03/17/14, 10/09/15- This was on closeout, looked cool, and was printed
with the Reichsadler (eagle). That guaranteed that it would fit in the
same time period as the BR 01.10. I was new to DCC and after having run
some of my old locomotives in DC compatibility mode, I knew that I wanted
a DCC-only layout. Amazingly, I found a very helpful blog that described
fitting an ESU Lokpilot decoder to this specific model-- which is sort
of miraculous since there are so many different loco releases and very
few reviews and articles about them. The writer described his difficulties
fitting a decoder into what was sold as a a DCC-Ready loco; it was my
first inkling that DCC was not quite "plug 'n play", even for relatively
The author described the situation perfectly: A wired decoder would
have to be used with wires trimmed to just the right length so it would
fit in the very tiny space left after removing the lead weight under the
roof. If you left too much excess wire, the roof wouldn't seat and would
pop off. I spent hours learning this, before trimming the wires to the
exact length to reach the decoder socket.
Inside, there's no wasted space. Four elongated tabs clamp the motor/metal chassis to the circuit board and route power pickup from the pantographs. A switch on the bottom lets you select whether you want to use rail power or the pantographs. The motor has a single flywheel. On the circuit board, the decoder motor leads run through inductors, while the head/tail light leads run through resistors on their way to the LEDs, and on the other end through a network of capacitors and a voltage regulator (?) for DC operation (?). I'm not really sure how that works since it doesn't use the blue "common" wire from the decoder-- in DC mode, a small circuit board plugs into the NEM socket in place of the decoder.
Staying on Track: After that hurdle, I ran it, but was disappointed.
It derailed frequently and ran fitfully over turnouts; stopping and lifting
up when it passed over the frog. I thought the problem was that the wheel
flanges were too deep (the "pizza cutters" that I'd read about?) and mentally
scenario'd how I might Dremel the wheel flanges to fix this problem. Fortunately,
I was too scared to attempt that and resigned myself to the belief that
it was just a crummy, older model. I was bummed. Hopefully, I could find
another loco that ran as well as the BR 01.10, straight out of the box
(I don't deliberately buy stuff that I know will need fixing).
At this point, my confidence in my tinkering ability was pretty low.
After dealing with other locos, I learned one very important lesson:
Straight out of the box, a loco's wheels aren't necessarily adjusted optimally!
Once I adjusted the wheel spacing on the axles, all the problems disappeared.
The loco drove smoothly over turnouts without hesitating or glitching.
It turns out that the derailing problem also was caused by something completely
different: One of the cab housings was binding with the body, occasionally
preventing it from pivoting at curves. I ground down the small area where
the binding was happening and the problem was solved.
These little fixes changed everything, but when you're new to this it
can be very hard to correctly diagnose symptoms. I'd thought that the
E94 was a dog, but it turned out to be a great runner with incredible
Electric Loco Sound: I didn't feel any pressing need to turn
this into a sound loco. I listened to sound samples of electric locos
(and diesels) and wasn't wowed by the running sounds-- not anywhere near
as interesting as steam. (For that matter, I think US locos have more
interesting sounds than the European locos whether electric, diesel, or
steam.) Consequently, I did the sound conversion long after I'd gained
experience with the steam locos.
Even though it had great electrical pickup, there was absolutely no
room to fit a sound decoder and speaker in the locomotive body. This was
no surprise and not really an obstacle since I'd embraced the sound car
solution. With my steam locos, I'd used miniature plugs to share power
between the loco (which usually had good power pickup) and the sound car.
Because of this electric loco's design, it would have been difficult to
route power to a plug. Because of this, it would have to be a standalone
sound car, with no power shared between other cars.
My experience with standalone sound cars had been discouraging: With
each truck drawing power from a single rail, the electrical conduction
was far too unreliable for a sound decoder. Once I learned of trucks that
picked up power from both rails in a single truck, the standalone sound
car became viable. I used a long modern tender with recent-production
Bachmann trucks to pick up power. The huge interior space made it easy
to fit the sound decoder, speaker, and a 220-ohm 1/2 watt resistor for
simulating the motor load. I found an interesting sound set for a modern
electric loco at the ESU website; even added a third USA airhorn, just
for grins. So much for prototypical modeling!
ESU'S LOKPROGRAMMER: 10/25/15- If you've invested in ESU programmable
decoders, you won't regret getting their hardware/software LokProgrammer.
While you can tweak all sorts of parameters in their LokPilot decoder,
it really shines with their LokSound decoders.
Synchronization With a Sound Car: Sound cars may be the only
solution for giving a train sound when it can't be done any other way,
but it's not without some issues. With this train, an important goal was
synchronizing the LokPilot-equipped E-94 locomotive with the LokSound-equipped
sound car. Once the train is moving, the synchronization is "good
'nuff" for me: It's the starting and stopping that show synchronization
problems, and are the hardest to deal with. The decoder/programmer have
a number of settings to help you deal with this. For example, you can
activate a "virtual drive sound" mode in the LokPilot (under
"Function Mapping tab/Logical functions column" so that you
can specify a motor starting delay (under "Driving Characteristics").
However, it's hard to get perfect start/stop synchronization in all
situations because in a loco/soundcar setup, the two decoders don't share
the motor or talk to each other. My E94's motor starts at a fairly high
throttle point and getting its curve to track with the sound decoder's
virtual motor curve (the resistor) was difficult. If the throttle curves
and acceleration/deceleration times aren't matched, the start/stop synchronization
may work well for one crusing speed, but not another. To cover situations
like that, you can program a function key to turn off the brake squeal.
Rail clank sounds are also difficult to properly start and stop unless
you do it manually.
How it works together depends on the specific sound set and how the
sound slots are programmed (there's a learning curve), and the particulars
of the motor. As the motor/brushes wear, the motor's behavior may change;
My E-94's motor needed brush maintenance, which changed the way it behaved.
On the other hand, my Japanese Imperial train (EF58-61 locomotive with
sound car) synchronizes the start/stop sounds nearly perfectly.
Custom Sounds: A cool feature of ESU's LokSound/Programmer is
being able to create custom sound sets for a locomotive. You can download
sound sets for specific locomotives (European and US), but you can also
pick and mix sounds from their template library. I gave the E94 three
different horn sounds.
One of its most powerful and fun features is the ability to import the
.wav file of your choosing into an available Sound Slot. It's not very
fussy about the sampling format of the .wav file-- it changes it to make
it work. Since I was being frivolous, I put Godzilla's roar into one of
the sound slots, activated by a function key. A more serious use would
be to create a Japanese sound set for a Kato Japanese train (since ESU
doesn't have any in their library). You can grab horn and station announcement
sounds from YouTube or websites, or by recording them in person. (Warning:
The Japanese stations' cheesy synth-classical announcement tones may drive
you batty if you listen to them repeatedly.)
I've learned to exercise some restraint when putting together the sounds.
I had originally set the volume levels of most sounds too high and in-your-face;
Not only were they unrealistic, but they were annoying. The clicking of
the gear shifting should not be louder than the train's rumble! The high-pitched
whine of the engine shouldn't be so loud that it rivals a steam train's
chuff. I think it's okay and understandable when some one-shot sounds
are exaggerated; sound adds fun... But driving sounds are repetitious,
continuous, and can become annoying if they're too in-your-face.