Integrating the ProMiniAir Receiver with QSI Decoders using Gwire Connections

Users of the QSI Revolution or Titan series of DCC decoders may want to take advantage of these decoders’ built-in Gwire connections for radio control but cannot find the discontinued Gwire receiver. This post describes how you can use the ProMiniAir Receiver as a “drop-in” replacement for the Gwire receiver so that you can control the locomotive with the following radio-control throttles:

  • CVP Airwire throttles such as T5000 and T6000
  • NCE’s discontinued Gwire throttle
  • Our ProMiniAir Transmitter
  • Stanton Cab
  • Tam Valley Depot DRS1 transmitter

Integrating the ProMiniAir Receiver with the QSI decoder’s Gwire capability is easy.

Introduction

I strongly recommend you review Greg Elmassian’s excellent post, “QSI AirWire & GWire cab.” It deals with using the Gwire receiver with various QSI decoders, which have a built-in flat flex cable (FFC) plug initially designed to connect to the discontinued and now hard-to-find Gwire receiver.

The QSI Titan FX-DO decoder is an example of a QSI decoder equipped with a Gwire flat flex cable (FFC) plug.

The ProMiniAir Receiver is highly compatible with the Gwire receiver and is somewhat more flexible with more channels and DCC-based reconfigurability. The ProMiniAir Receiver also has a smaller footprint (1.1″ x 0.76″). The modular design approach of the ProMiniAir makes it feasible to take full advantage of the QSI’s Gwire capability to use the ProMiniAir without an additional amplifier.

Integration of the ProMiniAir Receiver using Gwire Connections

The only additional item required is a Parlex HF05U-03-ND 5-position flat flex cable (FFC, 5 Position, 1.00mm conductor spacing, 3″ length, one side connector on both ends), found at Digi-Key here, that plugs into the QSI Gwire plug. Other brands of 5-position flat flex cables are available, notably from Molex.

The Parlex Flat Flex Cable (FFC) 5Pos 1.00mm, 3″

The ProMiniAir Receiver is easily connected to one end of this cable by soldering 30 gauge wires that match up well with the dimensions of the flat flex cable, as shown below.

The soldered connections join 30 gauge wires to one end of the flat flex cable. Only three connections are required: GND, +5V, and DCC.

The other ends of the 30 gauge wires are soldered to the ProMiniAir Receiver, as shown below.

The three 30 gauge wire connections to the ProMiniAir Receiver. Optional connections to an LCD were soldered in place for diagnostic purposes, and these LCD connections are NOT required for final operation.

No DCC amplifier is required because the QSI decoder creates DC voltage from its onboard rectifier. The QSI Gwire connections provide the +5V/GND needed to power the ProMiniAir Receiver, which sends 3.3V Logic DCC back to the QSI decoder.

The QSI decoder must be configured to accept DCC from the Gwire connection by setting “indexed” CV56.1 to 1. This means first setting CV49 to 1 and then CV56 to 1. See Greg Elmassian’s excellent post for more details. Once the decoder accepts this setting, it will only respond to DCC from the ProMiniAir receiver until the decoder is reset, as Elmassian’s post described.

My only addition to Elmassian’s information is that a firmware update may be needed before the decoder will “accept” this setting. I could not successfully update CV56.1 on a QSI Tital FX-DO I used for the testing shown in this post until I updated the decoder’s sound file.

Demonstration

The photo below shows the demonstration setup.

Demonstration setup

The Digitrax DCS52 DCC throttle supplies Track Right/Left DCC, which only powers the QSI Titan FX-DO and the ProMiniAir receiver via the Gwire flat flex cable. The Airwire T5000 throttle will then transmit DCC commands received by the ProMiniAir Receiver, sending 3.3V Logic DCC back to the QSI Titan FX-DO that controls sound and the motor. DCC commands from the DCS52 DCC throttle are ignored.

Below is the video demonstration

Demonstration of the ProMiniAir Receiver using the QSI’s Gwire connections. No additional amplifier is required. Note that the decoder is responsive only to the Airwire throttle. The motor displays an observable “jerk” when changing directions.

Wrap-Up

I have just recently started using QSI Titan decoders. They are challenging to find but produce fantastic sounds and are very flexible. The modular design of the ProMiniAir Receiver makes it very simple to take full advantage of the QSI decoder’s Gwire capability. I can provide a ProMiniAir Receiver integrated with the modified flat flex cable (FFC) for $34.99. Plug the flat flex cable into the QSI decoder’s Gwire connector, program CV56.1=1, and you are ready to go with radio control!

My thanks to Greg Elmassian for his very useful posts.

A Magnetic Power Switch for Large Scale Locomotives

Recently, I was modifying an O-Scale Sunset 3rd Rail L-105 locomotive for combined 2-rail track power or battery-powered radio control (bprc or dead-rail), where the switches were inconspicuously located at the front of the tender but were challenging to reach once the tender and locomotive were coupled.

Inconspicuous, but inconveniently-located 2-rail/dead-rail switches on a L-105 locomotive

To make matters worse, power to the QSI Titan FX-DO decoder mounted in the tender must be cycled OFF and quickly back ON to activate the smoke unit. Given the location of the switches, this operation just wasn’t possible. What to do?

Well, how about using a “Reed Switch” to turn the power on or off using a magnet? In my research, I found numerous model railroad applications of Reed Switches inserted “inline” with power. However, Reed Switches cannot typically handle the large currents (3A or more) we encounter in O-Scale and larger. So, direct inline use of a Reed Switch was not feasible.

This site mentioned using a Pololu Big Pushbutton Power Switch that can handle large currents (up to 8A), so I thought I might be able to connect a “normally-open” Reed Switch to the convenient “push button” inputs on the Pololu Switch shown below.

Close-up of the Pololu Big Pushbutton Power Switch, MP, showing the intermittent pushbutton input.

This short post shows how to connect the Pololu Big Pushbutton Power Switch, MP, which can handle up to 8A, with a normally-open Reed Switch for convenient magnetically-controlled power ON/OFF.

Assembly

As shown in the following three photos, assembly is straightforward. The only caveat is the Reed Switch is somewhat delicate, so bending the leads to the easily-broken glass capsule requires gripping the lead between the capsule and the bend, as shown in the photo below.

Technique for bending the leads to a Reed Switch to prevent breakage

Below is the finished device. Only eight solder joins are needed, and heat shrink is used to cover the Reed Switch’s solder joints. The long wiring lead to the Reed Switch provides mounting in a convenient location, including INSIDE non-magnetic metal shells!

Power Switch/Reed Switch Connections

The close-up below shows the straightforward connections to the Pololu Big Pushbutton Power Switch, which handles up to 8 A. Larger-capacity switches (up to 16A) are available from Pololu.

Close-up of Power Switch/Reed Switch Connections

Let’s demonstrate using this device.

Testing

The video below is the “proof-in-the-pudding” showing that the Reed Switch controls the ON/OFF of the Pololu Big Pushbutton Power Switch.

Demonstration of the Pololu Big Pushbutton Power Switch controlled by a Reed Switch to turn the power ON and OFF with a magnet. A battery supplies power, and the DC output is provided to a ProMiniAir receiver/amp that generates the DCC output shown on the oscilloscope.

Wrap-Up

So there you have it: a simple magnetically-controlled switch that handles large currents.

An added benefit is the Reed Switch can be mounted INSIDE a non-magnetic metal shell, such as brass! Magnetic fields pass through these metals.

A Simple AC-to-DC Converter

Sometimes folks want radio control of their locomotives but prefer to use track AC (including DCC) instead of a battery to provide DC power for the radio receiver and amplifier. This post shows how to repurpose the DCC converter PCB customarily provided with the ProMiniAir transmitter to convert track AC to DC power for the ProMiniAir receiver.

DCC Converter Modifications

The original purpose of the “DCC Converter” is to use a DCC throttle’s Track Right/Track Left output and convert it to 5V DCC and 5V power for the ProMiniAir transmitter. See the Figure below.

The original purpose of the “DCC Converter” is to provide 5V power and 5V DCC signals to the ProMiniAir transmitter.

One of the strengths of the modular approach used for the ProMiniAir transmitter and receiver is that you can “repurpose” components. The DCC Converter can be modified to use the AC track input to provide filtered, higher-voltage DC power.

Below is the repurposing idea: add a large capacitor (in series with a 100 Ohm resistor and a 1N4001 diode) across the “+” and “-” terminals of the rectifier and route out the rectifier’s DC output. Smaller onboard capacitors (10uf and 100nf) also filter out higher-frequency noise that large capacitors sometimes do not effectively filter.

One end of a 100 Ohm resistor and the + terminal of a 1N4001 diode are connected in series (and in parallel to each other) to the capacitor’s + terminal. The other end of the 100 Ohm resistor and the – terminal of the diode are connected to the rectifier’s + terminal. The capacitor’s – terminal is directly connected to the rectifier’s – terminal to form the DC ground. My thanks to ScaleSoundSystems.com for the idea of adding a resistor and diode in series with the capacitor.

When the throttle is turned on, the 100 Ohm resistor prevents an “in-rush” short circuit that might cause the throttle to cut off. When charging, the 1N4001 diode is reverse-biased with a large resistance. If AC power is interrupted, current flows out of the capacitor through the low resistance path of a forward-biased 1N4001 diode to maintain DC power output.

How keep-alive works. The resistor regulates charging, and the diode regulates discharging.
A large capacitor (along with a 100 Ohm resistor and a 1N4001 diode) can be added to the DCC Converter to output heavily-filtered DC power.
Connections between the AC-to-DC Converter with a large keep-alive capacitor and the ProMiniAir receiver/amp. The switch is NOT required if a large keep-alive capacitor is not used.

In fact, it is possible to forgo the large capacitor since these onboard capacitors do a pretty good job of “cleaning up” the DC output of the rectifier. This is a good option if space is at a premium.

The filtered DC output can now provide DC power to a ProMiniAir receiver/amp, just as a battery would. If the added capacitor is large enough, it will function as a “keep-alive” capacitor many DCC decoders use to prevent track power interruptions.

An Example

The photo below shows a real-world example of the conversion using a 10000uf “keep-alive” capacitor originally used with a Zimo decoder. The size of the capacitor dominates that of the DCC converter!

A modified DCC Converter using a very large 10000uf “keep-alive” capacitor.
Close-up of the modified DCC Converter

The oscilloscope trace below demonstrates the ability of the modified DCC Converter to produce clean DC power for your ProMiniAir (or other) receiver.

Track AC input and filtered DC power output from a modified DCC Converter with an added large (10000uf) capacitor

Note how “clean” the DC power output is (13.8VDC). Square wave track inputs at 16.8V are a severe test because they produce frequencies at odd multiples of the square wave’s frequency, e.g., at 6KHz, 18KHz, 30KHz, etc. for the example above, but very little of these frequencies “bleed through” to the DC power output.

Simplifying further, we can use the DCC Converter without an added capacitor, relying on the onboard capacitors to filter the rectifier’s “+” and “-” output. This option might be useful if space is at a premium.

Modified DCC Converter with NO capacitor

The DC power output is still clean, but you lose the “keep-alive” that a large capacitor provides.

Track AC input and filtered DC power output from a modified DCC Converter with NO added capacitor

Conclusion

So there you have it – the DCC Converter can be slightly modified to provide filtered DC power and “keep-alive” capability. The modified DCC amplifier with a sizeable keep-alive capacitor costs $10 + shipping. Without the capacitor, the modified DCC Converter is $7 + shipping.

Integrating a Fan-Driven Smoke Unit with QSI DCC Decoders

I have come across QSI decoders for some O-Scale Sunset 3rd Rail (2-rail) locomotives, including the beautiful D&RGW L-105. QSI decoders produce fantastic sound and provide highly flexible control of locomotive behavior, but at the price of a steep learning curve.

During the dead-rail conversion of the L-105, I could not figure out initially how to integrate a fan-driven smoke unit with the QSI “Titan FX-DO” decoder found in the tender of the Sunset L-105. But the decoder’s sound was so good that I persisted in my research and finally came across Greg Elmassian’s excellent post on integrating fan-driven smoke units with the standard QSI “Titan” (but NOT the Titan FX-DO that I was dealing with) decoder, which gave me an excellent start. Still, it did not provide the entire solution.

This post will provide all the details of integrating a QSI Titan FX-DO decoder with a fan-driven smoke unit.

Background Information

For each of their decoders, QSI defines a large number of “Features” that are configured by “indexed CVs” that define the Feature’s behavior. Based on Elmassian’s post, the Firebox Feature (F=122) controls the Smoke Unit Fan, and Rear Cab Lights Feature (F=118) controls the Smoke Unit Heater. 

The specifics of Feature F‘s behavior are defined by several “characteristics” or “attributes” (A=0, 1, etc.), such as maximum output, output duration, etc., that are given specific values V via CV 55.F.A = V.

QSI also defines several “Port numbers” P as fixed outputs on the decoder that control physical devices such as lights and our Smoke Unit. To tie all of this together, QSI then “maps” a Feature F to a Port P to convey the Feature’s behavior (via the values V of its attributes A) to a physical device using CV 115.F.0 = P. The Firebox Feature (Fan) F=122 will be “mapped” to output Port 9, and the Rear Cab Lights Feature (Heater) F=118 will be “mapped” to output Port 12.

I will NOT discuss how to set or reset the configuration variables (CV) of a QSI decoder with the Quantum Programmer. These details can be found in the documents here!

I strongly urge you to familiarize yourself with the QSI decoder’s QSI DCC Manual. Greg Elmassian’s site is also essential for understanding some features of QSI decoders that are confusing or not mentioned in the official documentation. Greg’s site is extensive, so use the site’s navigation features to find helpful information on QSI decoders. This site also provides essential information on how to program QSI decoders. These decoders are highly flexible: they produce fantastic sound and offer an extensive range of locomotive behavior control. But configuring them is complex. 

In summary:

  • CV 115.F.0  = P: Map Feature F to Port P
  • CV 55.F.A = V: For Feature F, set Attribute A to Value V

Initial Review

Warning: this section is somewhat technical, and you can skip down to the section on Decoder Programming.

The initial connections for the FX-DO decoder found in the L-105 are shown below.

The original FX-DO pinouts with future expansion for the fan-driven smoke unit

I also noticed the decoder had a “SMOKE” plug (see photo below). How do I use it?

View showing the FX-DO’s smoke plug

I connected the smoke unit’s heater to this plug. The sound came on as expected upon initial power-up, but no power was applied to the smoke unit’s heater. Disappointing.

While fiddling around some more, I quickly toggled the track power off and back on – wonder of wonders, the heater fully activated, and it was boiling! None of the information I could find discussed this method for activating a smoke unit’s heater in this fashion – it was just serendipity that I discovered this Feature.

Next are photos showing how I tracked down the connections that would control the output from this “SMOKE” plug.

First, I looked at what connects to the SMOKE plug’s “-” and “+”. The photo below shows that SMOKE “-” connects to the Rectifier’s “-“, which acts as a ground, and power transistor Q7’s drain D7 connects to the SMOKE “+”. The transistor’s source S7 connects to the Rectifier “+”, a high-power DC voltage source.

Q7’s gate G7 “opens”/”closes” source S7 (powered by Rectifier +) that sends current to drain D7, which is directly connected to Smoke +.

What control’s this power transistor’s gate G7? A bottom view of the same board reveals that Q7’s gate G7 is directly connected to transistor Q15’s collector C15. This transistor’s emitter E15 connects to a resistor R12 connected to the “ground” provided by the Rectifier “-” and Q15’s base B15 controls whether collector C15’s voltage is shorted to the Ground through emitter E15 or acts as an open circuit; i.e., this is a low-power switch controlling the turn on/turn off of the power transistor Q7.

Q15’s base B15 “opens”/”closes” emitter E15 that sends current through collector C15, which is directly connected to Q7’s G7 (photo above).

What controls Q15’s base B15? The photo below shows part of the surprising answer that a pin on the top board is directly connected to Q15’s base B15. There might be other electronics that set the voltage on base B15 (and this pin), and this pin did not seem to be connected to anything else on the top of the board.

The top board shows a pin’s connection to transistor Q15’s base B15, which turns on/off the smoke unit’s heater.

At this point, I verified that after the decoder was turned off for an extended period and then turned back on, the smoke unit’s heater was off, and the voltage on this newly-discovered pin was held at ground voltage. Quickly toggling DCC power to the decoder off and back on revealed the voltage on the pin was 5V, and the smoke unit’s heater was on. Something in the rest of the electronics was setting this voltage, almost surely through a “pull-up” resistor, connecting Q15’s base B15 to a switched 5V/ground source that the decoder was controlling – I didn’t find it.

And, when I shorted this pin (and Q15’s base B15) to the Ground, the smoke unit would turn off! No harm, no foul if I ground/unground this pin to turn the smoke unit’s heater off/on. Now we can control how long the smoke unit’s heater is on and off!

For reference, the figure below is a guess at the QSI Titan FX-DO’s smoke unit heater control electronics. This guess circuit satisfies the requirement it reproduces in simulation the results I have measured, as shown in the next section.

QSI Titan FX-DO smoke unit heater control electronics

Next, we program the decoder to control the turning on/off this newly-found heater switch.

Decoder Programming

Following Greg Elmassian’s superb post, I reprogrammed the Titan FX-DO as follows to activate the decoder’s outputs (called ports) that will ultimately be physically connected to wiring that controls the power to the smoke unit’s heater and fan:

Fan: Feature: F=122 (Firebox), Port: P=9

  • CV115.122.0 = 9 (Default: 9): Map Feature F=122 (Firebox) to Port P=9
  • CV55.122.11 = 100 (Default: 0): For Feature F=122, set Min Attribute A=11 to Value V=100. Tune this. Chuffing is less evident if this value is too large, and the fan will not spin if this value is too small.
  • CV55.122.12 = 255 (Default: 255): For Feature F=122, set Max Attribute A=12 to Value V=255.
  • CV55.122.13 = 100 (Default: 0): For Feature F=122, set Mid Attribute A=12 to Value V=100. Tune this. Chuffing is less evident if this value is too large, and the fan will not spin if this value is too small.
  • CV55.122.17 = 1 (Default: 1): For Feature F=122, set Rise Time Attribute A=17 to Value V=1. Tune this.
  • CV55.122.18 = 22 (Default: 1): For Feature F=122, set Fall Time Attribute A=18 to Value V=22. Tune this.

Heater: Feature: F=118 (Rear Cab Lights), Port: P=12. Several of the following CV values are very important to set correctly. Otherwise, you might burn out the smoke unit! During testing, please ensure sufficient smoke fluid is loaded into the smoke unit and be prepared to turn off power to the locomotive quickly should the smoke unit get too hot and produce excessive Smoke!

  • CV115.118.0  = 12 (Default: 12): Map Feature F=118 (Rear Cab Lights) to  Port P=12
  • IMPORTANT!!! CV55.118.0 = 1 (Default: 0): For Feature F=118, set Rear Cab Lights Initial State Attribute A=0 to Value V=1: activate Feature. This setting was NOT discussed in Elmassian’s post. You want the modulation function ON at startup to prevent smoke unit heater burn-out.
  • CV55.118.1 = 85 (Default: 85): For Feature F=118, set Active Conditions Attribute A=1 to Value V=85: active for all conditions: FOR; REV; Neutral From Forward, NFF; and Neutral From Reverse, NFR
  • IMPORTANT!!! CV55.118.12 = 200 (Default: 255): For Feature F=118, set Max Attribute A=12 to Value V=200. A value of 255 fully turns the heater OFF, and a value of 0 fully turns the heater on! It is essential to tune this value to prevent burn-out of the Smoke Unit Heater!!! See the calculation in the section below.
  • IMPORTANT!!! CV55.138.2=253. The indexed CV55.138.2=Value sets the “Multiple Automatic Lights #3” controlled by the same function key, which by default is F12. When Value=253=1111101b, the Firebox (=> Fan, Feature F=122) is controlled by F12 (bit 4=1 of Value), but the Rear Cab Lights (=> Heater, Feature F=118) have no F# control (bit 1 = 0 of Value). This prevents the turn-off of the smoke unit’s heater modulation, preventing burn-out. This table from the QSI DCC Manual shows which bits activate which Feature.

The upshot is that F12 activates the smoke unit fan, and the power to the smoke unit heater is ALWAYS modulated to prevent burn-out.

Now that we have programmed the decoder’s control for the smoke unit’s fan and heater, we need to connect these decoder outputs to the rest of the circuitry on the decoder.

Decoder Board Modifications

With the proper decoder output ports L12 (for the heater) and L9 (for the fan) properly configured, the photo below shows the simple wiring connections from these two ports to physically control the smoke unit’s fan and heater.

Modifications to the decoder’s top board to control the smoke unit’s heater and fan

The top board’s physical modifications were the following:

  • Added a wire (Brown) connecting Port 12 (sometimes designated L12) to the pin indicated in the photo above. This allows L12 via Feature 118 (Rear Cabin Light) to modulate the voltage applied to the smoke unit’s heater. The smoke unit heater is activated by powering off and quickly back on: I have never seen this Feature discussed.
  • Spliced +5V (Purple wire) to the smoke unit’s Fan “+” (Blue wire), and added a wire (Grey) connecting Port 9 (sometimes designated L9) to the smoke unit’s Fan “-“. This allows L9 to modulate the power applied to the Smoke Unit Fan via Feature 122 (Firebox).
  • Note that the smoke unit’s heater is already connected to the SMOKE plug.

I think you will agree that these modifications are easy!

Tuning for a Particular Smoke Unit

For my testing, I used a small MTH smoke unit with a heater resistor value of 8 ohms. The rectified track voltage is about 14.8V (about the battery voltage I use for my dead-rail applications). Experience indicates that good smoke output requires about 6 W. A value CV 55.118.12 = 0 will deliver full power to the heater: (14.8V*14.8V)/(8ohms) = 27.4W, which is far too high. We fix this problem by reducing the percentage of time the power is ON to the smoke unit heater.

Typically, decoders do this by repeatedly fully turning ON the device, such as a light, for a short period by actively connecting the “-” of the device to the Ground and allowing current to flow, and then turning the device OFF by open circuiting the device’s “-” to prevent current flow for a short period. This scheme is called Pulse Width Modulation (PWM), and the percentage of time the device is fully ON (grounding) is called the Duty Cycle (D). A decoder’s CV value of 255 corresponds to a duty cycle of D=100%, 128 corresponds to about D=50% (really 128/255), etc.; i.e., D=(CV_Value)/255.

The next part is a little confusing. If the decoder’s heater control (L12) is ON (grounding), then our smoke unit heater is turned off OFF. When the decoder’s control (L12) is OFF (open-circuit), other electronics in the QSI decoder “take over” and pull the heater’s control voltage ON (+5V), turning ON the heater! So if the duty cycle of the decoder’s control (L12) is D (percentage of time it GROUNDS), the duty cycle of the smoke unit’s heater Dheater = (1-D) = (1-CV_Value/255) = (255-CV_Value)/255.

Relationship between the decoder heater control (L12) duty cycle, D, and the heater’s duty cycle, Dheater. The measurement point is at the pin connected to decoder port L12 by the Brown wire shown in a previous photo.

One of the simplicities of the Pulse Width Modulation (PWM) delivered by DCC decoders to modulate power to lights, smoke units, and other devices is that the average power delivered, designated Pavg, is equal to the maximum power, Pmax, times the “duty cycle.” For our smoke unit heater Pavg = Pmax * Dheater = Pmax * (1-D) = Pmax * (255-CV_Value)/255.

So let’s determine the value of CV 55.118.12, which ranges from 0 (D=0% -> Dheater=100%) to 255 (D=100% -> Dheater=0%) to produce a “safe” average power of 6W.

  • Average Power: Pavg – example: Pavg=6W. I don’t recommend much more than this value.
  • Track/Battery Voltage: Vmax – example: 14.8V. This value is typical of DCC command stations and “4s” (4 cells in series) LiPo batteries.
  • Heater Resistance: R – smoke unit’s resistance generally ranges from 8 to 27 ohms. My MTH smoke unit’s heater resistance is 8 ohms. Some Lionel smoke unit heaters have a resistance as high as 27 ohms.
  • Maximum Power: Pmax – the maximum power that can be delivered to the heater by track/battery voltage. Pmax = Vmax * Imax = Vmax * (Vmax/R) = (Vmax*Vmax)/R.

Using ohms law for a resistor I=V/R and how CV_Value corresponds to duty cycle D=(CV_value)/255, the average power is Pavg = Pmax * Dheater = Pmax * (1-D) = (Vmax*Imax) * (1-D) = (Vmax*Vmax/R) * (255-CV_value)/255. Rearranging the deck chairs to solve for CV_Value: (255-CV_Value) =(Pavg*R*255)/(Vmax*Vmax) or CV_Value = 255*(1-(Pavg*R)/(Vmax*Vmax)).

For our example CV_Value = 255*(1 – (6W*8ohm)/(14.8V*14.8V) ) = 200; i.e., CV55.118.12 = 200. You can, of course, tune this value should the smoke unit produce too much or too little Smoke. Please ensure the smoke unit is properly loaded with smoke fluid before testing.

Just remember that CV55.118.12=255 fully turns OFF the smoke unit heater, and CV55.118.12=0 fully turns it ON.

Demo

Below is the “proof-in-the-pudding” video. Track DCC was on (no smoke) while moving backward, and after stopping, quickly toggled off/on to activate the smoke unit. F12 was on to activate the fan.

Preliminary demo showing a QSI FX-DO decoder interfaced with a fan-driven smoke unit
Final demo showing a QSI FX-DO decoder interfaced with a fan-driven smoke unit

Conclusion

This is a difficult and technical post, but if you want to use a fan-driven smoke unit with a QSI Titan FX-DO decoder found in some Sunset 3rd Rail 2-rail locomotives, I think you will be rewarded with an excellent decoder to control your locomotive!

Dead-Rail Conversion of a Max Gray D&RGW L-131, 2-8-8-2, 2-Rail

Introduction

I received this beautiful 2-Rail Max Gray D&RGW L-131 from a private seller. As an older O Scale model, it required updating for DCC-controlled lighting, motor, sound, smoke, and dead-rail operation (battery power, radio control).

This post is brief because many of the modifications are similar to those from past posts. The most significant modification was removing the open-frame motor with a more “modern” Pittman motor. DCC decoders struggle to control old, open-frame motors. Also, these older motors do not have the strong rare-earth magnets that improve efficiency – an essential consideration for battery power.

LokSound 5 XL Sound Project Settings

I selected a LokSound 5 XL because it provided plenty of power (5A) for a large locomotive. I chose #3608 based on photos of the L-131 I could find online. A heavily-modified LokSound UP “Challenger” Sound Project was selected because of its passing similarity to the L-131.

LokSound 5 XL Pin-out. Note the jumpers to split the heater current and provide dual fan control.
LokSound 5 XL Sound Project Settings #1
LokSound 5 XL Sound Project Settings #2
LokSound 5 XL Sound Project Settings #3. Note that AUX 5 & 6 are used to split the return current from the smoke unit heater.
LokSound 5 XL Sound Project Settings #4. AUX 7 sets steady-state fan output at rest and moving.
LokSound 5XL Sound Project Settings #5. AUX8 controls the synchronized fan output.
LokSound 5 XL Sound Project Settings #6.
LokSound 5 XL Sound Project Settings #7.
LokSound 5 XL Sound Project Settings #8.
LokSound 5 XL Sound Project Settings #9. Note the dual dynamo volume reduction.

Loco and Tender Modifications

The original “open frame” was both inefficient and difficult to control by the DCC decoder, so it was replaced with a more “modern” Pittman 9433L187, 15.1 V motor used in many O Scale locomotives.

The LokSound 5 XL was mounted in the locomotive to reduce wiring between the locomotive and tender. LEDs were used for the marker light, front light, cabin light, and firebox simulation.

The hose required slight displacement to remove the chassis from the boiler frame.

The boiler face plate was removed to allow smoke unit installation and access.

Spring-mounted fan-driven smoke unit. The DCC decoder controls heating and coordinated chuffs.
The numerous locomotive modifications include a new motor, decoder, LED lighting, and smoke unit.

The tender modifications include adding a speaker (with exit holes drilled through the chassis), battery, LED tail and marker lights, and ProMini Air transmitter and Cytron amplifier.

The tender modifications include LED lighting, speaker, battery, ProMini Air receiver, and Cytron amplifier.
Tender modifications showing power switch and battery charging plug
Tender modifications for the small whip antenna. A tiny #56 hole provides the antenna exit.
The “proof in the pudding” video. A smartphone throttle app (Locontrol) communicates with a WiFi-equipped EX-CommandStation integrated with a ProMini Air transmitter that sends wireless DCC commands to a ProMini Air receiver and amplifier located in the tender. The amplifier, in turn, sends track-level DCC to the locomotive’s LokSound 5 XL DCC decoder that controls sound, smoke, lighting, and locomotive motion.

A Customer’s Use of the ProMiniAir Transmitter and Receiver

The greatest satisfaction of providing a product to Model Railroaders is reports of successful use of your product. Below are photos and videos (with permission) of Mr. Tracey Sander’s use of the ProMiniAir transmitter and receiver.

ProMiniAir Transmitter Connected to a WiFi-Equipped Prodigy DCC Command Station

Below are photos and a video showing how Mr. Sander connected a ProMiniAir Transmitter to a WiFi-equipped Prodigy Express DCC command station. The locomotive in the video has an onboard ProMiniAir receiver and amplifier connected to its DCC decoder.

He uses the iOS WiThrottle app that connects to the Prodigy’s WiFi to control his locomotive.

Details of connecting the ProMiniAir to WiFi-equipped DCC command stations can be found here.

Mr. Sander’s connection of the ProMiniAir transmitter to a WiFi-equipped Prodigy Express DCC command station (with permission)
Close-up of Mr. Sander’s ProMini Air transmitter to a WiFi-equipped Prodigy Express DCC command station (with permission)
Video demonstration of Mr. Sanders using his ProMiniAir transmitter connected to a WiFi-equipped Prodigy Express DCC command station (with permission)

ProMiniAir Transmitter Connected to a WiFi-Equipped EX-CommandStation

Below is a photo and a video showing how Mr. Sander connected a ProMiniAir Transmitter to a WiFi-equipped EX-CommandStation, whose open-source software was developed by DCC-EX.com. The EX-CommandStation is a wonderful, low-cost way to acquire a DCC command station. As before, the locomotive in the video has an onboard ProMiniAir receiver connected to its DCC decoder.

Details on the fully stand-alone ProMiniAir transmitter integrated with a WiFi-equipped EX-CommandStation can be found here.

Mr. Sander’s ProMiniAir transmitter connected to a WiFi-equipped EX-CommandStation (with permission)
Video demonstration of Mr. Sanders using his ProMiniAir transmitter connected to a WiFi-equipped EX-CommandStation (with permission)

Conclusion

Thanks to Mr. Sanders for his permission to use his photos and videos.

Mr. Sanders is clear evidence that Model Railroaders have lots of fun!

Airwire CONVRTR Compatibility with the ProMiniAir Transmitter/Throttle

As some of you may know from my previous postings or other sources, if you try “raw” transmission of DCC from standard DCC throttles, such as with the Tam Valley Depot DRS1 transmitter, to Airwire receivers, you probably won’t get consistent control – I didn’t. This failure set me on the road to devise the ProMiniAir transmitter that would work with CVP Airwire receivers using DCC generated by standard DCC throttles, including the superb “open-source” WiFi-equipped EX-CommandStation created by the folks at DCC-ex.com. Of course, the ProMiniAir receiver is fully-compatible with Airwire throttles.

My web research and discussions with fellow dead-railers led me to believe you might solve the compatibility problem by providing frequent DCC “Idle” messages. Once the dust settled on the ProMiniAir firmware we made available on our GitHub site, the ProMiniAir transmitter worked pretty well with Airwire receivers! Besides CVP Airwire transmitters, the ProMiniAir transmitter is the only currently-manufactured transmitter that works with Airwire receivers.

After this success, we have worked hard to ensure that the ProMiniAir transmitter (and receiver) are compatible with multiple product lines, including CVP Airwire, Tam Valley Depot DRS1 transmitters and receivers, Gwire transmitters and receivers (available but no longer manufactured), Stanton Cab transmitters and receivers, and the no longer manufactured NCE D13DRJ.

OK, you may ask, what’s the point of this post? Well, I’d like to share some further research on the source of the CVP receiver’s incompatibility and its consequences on updates for the ProMiniAir transmitter/receiver firmware.

Further Investigations

OK, I based our initial success in making the ProMiniAir transmitter compatible with CVP Airwire receivers on observing how well the ProMiniAir worked with Airwire receivers. Yep, numerous inserted DCC IDLE messages from the ProMiniAir transmitter seemed to keep the Airwire receivers reasonably “happy,” responding to throttle speed/direction commands and function activation.

However, sometimes the Airwire receiver seemed a bit slow to respond to function activation… And some customers (who are hopefully still friends) sometimes noted this slow response. Could this be improved?

Still, I hadn’t analyzed what an Airwire throttle was sending in detail, so I purchased a simple logic analyzer from Amazon to look at the actual DCC transmitted by an Airwire throttle. I also needed the “pulseview” software from sigrok.org and a DCC decoder add-on. To properly analyze DCC, I modified the add-on and will make it available on our GitHub site.

The figure below is what I observed by firing up my original ProMiniAir transmitter integrated with a WiFi-equipped EX-CommandStation, and using the iOS WiThrottle app to send throttle commands to a ProMiniAir receiver. The figure below shows the “raw” digital output from the ProMiniAir receiver’s transceiver.

The raw DCC data received by a ProMiniAir receiver from a ProMiniAir transmitter integrated with a WiFi-equipped EX-CommandStation

The waveform is what you would expect. A “one” end packet bit from the previous DCC packet and then a series of 15 “one” preamble bits followed by a “zero” packet start bit that signals to the decoder that a DCC command is coming. I observed no significant or consistent DCC “errors” in the collected data.

Here’s what the S 9.2 NMRA DCC Standard states about the preamble:

The preamble to a packet consists of a sequence of “1” bits. A digital decoder must not accept as a valid, any preamble that has less then 10 complete one bits, or require for proper reception of a packet with more than 12 complete one bits. A command station must send a minimum of 14 full preamble bits.

The data below is what I observed by firing up an Airwire T5000 transmitter and looking at the “raw” digital output pin from the transceiver (radio) on the ProMiniAir receiver.

The raw DCC data received by a ProMiniAir receiver from an Airwire T5000 throttle

Well, well. Now we see an NMRA-permissible (see line 121 of NMRA Standard S 9.2) but non-DCC transition pair, called a “cutout,” with a 1/2 “one” and 1/2 “zero” pair after a valid “one” end packet bit and before a very long (30 “one” bits) preamble. If you try to send shorter preambles, say 15 “one” bits, the Airwire receiver will NOT work consistently despite the NMRA standard stating that a decoder must not require more than 12 complete “one” bits in the preamble. So, the Airwire receiver is placing a non-standard requirement for a “long” preamble of “one” bits before it will operate consistently.

Timing of a 1/2 “one” and 1/2 “zero” cutout

While reviewing the DCC sent from an Airwire throttle, there were NOT an unusual number of DCC “Idle” messages sent by the Airwire transmitter. But, by sending tons of short (3 bytes) DCC “Idle” messages, the ProMiniAir transmitter was sending just enough “one” bits to keep the Airwire receiver functional. I am not privy to the details of Airwire’s receiver firmware, so my success was based purely on empirical observation without underlying “insider” knowledge.

So what? With this knowledge, I felt it essential to make some ProMiniAir firmware changes.

Firmware Changes to the ProMiniAir Transmitter

Based on this new information, to improve compatibility with Airwire receivers, we have modified the ProMiniAir transmitter’s firmware to ensure a 1/2 “one” followed by a 1/2 “zero” cutout comes after the end packet “one” bit, and before at least 30 “one” bits are in the preamble. This change is NOT harmful to other wireless receivers, including the ProMiniAir receiver. The ProMiniAir transmitter and receiver still insert DCC “Idle” messages when possible to keep decoders “happy” while waiting for valid DCC messages from the throttle.

Along with these firmware changes, which will be made available on our GitHub site, you can set the number of “one” bits in the preamble by going into OPS mode at address 9900 (transmitter) or 9901 (receiver) by setting the value of CV242. If you set the value of CV242 to 0, the firmware sets the number of preamble bits to a “reasonable” value of 16 (receiver) or the number of preamble bits the throttle sent (transmitter). If you set CV242 to less than 12, it will be reset to 12 to ensure decoders are “satisfied” with the number of preamble “one” bits.

You can also change the duration of the cutout’s second 1/2 transition with CV240. By default, a CV240 value of 27 makes the second 1/2 transition a “zero” with a duration of 116us. If you do NOT want a cutout inserted, you can set the CV240 value to 141, which will make the duration equal to that of the cutout’s leading 1/2 “one” (58us), resulting in an output 1/2 “one” and 1/2 “one” pair, simply increasing the number of preamble “one” bits by one.

Example CV240 values to control cutout duration

So, how well do these modifications work for Airwire receivers? It isn’t easy to quantify, but the Airwire receiver’s red data LED remains “on” more consistently with less “flicker,” and the receiver’s DCC output to the decoder contains “cutouts” (with a duration of about five preamble “one” bits) just before the preamble. These characteristics are now very similar to those from an actual Airwire throttle. See the comparison figures below. It’s difficult for me to test the more practical aspects of these improvements, but the decoders continue to operate as I would expect, perhaps with somewhat less time delay. Other users may be able to test under more stressful conditions.

CONVRTR DCC output to the decoder from an Airwire transmitter. The cutout duration does NOT matter to the decoder.
CONVRTR DCC output to the decoder from a PMA transmitter with updated firmware. The cutout duration does NOT matter to the decoder.

Conclusion

We now have a better idea why Airwire receivers do not work well with output from a typical, NMRA-conformant DCC throttle sent wirelessly and how to better cope with Airwire receivers’ unique DCC requirements by sending very long DCC preambles, preceded by a 1/2 “one” and 1/2 “zero” cutout.

Raw empiricism often leads you to workable, pragmatic solutions, but a little “looking under the hood” for the “how” and “why” almost always pays dividends. If you own a ProMiniAir transmitter and are not satisfied with its performance with Airwire receivers, don’t hesitate to contact me about how I can provide you with an update to see if your performance will improve.

Dead-Rail Conversion of the Lionel H-7 2-8-8-2

Introduction

Warning: This is a very long, detailed post!

I like Lionel steam locomotives because Lionel designed them for simplified servicing, and Lionel’s documentation and parts are easily-available. Also, some of the locomotives, such as the H-7, are nicely detailed and are rich in features such as extensive lighting, smoke, and excellent speakers. Lionel very much “gets” the importance of the user experience.

What I don’t like are Lionel’s high-rail flanges and three-rail operation. The high-rail flanges look awful and will not work well on 2-rail trackage that meets NMRA standards S-3.2 “Scale Track, Standard Scale.” Also, many of the locomotive driver wheels are mounted on a “trapped” axle, requiring removal of the driver wheels from the axle “in situ” with a wheel puller and subsequent remounting in the correct “quarter.”

I have performed three dead-rail conversions of Lionel’s H-7 2-8-8-2 locomotive. This post will be a composite of these three locomotives.

The conversion process consists of the following:

  • Mechanical conversion: modifying or replacing all wheels and coupler replacement.
  • Electronics: All Lionel electronics are removed and replaced with a DCC decoder
  • Dead-rail: Addition of a ProMiniAir (PMA) receiver and DCC amplifier, battery, antenna, charging plug, and power/charging switch

Mechanical Conversion

Locomotive

Before proceeding with the locomotive conversion, several “magic screws” must be removed to separate the upper boiler shell from the lower shell and wheel chassis. This step is necessary to provide clear access to the drivers for removal and modification.

Removal also provides access to the locomotive’s electronics for removal and replacement with a DCC decoder and its wiring.

Locomotive shell disassembly #1
Locomotive disassembly #2
Locomotive disassembly #3

Removing the flexible hose mounting shown below provides clearance to remove the drivers.

Removing the flexible hose mounting provides clearance to remove the drivers.

After I gained enough clearance around the drivers, I used a wheel puller to remove those drivers whose axles were “trapped” in the chassis.

Using a wheel puller to separate a driver from its trapped axle. For illustrative purposes only, since the brake shoes require removal to prevent mechanical interference, and this particular driver pair can be removed from the frame by removing the retaining plate held in place by two screws.

The locomotive drivers present several issues:

  • Large, ugly flanges
  • Grooved tires with rubber traction tires
  • All drivers are uninsulated. This aspect is important only if you want track-powered 2-rail operation.

Lionel manufactures the locomotive driver center and flange as s single unit with a separate cylindrical tire with no flange.

The photo below shows an end mill to separate the driver tire from the driver center integrated with the flange. The process was the following:

  • A 3/16″ brass tube was fit in the axle.
  • A small brass tube was inserted into the crank-pin hole to prevent wheel rotation while milling.
  • Two pieces of brass close to the height serve as height spacers that avoid cutting into the flange.
  • The tooling is a 1/16″, two-flute end mill in a Tormach collet
  • Cutting oil was applied.
  • The end mill was very carefully translated along the radius, cutting into the cylindrical tire without cutting into the flange.
  • After the radial cut was deep enough, I used an “ordinary screwdriver to pop off the tire with an axial twist.
Removing the cylindrical tire with a 1/16″ end mill shows the integrated Lionel driver center and flange.
Lionel driver wheel with the tire removed. The 3/16″ brass tube loosely fits the axle center to hold the driver in lathe or milling chucks.

I used two strategies for modifying the Lionel driver wheels:

  • Machine down the large flanges and leave the tire in place with the driver uninsulated. I used this technique when using the locomotive strictly as dead rail.
  • Completely machine off the flange. I use this technique when creating insulated drivers for 2-rail operations using track power.

Machining down the drivers

I used a 3/16″ brass tube as a reasonably close match to the driver’s axle diameter. Because the fit is not tight, a separate small brass tube is inserted in the driver pin that will butt up against the lathe chuck’s jaws when cutting torque is applied. This technique is a bit of a kludge, but I have successfully machined down the flanges of 8 H-7 drivers on two different H-7s with this technique.

Before matching down the large flanges, you must address the grooved tires. The rubber in these tires increases the tire diameter, increasing the chances that the reduced flanges will derail. And these rubber tires are a bad idea since they could cause the locomotive to simply stall rather than slip when pulling heavy loads. Stalling is very bad since it dramatically increases the motor current, potentially causing a decoder shutdown and/or significant heating.

I used J-B Weld 8267 SteelStik Steel Reinforced Epoxy Putty Stick to fill the rubber traction rim groove. This material is metal-filled, providing traction and wear resistance.

I applied an excess of putty in the groove, and after curing, I cut the putty excess down to the radius in the lathe. It’s a fool’s errand attempting to shape the putty in the groove. The epoxy sets fairly quickly, so you have a short window of time to work the putty into place.

Machining the epoxy-steel filling to the proper diameter

The photo below shows the finished driver wheel with the Steel Reinforced Epoxy Putty machined to the driver center radius and a machined-down flange with a flange height of 0.036″ and a flange width of 0.040″. As previously, a small diameter rod was inserted into the side rod hole to prevent wheel rotation relative to the axle while machining.

The tire, after machining the flange to 2-Rail standards

Completely Machining OFF the Original Flange

First, I’ll show you how I created a new tire with a small flange. This is a long detailed section, perhaps of interest to only a few of you.

First, the driver’s tire center must be prepared. The idea is to entirely cut off the integral flange to ensure a constant radius from the front to the back of the driver center.

First, you must remove the cylindrical tire. In this case, you can use a cutting wheel to cut a slot through the flange and the tire without cutting into the driver center. Then the tire can be popped off with an axial twist using a standard screwdriver. Care must be taken not to nick the driver’s wheel center.

The slightly undersized brass tube fits somewhat loosely in the crank-pin hole but will prevent slippage in the spindle by butting against the jaws once torque is exerted by the cutting tool on the rim as the spindle rotates.

The tooling and technique to completely machine off the integrated flange

After the wheel center’s rim is machined flat, I use 0.010″ fish paper to insulate the left-side drivers. You can hold the fish paper in place with a touch of CA on the side of the rim opposite where the fish paper ends will join. This allows a shorter run to hold the fish paper tight on the rim while applying CA to the ends.

Fish paper was applied to the wheel center.

With our wheel center ready to mount inside a tire, we now create a tire with the proper dimensions. Caveat: My tire machining technique fits my modest matching skills using a small Sherline lathe. This technique is wasteful of metal blanks, but their cost is low. Other more skilled model railroad machinists have more efficient techniques that utilize a larger lathe and specialized tooling.

To help the discussion, the figure below shows the terminology from NMRA Standard S-4.2. The important terms/dimensions are flange width, flange depth, and tread width. Creating a tire within an acceptable range of these dimensions is necessary to ensure that the driver will work on 2-rail trackage defined by NMRA standard S-3.2.

Wheel dimension definitions (from NMRA Standard S-4.2)

I start with a 1.5″ diameter Ledalloy 12L14 1″ long blank obtained from OnLineMetals.com. This represents a maximum driver size of 72″, which is plenty large for our 57″ plus twice our flange depth of 0.036″ for 2-rail operation (1.1875″+2 x 0.036″=1.2655″).

Ledalloy blank

A 1/2″ hole is drilled into the center of the blank to provide clearance for the boring bar that will hollow out the blank to fit the outer diameter of the driver’s center.

A 1/2″ hole is drilled into the blank to provide clearance for the boring bar.

The blank is then placed in the lathe, the face is squared off with an end cut, and then a side cut reduces the blank’s diameter to the final wheel diameter + 0.072″ to account for the additional flange depth (0.036″). For our H-7’s 57″ drivers, this diameter works out to 57/48″=1.1875″ plus twice our flange depth of 2 x 0.032″=0.072 for 2-rail operation: 1.1875″+2 x 0.036″=1.2655″.

The blank after a face cut and side cut to a final diameter equal to the wheel’s final diameter + 2 x the flange depth. Note this picture does not show the center hole that should already be drilled.

Now we make an angled side cut to create the tire surface by tilting the Sherline lathe’s spin axis by 2.5-3.0 degrees. This cut produces a shallow angle across the tire’s tread width. This angle was obtained from NMRA Recommended Practices 25.

The Sherline lathe allows you to create a tilted side cut.

A careful series of side cuts are made to reduce the blank to the wheel’s diameter at the base of the flange step with a width of the wheel width (N) of 0.172″ – the flange width of 0.039″ = 0.132″. I use a wheel width slightly smaller than “code 175″ (0.175”, from NMRA Recommended Practices 25) to improve appearance, and maintain operability with 2-rail track standards.

Angled side cuts reduce the front of the blank to the final wheel diameter and tire width of ~0.132″

Next, we “straighten out” the lathe and use a boring bar to hollow out the blank’s center to be slightly smaller than the driver’s center diameter. This cut reduces the amount of material removed during the difficult cut-off operation.

A boring bar is used to enlarge the blank’s center hole to slightly smaller than the driver’s center wheel outside diameter.

Next, the tire is cut off from the rest of the blank at a distance greater than 0.039″ (the flange width) behind the flange step.

The blank is cut off more than 0.039″ inches behind the flange step

The now-separate tire is remounted in the lathe using the flange step as an indexed surface, and a careful series of face cuts are made to reduce the flange width to 0.039″.

The back face of the tire is face cut until the flange width is 0.039″

A spacer (an old tire cut off the driver) is now inserted to displace the flange from the lathe chuck’s jaws to provide clearance for rounding the edges of the flange with a file.

A spacer (an old tire) to provide clearance for rounding the flange’s sharp edges

With the lathe spinning, a file is used to carefully smooth the sharp edges of the flange.

The tire, after rounding the sharp flange edges with a file.

Now, the tire is remounted against the lathe chuck’s jaws, and a series of careful cuts with the boring bar increases the tire’s inner diameter until the driver’s center fits inside the tire. This step is tedious since very small (0.001″) cuts should be used to prevent making the tire’s inner diameter too large! The fit should not be extremely tight since we will apply Loctite to the rim of the driver’s wheel center to lock the tire to the driver’s wheel center.

Fitting the driver’s wheel center into the tire. This tire had the insulating fish paper attached to the driver’s wheel center.

Loctite 609 is applied to the fish paper, and the driver’s center is inserted into the new tire. While inserting the driver’s center, I take the opportunity to ensure it is pressed into the rim to the proper depth. This depth is a bit of a judgment call based on examining the original mounting depth.

Before the Loctite dries, the driver’s center must be aligned with the tire. I use a simple technique of inserting a 3/16″ metal rod or tube into the driver axle hole and mounting the assembly in the jaws of a milling clamp with a small “v” machined into one side of the jaws, as shown in the photo below. I firmly press the tire rim onto some brass plates placed on top of the jaws, then tighten the jaws to very lightly bind the metal tube and rotate the driver wheel. This rotation action will force the driver’s center into alignment with the tire.

While aligning these components, I take the opportunity to ensure the driver’s center is still pressed into the rim to the proper depth.

Tender Mechanical Modifications

I removed the rather ugly Lionel coupler by cutting off the tender coupler mount and mounting a Kadee coupler directly to the tender. Micro-Mark coupler shims provide the proper coupler mounting height.

Tender coupler modifications
Tender coupler mount with coupler shims

DCC Additions

I used a Zimo MX696KS DCC decoder from SBS4DCC with the “Standard Gauge Steam Locomotive Alco/Baldwin Mallet 2-8-8-2” sound file DA_R_US_2_8_8_2 V2.zip. Modifications were made to the function mappings and set-up of the smoke unit.

Some of the sound project’s settings are shown in the following screen captures from Zimo’s ZCS software.

Zimo sound file settings, screen #1. The settings on this page set the loco’s long address and turn on the decoder’s acknowledgment of changed CVs.
Zimo sound file settings, screen #2. Note that F4 turns on two function outputs for the firebox effects.
Zimo sound file settings, screen #3. Note the two random flicker outputs and the smoke effects output.
Zimo sound file settings, screen #4. Smoke unit settings for both smoke (heater) and smoke unit fan.
Zimo sound file settings, screen #5. Not all sound functions are shown.

Dead-Rail Conversion

Tender Modifications

My typical 14.8 LiPo battery did not comfortably fit in the back end of the tender, but a rather unusually-shaped 14.8V LiPo batter from MTO fit well: the TRAIN-10 LI-ION.

The 14.8V LiPo TRAIN-10 LI-ION battery.
Tender dead-rail additions. Note the battery, ProMiniAir receiver and DCC amplifier, antenna connections, power switch, and charging plug.
Underside view of tender dead-rail components

The tender’s LEDs must have “protection” resistors added since Lionel provided these resistors on electronics boards that were removed for dead-rail conversion.

Protection resistors were added for the rear light (“R.L”) and rear marker lights (“RML”)

Locomotive Electronics Modifications

The conversion strategy is completely removing all Lionel electronics and replacing them with a Zimo MX696KS DCC decoder, providing excellent sound, lighting, and smoke unit control.

These original Lionel locomotive electronics were all removed
Locomotive DCC decoder installation

Because the original Lionel electronics provided the protection diodes for the locomotive’s LED marker lights at low voltage, 5K resistors were added in series with the maker lights so that 14.8V power would not burn them out when activated by the Zimo decoder.

The red LED lighting for the firebox presented a bit of a challenge. The photo below shows where I added protection resistors for the two sets of LEDs that flicker independently using the “random” firebox setting for the Zimo decoder’s FO6 and FO8 outputs, as shown on the ZCS configuration menus elsewhere.

Electrical modifications for the firebox LEDs
Heater wiring
Smoke unit, number board, and marker light wiring

For one of the H-7s, I replaced the incandescent cabin light with an LED. See the photo below.

The incandescent cabin light was replaced with an LED to reduce power consumption.

I replaced the original low-current LED front marker lights with “nano” LEDs after I accidentally burned them out.

Front marker light replacement

The Proof in the Pudding

The video below is the “proof in the pudding,” showing off the lights, firebox effects, smoke, and great sound!

The “proof in the pudding”

A Simple Way to Extend a Whip Antenna

A whip antenna is a simple and effective antenna used by many dead-rail receivers, including the ProMiniAir. Still, sometimes it’s not feasible to mount the whip antenna directly to the transceiver and get good RF reception. One solution is a U.FL extender cable connected to the U.FL plug on the receiver, and the other end can be “snaked” outside the locomotive or tender shell. The U.FL whip antenna then plugs into the U.FL socket on the distant end of the extender outside the shell for better RF reception.

A U.FL extension cable. The U.FL connector on the left plugs into the receiver’s U.FL socket, and the U.FL antenna plugs into the U.FL socket on the right.

An extender has some downsides: the U.FL socket is easily broken, requires a fair-sized exit hole, and may be subject to increased RF noise. This post will show you a better solution for some applications.

A Simple Solution

While browsing RF components on AliExpress, I came across “IPX IPEX U.FL Jack RF Cable 1.13mm Jumper Solder Single-head Adapter Connector” in various lengths.

IPEX U.FL Jack Cable Single-head Adapter

Suppose you strip off 82mm (North American) or 86 mm (EU) of the outside plastic cover and grounding wrap to expose the inner plastic insulator and the antenna wire. In that case, you have over 200mm of grounded connection for “snaking” the antenna connection to a distant location.

In practice, once you have snaked the cable into its final position, you can cut off the excess, ensuring you leave enough length for stripping off the plastic cover and grounding wrap to expose the antenna. A small hole using a #56 drill bit (0.0465″) provides sufficient clearance for the grounded lead to exit the shell.

The stripped cable exposes the antenna wire with its insulating cover.

You can bend the grounded lead to the angle you want and cover the exposed antenna section with small-diameter heat shrink tubing to hide the bright antenna wire.

The final antenna mount with heat shrink tubing covering the exposed antenna wire.

Below is a video of this antenna solution in action.

The final “proof in the pudding” of the antenna concept used on a dead-rail O scale Sunset 3rd Rail (2-Rail) UP 4-6-6-4 Early Challenger. The ProMiniAir receiver and DCC amp were installed in the tender and controlled via smartphone using the Locontrol app WiFi-connected to the stand-alone ProMiniAir transmitter integrated with a WiFI-equipped EX-Command Station. The dynamo sound is much too loud!

Conclusion

I hope you find this simple solution valuable in your future dead-rail endeavors!

Dead-Rail Conversion of an MTH UP 4-12-2 2-Rail locomotive with the New, Smaller ProMiniAir Receiver

I have posted several dead-rail conversions of O scale 2-Rail MTH steam locomotives equipped with a PS-3.0 controller capable of operating in DCC mode. These locomotives are convenient for dead-rail conversion because they come fully equipped with good sound, lighting, and smoke effects – all controllable with DCC. However, I have received numerous questions asking for clarification.

So, what’s new in this post?

The goals of this post are to show off a dead-rail conversion with my new, much smaller ProMiniAir receiver (1.1″ x 0.8″) coupled to a small DCC amplifier, the DRV8871 (1.0″ x 0.8″) and to explain the conversion strategy for O scale, PS-3.0-equipped MTH locomotives. I have chosen the PS-3.0-equipped MTH UP 4-12-2 2-Rail locomotive (MTH 22-3641-2) because it has a small, crowded tender, making for a challenging installation of the required dead-rail components: battery, ProMiniAir receiver/DCC amplifier, antenna, switches, and charging plug.

Some conversion details, such as power connections, are left out to reduce cluttering the critical points.

Introduction

The photo below shows what we are up against: a very crowded tender!

The original, very crowded tender electronics

The challenge is how/where to locate the dead-rail components.

Dead-Rail Conversion

Since this locomotive is fully configured for lighting, sound, and smoke effects, and all control electronics are in the tender, I did not modify the locomotive!

We’ll turn our attention to the tender.

The most challenging aspect of this conversion is battery location. After some fiddling and considering other battery configurations, I decided on a flat 14.8V Tenergy battery mounted in the tender, as in the photo below.

Battery location using a 14.8V Tenergy battery

This location required slightly bending the PS-3.0’s heat sink to provide battery clearance.

I also moved the speaker platform forward and removed the plastic speaker enclosure to make room for the battery.

I moved the speaker platform forward to provide room for the battery.

The wiring of the 2Rail/3Rail switch is at the heart of our conversion. Since we will not operate on 3-rail track, we will repurpose the 2Rail/3Rail switch to retain the original 2-rail track-powered operation or use the new battery-powered amplifier output connected to the ProMiniAir receiver. See the diagrams below for the original and final wiring for repurposing the 2Rail/3Rail switch.

The original switch wiring for 2-rail operation. The right 2RAIL post is not connected!
The original switch wiring for 3-rail operation. All wheels become “Track Left,” and the center-rail pick-up rollers become “Track Right.”
The final switch wiring for 2-rail operation. Track-based “Track Left” and “Track Right” are fully retained.
The final switch wiring for radio-control operation. Now the ProMiniAir receiver’s DCC amplifier outputs supply “Track Right” and “Track Left” to the PS-3.0.

I modified the wiring to the 2Rail/3Rail switch to accommodate DCC inputs from the ProMiniAir receiver’s amplifier. The photo below shows the first step: moving the gray wire soldered to the right center post of the 2Rail/3Rail switch to the front right post.

The next step is the hard part: figuring out the re-wiring required. To aid in the discussion, let’s talk about the capabilities of the MTH PS-3.0 controller. This board is designed to pick up signals through the locomotive and tender’s wheels and, if operating on 3-rail track, the center-rail pick-up rollers. To accommodate either 2-rail or 3-rail operation, MTH provides a 2Rail/3Rail switch on the underside of the tender chassis.

Consequently, when you set the switch to “2Rail”, the gray wires, which are electrically connected to the left track, provide input to the “Track Left” of the PS-3.0.

Next, the gray wire directly connecting the “Track Left” input to the PS-3.0 board is separated from the other gray wires and soldered to the right-center post of the 2Rail/3Rail switch. Now, the center-right post provides the “Track Left” input to the PS-3.0 from rail “Track Left” when you set the switch to “2Rail.”

Moving the gray wires and creating a single Track Left input to the PS-3.0
The Track Right (red)/Left (gray) connections to the 2Rail/3Rail switch to the PS-3.0 board

Since we will NOT be operating in 3Rail mode, we can repurpose the 2Rail/3Rail switch’s 3-Rail connections to provide the DCC inputs from the ProMiniAir receiver’s DCC amplifier.

I first removed the wiring on both of the 3Rail posts on the switch.

Removal of the 3-Rail wiring connections to the 2Rail/3Rail switch. After removal from the switch post, the two black wires MUST be connected to ensure that rail-based “Track Right” is supplied.

I sealed off this wiring, preserving the connection of the two black wires since they both contribute to “Track Right” from the locomotive or tender wheels.

Sealing off the 3-Rail wiring

Then, I soldered two wires with a plug to these “3Rail” switch posts that will connect to the DCC Track Right/Left outputs of the ProMiniAir receiver’s DCC amplifier. With this modification, when the switch is set to this position, it connects the PMA amplifier’s DCC output to the PS-3.0. This now completes the conversion of the 2Rail/3Rail switch to a 2Rail/RA (for radio-generated signal) switch. That was the hard part.

Wiring for DCC inputs from the ProMiniAir receiver’s DCC amplifier so that the “3Rail” switch setting now becomes the selection for “Radio Control DCC.”

The signals originally picked up from the rails come in two “languages” that the PS-3.0 controller understands: DCS and DCC. To accommodate this capability, MTH provides a DCS/DCC switch on the underside of the tender chassis. The DCS commands are a proprietary MTH invention and, for our purposes, do not interest us. DCC is important to us since the ProMiniAir receiver is designed to receive wireless DCC commands, which are an NMRA standard.

We can set up the wiring for permanent DCC operation and repurpose the DCS/DCC switch for Battery ON or Battery Charging. When you set the unmodified DCS/DCC switch to “DCS,” the two black wires activate DCS mode, which we no longer need. When you set the DCS/DCC switch to “DCC,” these two wires are not electrically connected, which is what we want permanently.

The first step is to remove these two black wires and close them off to prevent them from shorting together.

Removal and insulation of the DCS wires for repurposing the DCS/DCC switch as a Battery ON/Charging switch.

Then, three wires are soldered to this switch:

  1. Center posts: Battery +. This post provides battery power that will either supply power to the PMA Rx and DCC amplifier or receive charging power from the charging plug, depending on the switch position.
  2. Back posts: PMA Rx/DCC amp power +.
  3. Front posts: Charging plug +
Final connections for the switches

The right and left posts are soldered to each wire to ensure a low-resistance, high-amperage connection. The rest of the power connections are standard and not discussed here.

OK, we’re finished with all wiring modifications; now, let’s turn to adding the antenna and charging plug by first drilling holes in the bottom of the tender’s chassis and mounting the antenna and charging plug (see photo below).

Antenna and charging plug mounts, and repurposed switches

The antenna mount has a wire connection carrying RF output from the antenna to a U.FL connector plugged into the ProMiniAir receiver.

The charging plug has a “+” power connection wired to the battery ON/Charging switch. All power “-” connections are on the “-” posts of the charging plug.

Finally, I mounted the ProMiniAir receiver and its DCC amplifier over the speaker after removing the plastic speaker cover to provide sufficient battery clearance.

Mounting of the small ProMiniAir receiver and DCC amplifier

The small size of the ProMiniAir receiver and its DCC amplifier make this mounting strategy possible.

Demonstration

The video below shows the “proof in the pudding,” The locomotive is controlled by the new stand-alone ProMiniAir transmitter integrated with a WiFI-equipped EX-CommandStation that receives throttle commands from a smartphone app.

Demonstration video using WiThrottle app connected to PMA transmitter integrated with a WiFi-equipped EX-CommandStation that transmits to the onboard ProMiniAir receiver.

A Low-Cost WiFi-Equipped DCC Base Station for the ProMiniAir Transmitter

The new, stand-alone ProMiniAir transmitter integrated with a WiFi-equipped EX-CommandStation

Many model railroaders enjoy using a hand-held throttle or smartphone app that connects to a centralized DCC command station that sends DCC over the tracks to decoder-equipped locomotives, and some “dead-railers” enjoy a similar experience using specialized hand-held transmitters such as the CVP Airwire or Stanton Cab throttles. These dead-rail throttles are expensive and sometimes hard to find due to supply chain problems. Other hand-held dead-rail throttles only support their proprietary receivers and “vendor-lock” users because they have no interoperability with other dead-rail vendors 🙁

On another page, I showed how easy it was to use a smartphone equipped with a “wiThrottle-compliant” app in conjunction with the ProMiniAir transmitter to control your dead-rail locomotive(s) fitted with a variety of receivers such as ProMiniAir, Tam Valley Depot DRS1, CVP Airwire, Stanton Cab, QSI Gwire, and NCE. The downside was that you must invest in a WiFi device for the DCC base station connected to the ProMiniAir transmitter. Many folks pushed back on the additional cost and infrastructure to use their smartphone app for dead-rail control using the ProMiniAir transmitter.

I searched for a way to provide a low-cost way to use your smartphone in conjunction with the ProMiniAir transmitter, and this post shows the low-cost solution that I offer for sale.

The solution: I came across a low-cost way to create a small DCC base station equipped with WiFi at a very active group, DCC-EX, and I will describe how I configured this base station to use a smartphone to control dead-rail locomotives equipped with ProMiniAir, Tam Valley Depot, CVP Airwire, QSI Gwire, NCE, or Stanton Cab receivers. The cost for the PMA Transmitter/WiFi-equipped EX-CommandStation for smartphone dead-rail control is $70.

The wiThrottle-protocol smartphone apps that will work with this solution include (this list is from DCC-EX):

The critical point is that the ProMiniAir transmitter, coupled with the WiFi-equipped EX-CommandStation, is an entirely self-contained solution for $70. All you need to do is apply power and then connect with a smartphone throttle app for mobile control of dead-rail.

If you don’t want to go through the details of the solution, you can jump to the Instructions below.

The Solution

The DCC-EX team has developed an open-source, low-cost DCC controller EX-CommandStation. Here is the DCC-EX team’s description (reprinted from here):


An EX-CommandStation is a simple but powerful DCC Command Station that you can assemble yourself and which is made using widely available Arduino boards. It supports much of the NMRA Digital Command Control (DCC) standards, including

  • Simultaneous control of multiple locomotives and their functions
  • Control of accessory/function decoders
  • Programming Track
  • Programming on Main Track

It includes advanced features such as:

  • wiThrottle Server implementation,
  • General purpose inputs and outputs (I/O) for extensibility, and
  • JMRI integration

The primary intention of the EX-CommandStation is to receive commands from multiple throttles and send out DCC on tracks. These throttles can be “wired” or “wireless:”

  • USB
  • WiFi
  • Ethernet
  • Bluetooth
  • JMRI

With the WiFi-equipped EX-CommandStation, you can use a wiThrottle-protocol smartphone app that connects to the EX-CommandStation via WiFi. Then the EX-CommandStation’s +5V logic DCC output is not sent to a “motor shield” to power tracks but instead serves as a direct input to the ProMiniAir transmitter for dead-rail control. It’s that simple; the technique was easy to implement and is low-cost (about $25, instead of paying for a WiFi device that connects to a commercial DCC throttle, a total of over $200).

Instructions for Using the ProMiniAir Transmitter/WiFi-Equipped EX-CommandStation with a Smartphone

What you need:

  1. A smartphone loaded with the wiThrottle-compliant app. See the list above.
  2. A properly configured ProMiniAir Transmitter/WiFi-equipped EX-CommandStation. We provide this.
  3. A locomotive(s) equipped with receivers compatible with the ProMiniAir transmitter, such as:
    • ProMiniAir receiver
    • Tam Valley Depot DRS1 receiver
    • CVP Airwire receiver: CONVRTR 15/25/60, G-3/4
    • Gwire receiver
    • Stanton Cab receiver
    • NCE D13DRJ wireless decoder

Steps:

  1. Plug power into the PMA Tx/WiFi-equipped EX-CommandStation, which turns on the ESP8266 WiFi transceiver to broadcast information for your smartphone to pick up, boots up the EX-CommandStation itself, and powers up the ProMiniAir receiver and LCD. You can connect a 9V power to the ProMiniAir transmitter/WiFi-equipped EX-Command station for “take it anywhere” capability. The battery adapter can be found here. A 1200 mAh battery, such as the Energizer Lithium, will last about 4 hours. Rechargeable Lithium-ion 600mAh batteries will last about two hours, but a four-pack with a charger will only set you back about $24.
  2. Go to the smartphone’s WiFi settings:
    1. If you have a home router, turn off auto-join, which prevents your smartphone from jumping to your home router rather than the DCC-EX WiFi router.
    2. Select the EX-CommandStation’s WiFi router. The router’s name is “DCCEX_123456,” where “123456” is a unique series of numbers and letters (the “MAC address” of the WiFi transceiver).
    3. When asked for a password, enter “PASS_123456”, where “123456” is the exact string of numbers and letters in the router’s name. You will probably need to enter the password only once since your smartphone will probably remember the password.
    4. The “fiddle factor:” Sometimes, the smartphone will complain it cannot connect to the DCCEX router or that the password is incorrect. Ignore this complaint (assuming you entered the password correctly) and try connecting again. The smartphone will often successfully connect once you select the DCCEX router again.
    5. You might want to turn on the auto-join option for this router so that your smartphone will automatically try to connect once the WiFi-equipped EX-CommandStation is powered up.
  3. Once connected, go to your throttle app:
    1. When asked for WiFI router configuration, set the IP address to “192.168.4.1” and the port to “2560“.
    2. Once your throttle app connects to the EX-CommandStation, you can select your loco(s), etc.
  4. Turn on your dead-rail locomotives, and control them with your smartphone app!
  5. Once finished with the throttle app, you can go back to settings and re-select the auto-join option for your home router.

So here is the “proof of principle” demo. The photo below shows the prototype solution: a low-cost EX-CommandStation with integrated WiFi connected to a ProMiniAir transmitter. The video shows the iOS “Locontrol” app connected to the PMA Tx/EX-CommandStation with WiFi to control a dead-rail locomotive equipped with a ProMiniAir receiver and a DCC decoder that controls loco speed and direction, lighting, sound, and smoke. The Locontrol app is excellent because you can record video while controlling the locomotive.

The prototype solution is a low-cost EX-CommandStation with integrated WiFi connected to a ProMiniAir transmitter. Up to five smartphones with WiFi throttle apps send commands to the WiFi receiver connected to the centralized command station, generating DCC output that the ProMiniAir transmitter sends to onboard locomotive receivers. NOTE: In current versions, Pin 12 instead of Pin 7 is the +5V DCC data connection to the PMA transmitter.
Detailed connections
Video of using the iOS Locontrol app with the PMA Tx/EX-CommandStation with WiFi to control a dead-rail locomotive equipped with a PMA receiver and DCC decoder

Programming on the Main (PoM)

OK, these smartphone throttle apps are great, but they have a limitation: they can’t currently send commands in PoM (OPS) mode to change the value of configuration variables “CV” in a decoder. This capability is necessary when you need to change the configuration of the ProMiniAir transmitter (whose default DCC address is 9900), such as the wireless channel (CV255 = 0-18) or power level (CV254=1-10). Of course, you might also need to make CV changes to your dead-rail locomotive’s DCC decoder using PoM (OPS) mode, too!

You may NEVER change the ProMiniAir’s configuration, but you might. How to do this?

Solution #1

Both iOS and Android have apps that come to the rescue: TCP/IP to Serial Terminal and Serial WiFi Terminal. The apps provide a wireless connection to the EX-CommandStation to reconfigure the ProMiniAir transmitter (or receiver, for that matter!) or your dead-rail locomotive’s DCC decoder in PoM mode.

Since I own an iPhone, I’ll show you what to do using TCP/IP to Serial Terminal.

What you need:

Steps:

  1. Select the app and enter the IP address and port number, and then connect:
  2. Test using the status command, entering <s> (case sensitive):
  3. See the response:
  4. Enter the command to change the value of CV 255 at address 9900 to a value of 5 by entering <w 9900 255 5> (case sensitive):
  5. Verify that the ProMiniAir transmitter, which is at DCC address 9900, channel has changed to 5:

The steps for using the Android app Serial WiFi Terminal should be similar.

So, there you have it, a wireless way to control a WiFi-equipped EX-CommandStation in Programming on the Main (PoM) mode, also known as OPS mode. While we need these apps to send PoM commands to reconfigure the ProMiniAir transmitter, you can enter any DCC-EX Command! Have fun!

Solution #2

If you have a Windows, macOS, or Linux computer or laptop, you can interact with the WiFi-equipped EX-Command station, including reconfiguring the ProMin Air transmitter. The technique is based on the “curl” program.

What you need:

  • A Windows, macOS, or Linux computer or laptop.
  • A WiFI-equipped EX-CommandStation

Steps:

  1. Connect power to the EX-CommandStation. This powers up the WiFi-equipped EX-CommandStation and the ProMiniAir transmitter with its LCD.
  2. On your computer, select the DCCEX_123456 wireless router and, if asked, enter the password PASS_123456, where “123456” is a unique string representing the MAC address of the ESP8266 WiFi transceiver integrated with the EX-CommandStation.
  3. On your computer, start up a “terminal” session. A terminal session allows you to type in commands.
  4. Enter the following command curl telnet://192.168.4.1:2560. This opens a simple telnet-protocol connection between the computer and the WiFi-equipped EX-CommandStation at address 192.168.4.1 port 2560, the default EX-CommandStation address and port.
  5. Your command line will now wait for you to enter the text transmitted to the EX-CommandStation! As a test, type in <s> and press RETURN, and you should see a response such as
    <p0>
    <iDCC-EX V-4.0.0 / MEGA / PMA_Tx G-a26d988>

    If using curl on Windows, you may need to press RETURN then ^Z (CONTROL+z) and then RETURN again to “flush” out the response from the EX-CommandStation.
  6. OK! Now let’s change the ProMiniAir transmitter’s channel to “5” by using a PoM (OPS) command (DCC Address: 9900, CV#: 255, CV value: 5): type in <w 9900 255 5> and press ENTER. You will not see a response (sigh), but if you look at the ProMiniAir transmitter’s LCD, you will see the following:
  7. You exit the session by hitting < control>+C.

Pretty simple!

Solution #3

This solution is NOT all wireless but demonstrates how to use the Web-based WebThrottle-EX to control the EX-CommandStation.

What you need:

  • A computer or laptop
  • A WiFi-equipped EX-CommandStation
  • The USB cable that came with your EX-CommandStation

Steps:

  1. Connect power to the EX-CommandStation. This powers up the EX-CommandStation and the ProMiniAir transmitter with its LCD.
  2. Connect the USB cable to the EX-CommandStation and your computer/laptop.
  3. On your computer or laptop’s Chrome web browser, navigate this link: https://dcc-ex.github.io/WebThrottle-EX. An excellent throttle application will start, and the DCC-EX team has excellent instructions for using this application. We will concentrate on our narrow goal: getting OPS mode instructions to the ProMiniAir transmitter.
  4. Select the “Connect DCC++ EX” button to activate the USB serial connection to the EX-CommandStation.
  5. You will see a pull-down menu of USB ports. Select the serial port you think is correct, and if it is, the log window at the bottom will cheer your success. If not, try another USB port from the pull-down list.
  6. Now look at the Debug Console and ensure Debug in “ON.”
  7. In the “Direct Command” entry, type in a “direct” command. In our example, we want to send an OPS mode command (“w” for write) to DCC address 9900 (the PMA transmitter) to change CV 255 (channel selection) to the value of 3 (the channel we want to transmit on): w 9900 255 3.
  8. Press “Send,” and you should see the log window indicating the send. You should also see the PMA Tx’s LCD show a changed value, now with a new channel!
  9. Disconnect the USB cable.
  10. Use your smartphone to connect the ProMiniAir Tx/WiFi-equipped EX-CommandStation as described above.
  11. Have fun controlling the locomotive(s)!

Of course, if you maintain the USB cable connection, you can play with the WebThrottle-EX to control the dead-rail locomotive! The DCC+EX website has excellent instructions for using WebThrottle-EX. The traditional locomotive control capability and the powerful direct control capability are valuable and fun.

An important point: These instructions are ONLY for reconfiguring the ProMiniAir transmitter or changing the CVs in your DCC decoder. Under regular smartphone throttle app use, you do NOT need to connect anything other than the power to the WiFi-equipped EX-CommandStation to activate the ProMiniAir transmitter!

Final Thoughts

While I called this approach for using a smartphone app with the ProMiniAir transmitter a “compromise solution,” if you think about it, with a more centrally-located ProMiniAir transmitter coupled to a small, inexpensive WiFi-equipped DCC base station, you achieve good layout coverage because the base station is acting as an optimally-located “repeater,” potentially reaching more of the layout than your smartphone app. This approach is a valuable “division of labor:” the smartphone gives you the mobility to enjoy different vantages, and the central transmitter covers the layout optimally. So, maybe this approach is better than a “compromise solution,” after all.

Advantage of an optimally-located central transmitter versus a local transmitter.

Appendix: Implementation (How I Did It for Do-It-Yourselfers)

The EX-CommandStation consists of several components (with emphasis on our application):

  • An Arduino microprocessor (for us, the Arduino Mega or clone): the “brain” that takes throttle inputs and converts them to +5V DCC signals, usually for a motor shield.
  • A motor shield or motor driver: converts the microprocessor’s +5V DCC signals (and other controls) to higher-voltage DCC Track Right/Track Left to power and control locomotives equipped with DCC decoders. Because the track may short-circuit or require too much power, the motor shield or motor driver may provide signals, such as current sense, back to the microprocessor that generates commands to protect the motor shield or motor driver from damage.
  • Optionally:
    • WiFi (integrated on the microprocessor PCB, an Arduino shield, or discrete receiver jumpered to the microprocessor PCB): receives wiThrottle-protocol commands from smartphones or tablets via WiFi and sends these commands to the microprocessor.
    • Ethernet
    • Bluetooth
    • Direct connection to a PC
  • Free, open-source EX-CommandStation software

We need a WiFi-equipped Arduino MEGA and the EX-CommandStation software for our dead-rail application using a smartphone, but what about that motor shield?

A “motor shield” that amplifies the EX-CommandStation’s +5V digital DCC output for controlling and powering locomotives via the tracks is unnecessary since the ProMiniAir transmitter only requires +5V DCC input (along with +5V power, which is available from the EX-CommandStation as well). An added advantage is the “DCC Converter,” which is necessary to convert track DCC from a “traditional” DCC throttle to +5V power, and +5V DCC the PMA transmitter requires is unnecessary. (If you like, we will include the DCC Converter because you may want to use your ProMiniAir transmitter with a “traditional” DCC throttle later.) The modular design of the ProMiniAir transmitters and receivers makes this solution easy and reduces cost.

Based on the information provided by DCC+EX, I selected a Songhe Mega2560 + WiFi R3 because the motherboard has integrated WiFi. The DCC-EX website superbly provides the detailed step-by-step set-up of an EX-CommandStation with integrated WiFi. You also need a 7-9V 1 A power supply, and a battery option is undoubtedly feasible but more expensive.

Since I needed to modify the source code to accommodate the ProMiniAir transmitter integration with the EX-CommandStation, I used this download link. I followed the DCC-EX project installation instructions for the Arduino IDE and only modified the config.h file of the EX-CommandStation software for integration with the ProMiniAir transmitter:

// (more before...)
/////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////
//  NOTE: Before connecting these boards and selecting one in this software
//        check the quick install guides!!! Some of these boards require a voltage
//        generating resistor on the current sense pin of the device. Failure to select
//        the correct resistor could damage the sense pin on your Arduino or destroy
//        the device.
//
// DEFINE MOTOR_SHIELD_TYPE BELOW ACCORDING TO THE FOLLOWING TABLE:
//
//  STANDARD_MOTOR_SHIELD : Arduino Motor shield Rev3 based on the L298 with 18V 2A per channel
//  POLOLU_MOTOR_SHIELD   : Pololu MC33926 Motor Driver (not recommended for prog track)
//  FUNDUMOTO_SHIELD      : Fundumoto Shield, no current sensing (not recommended, no short protection)
//  FIREBOX_MK1           : The Firebox MK1                    
//  FIREBOX_MK1S          : The Firebox MK1S
//  IBT_2_WITH_ARDUINO    : Arduino Motor Shield for PROG and IBT-2 for MAIN
//   |
//   +-----------------------v
//
// #define MOTOR_SHIELD_TYPE STANDARD_MOTOR_SHIELD
// This motor shield is for the PMA Tx
#define PMA_TX F("PMA_Tx"),		      \
     new MotorDriver(6, 7, UNUSED_PIN, UNUSED_PIN, UNUSED_PIN, 1.0, 1100, UNUSED_PIN), \
     new MotorDriver(5, 4, UNUSED_PIN, UNUSED_PIN, UNUSED_PIN, 1.0, 1100, UNUSED_PIN)
#define MOTOR_SHIELD_TYPE PMA_TX 
// (more after...)

The critical part for us is the “7” in the “new MotorDriver” line, which states that the “+” DCC output (+5V logic output between 0 and +5V) is on Pin 7. That’s all we need (along with power) to “feed” the ProMiniAir transmitter! I then recompiled the EX-CommandStation software according to the DCC+EX instructions with absolutely no problem.

The connections to the WiFi-equipped EX-CommandStation to the ProMiniAir transmitter are straightforward: connect GND and +5V to the power connections on the EX-CommandStation motherboard, and the +5V DCC input to Pin 12 (previously Pin 7) on the motherboard.

The connections between the WiFI-equipped EX-CommandStation and the ProMiniAir transmitter

You could purchase the components and set up the WiFI-equipped EX-CommandStation yourself. However, since we can do the set-up legwork for you, you can order the WiFi-equipped EX-CommandStation option for the ProMiniAir for $40 ($5 is donated to DCC+EX). We include the AC to DC power converter (wall 120V AC to 9V DC) for the EX-CommandStation.

Information Update on the ProMini Air Receiver and Transmitter

Introduction

Typical application. In some cases, such as the Airwire transmitters, the throttle and transmitter are combined. Also, the receiver and amplifier may be integrated, such as for Airwire and Tam Valley Depot receivers. The ProMiniAir transmitter and receiver require a “DCC Converter” or “DCC Amplifier” provided as part of the purchase.

I was inspired to fully develop a wireless DCC transmitter and receiver by two sources: Martin Sant, who runs the BlueRidge Engineering website, and an article by Mark and Vince Buccini titled “Build Your Own Wireless DCC System” that appeared in the April, June, and August 2014 editions of Garden Railways magazine. These back issues are still available.

The Buccinis showed that it was possible to home-build a wireless DCC system. And Martin became a great collaborator who concretely started me with the initial version of the “ProMiniAir” wireless DCC transmitter/receiver hardware and the wireless DCC software for the Pro Mini microcontroller board. I am deeply indebted to these people.

Note: Some photos may show older versions of the ProMiniAir. Also, previous versions of the ProMiniAir receiver and transmitter used 9000/9001 for their DCC address, respectively, which we changed to 9900/9901. Photos and examples may use the now-obsolete addresses.

Update for New Versions of the ProMiniAir Transmitter and Reciever

Please see this post on an important update on the ProMiniAir transmitter. It is now completely stand-alone; just plug in power and use your cell phone app to control your locomotive.

The new completely stand-alone ProMiniAir transmitter. Just plug in power and use your smartphone app to connect to the WiFI-equipped EX-CommandStation and then control your dead-rail locomotive

Both the ProMiniAir transmitter and receiver have been significantly reduced in size: 1.1″ x 0.8″, making it possible to mount the ProMiniAir receiver and a tiny DCC amplifier in tighter spaces and some HO locomotives.

The new ProMiniAir receiver and small amplifier (3.6A)

Feature Comparisons

My goal for offering the ProMiniAir receiver/transmitter is to provide those interested in “dead-rail” (radio control, battery power of a model railroad locomotive) inexpensive wireless, DCC compatible transmitters and receivers for radio-control of model railroad locomotives in the US/Canadian 915MHz ISM band – the same band and protocol as used by Tam Valley Depot (TVD), CVP Airwire, NCE/QSI Gwire, and Stanton Cab. Also, you can operate the ProMiniAir transmitter and receiver in the European ISM band at 869.85MHz, and we have verified interoperability with Tam Valley Depot European DRS1 transmitters and receivers.

A note about channels: modern CVP Airwire transmitters and receivers can all operate in the Airwire channels designated 0-16 using current Anaren AIR transceiver chips. Older wireless transmitters and receivers from Tam Valley Depot and Stanton Cab used the Linx ES series transmitter or receiver chip that only operated at 916.48MHz with slightly different specialized radio settings from the Airwire channels. I call this channel 17. In most but not all cases, these Channel 17 devices are interoperable with Airwire channel 16 @ 916.36MHz. Also, European versions of these older transmitters and receivers operated on 869.85MHz, and I call this Channel 18. Here’s my unofficial Table of channels and frequencies.

ChannelFrequency (MHz)Comments
0921.37
919.87 
2915.37 
3912.37 
4909.37 
5907.87 
6906.37 
7903.37 
8926.12
9924.62
10 (A)923.12
11 (B)918.12 S-Cab alternative frequency
12 (C)916.87
13 (D)913.62
14 (E)910.87
15 (F)904.87
16 (na)916.37 TVD interoperability w/ Ch. 17
17916.48S-Cab and older Tx/Rx
18869.85European operation
Unofficial channel designations

The “ProMiniAir” receiver is compatible with the Tam Valley DRS1 transmitter (Channel 16 or 17), both the CVP AirWire T5000 and T1300 wireless throttles (Channels 0-16), the no longer manufactured NCE GWire CAB (Channels 0-7), and the Stanton Cab Throttle (Channel 17).

The ProMiniAir transmitter is compatible with the Tam Valley Depot DRS1 receiver (Channels 0-17, Channel 18(E)), the CVP Airwire CONVRTR receivers (Channels 0-16), the QSI Gwire Receiver (Channels 0-7), the Stanton Cab LXR-DCC receiver (Channel 17), and the NCE D13DRJ wireless decoder (Channel 16 or 17). Of course, the ProMiniAir transmitters and receivers are compatible!

The ProMiniAir has some features that may be of interest compared to commercial offerings. See the Comparison Tables below.

NameAirwire Receiver
Compatible?
ChannelsPower
Level Adj
Any DCC
Input
TVD DRS1
Transmitter
NoCh 17
(or 18(E))
NoYes
Airwire
T5000
Yes0-16YesNo
NCE Gwire CabYes0-7YesNo
S-Cab ThrottleNo17NoNo
ProMini
Air Transmitter
Yes0-17, 18(E)YesYes
Comparison of wireless DCC transmitters

In fairness, the manufacturers of the Airwire T5000, the NCE Gwire Cab, and the S-Cab Throttle hand-held throttles never intended to interface to standard DCC throttles. But, as Tam Valley Depot recognized, it is advantageous to use any device that supplies DCC to the rails and transmit this DCC wirelessly to DCC-compatible receivers.

A notable limitation of the Tam Valley Depot DRS1 transmitter is that it does not provide DCC “IDLE” packets that the Airwire receivers require unless the original DCC throttle does so (most, if not all, do NOT). Also, the Tam Valley Depot DRS1 transmitter can only broadcast on one channel (near Airwire Channel 16, which I have designated Channel 17 @ 916.48MHz).

Shown in the Table below are the comparisons for wireless DCC receivers.

NameChannelsDCC
Filtering?
Channel Auto
Search
TVD DRS1,
MK IV
0-17, 18(E)NoneYes
Airwire
CONVRTR
0-16Always
On
Yes (Limited)
QSI
Gwire
0-7NoneNo
S-Cab LXR
receiver
17NoneNo
ProMini
Air
0-17, 18(E)None or
On
Yes
Comparison of wireless DCC receivers

The most notable difference among the receivers is “DCC filtering,” i.e., how the receiver behaves when losing a valid RF DCC signal.

When the TVD DRS1 or QSI Gwire receivers lose a valid RF signal, they output random pulses to the decoder. I have discussed the pros and cons of this in another post.

On the other hand, the Airwire CONVRTR outputs constant-level DC when it loses a valid RF signal or doesn’t receive enough DCC “IDLE” packets. Again, as discussed in another post, the DCC decoder may halt the locomotive dead in its tracks when it receives this constant-level DC, which may or may not be what the user wants.

The Airwire CONVRTR performs “DCC filtering” by periodically evaluating whether it’s receiving DCC “IDLE” pulses. So, even if a stream of completely-valid DCC packets are received, but there are few or no “IDLE” packets, the Airwire CONVRTR will become inactive and output constant DC to the decoder.

These characteristics of the Airwire receivers are why Tam Valley DRS1 transmitter will usually NOT work with Airwire CONVRTR receivers because the DRS1 will not insert additional DCC “IDLE” packets! The Tam Valley Depot DRS1 transmitter is a passive participant: if the input DCC throttle doesn’t produce frequent DCC “IDLE” pulses, then the Tam Valley Depot DRS1 will not transmit frequent DCC “IDLE” pulses.

Stanton designed the S-Cab LXR-DCC receiver specifically for the S-Cab Throttle’s intermittent DCC transmissions. Like the Airwire CONVRTR receivers, the LXR outputs a constant DC voltage when a valid RF signal is lost.

Via OPS mode (by default at address 9901), you can reconfigure ProMiniAir’s output behavior when a valid RF signal is lost. The first option (CV246 -> 0) selects the output of DCC IDLE messages (which the decoder is “comfortable” with, rather than random pulses that might “confuse” the decoder). The second option (CV246 -> 1) selects the output of constant-level DCC.

This reconfigurability makes the ProMiniAir receiver a versatile wireless DCC receiver. The ProMiniAir receiver’s RF DCC detection technique is more sophisticated than Airwire’s. The ProMiniAir receiver detects how long it’s been since it received ANY valid DCC packet. And, after a preset time interval (which is reconfigurable via OPS mode, changing the CV252 value in 1/4 second multiples), the ProMiniAir receiver will output either the DCC “Idle” messages (DCC filtering “off”) or output constant-level DC (DCC filtering “on”). When DCC filtering is “on,” and there is no valid RF signal, the DC level output is reconfigurable via an “OPS” mode setting of CV248 (-> 1 for positive DC, -> 0 for 0V DC) at the ProMiniAir’s DCC address.

Once a valid RF signal is received again, the ProMiniAir receiver detects this condition. It outputs these valid DCC packets to the “DCC amplifier” that sends “track-level” DCC to the decoder.

Another important feature of wireless DCC receivers is Channel selection and searching.

The TVD DRS1 receiver will “listen” on a fixed Airwire Channel if you set some jumpers. Otherwise, the DRS1 will automatically search the Airwire Channels for a valid RF signal if you do NOT insert the jumpers. This behavior may or may NOT be a good idea if multiple wireless DCC transmitters transmit simultaneously on different Channels. And, changing the Channel selection behavior (fixed channel or auto-scan) requires physical access to the receiver to connect or disconnect jumpers.

On startup, the Airwire CONVRTR “listens” for a valid RF signal on its “startup” channel (which is reconfigurable by accessing a CV using the wireless throttle’s “OPS” mode). If the CONVRTR finds no valid RF signal after a given time, the CONVRTR will switch to Channel 0. This behavior is usually a good idea.

Like the Airwire CONVRTR, on startup, the ProMiniAir receiver will “listen” for valid RF on its “startup” Channel (default, 0) stored in EEPROM memory. This startup channel is changeable using the transmitting throttle’s “OPS” mode by setting CV255 to 0 through 18 at the ProMiniAir transmitter’s DCC Address (default, 9901). Like the TVD DRS1 receiver, if the ProMiniAir does not find a valid RF signal on its startup channel, the ProMiniAir receiver will then auto-scan Channels 0(A), 18(E), 17(S), 1(A), 2(A), …, 16(A) (in that order) for valid RF signal (A=Airwire channels, E=European channel @869.85MHz, S=S-Cab Channel @ 916.48MHz). This scan sequence guarantees that a wireless DCC transmitter (if one is available) is selected, but only if the ProMiniAir does NOT find a valid RF DCC signal on its startup Channel from another wireless DC transmitter.

If the ProMiniAir receiver finds no valid RF DCC signal on any Channel on startup, it will select Channel 0 and wait for a valid RF DCC signal. Also, upon reset, the ProMiniAir’s Channel search process will be unchanged: trying the “startup” channel stored in EEPROM memory, then try auto-searching Channels, and if all else fails, wait on Channel 0.

So, in summary, we are offering the ProMiniAir DCC transmitter and receiver to provide a low-cost alternative with a set of features not entirely found in commercial offerings.

You are provided with a few additional components when buying a ProMiniAir receiver or transmitter. In the case of the ProMiniAir transmitter, we include a simple “DCC Converter” PCB that converts DCC output to the track into Ground, 5V power, and 5V logic DCC. These outputs supply the ProMiniAir transmitter with power and DCC packets to transmit, so no additional power supply is necessary.

For the ProMiniAir receiver, we include a low-cost “DCC amplifier” that converts the ProMiniAir receiver’s 5V logic DCC back to DCC. The onboard DCC decoder would, in its typical configuration, pick up from the track (again, discussed in detail below). The ProMiniAir receiver can be powered directly from the battery or a small external 5V power supply.

This modularity keeps costs down, allows for easy replacement of components rather than the entire assembly, and enables the use of commodity components less susceptible to supply-chain disruptions.

ProMiniAir transmitter connections
ProMiniAir receiver connections

And, you will need an antenna of your choosing! I love antennas, but your antenna requirements are too diverse to offer a “one size fits all” antenna solution. We provide an FCC/IC-approved Anaren “whip” antenna that connects to the U.FL connector on a 10-pin transceiver daughterboard. This antenna should work well for most transmitter applications and is FCC/IC approved for “intentional radiators.”

For the ProMiniAir receiver, some can use the small whip antenna without modification; others will need to run an antenna connecting cable to a small, externally-mounted antenna. We discuss several excellent antenna options below.

Documentation

The definitive source of information for the ProMiniAir transmitter and receiver is available here.

Kit Assembly

We no longer offer the ProMiniAir as a kit.

Firmware Installation

The ProMiniAir Tx and Rx are provided with the firmware already loaded. These instructions are only for advanced users who want to update the firmware.

The source code is available from this GitHub site. Locate the source code in a directory where the Arduino IDE can find it. You should retain the subdirectory structure to access the “project” with the Arduino IDE.

How to download the GitHub zip file that will maintain the directory structure

Depending on whether you want a transmitter or receiver, edit libraries/config/config.h to select the “define” for the transmitter or receiver.

For a receiver (Rx), config.h should look like this:

...
// #define EU_434MHz
/* For World-Wide 2.4GHz ISM band*/
// #define NAEU_2p4GHz

//////////////////////////////
// Set Transmitter or Receiver
//////////////////////////////
/* Uncomment ONLY ONE #define*/
/* For receiver*/
#define RECEIVER
/* For transmitter*/
// #define TRANSMITTER

/////////////////////////////////////////////////
// Set the default channel for NA/EU 900MHz only!
/////////////////////////////////////////////////
#if defined(NAEU_900MHz)
/* Uncomment ONLY ONE #define*/
/* To set the default to NA channel  0 for 869/915MHz ISM bands only!*/
#define NA_DEFAULT
/* To set the default to EU channel 18 for 869/915MHz ISM bands only!*/
// #define EU_DEFAULT
#endif

//////////////////////////////////////////
// Set the transceiver's crystal frequency
//////////////////////////////////////////
/* Uncomment ONLY ONE #define*/
/* For 27MHz transceivers (e.g., Anaren 869/915MHz (CC110L) and Anaren 869MHz (CC1101) radios)*/
// #define TWENTY_SEVEN_MHZ
/* For 26MHz transceiver (almost all other radios, including Anaren 433MHz (CC1101), 915MHz (CC1101), and 2.4GHz (CC2500) radios)*/
#define TWENTY_SIX_MHZ


...

If you want a transmitter (Tx), then config.h should be

...
// #define EU_434MHz
/* For World-Wide 2.4GHz ISM band*/
// #define NAEU_2p4GHz

//////////////////////////////
// Set Transmitter or Receiver
//////////////////////////////
/* Uncomment ONLY ONE #define*/
/* For receiver*/
// #define RECEIVER
/* For transmitter*/
#define TRANSMITTER

/////////////////////////////////////////////////
// Set the default channel for NA/EU 900MHz only!
/////////////////////////////////////////////////
#if defined(NAEU_900MHz)
/* Uncomment ONLY ONE #define*/
/* To set the default to NA channel  0 for 869/915MHz ISM bands only!*/
#define NA_DEFAULT
/* To set the default to EU channel 18 for 869/915MHz ISM bands only!*/
// #define EU_DEFAULT
#endif

//////////////////////////////////////////
// Set the transceiver's crystal frequency
//////////////////////////////////////////
/* Uncomment ONLY ONE #define*/
/* For 27MHz transceivers (e.g., Anaren 869/915MHz (CC110L) and Anaren 869MHz (CC1101) radios)*/
// #define TWENTY_SEVEN_MHZ
/* For 26MHz transceiver (almost all other radios, including Anaren 433MHz (CC1101), 915MHz (CC1101), and 2.4GHz (CC2500) radios)*/
#define TWENTY_SIX_MHZ

...

Two further options are available. The first option selects the crystal frequency of the FCC/EC-approved transceiver: 27MHz (Anaren) or 26MHz (Ebyte). The second option specifies North American or European default use.

After you complete downloading the firmware into the Pro Mini, please do not remove the USB connection from the computer until the “secondary” LED, which indicates attempted communication over the SPI (serial peripheral interface), flashes on (it will not be bright). This step ensures you properly initialize the EEPROM!

You load the firmware into the Pro Mini MCU using an “AVR ISP,” such as the Sparkfun Pocket AVR Programmer or a less-expensive clone. This “ISP” downloading mode will bypass and erase the bootloader to directly load the firmware into the Pro Mini MCU. On boot-up with the bootloader now erased, the Pro Mini MCU will almost instantly supply “5V logic DCC” to the DCC amplifier, which provides the DCC decoder with standard DCC waveforms. There is no “boot-up DC” and no need to set CV29, bit2=0. (I set it anyway.) With this solution, all DCC decoders I’ve tried (ESU, Zimo, MTH) startup without the “boot-up jerk.”

This “ISP” form of loading firmware is not as extensively used by folks using the Arduino IDE, but ISP loading is easily accessible within the Arduino IDE. The overly-brief method of ISP programming steps are the following:

  1. Remove the transceiver daughterboard and the jumper (if inserted).
  2. Connect the USBtinyISP (or other) Programmer (with power switch ON to supply 5V DC to the ProMiniAir PCB while programming) to the 6-pin connector on the ProMiniAir.
  3. From the Arduino IDE, Select Tools → Programmer → “USBtinyISP” (or whatever ISP programmer you use).
  4. Select the AirMiniSketchTransmitter sketch.
  5. Select Sketch → Upload using a Programmer.
  6. The Arduino IDE will compile the sketch and download the resulting firmware to the Pro Mini via the USBtinyISP, bypassing (and erasing) the bootloader. 

Once the ProMiniAir receiver or transmitter firmware is installed in the Pro Mini and inserted into the ProMiniAir PCB, the ProMiniAir is ready for integration!

Integration

To complete the integration of the ProMiniAir receiver (Rx) or transmitter (Tx), you must establish several connections.

Overview of Connections

See the picture below for an overview of the connections to and from the ProMiniAir. Which connections you use depends on whether the ProMiniAir will act as a receiver (Rx) or a transmitter (Tx). THERE IS NO PROTECTION AGAINST INCORRECT BATTERY OR EXTERNAL POWER CONNECTIONS!!! You will destroy the ProMiniAir immediately if you reverse the GROUND and POSITIVE POWER SUPPLY connection!

Data and power connections for PMA Rx
Data and power connections for PMA Tx

The Anaren and Ebyte transceiver daughterboards have a versatile
U.FL plug for antenna connections. You can plug in either the
Anaren whip antenna we provide or a U.FL-to-SMA or U.FL-to-RP-SMA
cable that screws into a remotely-mounted antenna. Also, a two-pin
output provides Ground and the DCC input to (Tx) or output from
(Rx) the RF transceiver board, serving as signals to an oscilloscope for
waveform review. See the figure below for details
on these connections.

ProMiniAir antenna connector (female RP SMA) and transceiver DCC input/output

The ProMiniAir has several connections that provide AVR programmer, I2C display outputs, and 5V logic DCC inputs or outputs. See the photo below.

ProMiniAir connections for AVR programmer, I2C display output, and 5V logic DCC input or output

We will break down these connections for the ProMiniAir receiver and transmitter in the following two sections.

Receiver Connections

Starting with the ProMiniAir configured as a receiver (Rx), several options exist for providing power. The first option is to use external battery power and jumper the +5V and +5V (Battery) pins to use the onboard 5V regulator to provide board +5V supply.

ProMiniAir power connection options (for Rx only, the Tx receives power from the DCC Converter).

Since you may not like the heat generated by the onboard 5V regulator when you supply power with external battery power and install the jumper, as an alternative, you may use an external +5V power supply, as shown below, where the external power supply provides Ground and +5V. Of course, you do NOT install the jumper.

ProMiniAir receiver powered by an external +5V power supply (older PMA version, but the connections are the same for newer versions)
Close-up of ProMiniAir receiver power connections to an external +5V power supply (older PMA version, but the connections are the same for newer versions)

The ProMiniAir receiver must connect to an external DCC amplifier that converts the 5V logic DCC from the ProMiniAir receiver to DCC A/B that a DCC decoder requires. This DCC amplifier uses battery power and the inputs from the ProMiniAir receiver to provide the power and DCC messages, coded as a bipolar DCC waveform, to the decoder for both power and DCC messages. These “DCC amplifiers” are usually medium to large amperage amplifiers that accept pulse width modulation (PWM) input to provide precision output control for electric motors. The maximum PWM frequency of these amplifiers is usually high enough (> 20kHz) to reproduce DCC packets accurately.

Depending on the particulars of your installation, the author will provide an appropriate DCC amplifier as part of your PMA Rx purchase.

Close-up of the inputs to the DCC amplifier from the ProMiniAir receiver

Some DCC amplifiers have their specialized connector configurations, as shown below, for a GROVE-compliant amplifier.

Example of another DCC amplifier’s connections to the ProMiniAir receiver

Integration of the ProMiniAir Receiver into a Locomotive

Of course, the real purpose of the ProMiniAir receiver is to integrate it into a locomotive for wireless DCC control using an onboard battery as power. An excellent high-power (13A continuous) DCC amplifier may be purchased here, as shown below. This Cytron MD13S amplifier is the one we provide with the ProMiniAir receiver unless determined otherwise for size constraints. You can successfully use more expensive high-amperage amplifiers (about $30 US as of 2020) found at Pololu here or here. These amplifiers are smaller (0.8″ x 1.3″) than the Cytron.

ProMiniAir receiver integration with battery power, DCC amplifier, and antenna (older PMA version, but the connections are the same for newer versions)
Example Installation

Transmitter Connections

Now, let’s turn the ProMiniAir used as a transmitter (Tx) of DCC messages from any DCC-compatible throttle.

The photo below shows the connections between an interface board that takes throttle DCC A/B