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>.

Bridge Out Ahead: The Past, Present, and Future of SMD

Alex Polimeni

This past decade has been a tumultuous time for the South Mountain Division. My Dad (Ron) and I first began attending membership meetings after NMRA annexed our county (Hampshire County, WV) into SMD and his email address was placed on the Wheel Report’s mailing list. The rest, as they say, is history… but let’s revisit it all the same.
My first years in SMD were under the leadership of Paul Rausch. With his unfortunate passing, assistant Superintendent Bill Wilson administered the election with three names in the hat: Don Florwick, Paul Mahoney, and my own, Alex Polimeni. The youngest Division member by at least two decades, it was incredibly humbling to receive your vote of confidence.
I served as Super for three years until declining to run again for the 2020-2021 season. Instead, the chair was turned over to Jerry Skeim with the agreement that I would serve as assistant Super to help in the transition. Sadly, Jerry became the first and only SMD member we lost to the pandemic, passing in the hospital after a severe COVID-19 infection. For the second time, I took the chair after losing our previous Super all too soon.
I’ve since yielded the chair once again, this time into Bob Johnson’s capable hands… but this job is too big for any one person, even if it’s “just” organizing a social club for model railroading. Under Paul, to me, to Jerry and Bob, the train has kept moving, but from where I’m sitting, the bridge is very much out ahead… and you, the Division, must decide if that means it’s the end of the line.
As things stand, Bob Johnson has said he will serve no more than one more year as Superintendent. Ray Price continues to serve as Treasurer, as he’s done since at least my first year as Super. Bob is currently acting as Wheel Report editor while I serve as acting Clerk. SMD has welcomed a number of new old faces and seen old ones return, yet the fact remains that we are not what we once were.
Although I kept the seat warm, I regard my time as your Super as a failure. There was so much potential I had hoped to harness, but I wasn’t the person to make good on it. The potential itself, however, remains unchanged. SMD has a storied history more than 40 years in the making, a membership that spans four states, and a crown jewel of the Mid-Eastern Region in our annual Mini-Con. With roughly 90 members at any given time, we have the potential to become a powerhouse and help the hobby to flourish in our Division.
This is your Division, but more than that, it’s our Division, each and every one of us. We decide its value, not just for ourselves, but the friendships we have because of it. If you’re reading this, think about what SMD means to you. The bridge may be out ahead, but it doesn’t have to stay that way.

-Alex Polimeni

Potomac & James River Divisions’ Joint Meet

From Jerry Stanley, NMRA Potomac Division Board of Directors

The James River and Potomac Division would like to invite the SMD to our annual Minicon joint meet on 4 November 2023. This year there will be seven clinics and four open house layout tours, plus model judging and white elephant tables. Registration starts at 9 AM. Clinics begin at 9:30 and run until 12 PM. Layouts will be open from 1 to 4 PM.

The event is free. We will take a free will offering for the Battlefield Baptist Church (meet location) The church will be sending all funds raised to a hospital that is being constructed in Haiti.

The event program with clinic and layout descriptions can be found on the PD web page. https://potomac-nmra.org/PDnewsite/Minicon/Minicon.php

Railfan Report – EBT 11 Sept.

An EBT Excursion

From Bob Johnson; Images submitted by Jane Clarke, Denny LeFevre, & Bob Morningstar

On Friday, 11 August a group of SMD  members and their guests visited the East Broad Top Railroad (the real one – not Jane and Pete Clarke’s model thereof) for a very  interesting and informative day of  railfaning. The turnout was small but  those who participated had an interesting time. The group started out with a  walking tour of the remains of the coal  mining area around Robertsdale led by our own Pete Clarke. This gave a solid  understanding of how the mines operated.


Following a quick pizza lunch (provided by  the SMD) the group drove to Orbisonia, PA (bit of an issue with road closures) for a guided tour of the facilities. At Rock Hill highlights included the freight house, round house, mail shops, and a look in the door to the remains of the foundry. Then the crew rushed off to ride a train pulled by some smoky old steam engine; the newly restored number 16.





On our return to Rock Hill we then rode a trolley and toured both the trolley barn and the trolley restoration shops. It was a good day with fine company and beautiful weather.



Layout Tours 17 & 18 September

As part of the Mainline Hobby Supply 32nd annual Open House and Layout Tours, the following South Mountain Division  (SMD) members will open their layouts. Registration and layout tour guides must be obtained from Mainline Hobby Supply inc Blue Ridge Summit, PA on the weekend of the tours.

Dave Moltrup’s Beaver Falls & Shenango Railroad

This HO-scale Railroad is a freelanced steel mill set in the late 1960’s. Size is 19′ x 24′. Operation is by NCE, DCC system.

Jay Beckham’s Pennsylvania Railroad O-Scale Layout

Jay Beckham’s Model Railroad Layout. O Scale model of the Pennsylvania Railroad Northern Central branch from Penn Station Baltimore, MD to Harrisburg, PA. Trains will be running. Light refreshments will be served. This model railroad occupies our 1800 sq. ft. basement. Scenery is about 70% complete. Other photos at https://jaysoscalelayout.blogspot.com/ and on Jaysoscalelayout group on Facebook.

Don Florwick’s Pittsburgh & South Pennsylvania Railroad

This is a proto-freelanced HO layout based on the never finished route of the South Pennsylvania RR envisioned by the New York Central in the late 1800s. On Don’s 1955 version the NYC competes with the PRR across southern Pennsylvania connecting at Harrisburg PA with the Reading and at Pittsburgh with the NYC subsidiary P&LE. First generation lightning-stripe painted NYC diesels have just replaced steam to power passenger and freight traffic on this busy single-track TT&TO operated mainline.

Steve King’s Virginia Midland

The Virginia Midland is a fully operational N-scale railroad located in the Virginia and West Virginia area and set during the 1969 period.  The layout is about 10 scale miles long and operates between two staging areas representing Marion, Virginia and Welch, West Virginia.  One passenger train, four freight trains, plenty of coal trains, and several daily mine runs keep the layout busy.

Bob Johnson’s West Virginia Midland

The West Virginia Midland is a HO scale freelance short line (based on a combination of several prototypes) which runs between the B&O at Holly Junction, WV and the Western Maryland at Laurel Bank, WV. Both the B&O and the WM have industry specific haulage rights on the Midland. The time period is summer 1954.

Major traffic producers on the Midland include a limestone quarry, coal mine (with a second simulated in staging) coke ovens, lumber mill (pending construction) with associated logging traffic and an industrial area around the Webster Springs / Cherry Falls area.

Scenery is approximately 90% completed

With the exception of two gas mechanical industrial switchers the WVM is 100% steam with a large number of geared locomotives (B&O and WM interchange power is diesel)

Operation is by TT&TO

The layout has an E-shaped 12 ft. by 16 ft. main area with a 50 ft. “around the wall” shelf extension.

The layout is designed so that each major industry is a “stand alone” scene that is large enough to be a viable source of revenue for the railroad. The intervening areas are modeled as open country to preserve the feeling of a rural short line railroad.The design of the railroad puts a heavy emphasis on local trains with extensive switching requirements.

Bob Morningstar’s Western Maryland Railway – Hagerstown Subdivision

This is my recreation of my childhood and teenage years of railfanning in and around the Hagerstown area. The layout represent the Western Maryland Railway, circa 1978-1983, more or less. It covers the Hagerstown terminal area, NC tower, and points west to Hancock.The layout encompasses a dedicated layout room of 14’ x 16’.   Cement operations in and around Hagerstown play a large role in the operations. There is a large cement plant in Pinesburg, MD that requires daily servicing. In addition, there is a cement hopper clean out facility in Hagerstown that supports cement operations.  Numerous industries are serviced by locals that originate out of Hagerstown. The B&O Weverton branch (severed by Hurricane Agnes in 1972) is now serviced out of Hagerstown. There are numerous industries to be serviced east of Hagerstown via the Security Branch of the B&O.

Transfer runs to and from the Conrail and N&W connection at Vardo Yard are important sources of interchange traffic.