Most of us consider ourselves serious model railroaders – very much into prototype modeling, or at least prototype-based freelance modeling. Michael and Scott are more in the former category, I’m more in the second. But sometimes you just want to see a train run while you’re working.
A bit over four years ago, Michael put together something he called the “DCC auto-reverser” out of an Arduino, an LCD shield, and a motor shield. We designed it for the St. Louis Railway Prototype Modelers’ meet to just operate a train back and forth on our short test track, stopping and reversing the engine when it tripped a sensor at either end. As soon as Scott Thornton saw it, he wanted one for his IAIS Milan Branch so he could have a train moving around while he worked on scenery and other things. Michael published an article on how to build it, and that was pretty much that. We didn’t think of it as a product at the time. It was just a clever hack we’d put together to solve a problem, and we put the solution out there for others who were interested in building their own.
We’d periodically get inquiries about building one, and a few questions about substituting newer parts since the original Arduino shields used were getting hard to find. Since Tam Valley exited the market and no longer offers their Train Shuttle controller, there really aren’t any commercial solutions (that I know of) to this fairly common need. So, back in April we decided to finally give it a go and try making it into a real, complete, supported product.
We figure there’s some market for exactly what we were using it for – show and store demo layouts – as well as things like Scott’s application of having some action on your point-to-point layout while you’re working, or maybe a trolley or interurban line running in the background on a layout. Since I was already working on the Fast Clock redesign (more on that in the coming weeks), we felt that form factor – a fascia-mountable screen with four keys – was also well-suited to this problem. A couple days prototyping and doing design work, and we sent the first version off to fabrication. Firmware came together last weekend, as the weather was a bit hot and miserable outside.
So, I’m pleased to offer you the first look at a (yet unnamed) train shuttle controller. Right now it’s the ckt-pingpong, and strangely right now Michael’s working on another project that’s codenamed the ckt-dingdong, so clearly the solder fumes and being shut in for months might be affecting us in bad ways. My top contender for a name right now is simply “The Motorman” because thinking about the problem evokes images of a trolley making its way back and forth. The fact that I’m secretly a traction nerd probably plays into that as well.
- User-selectable DC or DCC operation
- Up to 12V @ 2A output
- Up to 14 DCC configurations for:
- Locomotive address
- Top speed
- Acceleration/deceleration rate
- Functions on all the time, in forward, and in reverse
- One DC configuration for top speed and accel/decel rates
- Programmable delay at each end stop
- Manual tweaking to adjust speed and direction at run time
- Stop/Run button so that operations can be paused
- Open source, as always – all of the source files are here on Github
As I was waiting on a pizza to bake last night for dinner, I threw together a quick video of the controller, showing off its features while connected to a test track on my workbench. Here’s a look at the new controller in action.