Maine Central, Lamoille Valley

Maine Central, Lamoille Valley
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Thursday, September 10, 2015

St. Johnsbury Yard Power

A few years ago I purchased a Proto 1000 of Canada CP Rail RS2. I have seen many pictures of these units holding down the switching duties in St. Johnsbury yard. I also have a few slides from my late friend Glenn Salvatore showing these in St. J circa 1980.

Glenn captured CP RS2 8403 in St. Johnsbury yard in the Fall of 1980. This view shows off some of the interesting details, like the front numberboard, extended cab window, ditch lights and radiator fan cover,

A few months back, getting ready for the initial Op Session, I finally got around to installing a DCC decoder. The space inside the cab area allowed for a speaker, so Tsunami sound it was!

Unfortunately during the Op Session, the yard crew mentioned that the RS2 just did not have enough power, or more accurately weight, to push long cuts of cars given the slight grade the loco gets to once the cut of cars gets long enough. It looks good (even without weathering and a few specific details) and sounds great, but it can't really cut it in operations, at least not by itself.

Some of this is my own doing. First of all, I imposed a grade just outside the yard as I needed the CP mainline to drop down before hitting Newport staging. In hindsight I should have kept the parallel MEC track level to avoid a grade in the same spot, and that would have helped, but maybe not completely.

I also have weighted my freight cars a little heavier than NMRA specs. A 50' boxcar comes in around 8 ounces, nearly double the spec. I enjoy the operational benefits, but once a grade is encountered, things get a lot more like the prototype and you start needing more horsepower to move tonnage. This wouldn't be an issue at a yard, but with compressed distances, that grade comes a lot sooner than on the prototype.

The third thing working against the little RS2 is my application of graphite prior to the session. There is no doubt in my mind that this has now caused a slightly slippier rail for the trains to traverse. BUT, given the benefits and much improved electrical contact, there is no way I am giving up on the graphite.

Here you see the (unweathered) CP RS2 pushing a cut of cars uphill into the yard. The yard crew would on occasion have to give an assist when the loco had more than it could handle!

I could consider doubling up locomotives for the yard job, although that is not real prototypical. The best solution would be to add more weight to the RS2, and I'll have to see what is possible.

For now I will go back to another locomotive used by the CP in St. Johnsbury yard, an Alco S2 made by Atlas. Most layout owners will agree that these heavy little switchers are great for yard operations, and can really push a cut of cars. The S2 was used by CP in St. Johnsbury in the 1960s and 1970s, but by the late 1970s and early 1980s the RS2s were more common.

This picture from RailPictures.Net shows CP S2 7098 in St. Johnsbury in May of 1975. Note the trackwork, dirt and oil, good modeling reference!

I did however have to address an issue with this locomotive. A few years ago I swapped the decoder I had in it with an MRC sound decoder. Nicely engineered, this MRC decoder drops in and has a speaker already mounted on the board. There is a small section of weight to be cut off, but nothing too significant. Unfortunately the sound quality out if this is just OK. Certainly not Tsunami.

But the real trouble was the way the locomotive continued to deteriorate operationally. For some reason, no matter how much programming and resetting I tried, the loco would just not operate very well after a few years. Talking with another modeler he mentioned that sometimes the MRC decoders just start to go and the motor controls stop working well even though the sound is still there. That is what I was seeing.

So a quick pop open of the hood and back in goes the original decoder and out comes the MRC one. Nothing too complicated and only about 20 minutes at the work bench. And the best part is that the old decoder is already programmed from when it first resided in 7063!

That is the MRC board now removed. CP 7063 is now ready for yard duty again, repalcing the RS2. This should be good news to the St. Johnsbury yard operators at the next Op Session!
The RS2 will now get MU'd to the other RS2 I have operating on the CP local out of Newport, the RS-1 (that is not too confusing is it?).

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