KATO DCC Project

Modeling Tips & Lessons Learned

By Frank Benenati

 A friend needed help installing a DCC decoder and keep alive in an HO scale Kato EMD NW2 switcher they plan to repaint. Given the cost of a TCS (Train Control Systems) M1 small form factor decoder, a TCS KeepAlive, and taking into account the Kato design, shown below, a new or used switcher with factory installed DCC, sound, and keep-alive might have been a better option. The split metal frame would require time consuming milling to fit even the smallest of decoders, plus electrical isolation of the motor from the shell.

We were about to “scrap the project” until I discovered a Lenz Digital Plus Silver decoder in my electronic parts bin. It had previously been installed in an HOn3 steam locomotive and later in an HO Alco RS3. Most importantly, the decoder added no out-of-pocket cost to the project. The downside, it was larger than the TCS M1 and therefore require a larger pocket (more cutting, grinding, and filing). Several wire leads also needed to be replaced and soldered onto the decoder board. 

Before I plugged in my Dremel and changed the blade in my hacksaw, I thought it best to test the recycled decoder and my soldering skills.

 Modeling Tip

 To test, I attached the decoder red and black wires to a Sprog II and the orange and grey wires to a test track. After placing the NW2 on the test track, I used DecoderPro to reprogram the decoder and check the Kato for gear noise, running smoothness, and switching potential. End result, the Kato design lived up to it’s reputation and ran extremely well. We decided to install the Lenz decoder and forego adding a keep alive.

Cutting the decoder pocket, below, in the top of the shell was time consuming. 

 Installation was a success. A smooth running switcher, limited conversion cost, and a happy friend.

Lesson Learned

While I most likely would not volunteer to do another Kato NW2 conversion, I am looking forward to a crab cake lunch and running this rebuilt NW2 on their model railroad.

If you decide to take on a Kato NW2 conversion, TCS provides detailed instructions for installing their M1 decoder here:<https://drupal.tcsdcc.com/installation/ho-scale/1358>.

Author: smdnmra

South Mountain Division, Mid-Eastern Region, National Model Railroad Association