EF81-81 IMPERIAL ELECTRIC LOCOMOTIVE
KATO 3066-6

N-SCALE LOCOMOTIVE

12/29/15- I had no idea that there were so many of these Imperial locomotives! It just goes to show what happens with too much free time and an Internet browser.

Getting this locomotive played a big part (along with a DD51 diesel locomotive) in motivating me to investigate the mysteries of Advanced Consisting. This is the fourth of five locomotives that I've acquired to use with my Showa era Imperial and Orient Express coaches. I've actually been more interested in working on the consisting project than the locomotives; they're just the pieces that enable it.

It's a good looking locomotive, and I like the plum color much more than the DD-54's bright orange. It comes with detail parts for the side and front number boards and round headboards for the Cassiopeia and Hokutosei limited express passenger trains; these attach to the ends with embedded magnets. With an optional customizing set (Kato 28-236 --very hard to find), you can convert this to the EF81-81 Imperial locomotive. Naturally, it includes the crossed flags for the front, plus white insulators to replace the green ones, windows with silver frames and a couple of other doo-dads for the roof. IMO, not very exciting, and within the realm of DIY. Even though I seem to have an obsession for the Imperial trains, it's more of an obsession for things linked by a common theme: I don't bother attaching the flags any more.

Sorry to sound so blasé about this, but to me, it's just another boxy-looking electric locomotive (and there are a lot of them with different model numbers) that's constructed very much like the DD-54. Installing the LokPilot decoder was just a repetition of the same process. Being a bit wiser now, I didn't blow up the LEDs this time. Although I enjoy working on stuff like this, following the same plan with minor changes is a bit like mowing grass. (Not my favorite repetitive and futile task, but a necessary one.)

Kato did make some design changes that make it easier to work on. I saw some EF81-81 disassembly pics at a Japanese website that showed a very different construction: Lighting circuit board with 3mm LEDs and a one-piece metal frame. Compared to the DD54, they also made the bottom black plastic frame clip shorter, which makes it easier to separate the metal frame halves and remove the trucks. The motor fit in the frame was more snug, so I had to mill channels in the metal frame halves to run wires from the brass contact strips up topside to the LokPilot decoder. As with the DD54, I milled the frame to recess the decoder; it might have fit without doing this since there's more space at the top of the body shell. Digitrax does make a "drop-in" decoder for this, but I prefer the ESU decoders and the wiring isn't too difficult. An onboard sound decoder and speaker might even be possible; I don't think about this much anymore because I'm sold on the utility of sound cars in consists.

Once again, I used a plug-in LokPilot micro decoder instead of a wired one. I find it easier to run wires from the LEDs, motor, and contact strips, trim the wires to length, and solder them to the decoder pins. It would also make disassembly easier since all the solder connections are in one place; soldering to the pins is much easier than soldering directly to the tiny pads on the decoder or to short wires with heat-shrink tubing.

I cloned the EF58-61 LokPilot configuration file, changed the address, and it ran perfectly with the two consists that I've been working on. No speed tweaking necessary.

I'm considering adding SMD LEDs for the red taillights. This would be a bit different than the DD54 since they'd have to be installed either on the removeable coupler frame, or behind it with openings drilled through.


Taillights: 12/30/15- This modification probably took as long as the decoder installation and configuration. Even though it's the same formula that I used for the DD54 taillight installation, there were enough differences to make it interesting.

First, the coupler frame needed openings for the LEDs to shine through to the red light tubes mounted in the body shell. Next, the metal frame halves needed to be milled to recess the LEDs and wiring to fit under the coupler frame. I was surprised at how much needed to be removed, but it's better to make sure you've removed enough than to find out that you didn't when the parts don't fit during reassembly. I insulated the LED area with Kapton tape because I didn't want a repeat of my blown LED fiasco. Just to be sure, I coated any exposed solder along the back and sides of the SMD LEDs with hot glue. Note that the leads on the LEDs are soldered to the front side of the LED. This makes the wires roughly flush with the lens of the LED, to reduce the thickness. It may seem like a minor detail, but every millimeter counts.

The wire routing has to be tidy since the headlight light tubes fit in between. If you don't follow the contour of the frame at the ends, the cab inserts in the body shell won't fit. Once you get to the center, there's a lot more room for chaotic wiring.

I gooped the LEDs with Tamiya clear paint because the light tubes gave a very washed out red. (BTW, the rectangle in the center is the magnet for attaching the headboards.)

Darn, there's a little bit of light leakage at the bottom...

PREV   NEXT

N-SCALE INDEX