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EMD SD35 WM 7434, an Atlas model.

I have two hobbies. One is stamp collecting, which I started way back in 1955 when I was seven years old. At the moment this hobby is being seriously neglected, however, since I'm concentrating on my second hobby, model railroading.

I've been fascinated by trains ever since I can remember. Until I was 13 years old, we lived in Touws River, which is still mainly a railway town, albeit a shadow of its former self as a result of the downscaling of railway activity, not even to mention the Ladismith line's closure. We lived close to the station and some of my earliest memories are of the massive steam locomotives that still ruled the South African rails in those days. Touws River was the crew and motive power change station on the route from Cape Town to Beaufort West, and was also the place from which the line to Ladismith branched off. In those days electric locomotives in the Cape only ran from Cape Town to Touws River, and the next 800 kilometres or so from there on to Kimberley was still steam domain. The electrification on the line from Touws River to Beaufort West had just started then and was only completed after we had moved to Cape Town.

The Ladismith line was also a steam-only line and home to "Makkadas", as the few steam engines that roamed this short line were called. Large parts of this line were washed away by the same floods that hit Laingsburg so hard in January 1981, and it was subsequently decided to abandon the line rather than to try and spend millions to reopen a line that had already become unprofitable before the floods.

I bought my first model trains in 1964, when I was still in high school. Those were in HO scale, which are 1:87 scale models of the prototype, and mainly British outline. Years later, in 1978, I swapped all my HO (Horribly Oversized) equipment for the N (Normal) scale trains of an Air Force colleague, Col Daan Erwee, and I'm still modelling in that scale. N scale model trains are 1:160 scale models of the real thing and run on 9 millimetre gauge track.

In 1999, soon after I retired, I founded the Cape Town N Trak club, and in the process I learned about Digital Command Control (DCC). I now run my trains with the Digitrax Chief system (upgraded from my original Empire Builder system) and there's no way I'll even consider going back to the old days of "analog" DC control.

Briefly, DCC requires a command station (which is in fact a small computer), one or more hand held throttles that can each control two trains simultaneously, and a mobile decoder installed inside each locomotive. The decoder is a programmable computer chip that is inserted in the locomotive's power route between the wheels and the motor. The decoder receives the handheld throttle's signals via the command station through the tracks, and then feeds power to the motor and lights in accordance with the signals received. This way one can have a multitude of locomotives on the same stretch of fully powered track and still be able to control each one individually with regard to movement, direction, speed, light functions and much more. Because there is always full power on the tracks with DCC, it is possible to have a loco's lights on at full brightness and also to be able to control the light functions, even while it's standing still. Compare this to the old DC system where the locos would all run at once and all in the same direction when power was applied to the tracks, and their lights would only light up while the loco was running, and would become brighter as speed was increased.

Decoder installation into locos can be quite tricky in some locomotives, and quite simple in others. N scale is rather small - the actual size picture above of an N scale model 45 foot long 100 ton coal hopper shows just how tiny! The result is that there is usually no free room for a decoder available inside a locomotive, so some surgery is often required to make room. I have taken some pictures during some of the installations I have done and have recorded the step-by-step processes, and have included them in these web pages in the form of installation guides. See the index at the bottom of this page.

The railroad I model is the Chessie System, an American railroad system which came into being as a result of the purchase of the Baltimore & Ohio railroad (B&O) and it's subsidiary, the Western Maryland railroad (WM), by the Chesapeake & Ohio railroad (C&O) in 1963. The Chessie System paint scheme, based on Chessie, the Chesapeake & Ohio's sleeping kitten publicity program of many years, was introduced in September 1972. I model the Chessie System over the period from 1972 to 1986, but my layout is totally freelance and makes no attempt at representing any actual part of Chessie's country.

On the left is the original Chessie, the railroad kitten, on which the Chessie System's herald was based, and on the right is the "Ches-C" herald on the nose of EMD GP15 # C&O 1520. Unlike almost all other mergers between different American railroads, these three railroads maintained their separate identities after the merger, with the result that even after the Chessie paint scheme was introduced, locomotives and cars of the system still wore reporting marks that identified them as belonging to either the C&O, B&O or WM. Chessie itself disappeared from the scene when it was eventually merged into CSX Transportation on 1 July 1986. All the old Chessie locomotives that have not been scrapped or sold since, have been repainted into the rather drab CSX colours by now, but there are still a very few freight cars surviving in Chessie paint.

Modelling Chessie has the advantage that the era covers only 14 years, with the result that I am not feeling "forced" to buy every new locomotive model that becomes available. Which didn't help my pocket much since such a large number of the locomotives that ran in Chessie Cat paint are available in N scale! Chessie was a diesel only railroad that almost exclusively used diesels built by the Electromotive Division of General Motors (EMD). Of the three constituent railroads, during the Chessie era only the C&O also had some diesels from the General Electric (GE) stable. There were a few locomotives from some other builders still active during the Chessie era, but apart from three S2 switchers of the B&O from the stable of the American Locomotive Company (Alco), no others ever received Chessie paint. And the Chessie was a freight railroad that primarily transported coal, so I need not run any passenger trains on my layout.


To the other Chessie pages:

My Layout
A One Week Mountain
Finally Running Trains

To the rest of my website:

Front Page
Accommodation (Sea-Spray Self Catering Holiday Flat)
The Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park
The Story of a Kalahari Telephone Pole
The Langkloof Apple Express
Introducing Ourselves
Some Links to Other Websites

The following pages contain decoder installation guides for a few N scale diesel locomotives:

Atlas Plug & Play Locomotives
Atlas EMD GP30
Atlas EMD GP40
Bachmann GE C40-8 & C40-8W
Kato EMD SD40
Kato GE U30C
Life-Like EMD GP38-2
Life-Like EMD SD7 & SD9
Life-Like EMD SW9 & SW1200

And the following pages contain guides to servicing or performance enhancement of some N Scale diesel locomotives:

Atlas & Kato Diesel Truck Servicing
Life-Like SD7 & SD9 Power Pickup
Model Railroading with DCC
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According to the WebCounter you are visitor number to these pages since 23 May 2002. Drop by again, since I will be updating the site from time to time and will add new pictures as work on the layout progresses. If you have any comments or suggestions or just want to say hello, feel free to drop us a line.

Created on 23 May 2002. Last updated on 2 October 2003.