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An Introduction to DCC For Your Model Railway

Digital Command Control (DCC) gives you many benefits over (DC) analogue control. You can individually control several locomotives at the same time, operate headlights, operate sounds (if the loco has a sound decoder fitted) and even control points, signals and other accessories on your layout if you wish.

Jumping into DCC can be a costly exercise as opposed to DC, but for many it’s a worthy investment.

To get running with DCC you will need two things…

  1. A DCC controller
  2. Decoder(s) to suit your locomotives(s)  

Another thing to keep in mind is once you go DCC, you have to commit to DCC. You can't run DC locomotives on a DCC system so if you have a fair collection of locomotives you will need to install decoders on any locomotives you want to run.

DCC has become very popular and many brands have jumped on board including Bachmann, NCE, Digitrax, Roco and many more. A good system to start out with is the NCE PowerCab. The PowerCab is a powerful controller with a lot of functionality at a very reasonable price. Everything is provided to get you started, aside from a decoder for your locomotive (we'll get to that soon).

With a unit like the PowerCab, you have the ability to upgrade components of the DCC system which will give you greater control and power, such as a 5 or 10 amp booster which will allow you to run more locomotives and may be necessary to power larger layouts. 

Depending on what DCC system you go with, check if the brand is NMRA Compatible. This allows locomotives with various NMRA compatible decoders to run on your layout.

Do your research on a few system before making a choice. Make sure that the system you go with has the features that you need. Here's a few things to keep in mind:

  • How many Locomotives do I want to run?
  • How much of my layout do I want to control digitally (signals, points, etc...)?
  • How big will my layout be and how much power will I need?
  • How compatible is the system with other brands?

All of your locomotives will need to have decoders installed in order to work with the DCC system. Decoders generally come as a 6 pin, 8 pin, 21 pin or Next18 pin. Decoders come in multiple different sizes with different functionalities. Newer locomotives will come either 'DCC Ready' or 'DCC On-Board'. 

DCC Ready - Most locomotives produced now will come DCC Ready. This means out of the box the locomotive will only run DC, but inside the locomotive there is a small plug (sometimes there is a blanking plug installed). Simply plug your DCC decoder into the locomotive (making sure its the correct way around) and program it to your controller. 

DCC On-Board - Many brands are now offering DCC On-Board. This means out of the box the locomotive has a DCC decoder installed and is ready to go. Some loco's with DCC On-Board may also come with built in sound. 

DC Only - Older locomotives will be DC only, a few manufacturers are still producing DC only locomotives as a way of reducing costs. DC only means that there is no plug in the locomotive for plugging a decoder into. This doesn't mean the loco can't be fitted with a decoder, it will just need to be soldered in instead. 

Older or basic locomotives such as an old Lima locomotive will require soldering skills to install the decoder. These decoders have 9 wires coming out of the decoder or harness. Your job is to follow the diagram provided with the decoder, and solder those wires to the respective places on the mechanism. If in doubt, you can always contact us at Hearns Hobbies (03 9629 1425) for help. You need a soldering iron, solder and heat shrink, plus extra wire and cutting equipment. Although difficult at first and scary, once you do it the first time, it is relatively easy to go on and do it the second time and so on. 

Depending on your locomotive, its lights may not be the right voltage for the decoder. You will need to fit resistors to them before chipping in your decoder or this will result in damaging your decoder. I recommend LEDs with resistors as they last longer and look better than incandescants. LEDs and resistors can be purchased from certain hobby shops or Jaycar. 

A feature (that can be turned off if desired) is the ability to run your DCC decoder equipped locomotive on a normal DC layout. Various decoder brands will perform better in this than others. But note there are decoders out there that can only run on DCC - mainly older sound decoders. Double check by reading the instructions accompanying your decoder! When you do run your DCC decodered locomotive on a DC track you will note how long it takes to get the train running. This is becasue every time you apply voltage you are booting the chip up, it then senses DC/DC then act accordingly.

Only then will the train move. So you cannot doublehead with a non DCC loco for instance. You have this delay everytime from 'off' to 'moving away'. 

It is best to purchase decoders which are NMRA compatible. That way you can buy many decoders which are NMRA compatible depending on your taste, but they will all run together and fine on your NMRA compatible controller and layout. 

Sound in a locomotive can really bring things to life! It gives a very realistic impression of your train running on your layout. Although compatible on DC layouts, it's fully accessible on DCC. All functions are available, from bell, whistle, horn, coupler crash, cooling fans, etc... Your DCC controller should be able to cater for all sounds that are accessible on your locomotive. 

Some companies such as Austrains & Hornby have sound available on certain locomotives. These are already sound equipped, and ready to run on your layout with sound. 

You can get accessory decoders to control points, signals etc...

These are specific for the job - some example control items are like Peco point or Tortoise motors. Others are more flexible in what they control. 

Most systems allow you to throw a point (activated from the accessory decoder) from your controller. There are devices allowing you to convert your control panel to issue these commands as well. 

Computer Control:  
Many systems have a computer interface either built in or as a extra unit. These can let you do whatever you can on a throttle, such as drive a train, throw a point or sense a train in a section. 

For example, when programming a loco, you can keep files for a loco so reprogram it can all be done from the PC! 

You need to make sure your layout is DCC compatible. Track must be very clean and no obstructions. As you can control trains separately, points do not need to have isolation functions commonly found with Insulfrog points. The best bet is to use Electrofrog points which when wired correctly will give very smooth operation. 

Once your locomotive is chipped, and your layout connected to your DCC controller, you can place your locomotive on your layout and play. Default settings have the locomotive's address number at 3. You can tweak around with the decoder's settings to change its address, motor control, headlight functions, etc... Refer to the user's manual for instructions. 

There's a lot of work related to DCC, and plenty to ponder. But DCC is a lot of fun when you get the hang of it, and it's easy to expand by purchasing a more advanced controller, or adding a booster pack to increase the number of trains operating on your layout (ordinary controllers allow around 3-4 HO/N scale trains to run at one time). 

Last but not least, it's simply up to you on what choice system or decoder you choose. You choose the best for you. Check out its features and compatibility to determine your end preference. 

Changing OO Scale Couplers to Kadee Knuckle Couplers

A common question we get asked is "Can you change standard OO couplers to Kadee knuckle couplers?". It can be done on newer OO scale locomotives & rolling stock with a few exceptions. Pre NEM stock can't be converted as easily and requires a certain amount of DIY modification to change the couplings.

How to change your couplings

Changing couplers on newer OO scale locomotive is relatively straight forward, providing it is a newer loco with a NEM socket. Here we will be using a Bachmann Branchline L&YR 2-4-2 Tank Locomotive and a #18 Kadee coupling.

Removing The Coupling

Removing the coupling is very simple. Flip the locomotive upside down and hold firmly by the body (be careful of the finer details on the loco), hold the coupling on either side and pull firmly.


The coupling should pop straight out leaving the NEM pocket ready for a Kadee coupling. As you can see below, both couplings have the same barbs for direct change into the loco.

Installing The New Coupling

Installing the new Kadee coupling is as easy as removing the old one. Holding the loco firmly upside down, line up the new Kadee coupling with the NEM box. You will need to squeeze the barbs together to fit them into the box. 

Once lined up and the barbs have been squeezed into the end of the socket, give a small push and you'll feel the coupling click into its location. 

That's it! Your new Kadee knuckle coupling has been installed. Whilst knuckle couplings on British locomotives aren't 'correct' to the real thing, they do look better than standard OO couplings and this gives the opportunity to run OO scale stock with HO scale stock. 

An Introduction to OO Scale Narrow Gauge Modelling

An Introduction to OO Scale Narrow Gauge Modelling

Narrow gauge modelling has been around for almost as long as standard gauge. Due to a lack of ready to run models, narrow gauge was only possible for those who had the time, patience and skill to scratch build their own models. This is until recently when Peco began producing track, rolling stock and accessories. Minitrains have also entered the market, producing incredible little ready to run locomotives, rolling stock and the recent addition of tight radius set track. Having seen the potential, Heljian and Bachmann currently have locomotives in development with release dates for 2017.

What is OO Scale Narrow Gauge?

OO scale narrow gauge, (commonly knows as 00-9) is 1/76 scale. The major difference is the narrow gauge trains run on N scale track (9mm between the rails) as opposed to standard OO gauge, (16.5mm between the rails). This represents roughly a 2ft narrow gauge line. To give you an idea of scale, here's one of Minitrains Gmeinder diesel locomotives next to a Hornby Class 08.

As you can see, there is quite a difference in size.

What is the difference between 00-9 & N scale track?

There are no running differences between N scale and 00-9, they're both 9mm between the rails and run a standard code 80 rail.  The only difference being that 00-9 track has the correct sleeper size and spacing as N scale sleepers look cramped in a 00-9 situation. The photo below shows from top to bottom: OO standard gauge, 00-9 narrow gauge and N standard gauge. 

Why model narrow gauge?

Real world narrow gauge railways were always unique. They were generally built on a low budget in harsh environments. Due to the size of the locomotives you can build a railway in a very small area (narrow gauge railways have been built in suitcase and pizza boxes) but still add a lot of character. Here's an example:


Venturing into narrow gauge can be an exciting experience. Building a layout in a small space also means it can be completed in much less time than most standard gauge layouts. 

Hearns Hobbies are now carrying Minitrains and Peco narrow gauge products. See our range online or come in store to see these wonderful little trains. 

New Model Train Test Layout!

New Model Train Test Layout!

So you're wanting to build a layout but don't know where to start?
Or you're in the process of building one but stuck at certain stage, not sure what to do next or how to do it?

Well have decided that our shop needs a new Test Layout.
So we are going to build it layout, and document the processes we go through in building it.

After many years of Service, our old Test Track is in need a bit of a face lift.

As you can see it's not overly attractive, but it does the job.

So we're going to replace it with a longer and Wider one.

This layout will be fully sceniced using products available in store.

So the first thing we need to do, is to figure out what space we have available.

We have an area of 1600mm x 650mm available, with a decent amount of head room for a back scene to be added as well.

So we've decided to make it 1500mm Long and 600mm wide

Here's a very rough plan of what we are going to make.

As you can see it's been designed so the Railway is on an Embankment.
We feel this will be a nice element of the layout as it will show off the items we run on it nicer than if they were on the flat.

First thing to do after we've worked out a plan is to then get some wood for the Baseboard.

We used what ever wood we had lying around out the back of the shop, which happened to be part of an old Shelf made out of Chipboard.

So we cut that to the length & width we wanted.

I then proceed to lay the track out on the board to see what it would look like and so I could work out how much wood we would need for the raised section.

We are using Peco Code 100 & Code 80

On the subject of track, I feel one of the best tools to use for cutting track are the Xuron Track Cutters. As opposed to Track Saws, which don't give as a much of a clean finish on the rail heads.


 Now that we've got an idea of how the track layout will look, we will cut the wood for the track bed.

I transferred the track onto some old Chipboard and drew an outline of the track on the boards. Then Cut out the outline using a Jigsaw.

Once I was happy with the shape I then got some 42mm x 19mm Pine for the risers and cut those to the width of the track bed.

I then Glued and Screwed the risers to the baseboard, then the track bed to the risers.

Looking good so far.

Now we'll add our backscene.

Again, we just used whatever wood we had lying around.
Which happened to be a sheet of MDF.
I would suggest using Plywood for the back board to reduce weight but if have other suitable wood feel free to use that.

Anyway MDF is what we had so we'll use that.

I cut the board to 270mm in width as the available vertical space we have is around 330mm.
I then decided to add some vertical strength to it by gluing and screwing some more pieces of pine to the Baseboard and backboard as seen below.
I also added some Angled pieces of MDF to the end of the layout to provide more vertical strength to the back board as well as keeps the scene a bit more enclosed.

Now that the main structure is finished we'll draw a basic plan of some of the main scenic features on the layout, including a Road, Dam/Pond, a small town scene and maybe a small station.

Next we move on to track laying.

After placing our track on the trackbed we then trace around it so we know where to place our underlay.

For this layout we are going to be using both Foam underlay and traditional Cork.

We'll start with the foam underlay.
We're going to be using the 'Trackrite H505A' Track underlay.

I had never used this product before, and I found it very easy to work with.
You don't need to cut sections out of it to make it go round corners like you do with cork; and if you do need to cut it for points it cuts very nicely with very little effort and a sharp knife.

Once it's been all glued down we can then place the track on it.
The trackrite underlay has been designed with a locating shoulder so you can place your track in it and it will hold the track on top of the foam without needing to fix it down to double check if it will all flow smoothly.

While waiting for the glue to dry we will move on to the N Scale track.

We will be using Cork for the N scale underlay.
There are different methods of cutting cork, I decided to lay the cork loosely on the Track Bed and then grab a pencil & draw along the edge of the Track bed.

I then grabbed a sharp knife and cut along the line I drew.
With that done I place it on the track bed and tidied up a few of the edges.
Once happy I then glue it down.

Now we move on to fixing down the track.

Most people still use Track Pins to fix their track down.
I will also be using this method.

To start off we want to drill through the sleepers and into the wood slightly. As this will allow the pins to go in easier and won't distort the sleepers as much.

You want to use a Drill bit slightly smaller than the thickness of the pins you are using so the pins will have something to bite on to when they go in.

You want to be careful when you hit the pins in so as you don't go too far and bend the sleepers, like I did...

As you can see I've started putting the pins in the middle of the track.

Now this is the traditional method of Tacking track, but I prefer putting the Pins in a criss-cross fashion.
The reason for this being that your eye will tend to look down the middle of the track and you will notice the track pins.
Where as if you put them off centre they won't be as noticeable.

I then did the following steps for the N Scale Track.

While also putting the Pins off centre.

These are the pins we used for the for the N scale Track.


So this what our layout is looking like so far...

We'll leave it there for today. 

Next update will be our very basic & easy wiring and the start of our landscaping.


Till then.


METCAFE 00/HO and N Scale Buildings

METCAFE 00/HO and N Scale Buildings

Metcafe is a great company from England producing highly detailed cardboard die-cut buildings form model railways scenery. The Range is rather wide and it includes, stations, sheds, schools, churches, bridges, roads and a many other objects. Check our range here.

Hearns Hobbies Melbourne - Metcafe Model Train Buildings

The Metcafe comes flat pack and it required few tools to build:

1) Hobby Knife ( Excel Nr11)

2) Cardoard glue

3)Optional Magnetic Clamps 



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DCC Concepts

DCC Concepts website

Woodland Scenics

Woodland Scenics website