It Started With An Itch – Part II
Part II Of Gary’s Blog Charting His First Steps Into Our Wonderful Hobby…
So, there I was staring at this huge red box perched upon the sitting room table. Its cover depicted the two trains, an A1 class steam engine ‘Bon Accord’ that was pulling a set of passenger wagons whilst the class 47 diesel ‘Lindisfarne’ was conducting a freight operation. There was also a photo of a shiny metal thing that was presumably the controller, alongside which was a big notice advising that a computer, not supplied, was required.
Providing the latter would be no problem as my laptop was right to hand and ready to go. However, I was experiencing some hesitation in opening the box. What would I find in there? Ok, so the trains and carriages would be fairly obvious, as so too would be the track. But then how did they then all work together with all the computer stuff to produce a layout? Only one way to find out!
Clumsy is not a word that comes anywhere near close to describing me. I could break things for England. It’s a natural talent that is woefully unappreciated, especially by me! Accordingly, I was extremely careful as I began taking things out of the box. The trains of course were subjected to a very close examination, they were after all the subject of the game. But the computer stuff was also of interest even though, for now, I was leaving it well alone inside its plastic wrapping. It was obviously at the advanced end of the undertaking that I was about to begin. So, I thought it better to first work on the basics. For example, how did the track needed to be configured and just how did you join it together anyway? I looked for instructions.
There was a manual explaining how the computer needed to be linked to the silver box which was then connected to the track. There were even examples of computer programs that demonstrated various functions of the silver box. All good stuff … for later. But right now, I needed some guidance as to how to fit something labelled R100 to another bit labelled R100.
Inside the box I found a large piece of paper that had a picture of a suitable track layout displayed upon it. It was nothing more really than two ovals connected together occasionally by track that was able to crossover between them. Pretty to look at for sure, but still no words. Even flatpack furniture, something else that I’m a disaster at, comes with assembly instructions. But if they were any inside this box, then they were invisible!
Who need a manual anyway! So, a very ‘happy’ hour or so later, I finally beginning to get a handle on how one piece of track could be connected to another. The word ‘could’ is being used advisably here because although the two pieces were technically joined together, I nevertheless harboured quite a few doubts about getting a train to actually run successfully over them. Undulating probably best describing my efforts.
But trial and error, with plenty of both, eventually resulted in just one oval section of track being laid out on the floor. I had looked at the bits that looked like stretched out X’s and quickly decided to leave them until another day.
Time was passing, and I wanted to run a train.
Rather surprisingly, certainly for me, the electrics didn’t then take that long to sort out. To date my experience with electrical things extended very little further than managing to push a plug into a wall in order to make a cup of coffee. Accordingly, I was rather proud of myself for succeeding in getting two wires, one red, the other black, to go into all the correct holes, and stay there!
Note: At this point in my education I had no concept of drop wires, bus wires etc and so had employed the only method available to me, namely the two pinned plug socket that had been supplied which went straight into the track; powering the complete oval.
Now I was ready to enter a world that was far more familiar to me. So, I booted up the computer and loaded the software supplied upon the CD that had been in the box alongside the manual. Time merrily ticked away and then, just as I thought Thunderbirds were finally go, a message flashed up on the screen ‘Update available. Did I want it?”
Good job that I had nothing else planned for the rest of the week. This was obviously going to take quite a while. All good things come to an end though eventually and so, finally, there I was looking at the track with Bon Accord smiling back up at me and urging me to ‘Make it so’. So, I did!
Rather than the throttle controls that I had been expecting, the Hornby E-Link system controls the trains via a computer screen. Tactile it most certainly wasn’t, but as I encouraged the on-screen throttle to increase speed, so my lovely little train began doing its stuff. Wild whoops of joy and excitement accompanying it as it made its way around the track. My railway modelling career was finally underway!
Of course, I then wanted my second train to join in the fun and so, carefully bringing Bon Accord to a halt; another milestone in itself, I positioned Lindisfarne a little distant in front (I had been rather too good at causing crashes inside that fair tent of long ago) and returned to my station office aka my laptop. Rubbing my hands in keen anticipation, I selected the panel that controlled my diesel engine and started it rolling. And roll it did; the sitting room once more being treated to some sort of Indian war dance as I celebrated. But then I realised that ‘Houston had a problem”. Lindisfarne was running just great, but so was Bon Accord!
I knew that I had only given instructions to Lindisfarne, so what on earth was my steam engine thinking? This was a real puzzle and so, after stopping both trains with just a single command, hey!, I gave in and did the very unmale thing by consulting the manual. According to it though, I was doing everything correctly. So why was one train playing “Simon Say’s” with the other?
Many of you will be well ahead of me here but I swear (Actually I did rather a lot of that at the time too) that although there was a bit in the manual about the DCC train numbering system, there was no mention at all of the fact that all DCC fitted trains come with a default setting of 3! Lindy and Bonny shared the same computer address and thus, whatever instruction I gave one, the other obeyed too.
Fortunately, that didn’t take too long to resolve as I was quickly able to provide Lindisfarne with an ID all of her own, rather imaginatively the number 4. Now my two trains could play together nicely, whilst at the same time doing different things. The game was now well and truly on!
Only, certain practicalities meant that my wonderful new train set could not remain spread out all across the sitting room floor. It needed a home all to itself. Something that had flitted across my brain when doing the amazon thing but pushed aside for later. Later had become now though, and so a solution was required. I had just run head on into the compromise issue that besets almost all railway modellers; creating a dream layout within limited space. It was time to get all creative!