Tuesday, May 31, 2011

I just wanna know where the gray wire goes...

In a previous post, I explained how I opened my Lionel Legacy ES44AC and found a loose small gray wire.  I determined it was coming from the radio board with another gray wire which went to a side handrail for the TMCC antenna.  But where should this second loose gray wire go?  It was a mystery for a while, but I had to dig deep.

Photo 1 - On the "good side" of the shell, I removed the 2 silver screws and the orange plastic side panel came off easily

Photo 2 - Once the side panel was removed, clearly the gray wire is attached to the screw at the bottom of the handrail post.  Note that testing continuity with my meter between the gray wire and any part of the screw, post, handrail did NOT show conductivity.  Maybe because it is painted?

Photo 3 - Notice the other side of the shell is different…2 smaller black screws need removed, and a much larger section of orange body comes off as seen in Photo 4

Photo 4 - A mess of wires jammed in this removable shell section in an attempt to keep them away from the motor flywheel. This section of body is a bit fragile in that it is attached to the handrail.

Photo 5 - I looked everywhere for a place where the other gray wire might have been originally attached…the only thing that even came close was the actual bottom of a handrail post inserted through the orange shell that went to an upper handrail on that side of the engine.  See where I marked it with the red arrow.

Photo 6 - This stood out because it was the only post that seemed to have the black covering removed and appear shiny. I attempted to tack the gray wire to this post with solder and it just wouldn't take.  I stuck the wire under the crossed posts and tried to solder.  When I went to put the shell back on it popped off.

Later, a Lionel service station tech told me that this indeed was the correct location for the wire to be attached but it needed high heat and flux to attach successfully.

In the process of all this playing around, the main gray wire broke loose from the radio board.  I had to get in there and re-attach it and shrink tube that.  While working on this, I couldn't get the excess gray wires to lay anywhere away from the flywheel so I decided to remove the second unknown gray wire completely since it would have been capped anyway and just taking up space and didn't seem to affect antenna performance.

Another note is that there are tiny plastic standoffs at the top of each handrail post insulating the handrail/antenna.  These had worked loose and would not stay in position, so a tiny spot of superglue from a toothpick on each solved this problem.

I put everything back together without putting in the 8 screws to the body and did a test run.  Everything worked except the squealing brake sounds. I removed the shell again and reseated the top circuit board and moved some wires around to better positions and re-assembled, assuming I would have to RMA it with Lionel.  I fired it up and it worked fine, squealing brakes and all, for 20 minutes as I put it through the paces.

Working...for now.

Lionel Legacy BNSF ES44AC internal wiring build quality issues

While troubleshooting Legacy/TMCC signal issues, I decided to open the shell on my Legacy ES44AC.  Note that this is essentially a Vision Line Evo Hybrid diesel without the charging lights and without the Vision Line coat-of-arms; and therefore, not being an "official" Vision Line product, I am apparently allowed to open it up for repair without voiding the warranty.

In any case, what I found inside as far as assembly and build quality was not quite up to par.  This subject has been beaten to death on my thread on the OGR forum, but I will summarize the standout assembly quality issues here.
  1. An amazing nine (9) ground wires were twisted together under one small gray wire nut, which would not fit over and bite into that size mass of wires.  At least one of the wires had pulled loose from the bundle and the wire nut was laying inside the chassis. Why these weren't shorting against the chassis or inside of the shell is a mystery, although maybe they were and since it was ground it didn't do much harm.

  2. Three (3) small gray wires coming from the radio board were twisted together but not soldered under a small gray wire nut which was too large and fell off when I touched it.

  3. Furthermore, the one small gray wire coming out of the bundle (which apparently had once gone to the side handrail for antenna) was loose in the engine and shorting against whatever it could hit.  This could explain some of my signal quality issues.  My quest to determine the exact location of where this wire is supposed to attach is the subject of another blog post.

  4. A component I believe to be some type of rectifier is attached to the bottom of the chassis for heat sink purposes. The radio board is mounted above it, crooked, and resting on the bent wires attached to the rectifier.  Although the wires are covered with shrink tubing and it shouldn't affect performance, it would not have taken any additional effort to do this right the first time.  It's just sloppy workmanship.

  5. The small wires going to the electrocouplers were pulled too tight in the channels on the chassis.  Luckily I reseated these to give more play in the wire before they broke loose due to use.

  6. Most of the tape holding the wires away from the motor flywheels inside is separated and pulled away from the shell, thus serving no purpose.

  7. Plug-in boards are loose and wobble.  At one point, everything on my loco worked except for the squealing brake sounds.  Reseating all the boards solved this issue.

  8. Exhaust fans on top are very noisy.  See picture as to where to place a small spot of oil on each post.

  9. Lastly, although not really needed for command use, both this loco and a previously returned Vision Line Genset Switcher have a small clip under the shell for a 9-volt backup battery for sound.  There is no way I could fit a standard 9-volt battery in these clips and still put the nose or hatch back on the locomotives flatly.
In conclusion, for a "Vision Line" locomotive and the associated cost, this is unacceptable workmanship.  Actually for any product this is unacceptable workmanship.

Lionel's CTO Jon Zahornacky caught wind of my thread on the OGR forum and has forwarded these photos and problems to the factory and necessary departments for review.

Lionel Legacy/TMCC Ground Plane Issue and other Miscommunications

My Lionel Legacy ES44AC was stopping at certain consistent points on the track at medium speeds only.  When powered up, the headlight on my 1990's-era TMCC GP7 would blink intermittently.  Both engines would not respond well to commands.  With much troubleshooting and some help from the OGR forums, I determined I had a "ground plane issue."  Not aware of this, I set out to research what this was all about.

Apparently, certain areal conditions like parallel tracks, metal structures, and overhead tracks can cause interference with the Lionel TMCC signal in a particular spot on a layout.  To test for this condition, you hold your hand over the moving locomotive in the problem area and if it works without problems then it is assumed that you are improving the "earth ground signal" in that area and you have a "ground plane issue."
My Lionel Legacy ES44AC diesel stopped at a consistent point on the track in this corner of my layout:

The commonly accepted solution to this ground place issue is to run a parallel wire along side or under the track in the affected area. One end or the wire will not be connected to anything and the other will be attached to an earth ground. NOT the common of the layout but earth ground, for example a nearby electrical outlet ground screw or box or a water pipe know to be earth ground. The wire can have insulation on it or not, but it is preferred to avoid shorts with other wires or track in the area. Gauge and type of wire does not seem critical.
I attached a solid 12-gauge wire to a nearby water pipe and haphazardly draped it over the corner of my layout. It worked! The engine ran many loops without stopping. Further investigation revealed that simply draping the wire over the corner of the layout WITHOUT attaching it to the water pipe worked just as well in this case.  So what about the non-responsive TMCC diesel with the blinking light in the yard? Laying a ground wire near that attached to a nearby water pipe fixed that too!

I was hoping there was a way to fix this problem without running ground wires all over the layout.  While reading more about the ground plane issue, I stumbled upon this passage posted by OGR forum contributor DaleH:

The signal that is sent down the track by the single wire IS NOT received by the antenna in the locomotive. That signal is conducted through the wheels of the locomotive to one "end" of the receiving circuit. The other "end" of the receiving circuit is connected to the antenna, and the antenna picks up an airborne radio signal that radiates from the wiring of the house.
The radiated signal starts as the "ground" side of the TMCC/Legacy Command Base's output, flows through the Base's power plug and cord to the wall wart, transfers from the cable to the U-ground pin on the wall wart to the safety ground wiring of your house, and then throughout the house. This signal, usually referred to here as the "earth ground signal", permeates the entire area, and the antenna on the locomotive can pick this up.
The receiver in the locomotive is activated by the DIFFERENCE in the signals at the two "ends" because in order for any current to flow (in the receiver or elsewhere), there must be a voltage difference.
The systems works very well unless there is too much of the track signal present, making the antenna signal very weak. Common causes are overhead tracks, nearby metal structures connected to the track common (either directly or through leakage paths}, wire screen tunnels, or several parallel closely spaced track such as a yard. Usually problems can be resolved by connecting metal to earth ground, or adding an "earth ground plane" (metal, foil or just wire) near the problem area.
The misconception that the antenna picks up the track signal has been a major stumbling block to the common understanding of how to best use TMCC. To the best of my knowledge, Lionel has never published a truly accurate description of how the system really works.

Wow!  Nice detailed explanation.  I started considering all the things that could have affected my earth ground signal and the paragraph I marked in bold above did it for me.  I realized that my Lionel Legacy base was plugged in through a surge protector power strip.  I wondered if somehow this affected the ground pin on the power plug.  Sure enough, bypassing the power strip and plugging the Legacy base directly into the wall outlet solved all TMCC and Legacy layout problems for all locomotives WITHOUT running any ground wires!

I will assume problem solved...for now.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Bobot's O-Gauge Layout Update (Gallery)

Update and photo gallery of the 12' x 12' basement layout in progress. Added ground cover to the south and east ends between the mainlines, more details around the switch tower, a floodlight tower area, a tank area, a mobile home corner scene, and some shots of Lionel and MTH diesels in action.