Dead-Rail Conversion of an MTH PREMIER NORFOLK SOUTHERN SD60E DIESEL (O Scale, 2-Rail, PS-3.0): A Follow-up

To change things up, I showed you a “simple” Dead-Rail conversion of a Diesel locomotive in my previous post. This post follows up with an even more straightforward conversion that is very similar to what I do with steam locomotives: leave the DCC decoder and electronics in the locomotive alone except to provide a plug connecting the locomotive’s DCC decoder to an external Dead-Rail DCC source instead of DCC from the rails, which in our case will come from a battery-powered radio receiver and amplifier mounted in a “battery car” (the tender for steam locomotives).

Let’s see how this is done. I will repeat some steps so you do NOT need to refer to the previous post.

The Locomotive Conversion

The first step is to remove the locomotive shell so that we can modify the “2-Rail/3-Rail switch” and convert it to a “2-Rail/Dead-Rail” switch that will maintain the ability to use track power in either DCC or DCS mode and add the ability to use DCC from an external source.

Removing the upper plastic shell was easy; remove eight screws and the rear coupler. That’s one of the beauties of MTH locomotives: they are well-designed for disassembly.

There are four screws to remove at the front and rear of the “speaker pocket” in the middle of the locomotive.
The rear coupler must be removed to access the screws at the locomotive’s rear.
There are four screws to remove at the front and rear of the locomotive. The Kadee couple must be removed to access these screws at the locomotive’s rear.

Separating the chassis from the upper shell, we see the “stand holding the switch we’ll modify.

Side view of the locomotive Interior

Repeating from my previous post: To allow track-based “2-Rail” or “Dead-Rail” Operation, we need to figure out how to get DCC from either the track (“2-Rail Operation”) or from the output of the ProMiniAir Receiver’s Amplifier (“Dead-Rail Operation”). The original 2-Rail/3-Rail switch that routes track power/signal to the PS-3.0 is shown below.

The original 2-Rail/3-Rail switch routes track power/data to the PS-3.0.

These connections were verified by using a multimeter’s resistance-measuring capability. Let’s see how this switch is designed:

When the switch is in the 2-Rail position:

  • The Right Wheels’ output is directed to the PS-3.0’s DCC Track Right by shorting the “Track Right” end post to the “Track Right” center post.
  • The Left Wheels’ output is directed to the PS-3.0’s DCC Track Left since it’s directly soldered to the “Track Left” center post.

When the switch is in the 3-Rail position:

  • The Center Rollers’ output is directed to the PS-3.0’s DCC Track Right by shorting the “Track Left” end post to the “Track Left” center post.
  • Both the Left and Right Wheels’ output is directed to the PS-3.0’s DCC Track Left by shorting the “Track Left” end post to the “Track Left” center post and the “Track Left” end post’s jumper to the “Track Right” end post on the opposite side of the switch. This connection shorts the Right Wheel’s output to the Left Wheel’s output on the center post that then goes to the PS-3.0’s Track Left!

The photo below shows how to rewire this 2-Rail/Dead-Rail Operation switch.

The original 2-Rail/3-Rail switch has been rewired for 2-Rail/Dead-Rail operation.

Repurposing this switch has the following features:

  • The output from the center rollers is disconnected and closed off. Its role was only for 3-Rail Operation.
  • The Right and Left Wheels’ outputs are located on separate posts at one end of the switch (for 2-Rail Operation in either DCC or DCS mode).
  • The Track Right/Track Left DCC outputs from the ProMiniAir Amplifier are located on separate posts at the other end of the switch (for DCC Dead-Rail Operation).
Before/After switch schematics

After remounting the newly-modified 2-Rail/Dead-Rail switch back into its stand, the Dead-Rail wires leading to the switch are connected to wires that have an external plug that will receive Dead-Rail DCC from the “battery car” we’ll describe below.

The Dead-Rail connector from the 2-Rail/Dead-Rail switch to the small external Dead-Rail DCC connector.

A plug is “snaked out” near the rear coupler to connect to the external source of Dead-Rail DCC from the “battery car.”

The Dead-Rail connections between the “battery car” and the locomotive. That’s it: two wires.

Once we screw the upper shell back in place, we are done with locomotive modifications!

All we did was modify one switch and route the new switch connections to a small plug snaked out near the coupler. It can’t be any simpler than that!

Let’s turn to the straightforward “battery car.”

Battery Car Conversion

The photo below shows the components we fit inside a “battery car:” a 14.7V battery that will just fit through the door and a ProMiniAir Receiver/Amplifier. A surface-mount Molex 21004 antenna was mounted to the external metal shell. Surprisingly, reception worked, despite the traditional practice of avoiding antenna mounts on metal surfaces.

A straightforward “battery car” contains the battery and the ProMiniAir Receiver/Amplifier, and a surface mount antenna. Surprisingly, the surface mount Molex 211140 antenna worked OK when mounted externally to the car’s metal shell.

A small hole was drilled in the bottom of the car to pass Dead-Rail DCC from the ProMiniAir Amplifier to a plug that connects to the locomotive.

The small connector exiting the “battery car” that carries Dead-Rail DCC from the ProMiniAir Recevier to the locomotive.

Demonstration

With these Dead-Rail modifications, the video below shows Dead-Rail Operation.

The demonstration of Dead-Rail control using a Standalone ProMiniAir Transmitter controlled by a WiThrottle app on a smartphone. The DCC is wirelessly transmitted to the “battery car’s” ProMiniAir Receiver, providing high-power DCC to the locomotive.

Final Thoughts

The Dead-Rail modifications described here maintain 2-Rail Operation in either DCC or DCS mode, which mode is selected by the DCS/DCC switch.

The 2-Rail/3-Rail switch is repurposed as 2-Rail/Dead-Rail. The DCS/DCC switch is unmodified.

If the 2-Rail/Dead-Rail switch is set to “Dead-Rail,” then the DCS/DCC switch MUST be set to “DCC” so that the PS-3.0 can interpret the DCC signal coming from the ProMiniAir Receiver/Amp in the “battery car.”

This conversion was straightforward:

  • Modify one switch in the locomotive to receive DCC from an external source.
  • Snake a connector from this switch out of the locomotive near the coupler
  • Insert a battery and ProMiniAir Receiver/Amp inside the “battery car.”
  • Snake a connector from the Amplifier out of the “battery car”
  • Connect the two plugs together and couple the car to the locomotive.

I hope this simple conversion will inspire you to try your own conversion! There are locomotives such as PS-3.0-equipped MTH that will make this process easier.

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.

Dead-Rail Conversion of an MTH 2-Rail O Scale 4-6-2 K-4S

Presents the dead-rail (battery power, radio control) of an MTH O scale, 2-Rail K-4s steam locomotive with PS-3.0.

Introduction

I obtained this 2-rail O scale MTH 4-6-2 K-4S (MTH 20-3473-2) on eBay circa November 2020. This model is unusual because it’s a 2-rail version with “scale wheels” and is equipped with a PS-3.0 control board that can operate in either DCS or DCC mode.

Box information on this locomotive

The Good News: No extensive 3-rail to 2-rail conversion was necessary, and no new DCC decoder was required.

The Bad News: This locomotive contained a PS-3.0 board in the tender I had not seen before. Also, this was my first conversion of a 2-rail MTH locomotive, and I had a few issues to learn!

Close-up of MTH PS-3.0 board for the MTH K-4s

Well, let’s seen how to proceed to convert this loco to DCC dead-rail operation.

Analysis of the Electrical Connections

I’ve done several MTH 3-rail conversions with PS-3.0 boards. Still, this locomotive was designed quite differently: it has a switch to select 2-rail or 3-rail operation (a potential problem) and another switch for DCS/DCC operation (easy to take care of).

Bottom view of tender showing switches and electrical pickups. Before dead-rail modification, the grey wire connected the rear left wheels’ voltage to the tender frame, and the brass spring connected the front right wheels’ voltage to the black wires inside the tender.

This is a bit complicated. With this original design, the tender frame assumes the voltage from the tender’s uninsulated rear left wheels (whose right wheels are insulated) via a grey wire connected to the tender frame, which under 2-rail operation is “DCC track left” inputs on the PS-3.0 board. The right track’s voltage is picked up through the copper pickups connected to the tender’s uninsulated front right wheels (whose left side is insulated) and is connected by black wires inside the tender. In 2Rail operation, the 2Rail/3Rail switch will connect these black wires’ voltage to the “DCC track right” on the PS-3.0 board.

Under 3Rail operation, the left/right rails are connected electrically as ground or “DCC track left” (and the frame is now either ground or DCC left rail voltage). A grey wire from the locomotive (which is electrically connected to the locomotive’s center roller pickups) is connected as “hot” or “DCC track right.”

In the original design, several grey wires are connected to the tender frame to pick up the “DCC track left.” Our job is to completely isolate both DCC track right and track left so that the DCC amplifier we add will be the only source of DCC, completely isolated from the tender frame, which will become our battery ground.

We always want to operate in DCC mode, so we need to disable DCS operation permanently.

The following images demonstrate my modifications to isolate all DCC from the frame and permanently enable DCC operation.

These images show several important conversion steps:

  1. Cut and seal off the two wires connected to the DCS/DCC switch. This will permanently enable DCC operation.
  2. Cut and seal off the grey and red wires to the center posts on the 2Rail/3Rail switch to ensure the DCC track’s total isolation right and left from any other electrical connections. This step will ensure no unexpected connections because of this switch’s setting.
  3. Disconnect the two grey wires mounted to the tender frame by one of the mounting screws holding the PS-3.0. One of the grey wires goes to the underside connector on the PS-3.0 board, and it needs to be connected to the DCC Amplifier’s “DCC Track Left” output. The other grey wire electrically connected to the tender’s left wheels should be sealed off. This step electrically isolates the tender frame from any other electrical connections, allowing it to act safely as a ground.
  4. Provide DCC “Track Right/Left” connections from the DCC amplifier (which we will add) to the two grey (DCC Track Left) and two red (DCC Track Right) inputs on the PS-3.0 board. We mentioned one of these connections in step 3, and the other pair of DCC “Track Right/Left” inputs go to the “Track” connector on the side of the PS-3.0 board.
Wiring modifications to isolate DCC from the tender frame and permanently enable DCC operation
Isolation of DCC track left from the tender frame

We need to move the PS-3.0 board forward slightly to make room for the battery, antenna mounting, battery switch, and charging plug. Also, we need to bend down the right side of the PS-3.0 board to provide sufficient clearance for the RF receiver/DCC amplifier that will be mounted on the inside top of the tender shell above the PS-3.0 board.

Also, I removed the two super-capacitors on the PS-3.0 board. The locomotive will then immediately turn off when battery power is turned off: we have no worries that power will be temporarily interrupted as with track power. I like the locomotive to turn off when I disconnect the power. This is not a required modification!

Moving the PS-3.0 board forward to accommodate the battery
Cuts of 2Rail/3Rail switch wires and charging plug mount
The 2Rail/3Rail switch center posts are disconnected
New DCC connections from DCC amplifier to two plugs on the PS-3.0 board
DCC connection to the underside of the PS-3.0 board. This image’s purpose is only to show one of the two plugs where DCC inputs to the PS-3.0 board.

Dead-Rail Additions

The tender modifications to add a 14.8V LiPo battery, antenna mount, battery switch, and charging plug can be seen in several images above. There is nothing unusual about these additions.

I used a Tam Valley Depot DRS1, Mk IV receiver with a U.FL external antenna plug rather than my ProMiniAir receiver and separate DCC amplifier because of space considerations. The Tam Valley’s DCC “Track Right/Left” outputs are connected directly to the two “track right/left” inputs on the PS-3.0 board (on the side and bottom connectors of the PS-3.0 board), as shown in the images above.

Conclusions and Warnings

I cannot emphasize enough the need for complete isolation of the tender frame ground from the DCC voltages output by the DCC amplifier that provides inputs to the PS-3.0 board. If you inadvertently leave a connection of tender frame ground to DCC left (from various grey wires), you may cause a severe short circuit, or the PS-3.0 board will not operate properly. Trust me, I know from a couple of bitter experiences…

Still, this was a fun and reasonably-easy dead-rail conversion, especially so since I didn’t need to modify the locomotive at all.

Here’s the final video of the fully assembled dead-rail locomotive. The PS-3.0 provides a number of DCC functions including:

  1. Directional lighting on/off (F0)
  2. Bell (F1)
  3. Horn (F2)
  4. Start-up/Shutdown (F3)
  5. Passenger/Freight Announcements (F4)
  6. Marker/cabin/firebox lights on/off (F5)
  7. Speaker volume (F6)
  8. Smoke unit on/off (F12)
  9. Smoke unit volume control (F13)
  10. Numerous other features (F0 through F28 are all active). See the Users Manual for extensive details.
Locomotive with final dead-rail installation

Thanks for dropping by!