This post describes my most difficult dead-rail conversion to date: an MTH O scale 2-8-8-8-2 Virginian Triplex (MTH product number 20-3101-1) that I purchased on eBay circa September 2019. Previously, I converted a Sunset 3rd Rail Allegheny with an MTH Proto-Sound 3.0 board to dead-rail, but the Triplex was my first complete dead-rail conversion of an MTH locomotive to 2-rail operation, which included lathe turning high-profile wheels to approximate an NMRA RP-25 flange profile (also see NMRA standard S-4.2) so that the locomotive would operate reliably on track meeting NMRA standard S-3.2.
The inside view of the tender below demonstrates a significant challenge: space is very tight with the Proto-Sound board and the large speaker consuming a large part of the tender’s internal volume where we need to install additional dead-rail components: DCC-compatible RF receiver; 14.8V LiPo battery; and switch, charging, and antenna wiring.
The strategy starts to emerge:
- Replace the Proto-Sound 2.0 (PS2.0) board with a PS3.0 board that can operate in DCC mode.
- Remove the original rechargeable battery and its cradle and locate the 14.8V LiPo battery pack there.
- Remove the large speaker and replace it with a smaller 4-ohm speaker so that we can make room for the 14.8V LiPo battery pack and the Airwire CONVRTR-60X DCC-compatible RF receiver that operates in the 902-928 MHz ISM band on Airwire channels 0-16.
- Lathe down the high-rail wheel flanges to approximate an NMRA “RP-25” profile for 2-rail, dead-rail operation.
An advantage of this strategy is retaining almost all of the control the PS2.0/PS3.0 provides, including directional head/tail lamp, marker lights, cabin lights, flickering firebox, sound, and fan-driven smoke units.
Proto-Sound 3.0 Conversion
The first step of the dead-rail conversion was easy: replacing the Proto-Sound 2.0 board with a Proto-Sound 3.0 (PS3.0) board from Ray’s Electric Trainworks. As I have mentioned in other posts, Ray Manley is a great person to work with. I sent my PS2.0 board as a trade-in to Ray, and he took care of the rest, providing me with a fully-functional PS3.0 board, complete with DCC capability.
The heatsink for the PS3.0 board necessitated drilling and tapping a new mount hole with spacer, as shown in the figure below.
The following photos show the original electrical power inputs to the PS2.0 board and their modified connections for the replacement PS3.0 board.
As you can see below, the AC power from the center rail pick-up (hot) and the outside rails (ground) were disconnected – we will be getting our power from a 14.8V LiPo battery pack in the tender. In this case, there is no Constant Voltage Unit, so no Battery +(14.8V)/Battery -(Ground) connections are required.
The AC power connections in the tender are also disconnected, and the power inputs to the PS3.0 connect to the switched battery power. The Battery +(14.8V)/Battery -(Ground) connection on the wiring harness was NOT required.
Locomotive Electrical Modifications
There were two aspects to the electrical modifications in the locomotive:
- Headlamp replacement
- Electrical power supply
The original headlamp was a power-hungry incandescent bulb. An LED with a polarity-independent plug from Evan Designs was used to eliminate the need to determine the polarity of the original headlamp wiring.
The power-related modifications consisted of removing the center-rail pick-ups, which is very easy on MTH locomotives and disconnecting any wiring to the center-rail pick-up (hot) and the outside rails (ground).
Battery installation was very challenging since the only practical placement location was the original rechargeable battery and its cradle mounting beside the PS2.0 board. A special-order 2x2x1 14.8V, 2600mAh (38.48 Wh, 5A rate, LxWxT: 133 mm x 40 mm x 25 mm) LiPo battery purchased from Tenergy.com provides the one cell-diameter thickness required to fit the battery pack between the PS3.0 board and the tender hull.
In MTH steam locomotives, the wheel axles insert into a solid cast chassis frame, so the driver wheels must be pulled off the axle before machining the high profile wheels to approximate an RP-25 profile that is compatible with two-rail, dead-rail operation.
Tender Mechanical Modifications
The tender’s mechanical modifications involve adding a Kadee 740 coupler and accommodating additional dead-rail electronics.
The original coupler pivot, rather than using a frame-fixed mounting, was used to mount a Kadee 740 coupler. This strategy ensured that tight curves would not bind the coupler.
A Kadee 740 coupler was mounted on the original coupler pivot, as shown in the Figure below. The brass screw heads were ground down to provide clearance with the tender frame.
Additional Dead-Rail Electronics
The added dead-rail electronics include the charging plug, the ON/OFF/Charging plug, a smaller speaker, and the antenna mount.
The original speaker was far too large to provide clearance for the additional battery, DCC-compatible RF receiver, and other electrical components needed for the dead-rail installation. So a 16mm x 35mm speaker was placed in the bottom of the original speaker’s cavity, and UV glue holds the speaker in place.
With the locomotive reassembled, it’s time to test it out! If your locomotive has a smoke unit(s), always ensure sufficient smoke fluid is loaded. Even if you don’t intentionally turn on the smoke unit – sometimes it’s unexpectedly activated.