What is happening to these forums

Started Nov 14, 2011 | Discussions thread
rsn48 Veteran Member • Posts: 7,755
Digital, change and old farts

When model railroading was in its infancy the "power packs" were car batteries. Then power packs came along offering more control, but not much; the major innovation was a very large car battery wasn't kept by the layout; most layouts were (and are) in home basements, so "the wife" wasn't always thrilled to have a car battery in the home.

One of the problems of power packs is that you wired your layout for "block" running. Lets create a mythical layout that is an oval with two turnout to create a siding. So each end of the oval would be a "block" so two blocks, then the long part of the oval would be a block, so two blocks. Now lets make the siding another block, so five blocks in all. Now each block has a controller to turn it on and off, each block is independent of any other block. If a block is turned off, there is no power, so a train can't run on it, (to isolate an engine means to put it on a block, then turn the power off). Now I have two engines running on this oval, but each has to be on its own block, if they are on the same block, then one controller will run both. So lets put these engines facing opposite directions, now lets run them.

So we turn lets say two blocks on for engine number one to run, heading in the direction of engine number two. Since we know engine number one is headed towards engine number two, we'd better get engine number two on a siding so there is no collision, and into its own block, so that is what we do. Now number one engine blows by, and we turn the blocks that were given to engine one over to engine two so it can proceed on its way. As you can imagine, you are throwing a lot of switches and electrical controllers; if you are a newbie it can all be quite confusing.

With Digital, each engine has a decoder and only that decoder will operate that engine, so the power can be on every where on the layout, and the engines can be controlled from separate hand held throttles. So in the above scenario with an oval and one siding, we don't need to throw any blocks, but just direct engine number two into the siding, waiting for engine one to blow by, but nothing needs to be turned on or off.

But to go digital, you have to learn how to use it. Early digital was like learning DOS commands and about as exciting, if you weren't a computer geek. You have to learn now to assign addresses (the name of the engine) to the decoder and the system, what buttons to push to reverse, blow the whistle, etc. In other words, like some one new to DSLR's, the amount of control though liberating was also intimidating. The best analogy I can think of is of a guy who used a point and shoot film camera contemplating moving to a DSLR.

The price of decoders was initially high but now you can get them as low as $15, but of course these are the simple ones, no sound, etc. Expense was the prevailing argument for not going digital but most of us knew that was BS because we knew how much money was spent on engines, turnouts and structures. A brass engine back then could easily cost a thousand bucks. To convert could cost a thousand bucks, but the guy who was saying he couldn't afford it, owned 30 brass engines - you get the picture. Expense was an excuse. Your average basement layout including everything could easily cost out at $70,000 to $150,000 or higher, but this expense has been spread over decades. Think this is stupid, at least the model railroader has some equity after the day is done, a golfer will spend the same amount over decades and have nothing to show for it.

The real issue is "change" and fear of the unknown - learning the digital system. The issue is the average member is ageing, the average age at some clubs will be around 68 years old, some younger some older. This is a hobby where the guy with the basement layout hides it from his neighbours out of fear that teens will break in and destroy it. You can imagine how well the hobby is doing when most hide the product.
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Photography is, indeed, an inclusive language. Ansel Adams

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