The development of my new layout, Woodford Wells, has been an interesting one. Not least for delving into and learning the brave new world of DCC. (Not really new for most of you, but new for some of us!).
So far the DCC construction and design process has been fairly smooth. The track was easy to wire, the control system simple to learn and the point motors (iP Cobalts) work perfectly. I knew that the hardest part of the DCC learning curve would be upgrading my existing rolling stock. I’ve had to open up a couple of locos in the past to upgrade lighting or to trouble shoot faulty motors and it’s never been an easy process. The fear of damaging delicate and expensive scale parts is always prevalent even with older models. This is something to consider when ‘chipping’ stock yourself. Secondly there was also the assumption from myself that once a chip was inside a loco, the performance would dramatically increase…
This series of fitting guides hopes to shed light on how easy it is to fit chips to given locos (starting with the first 5 that have already undergone the upgrade process) and to investigate what the performance is like after the conversion.
Class 03 by Bachmann
For all of these guides so far I’ve had help from Bromsgrove Models, a site with a comprehensive list of DCC fitting guides. I’d recommend studying these before you consider self-chipping any of your own stock.
How Easy Is It To Fit?
Very. And that’s why I’m starting with this model.
Simply take out the NEM pocket adapters (a small flat head screwdriver will help). This reveals two screws.
Remove these screws, and bingo, the body lifts off with ease.
It’s then a matter of fitting the chip. For those not in the know (as I wasn’t but a few months ago) DCC chips comes in a variety of sizes, the most common are 8 or 21. But for some of the smaller locos, like the Class 03, something a little smaller is required: A 6 pin chip. The number of pins a chip has, and do correct me if I’m wrong, directly corresponds with how many functions the decoder can store. A function is a programmable ‘extra feature’ a loco may have beyond it’s motor drive (i.e. directional lighting, cab lighting, sound etc). The more pins you have, the more functions the chips seem to accommodate. Most of the time locos only come with the need for 1 additional function – lights. This is just as well as the chip I’ve bought – the Bachmann E-Z Command 36-558A – can only accommodate 1 additional function, but that’s all I need at this stage.
Make sure you fit the chip the right way round. Pin 1 (above) must align with socket 1 which is at the right-hand edge of the strip (bellow). All chips should tell you which pin is pin 1.
Refit the body and NEM pockets and you’re good to go.
Fitting Score: 9/10. Dead easy, just make sure you fit the chip the right way. Not as obvious as a 21 pin decoder, but it’s hard to get wrong.
How Does It Run?
On Analogue the Class 03 was one of the best (if not THE best) performers I had. The gearing is set up in such a way that you can crawl along the track on DC accurate to real life. It was like moving on silk it was that smooth of a mechanism. The Class 03 was high on my list of locos to get chipped when I started the new layout and I instantly had high hopes in terms of making that silky smooth performance even better.
I was quite disappointed.
The ultra-low speed operation is now jerky and uneven. It smooths off a bit when you get to the locos lower-mid range (perhaps a scale speed of 6-8 mph), but even at this pace it’s not quite as good as it once was on DC.
This is when I discover, with a little research, that there are differing premiums of chip. I wrongly assumed a chip would be a chip – how much can one manufacturer differ from another?! – and that a Bachmann at least one would work perfectly in a Bachmann model. Forum trawling highlights that many folk struggle to find a kind word to write about Bachmann’s 6-pin chip, and sometimes struggle to find anything nice to say about Bachmann chips full stop. I certainly have come to learn quickly from the fitting of the other 4 locos I’ll eventually do guides for, that the results of Bachmann chips differ wildly. But then this could boil down to the age old “you get what you pay for.” I’ve seen recommendations for Lenz and Zen chips, but as you’d expect some of these come at twice the price of the evidently budget Bachmann one.
DCC Chip/Running Score: 4/10. I say all this without actually trying an alternative chip – I’ll try another decoder and report back, but until then, the Bachmann chip + 03 combo really doesn’t cut the mustard. Don’t get me wrong, it works (and the cab light looks rather smashing all lit up) but I was expecting more. It also causes a problem with push-shunting coaches with sprung loaded NEM coupling arms – I use delayed action Kadee couplers and the jerky behaviour sometimes frustratingly re-couples the knuckles.
Overall Score: 6.5/10. Bachmann are all over the place here. They’ve created a model that’s easy to DCC fit, and for that – for DCC newbies like me – I thank them profusely. However, the chip as far as I can tell is dreadful and doesn’t do a superb model and mechanism justice.
I hope you’ve found this guide useful, please check back soon for more loco fitting advice, oh and if anyone has any other suggestions/alternative chips for the Class 03 – please comment bellow!
Other Locos In the DCC Fitting Series:
- Class 17 (Coming Soon)
- Class 25
- Class 47 (Coming Soon)
- Class 128 (Coming Soon)
– Andy Carter