Is there a trick to programming the Athearn Challenger (N scale)?

SteamDonkey74 Mar 4, 2009

  1. SteamDonkey74

    SteamDonkey74 TrainBoard Supporter

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    Well, as fortune would have it one of the guys at a nearby HO club showed up at my NTrak club last night with several N scale items from a relative. Apparently, the relative has had some serious strokes and is no longer able to do his model railroading, but he wanted his N scale stuff to go to people who would appreciate it.

    So... right there in the pile was a new or nearly new Athearn Challenger. I was encouraged to run it on our layout (which is still DC) and it worked great with the little controller. I negotiated a price and bought it.

    This thing is gorgeous. As far as detailing, Athearn really knocked it out of the park on this one.

    I brought it home and put it on my test track hooked to my Zephyr, and all of the little functions and stuff work really well and it goes forward and back and whatever, so no complaints there.

    My problem is that I keep getting "d na" when I try to program the loco on my programming track. I am wondering if anyone else has had the same problem. I tried the resistor across the rails trick. I was using paged mode. I also tried using ops mode on my test track and also got nowhere going that route. I have since read a lot of online banter here and on a few other boards from a year or two ago about how others had similar problems trying to program their Challenger.

    Did I mention how enthralled I am to own the 3985, barely or possibly never used, for a discount price?

    Anyway... I could not find any threads where it seemed anyone had resolved this issue. I would like to make this loco something other than LOCO '03' and also fiddle with a couple CV's. If there is some sort of trick (e.g., throw salt over your shoulder, grasp a 1k resitor in your right hand and utter the incantation "oh, how I miss you, Sunrise Detail Parts") I would love to know it.

    Thanks!

    Adam
     
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  2. SteamDonkey74

    SteamDonkey74 TrainBoard Supporter

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    When I say that I am having trouble programming, I guess I should add that I have tried PAGE and OPS mode, and that I cannot read the CV's back. Someone mentioned in another thread that the Challenger's decoder may not support such a thing. If that is true, that may be my problem. I'll just have to learn to program in the dark.

    (I like CV readback.)

    Adam
     
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  3. dowish

    dowish New Member

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    The Athearn Big Boy and from what I've seen and heard the Challenger also, do not support CV read. I also have to use ops mode programing, at least on my Big Boy.
     
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  4. SteamDonkey74

    SteamDonkey74 TrainBoard Supporter

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    All right... I will try that. In retrospect I think I was taking inability to read CV's as inability to program. My Atlas SD9 with preinstalled decoder supports CV readback, as does my Con-cor Goose. Maybe I will simply have to put this one on the Sprog track and use DecoderPro to visually put in what I want so that I don't get confused.
     
  5. CSX Robert

    CSX Robert TrainBoard Member

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    I guess I'm lucky, because I have never had any trouble programming my Challenger with my Zephyr on the programming track; however, I do know that some people have not been able to get it to work. If it won't program on the programming track, you should be able to program it in ops mode, but there is also an issue here. With the Zephyr(at least with mine), the automatic 4-digit address programming does not work in ops mode(it programs CV17 and stops). The automatic 4 digit address programming does work with a DT series throttle plugged into a Zephyr. I also believe it works with JMRI using a Zephyr, although I have not tried it(I have JMRI, but I have not done any address programming with it). If you do not have a DT series throttle or JMRI, and you want to program a 4-digit address in ops mode with a Zephyr, then you have to program CV17, CV18, and CV29 by hand seperately. You can use this 4-digit address calculator and this CV29 lookup table to determine the values to program(make sure you program CV17 and CV18 before you program CV29.
     
  6. SteamDonkey74

    SteamDonkey74 TrainBoard Supporter

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    Robert,

    Thanks for that info. The thing I had noticed was that I couldn't program it's address as 3985, but I hadn't done any of this other stuff.

    I have JMRI and an interface so I may just go that route.
     
  7. mfm_37

    mfm_37 TrainBoard Member

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    You may be able to program it using Direct mode. (Pd)
    I've had some success programming the Challengers that way and also in Ops mode on the main line. Have yet to be able to read one.
    You also mentioned a SPROG. That will program anything that moves so by all means use the SPROG. I held a couple of late night sessions in my hotel room in Louisville last summer programming sound decoders with my SPROG. It didn't miss.

    Martin Myers
     
  8. jrwirt

    jrwirt TrainBoard Member

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    I helped a couple members program these at our club. Digitrax will not let you change the CVs that control the address using OPS mode. If you think about this for a second, you will understand why that is. You have to use Service Mode to change the address.

    What is going on is that some decoders do not properly acknowledge a programming command in Service Mode (i.e. on the programming track). The NMRA spec says that a decoder should be able to issue an acknowledgment by increasing the current draw on the programming track by at least 60 milliamps for 5-7 milliseconds. A decoder usually does this by briefly kicking the motor and/or flashing the headlights. (Now you know why your loco nornally does a little jig when you program it.) When you program a four-digit address, three CVs need to the changed in the decoder for this to happen correctly. (CV17, CV18, and CV29) The command station is listening for an acknowledgement from the decoder after sending each CV so that it knows it can send the next packet. If it does not "hear" the decoder acknowledge each command, it thinks there is a problem and will stop the programming. In fact, the decoder usually gets the command okay, but just does not respond properly. This is how one or two of the CVs can get changed, but the address will not control the locomotive because the remaining CVs have not been set correctly.

    For decoders like this, you need to set CV17, CV18, and CV29 individually on the programming track. You will still get an error back from the command station, but in all likelihood the CV was changed properly. There is a method to calculate these values, but here is a link to a calculator that will tell you the values for CV17 and CV18 given the desired address: Calculation of CV settings for 4-digit (long) address. Using address 3985 as an example, CV17 needs a value of 207 and CV18 equals 145. In addition to these two CVs, you also need to change CV29, by adding 32 to whatever value is already stored there. If you don't know what is already stored in CV29, you are usually safe in setting it to 38. This will set the decoder for four-digit addressing, let it run in 28/128 speed step mode, and allow it to run on DC power also. If you need to change the normal direction of travel for a locomotive, add 1 to this value and the loco will run backward when you tell it to go forward with the throttle. (Useful for MUing using simple consisting.)

    This is also why some decoders cannot be read. The same acknowledgement mechanism is used by the command station when it tries to read a CV from a decoder. It is looking for that 60 mA current draw for 5-7 mS. The command station plays a game of "256 questions" with the decoder to discover the value of a CV. The command station will ask the decoder, "Is CV 17 equal to 0?". If the answer is "yes" the decoder is supposed acknowledge with a current draw. If the answer is "no" the decoder does nothing and after a brief pause, the command station will ask, "Is CV 17 equal to 1?" This continues until either the decoder says "yes" or the command station tries 255 and gets no answer. (Have you noticed how the larger the number in a CV the longer it takes to read? This is why.)

    Now, aren't you sorry you asked this question! :)
     
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  9. river_eagle

    river_eagle TrainBoard Member

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    you have to manually program cv 29 for four digit address, the zephyr piggybacks the cv 29 change while setting the four digit address, but the MRC decoder will not accept it.
    Set the Address, exit fom page mode, re-enter page mode, and set cv 29.
    This is an issue with several brands of sound decoders that seem tohave trouble with this function.
     
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  10. SteamDonkey74

    SteamDonkey74 TrainBoard Supporter

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    Thanks for all the help, folks. I was able to easily follow these steps and make the address '3985' instead of '03'.

    My biggest problem was that I was hung up trying to read CV's. I didn't realize the decoder wouldn't support that. Most of my other decoders are TCS or Digitrax or the Lenz ones that come in Atlas engines, and they all support read-back. I learned that not all decoders do this.

    I also learned that Digitrax's documentation that comes with the Zephyr is just enough for Paged and OPS programming and pretty meager for Direct or whatever the other mode is called. It explains how to set up a service track and how to select those modes, but it doesn't tell you why you might select one of those modes in certain cases.

    I understand why a command station would possibly be designed to not let you rename decoders on the main in OPS mode, but I thought I would try it and see, since this was the only loco on the line, whether it would work.

    The documentation that came with the Challenger is okay but not great. It did, at least, give me the default value for CV 29, which turns out to be 2, so I just added 32 per the suggestion above and then I had no problem programming CV 17 and CV 18 to get what I wanted.

    I will probably use JMRI and my Sprog II USB for any further programming of this loco. I guess I am just so spoiled by readback that if I don't have some sort of user interface I feel lost. I'm an architect - I get lost if I don't have a visual aid.
     
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  11. CSX Robert

    CSX Robert TrainBoard Member

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    This was true of the old DT100 throttle, but is not true with a DT300 or DT400, or the built in throttle of the Zephyr.
     
  12. SteamDonkey74

    SteamDonkey74 TrainBoard Supporter

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    I was trying to use my Zephyr in paged mode and using the more automated procedure of just forcing a 4 digit address on the loco, which the MRC decoder apparently does not support.

    Hey, I love this locomotive. It looks super-sweet, and considering what I paid for it (about 1/2 of what most discount shops charge) I have little room to complain.
     
  13. jrwirt

    jrwirt TrainBoard Member

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    Do we really want to tell people they can do this? By just saying they can't, I had thought I might forestall frustration without a long explanation. I guess I should have made myself more clear...You can try to program the decoder address using OPS mode, but it is likely that you will not get the desired result. But you are right, the DCS50 and DT400 will let you try. I consider this feature to be a design flaw.

    To change a four digit address the command station is going to try and change two CVs: 17, and 18. In OPS mode you are sending the two packets to a specific decoder address. As soon as you change CV17 or CV18, the address you have dialed up on the throttle may no longer exist in the decoder. I say may because you might get lucky if CV17 gets changed first and the two addresses have the same mod(256) value. In general though, trying to use OPS mode to program the CVs which determine the four-digit address is a bad idea.

    Here is an example...You have a locomotive with a decoder programmed to address 2904. That means that CV17=203 and CV18=88. You dial it up on your thottle, go into OPS mode and attempt to change the address to 1234. This would change CV17=196 and CV18=210. You dial up 1234 on your throttle and can't control the loco. You try 2904 and that doesn't work anymore either. But if you dial up 1112 (CV17=196, CV18=88), you can now control the locomotive. What the heck happened?

    The command station sent the packet to address 2904 changing CV17 to 196. This means that address 2904 no longer exists. The next packet sent to change CV18 to 210 is ignored because the decoder address is now 1112, not 2904.
     
  14. CSX Robert

    CSX Robert TrainBoard Member

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    Actually, I think we should, although I should have mentioned the possible problems of trying to change the 4-digit address in Ops mode(I usually do, but forgot to this time). If we tell them they can't, then what are they to do if they come across a decoder that they can not get to program on the program track(I have heard of people with Challengers and with engines with Tsunamis that they could not get to program on the program track no matter what they tried)? They can get a program track booster, but I hate for someone to spend money on something that they don't necessarily need.

    If you are doing address progamming in Ops mode, you should never try to directly change the 4-digit address. If you have 4-digit addressing enabled and you want to change the address, simply program a 2-digit address, and then select the 2-digit address and then you can program a new 4-digit address.

    Another tidbit: If you have 2-digit addressing enabled and you want to change the address to another 2-digit address you don't have to worry about the problem Jim described with 4-digit addressing, since it only takes one write to change the 2-digit adderss; however, some decoders will not let you change the currently active address, so you would have to program a 4-digit address and use the 4-digit address to program the new 2-digit address.
     
  15. SteamDonkey74

    SteamDonkey74 TrainBoard Supporter

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    I know that it's a pretty dumb idea to program an address in OPS mode normally. Currently, my layout consists of only a few pieces of track on some benchwork. I had thought that, since Paged mode didn't seem to be working, that I would try OPS mode on the main.

    Here's the nut of my problem, which is no longer a problem: I don't have a full understanding of what the different modes are. I understand the difference between programming track sorts of modes (Page, dir, Phys) and mainline (OPS). I also understand that it's kind of a dumb idea to program certain CV's on OPS. It's really better for fine-tuning a few operating CV's, e.g., acceleration of a particular locomotive.

    As far as the rest, I consider the Digitrax manual that came with the Zephyr to be a little thin. It does walk one through programming some CV's in Paged mode, which it says is the usual mode they recommend. In it, it walks you through reading back the CV's as part of the process. Being relatively new to programming DCC decoders, I thought that if I wasn't getting CV readback that I wasn't getting any programming done. I now see that is not exactly the case.

    I still have little idea what separates Page mode from dir mode from Phys mode. I understand Physical register is kind of an older method. If I knew a little about Page and dir I might be able to better pick the appropriate method for each decoder situation.

    On the other hand, I do have a Sprog II just waiting for me to update the Java on my train room iMac so I may just do most of my more major programming using that.

    Thanks for all your help in this thread,
    Adam
     
  16. jrwirt

    jrwirt TrainBoard Member

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    Yes, I guess that is true. Since the default is a two-digit address, OPS mode will get your four-digit into the decoder as long as CV29 is last to be changed. And that is the case with Digitrax systems.

    There is just more to the story of OPS mode address changes with a couple gotchas' and people need to to be clear what is really going on so that they don't end up wanting to go back to DC. :)
     
  17. 308GTSi

    308GTSi TrainBoard Member

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    I know this is an old thread buuuuuuuuuuut ...........

    My dad has bought an Athearn Challenger and we want to set it up so the sound functions like bell and whistle show up on his throttle.

    The club track we run on has Decoder Pro and he has Engine Driver for the throttle.
    I have a Digitrax PR4 and a length of track for programming at home.
    The PR4 can't seem to communicate with the Challenger for any programming to happen.

    Would buying a Sprog 2 or 3 solve this problem ? Dad's happy to buy a Sprog if it simplify's the whole process. What would be more suitable for the Challenger ...... a Sprog 2 or Sprog 3 ????

    :)
     
  18. Sumner

    Sumner TrainBoard Member

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  19. Hardcoaler

    Hardcoaler TrainBoard Member

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    As a DCC newbie, I can't offer much help, but my (now quite dated probably) MRC Prodigy Advance is able to program my Athearn Challenger without problems. I read in the directions that "Double clicking your headlight button (F0) will turn the steam sounds on and off. When the steam sounds are turned off, all associated sounds are also turned off."
     
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  20. BigJake

    BigJake TrainBoard Member

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    While I think DCC++EX is an excellent choice for many users, it requires acquiring multiple parts, and assembling/connecting/configuring them, whereas SPROG or other commercial products are generally easier for non-tinkering users. Within those limitations, for appropriate users, DCC++EX is an excellent solution. I do not know if it is as capable of programming "difficult" decoders as SPROG or other systems.

    SPROG has a well-deserved reputation for programming even "difficult" decoders, and LOTS of users of all kinds of DCC systems rely upon SPROG and JMRI* Decoder Pro to program their locomotives.

    The SPROG3 USB has a little more amperage for running trains; but for just programming, the SPROG II has all the same features, it just has less power to run trains (that's what your Digitrax system is for.) I would not choose a SPROG3 over a SPROG II for simply programming locomotives.

    The club may very well use JMRI Decoder Pro for programming decoders, but they are probably using JMRI Panel Pro for running trains and hosting WiFi throttles or throttle apps on smart phones. Decoder Pro and Panel Pro are just different front-end User Interfaces for JMRI that are optimized for different tasks, such as programming decoders and running trains/layouts.

    *JMRI works with most DCC systems (including DCC++EX), and IMHO, should be considered mandatory software for programming DCC decoders. But JMRI also has other features for running trains and controlling layouts. See jmri.org for more details.
     
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