Bay Area Garden Railway Society

Using this blog to convert to battery power

09/21/2013 6:45 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)
Here is David Mease's story about his recent conversion to outdoor large scale.

A Simple Engine Battery Conversion for the Roving Railway at Ardenwood
As a new member of BAGRS and new to large scale railroads this summer, I've been looking for any opportunity to learn more about the hobby. Many years ago my father was deeply involved in HO modeling and had a very large layout. Unfortunately, he passed away about a year ago and left me with a lot of HO equipment, scenery and parts. Going through all of those items reignited my interest in the hobby but I found I really didn't have the room to build a layout like I wanted.

A few times a week I go for a walk in my neighborhood and I usually pass by Bob Ferguson's house in Martinez where he has a garden layout that circles his entire property. I caught up with Bob a couple of times and drilled him on all that I could think of to learn enough to make a move into G scale. Bob mentioned the BAGRS organization so I checked it out online.

After signing up for BAGRS in July I spent time looking through the information on the BAGRS website and discovered the Roving Railway. I also noticed that Nancy Norris was looking for some help readying the display for Ardenwood in September. I contacted Nancy and attended a workday at her house to learn what was going on and get a look at only the second garden layout I had ever seen. Nancy had no problem with me jumping right in and doing whatever I could to get things in order for the next show.

I decided to dedicate a day to attending the Ardenwood event to learn more and see how people reacted to the display. Nancy said they were in need of a battery operated train to run on one level of the layout. Over the past couple of months I had been selling off the HO items I had and purchasing a few G scale engines and cars. All the engines were track powered and I told Nancy I had planned to convert them to battery but didn't have anything right now. She then told me about an article she had up on the Roving Railway section of the BAGRS site discussing a simple and cheap way to convert to battery power. [See the 12/06/10 blog item]

The article showed a simple car remote type key fob that operated a small relay switch up to 12 volts. I looked around at a few sites and found a couple of units on Amazon for less than $10 so decided to take the plunge and give it a shot since we'd need something to run in just a few days. I had attended a technical high school for electronics 30 years ago and felt comfortable modifying the engine. One of my past hobbies was R/C airplanes and I had some 8.4v and 9.6v battery packs laying around.

The unit I selected was actually advertised as a remote dimmer for strings of LED lights. The fob had an on/off button and two buttons that controlled the voltage up and down. I figured that was perfect as I didn't know how fast the train would run under battery power. The engine I selected to modify was an Aristo-Craft FA-1 Napa Valley Wine Train. I had purchased it for about $75 and it already contained a R/C receiver and sound card but came with no transmitter or battery. This unit had a section of the top already cut open for easy access to the components so it was a no brainer for this project.

The FA-1 also had both A frames completely broken and the powered trucks just hung by their wires. I'm a DIY guy and found that Aristo-Craft still has a decent catalog of parts for their products. I had searched their site before purchasing the engine and saw the frames were in stock for around $4 each so I ordered a couple. Replacing them was very easy after removing a dozen or so screws and clipping the leads to the motor blocks.

This was the perfect time to hook up the receiver for battery operation. I simply spliced two common leads from the motor blocks and connected them to the spring loaded terminals on the receiver. I had found an article about this type of conversion on another site that recommended adding a diode across the output terminals to avoid some type of reverse power surge the motors can generate. They also suggested adding a 1-3 amp fuse between the battery and the receiver. I picked up these common items at Radio Shack and installation was completed in a few minutes for a total cost of under $20.

The unit was tested on the oval of track on my patio and I found that it operated at the same top speed as another track powered FA-1. The range of the remote was very sporadic sometimes requiring that you be a foot from the unit and at other times would operate from 20' away. It's rated as having a 100' foot range. The site suggested adding an antenna by opening the receiver box and soldering a wire onto the existing circuit board antennae. I got lazy and didn't do this at that time. I figured it was all that was needed for Ardenwood and was pleased with the results so far.

next installment: part 2 - Roving Railway Setup and Running Trains!

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