The Decoder is super easy. Its the lighting in the Cab and end Cab car that's the struggle. I build a custom PCB for the loco LED's. For the end Cab Car, placed wheel wipers, like Streamline Back Shops sells and a 4 function decoder in. This gets you: red trailing, white (upper) leading and 2 ditch lights.

    I haven't done the RDC's (really should do these types of things when you think about them, otherwise they get placed behind all the new things that come in). It looks quite easy.

    With DCC, there's a simple 12 volt power source :)
     
  14. ddechamp71

    ddechamp71 TrainBoard Member

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    Interresting topic. ;)

    Not much to add.... Just to confirm that as far as I know no manufacturer offers any undec shell. Furthermore AZL doesn't offer any spare shell. And I read words from AZL executives saying their undec locomotives sales are mostly disappointing and that they plan to phase them out, with the exception of RDCs.

    Now, considering your needs, I would suggest an UP GP38-2 but I guess you already ordered one, so I've no more to add. Ah yes, just one thing, AZL's GP38-2 is the only Z scale locomotive of my knowledge that is also available DCC equipped from the factory. Its price is ~$150 instead of $100.

    Dom
     
  15. Doug A.

    Doug A. TrainBoard Supporter

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    Jeff/Dom,

    Thanks for the comments. Jeff, I sent you a PM regarding getting those pics via FTP.

    I can understand why undecs aren't worthwhile. Biggest issue being there are no decals available, or at least very few. It's even a struggle for manufacturers in N where there are tons of decals. I will have to fabricate and/or paint the decoration for my RDC's, and I was hoping to get true undecs so I could apply the Alclad system to get the more "tarnished stainless" look versus the stock streamlined silver. Not a huge deal, I can still likely strip the paint...or just leave it as-is. Other thing is, I would like to do them "assembly line" style, so I would, for example, buy 5 shells, paint them up, and then start buying RDC mech's as I could.

    MORE positive reinforcement about the AZL GP38-2, so that makes me happy. Can't wait for it to arrive. :)
     
  16. markm

    markm TrainBoard Supporter

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    Doug,

    I'd like to point out a couple of things on the RDCs. The trucks ride in slots in the shell. Without the shell, the mechanics don't stay together. This also means you have to be careful removing the shell. The trucks connect to the motor through inboard drive shafts. In removing the shell these shafts are easy to lose, hard to find, and impossible to replace. For reassembly, the shafts actually have a gear-like head and have to be fitted back into the sockets. If you find yourself forcing the trucks into the shell, they aren't engaged correctly.



    As far as the undecorated, I think the RDCs were successful because in most cases, adding to one's fleet was just a matter of adding a logo and road number on the units. As for the locos, the explanation is simple: people can't wait. If you go back and look at the posts when the GP38-2 came out, it seemed like 1/4 of the first units were striped and repainted. Then the detailing kit came out and it seemed like another 25% were customized. By the time the undecorated units came out, most of the people who could used them already striped and repainted.

    And if you need more encouragement, I've found both the RDCs and the GP38-2 to be great runners.

    Mark
     
  17. Doug A.

    Doug A. TrainBoard Supporter

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    Mark,

    Thanks for the tips on the RDC. That probably saved me from losing parts.

    I would like to have the RDC shells so that I could customize them and work on a handful of them "assembly line" style. The GP38-2 shell would just let me try a shortline scheme without much risk. Anyway, I get it...they just aren't available and that's a shame. I'm learning that Z has much different rules from the rest of model railroading, and that probably means I won't get as far into it as I thought I would.

    Having said that, I got all of my initial orders of Z-scale goodies, and I've had a BLAST today with a "snow day" half day off from work. Setup a loop of track and ran almost everything so far. Here's a PR shot...

    newZstuff.jpg

    It's been a great experience. Loco's have ran really nice and smooth for the most part. I LOVE the RDC, it's just a very very smooth, sleek, and quiet motor. And it looks great. As predicted, the F59PHI runs great, but pushing the Bombardiers has some issues...and yes, I need to swap the Bombardier floors so I'm sure that wiil help. They still actually run quite well. The GP38-2 was pretty rough to start with, but it now runs great after a little burn in period. Only knock is that the rear coupler doesn't work so I'll need to replace it and I don't have anything the replace it with at the moment.

    But as I said, overall I'm giving high marks to my first day of running trains in Z.
     
  18. Doug A.

    Doug A. TrainBoard Supporter

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    OK, so I'm going to continue down the path of lighting and DCC. I will likely eventually create a separate thread in the DCC forum, but for now I'm gonna keep this one going, mostly just to gather my thoughts a little more before getting too far into the technical side of things. So, I'm going to try and lay out the behavior I'm looking for in each loco. The big difficulty I'm having at the moment is figuring out exactly how many functions I require to do what I want to do.

    F59PHI
    1. Headlight
    2. Ditchlights (Alternating)
    3. Front Marker Lights (Red)
    4. Reverse Light (Optional)

    I'm not one to reinvent the wheel. I'm planning to duplicate Jeff's install to the best of my abilities.

    RDC1
    1. Front Headlight
    2. Front Ditchlights
    3. Front Marker Lights
    *4. Rear Headlight
    *5. Rear Ditchlights
    *6. Rear Markerlights

    This one had me stumped, but I've made a decision that should make things easier. Since the TRE RDC's ALWAYS ran in sets of at least two AND always faced the same direction, I'm simply going to only light one end of each RDC. I'm also considering making one a dummy, and possibly adding a sound decoder in the dummy unit. I don't know if that is feasible but it makes for good reality TV. :-D

    By only doing one end, I can use a 4-function decoder and have the ability to do flashing ditchlights. It seems like there might be able to be a way to do a "whole-package-directional" using some type of relay operated by one function. So functions would be side A headlight, side A ditchlights, and side B marker lights, then some type of circuit to "flip" that (based on direction?) to side B h/l, side B d/l's, and side A markers. But that's a lot of work to solve what really is a non-problem.

    Bombardier Cab Control Car
    1. Front Headlight
    2. Front Ditchlights
    3. Front Marker Lights

    Again, plan to concede to Jeff's pioneering efforts.

    GP38-2
    1. Front Headlight
    2. Front Ditchlights
    3. Rear Headlight

    UP ditchlights are solid on, so I was thinking I could possibly use a 2-function decoder and simply tie the ditchlights in with the headlight. I tried to find scenarios where headlights were on and ditchlights were off and vice-versa--and the correlation with running in reverse--but I didn't find anything consistent. Was planning to use a drop in, so the Digitrax is 2-function and the TCS is a 4-function. I will probably just go with the TCS to make it more simple to wire. Plus it was mentioned that the TCS runs well on DC, and that will let me do the GP38-2 first and keep everything else running while I get the ditchlights done on it. Then I can tackle the F59PHI/Bombardiers since I have two sets and keep one DC. Then the RDC, then F59 set two.

    Bombardier Coach
    And finally, another somewhat "pie in the sky" item was to see about putting a sound decoder in a couple of the Bombardier coaches. That will be way on down the line, but it was just a thought. I eventually plan to purchase an extra Bombardier set so I'll have couple of coaches to "sacrifice" in the name of attempting it. Not really a lighting thing of course, but mostly related.
     
  19. markm

    markm TrainBoard Supporter

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    Doug,
    A very impressive set of goals, which I think all are doable. I'll only comment on the RDC which is what I've worked the most on. First of all, trains with RDCs can be a bit of a problem in negotiating curves and turnouts. IMHO there is a solution to the issue, I just haven't found it yet. The best solution I can suggest at the moment are fixed tie bars. So you could treat MU'ed RDCs as a single locomotive. My interests are WP & SP which ran RDCs as single units. The WP used a door mounted headlight and tail light. In the single RDC, I've wired them to the lead end headlight. Perhaps something similar in your case.

    Physically, the ditch lights may be challenging: I think you'll find the placement is right in the middle of the frame. The door lights I mentioned, seemed about a low as one could go, but since WP didn't have ditch lights, not a problem for me.

    I used a DZ123, but there are better units available these days.

    Mark
     
  20. Doug A.

    Doug A. TrainBoard Supporter

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    Mark,

    Thanks for that feedback. Yes, I surmised that I might hit a roadblock that halts any one of these projects. And, I haven't cracked open the RDC yet to see what there is to see. ;-)

    It occurred to me that a picture is worth a thousand words so here's what I'm shooting for.

    RDCLightsSC.jpg

    It is apparent that the ditch lights are indeed lower than the door headlight on the WP RDC. Guess I'll have to explore what my options are including...do nothing perhaps. You can see I also have a decision point about building the headlight shroud. Might be an all or nothing kinda deal. If I can't get the ditchlights to work, I might just leave it stock, decorate it as best I can, and call it a day.

    As far as my single RDC that I have now, it works flawlessly, and I'm even using the Rokuhan curved turnouts and it likes them ok. Now granted, it's a single, and I think that is what you are referring to....the multiple units may pose the problem. I'll be running them in groups of two or three so hopefully--as you suggest--a solution can be found.

    Anyway, I'm doing this "how to eat an elephant" style....one bite at a time. :cool:
     

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