Accutrack Speedometer – Very Cool!

So, I have been looking for a good N-Scale speedometer for quite a while.  I finally resolved myself to building one from an Arduino that I have here and made that work.  It was not great and the time involved with using it was so much so that it made me not want to do it.  Well, least weekend the wife and I trundled off to Denver for a quick vacation (On the way home we did the Cumbres and Toltec Railroad ride!).  While in Denver, any serious model railroader has to go to mecca, AKA Caboose Hobbies.  This is the hobby stores that I use to measure all others.

Anyhow, they had this thing on the shelf called the Accutrack Speedometer for HO and N scale trains.  at $73.00 it’s not cheap, but the box made me want to have it, and when I asked about it, the guys at the store were all very convincing.  So, I grabbed it.

All I can say is – BRILLIANT!  It works perfectly.  I verified it’s readings against my manual system (Stopwatch and distance) and it was dead on.  I am very impressed with this box!  The unit is self contained and is set over the top of you track anywhere you like.  Locos run through the “tunnel” (if you will) and break 2 sets of IR detectors.  The first starts the timer and the second finishes it all.  The display reads out in xx.x format up to 10 mph then it reads xxx up through 999Mph… (really?)

The portability is a huge plus, you can use it on any layout or test track you want.  The applications for a good speedometer are huge.  Speed matching DCC locomotives, setting scale MPH markers on your handheld throttles or just showing people that they’re going un-prototypically fast!

In short order I was able to speed match 3 locomotives and more accurately than ever before.  I put all three on the track, set them for mid throttle (scale 40mph) and they ran flawlessly.  After a tiny tweak on one of them, they all ran great without gaining or losing on each other.  Now, I can speed match all my locos!  happy happy joy joy.

So, the combination of the Accutrack and the JMRI software is a bang-on home run!

Magazines in a dying hobby… – Davey and Goliath or Oscar and Felix?


It seems to me like every time I listen to a Podcast or read a forum, there is a discussion of how bad Model Railroader magazine has become, or how much better Model Railroad Hobbyist is.  Part of this is also the “This hobby is dying because of …” arguments.  Rather than take the high road and staying quiet about it, I think I’ll jump right into this fray.

So, here goes with my take on things;

  1. Model Railroader Magazine does not suck at all.  In fact, I see it as the flagship of the industry and the 600 pound gorilla.
  2. This hobby is not dying.  It may not be vibrant and growing, but it is not dying.

To expound…  (Something I love doing).

Model Railroader Magazine the rag we all owe the ultimate debt to.  I don’t care what scale you are or how badly the magazine represents your scale, it is the reason we can all play with trains.  I can hear all you saying now “That was 20 years ago, it’s changed into a crappy magazine.”  Shadddap!  Yes, there aren’t many scale drawings of a Milwaukee Road station agent outhouse, fully rendered in beautiful fold-out precision for the scratch-builder to make out of hand-milled bass wood imported from Angola.  The guy who did that is also dead, so no real draw for that craftsman article anymore, huh?  My point is, the magazine has morphed to what sells to a magazine/bookstore audience.  And before you condemn them for that… Shaddap.  They have to make money to stay viable.

A while back Scotty Mason (of the Scotty Mason Show et al) was defending Model Railroader Magazine in a pretty good way.  He points out that they are appealing to the newcomer and the beginners.  That is true, and I like that.  I’m not a beginner, having been in N-Scale for 30 years now.  But I still look forward to MR every month and will NEVER let my subscription lapse, ever.  (I like Tony Koester’s column too much :)  They do manage to stick in some great articles now and then too. Remember folks, this is a VERY diverse hobby.  What appeals to you may not appeal to me, so before you put the magazine on the permanent kill track, pick one up, drop your snooty holier than thou attitude and read it for what it is meant to be, not what you want it to be.

That being said, I will tell you that I also get Model Railroad Hobbyist every month religiously, and well as N-Scale and N-Scale Railroading magazines.  I love those rags and look forward to very one.  I think Joe Fugate is really on to something with MRH and it’s great.  The monthly online format is perfect and it appeals to the people of today. (I did NOT say youth of today, they are not who we need to aim at… more later.)  The visuals are stunning and the size flexibility is great.  This is where the future is, and if you aren’t with him, you have been left on the platform.  Sorry!

The Scale magazines are also part of my argument that the hobby is not dying.  While we have lost some pretty famous magazines over the years, it’s mostly due to their own inability to analyze the marker and react to it.  I know, some of you are saying, “I knew Mr. X of X magazine, and he was a real model railroad man!”  Well, no offense meant, but he was not a good magazine business man.  I say this because there is a HELL of a lot of money in the hobby today, more that enough to support some magazines (I.e. the FREE MRH magazine…)  and the ones that died… needed to.  Look at the prices people are paying today for stuff in the hobby.  $20 for Switches, $200 for locomotives with DCC decoders, $500 for a decent start up DCC system with the wiring et al. Are you really going to try to convince me that people were not going to pay $30/year for a good magazine?  Bull-hockey.  They died because they were poorly managed into a debt situation and could not recover.  But from those ashes have sprung some pretty great and viable scale magazines.  Look at all the scale magazine and resources out there for the main foci scales of the hobby.  A quick look at the magazine rack at Trains West tells me that the hobby is not dying.  I see all these magazines as Oscar and Felix.  Couldn’t be more different, but they need each other and they work really well together!

Which does bring me to the death of model railroading discussion.  We’re here discussing the hobby, it’s not dead, Ok??  Yes, some things have gone by the way side.  The hobby has changed dramatically over the last 20 years.  That does not give the older generation the right to tell everyone how dead the hobby is.  Yes, we do not scratchbuild locomotives from brass scraps and potato skins anymore.  Yep, I buy a model 50 times more detailed that runs DCC out of the box.  AM I denegrating the scratchbuilders and their amaizing skills… HELL NO!  I’m amazed when I see the diorama’s in The Fine Scale Annuals and wish I had the time and skill to do that.  Those models are amazing and deserve respect.  My point is that we are a different society now.  Everyone has time pressures.  It is so much easier to buy a ready to run item, spend your valuable time making it look better (detail/weather/custom paint etc) than to start from scratch or undecorated.  It doesn’t mean the hobby is dead, it means it changed with the times.

I look at the amazing amount of people and companies producing items for my chosen N-Scale and I know this hobby is not dying.  There is so much more, and better quality stuff out there today than ever before and more is coming.  HO is even better.  Companies are producing models that the 50’s and 60’s scratch-building craftsmen could only dream of.  It’s an amazing, and good, time to be in the hobby!  Revel in it!  Yes, some older manufacturers have gone, but that is the business of economics.  It happens.

Oh yea, and another rant.  We do not need more young people in the hobby!  Yes, you heard me right.  We do not need the microwave or the X-Generation in the hobby.  Let them keep playing with their video games, PLEASE!  Trust me when I say this, we are not going to compete with Duke Nukem Forever, the X-Box, PS-3 and Lady Gaga for these kid’s budget.  Most of them can’t stand in one place long enough let alone sit and model something accurately.  The vapid youth of today will, however, grow up to be the modelers of tomorrow.  When they do grow up to be 30-somethings, different hobbies will start to provoke their now burgeoning brain cells.  We need to be there for them!!  That is where Model Railroader magazine comes in.  It sits on the magazine store rack waiting to spark the imagination of that flickering grey matter.

And it will, the grey matter will spur a purchase, the purchase will lead to a 4×8 and then the next generation of model railroaders will have taken root in the present.  We’ll live on,  trust me!

RailDriver Desktop Controller

Ok, so I recently had a birthday, and that means getting something from the wife that you wouldn’t normally get for yourself.  In this case, I pleaded extra hard and was able to get a brand spanking new RailDriver® Desktop Train Cab Controller.  My wife was able to get it from Amazon from the company, even thought it says on their site that they are sold out.

When it arrived, it struck me that it was smaller than I thought it might be.  It makes up for that by being being BEEFY.  I mean, this thing is heavy.  It will NOT slide around on your desktop.  I also noticed that in addition the to the USB port, it had an audio connection.  In the manual, it tells you that you don’t need to set it up for pass through sound if you don’t want to.  I say DO IT!  More later.  Anyhow, installation is typical, if a bit tricky, but if you follow their directions, you will be fine.  I fired it up with Trainz Simulator 12 (yes, I bought the 10 year anniversary pack – verra verra nice!) which had an even more convoluted set-up, but it was easy.

The result… WOW.  Talk about FUN.  After you calibrate the controller’s levers and switches, you’re ready to go.  (Take the hint and when you calibrate the full throttle position, do not go to the full forward position, back off a tweak to be able to reach Run 8.)  Having the sound go through the box enables the bass driver in the box to vibrate realistically.  Even at idle, the box sits there and rumbles like a real locomotive cab might.

Running Trainz with this thing makes the experience even more enjoyable.  Having the break levers and all the others deepens the immersion into the sim and just enhances it overall.  It is true, the throttle is not “notched” for 8 positions, but you get over this pretty quick, I find.  (I am not a real railroad engineer, so take that FWIW).  Not having to look for keystroke cards and such makes the sim just feel better.  I also installed it for MSTS and found the same thing, it just improves the game.

The levers and knobs feel very solid, I never got the impression I might break it.  All of the buttons are programmable using the software that comes with the controller.  The sound that comes through the box are very good and help make the box more of a value.  The speedometer on the display is a very nice touch as well!

All in all, I have to give this an 8 out of 10.  It would better if the set-up were a bit more user friendly and if the throttle was notched.  Other than that, it’s a GREAT toy.  I realize the $200 price tag might be a bit steep for a game controller, but as I said, it’s an extravagance!