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The saga of the Tsunami

by Webmaster on October 27th, 2010

It happens to us all but this story just emphasizes that Model Railroading is not always fun, but the final results are very satisfying.

Chapter one:

I have a pair of old Atlas FP 9s that I want to run on my new passenger train, of course I wanted sound. I modified one FP 9 frame to accommodate a Tsunami first generation 567 prime mover. That went well. Next I ordered a Soundtraxx Tsunami decoder from Tony’s Train Exchange, a very reliable firm. First bad news: the item was back ordered and Soundtraxx was having delivery problems. Weeks passed. Finally my new toy arrived. I immediately installed it in the locomotive, hard wiring it because the locomotive is so old it had no DCC plug. That went very smoothly and it fit, along with the speaker, perfectly. Next step program the decoder. As a point of information in order to program a sound decoder you must have a program booster. These are made by several manufactures and work well. I have one. I programmed the decoder without any problems using my Digitrax system. I adjusted the volume for all the functions and, of course, changed the address. Next I tested everything on the program track and made sure that everything was in order on minimum voltage. This is something that must be done to insure that the decoder is installed properly. All was well.

Chapter two:

Next the big moment arrived and I placed the unit on the layout! Wow it came to life and started up with great sound including the prime mover, bell, whistle, air compressor, and all the other functions available. Satisfaction and pleasure swept over me. I placed the FP 9, along with its sister, on my passenger train, whistled off and started its first run. What a sight hauling eight heavy weights around the Shoals it was, until the second lap! Smoke, the curse of all DCC decoders, and also my friend Don Howd’s Dynatrol decoders, blasted out of the FP 9! Oh no, this is not good. I removed the locomotive, took off the body and there it was, a melted decoder. Sadness and disappointment and a few dollar signs overcame me. As I have been in DCC for many years and have a one hundred percent sound layout I knew the decoder was finished. I sent it back to Soundtraxx with a description of what happened. Weeks passed.

Chapter three:

Finally one day the UPS truck arrived with a package from Durango Colorado, my decoder had been repaired absolutely free. I felt bad so I emailed Soundtraxx and told them I would be glad to pay for the shipping as it could have been my instillation that caused the smoke. They have not responded. Off to the basement I went. Re instillation included making absolutely sure the motor was isolated from the frame. I had assumed it was the first time because the locomotive was DCC equipped initially. The big moment arrived and I placed the FP 9 on the layout and low and behold it came to life with great sound. Happiness prevailed throughout the train room.

Chapter four:

Back to the work bench I went to adjust all the sounds and re-address the unit. I placed the unit on the program track, asked for a playback of the address, it should be three, and got those famous words “No Decoder detected”. Oh no not again. I tried all three modes, Direct, Physical, and page, still “No decoder detected” came up. I placed the decoder on the layout and went to operations mode. I changed all the functions with the locomotive in address three and everything worked. Unfortunately you can’t change the address in operation mode without a, at least to me, complicated series of key strokes which Digitrax has managed to make confusing to say the least. None the less I tried. As I tried the program a burst of beeps from my command center, I have a Chief with one booster, started to sound! This is not good. I left the work shop to investigate and found the entire layout with track power but without signal. I quit and went upstairs. I might mention that at this point I was sick with a chest cold and miserable.

Chapter five:

The next day I went back down into what I was now referring to as my torture chamber and decided the first thing to do was trouble shoot the layout. After an hour of disconnecting wires, swapping out my DCS 200 with a spare and tracing my buss I found nothing abnormal. Then dawn broke over Marble Head. I took a throttle and reset the layout power to run. Viola the layout was alive and well. Somehow I had shut down the layout when I tried to re-address the locomotive in operation mode.

Chapter six:

Back to the bench I went. This time I focused on my program track wiring. I checked all visual connections and found everything in order. The leads to the program track are connected by butt splice connectors that do not allow visual inspection so I cut them, dissected them, and found a broken wire! I fixed it. I placed the locomotive, which by now I was tired of looking at, on the test track, went to program direct, and viola each CV talked back to me and I was able to program the correct address. The locomotive runs perfectly and my mission was accomplished, after nine weeks, much frustration, and anguish directed mostly at me.

The morals of this story are many. Don’t give up. Don’t assume that you caused the initial problem. Don’t assume that a manufacturer will not support you. And most of all look for the simplest solutions first. I love this hobby and will enjoy for many years telling this story, I already look back at it and smile. I hope my crew and visitors enjoy the results of my labors, and I hope some of them will say “hey Carl that FP 9 set on your passenger train looks and sounds great”.

To Atlas, Soundtraxx, and Digitrax, and all the others, who make our modeling experiences so great I thank you.

Carl Senftleben, Atlantic Shoals Railway, Saugus, Massachusetts.

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