Piedmont 'N Southern Model Railroad Club -- Service with 'Nthusiasm


To operate our layout(s), the Piedmont 'N Southern relies on several key elements:

  • Adherence to minimum wiring standards, both NTrak and Bend Track, to insure reliable power and control transmission.  (TODO: get photo of new and old module wiring)
  • Modular power connectors and power strips, with matching track segments connected to allow switching any mainline from DCC to DC by just moving one plug from one strip to another.
  • Support for DC operation (see above).  Several members have DC locos which we enjoy running, and often visitors will bring DC equipment in for a test spin.
  • Support for DCC operation.  The flexibility of DCC really shines at shows, when we have multiple operators running numerous trains over the same trackage.  We can simply focus on collision-avoidance, without having to route power to blocks.
  • Digitrax DCC equipment.  As can be seen in the photos, the backbone of our DCC system is the Digitrax Loconet.  Two of our members have their DCS-100 control stations (and additional power booster) mounted in portable "toolboxes" which can be quickly unplugged from their home layouts and plugged in at the show.  These boxes can be placed under the layout, out of the way, and "just run".
  • Wireless throttles.  Both of the DCC "toolboxes" also have built-in wireless transceivers, one duplex and one non-duplex, to support various wireless throttles. (TODO: get photo of throttles)  The wireless throttles are indispensable in our walkaround environment, and allow our operators to stand with or behind the crowd while running trains.
  • JMRI software.  We use the open-source JMRI (Java Model Railroad Interface) software primarily to program decoders in our DCC-equipped loco.  If a laptop computer is available, we've also run trains using the Throttle feature (from inside the "pit").  The software has features for controlling the layout and running trains, but we're not taking advantage of that yet.  The key hurdle is wiring the modules for loco detection.
  • WiThrottle use.  JMRI has a Wireless Throttle server feature which can be connected to from iPhone and Android phones to function as a wireless throttle.  The iPhone/iTouch/iPad app is called WiThrottle, and the Android app is called Engine Driver.  One of our members is an active developer of the Engine Driver app, so the shows provide an excellent testing ground for new features.
  • RaspberryPi as an access point and JMRI computer.   To simplify the use of JMRI and WiThrottle, we have a tiny RaspberryPi computer which runs JMRI, and also acts as a WiFi access point.  So our members can simply turn on main power, and the RPi will startup and load JMRI.  Within 2 minutes, members can connect and start running trains from their devices.  The RPi has no screen or keyboard, so it can stay nicely out of the way in the electronics box.

by R & T