Last Updated: 5 August 2003

Ease of DCC installation in various locomotives (1= very easy, 5 = difficult)

By Max R. Robbins, Jr.

Manufacturer Model Rating Notes Number Done Decoder used
AHM FM C Liner 3 Rewiring, Soldering required 3 DH121
AHM BL2 3 Rewiring, Soldering required 1 DH121
Athearn Regular Diesels 3 Rewiring, Soldering required 15 DH121 or DH121AT
Athearn Switchers 3 Rewiring, Soldering required 7 DN121
Athearn RDC 3 Rewiring, Soldering required 2 DH121
Athearn Genesis 2-8-2 Light Mikado 1 Plug & Play 1 DH121
Atlas GP40 older version 3 Rewiring, Soldering required 1 DH121
Atlas GP38 Master Series 1 Move Plug & Play 1 Built-in
Atlas U23B 3 Rewiring, Soldering required 1 DH121P
Bachmann 2-6-2 3 Rewiring, Soldering required 1 DH121
Bachmann F7A 3 Rewiring, Soldering required 1 DH121
Bachmann B37 3 Rewiring, Soldering required 1 DH121
Bachmann Spectrum 0-6-0T 4 Small space, DCC ready, Soldering required 1 DZ143
Bachmann Spectrum 2-8-0 Consolidation 4 Rewire board 1 DH121PS
Bachmann Spectrum 4-8-2 Mountain 1 Plug & Play 2 DH121PS
Bachmann Spectrum 3 Truck Shay 1 Plug & Play 1 DH121PS
Bachmann Spectrum 44-tonner, old 5 Rewiring, Soldering required 1 DN121
Bachmann Spectrum 44-tonner, new 4 Small space, DCC ready, Soldering required 1 DN121
Bachmann Spectrum Doodlebug 3 Wiring issue on socket 1 DH121
Bachmann Spectrum 4-8-4 “J” 1 Plug & Play 1 DH121PS
Bachmann Plus 4-8-4 3 Rewiring, Soldering required 2 DH121
Bowser GM T1 4 Install motor, wire, Soldering required 1 DH121
GEM GP30 3 Rewiring, Soldering required 1 DH121
LifeLike GP7 3 Rewiring, Soldering required 1 DH121
LifeLike GP9 3 Rewiring, Soldering required 2 DH121
LifeLike GP38 3 Rewiring, Soldering required 1 DH121
LifeLike 0-4-0 3 Rewiring, Soldering required 1 DH121
LifeLike 0-4-0T 3 Rewiring, Soldering required 1 DH121
Proto 1000 F3A/B 2 Soldering required 3 DH121
Proto 1000 RDC 2 Soldering required 1 DH121
Proto 2000 2-8-8-2 1 Plug & Play 1 DH121PS
Proto 2000 GP30 1 Plug & Play 1 DH163LO
Mantua GP20 3 Rewiring, Soldering required 1 DH121
Mantua 0-6-0 3 Rewiring, Soldering required 1 DH121
Mantua 0-4-0T 3 Rewiring, Soldering required 1 DH121
Mantua 4-6-4 3 Rewiring, Soldering required 1 DH121
Mantua 2-6-2 3 Rewiring, Soldering required 1 DH121
Mehano/RSO 2-6-0 3 Rewiring, Soldering required 1 DH121
Mehano/RSO 4-6-2 3 Rewiring, Soldering required 1 DH121
New One 2-8-2 3 Rewiring, Soldering required 1 DH121
Rivarossi 4-4-0 3 Rewiring, Soldering required 4 DN121
Rivarossi 0-6-0T 3 Rewiring, Soldering required 1 DH121
Roundhouse 4-4-2 3 Rewiring, Soldering required 1 DH121
Roundhouse Climax 3 Rewiring, Soldering required 3 DN121
Roundhouse 0-6-0 3 Rewiring, Soldering required 2 DH121
Roundhouse RS3 3 Rewiring, Soldering required 1 DH121
Roundhouse 2 Truck Shay 3 Plug & Play 1 DN121PS
Roundhouse 3 Truck Shay 3 Plug & Play 1 DN121PS
Walthers GP9M 3 Rewiring, Soldering required 2 DH121
Walthers Dash 8-40B 3 Rewiring, Soldering required 1 DH121

These ratings are based on having installed decoders in the 84 locomotives listed. I still have 84+ locomotives to go.

Now to define the Notes:

Plug & Play (Rating = 1) (DCC Ready) – You simply must remove a cover or a shell to expose the DCC 8-pin plug and the dummy plug connected to it. You remove the dummy plug and plug in the decoder after making sure of the pin alignment. This is the simplest to do. Atlas with their built in decoders has to be the easiest. Next would be the Athean Genesis where the plug is exposed until you put it in the tender. Following that would be the Bachmann Spectrum locomotives where you remove the tender shell to reach the plug. After these would be the “unplug the board and replace with a specialized board” group. Hardest part is obtaining the replacement board.

Soldering Required (Rating = 2) (DCC Ready) – This a little more complicated because you must cut some traces on the PC board and solder a wiring harness to the board. LifeLike Proto 1000s fall in this group. Bachmann Spectrum’s that have you remove some shorting pins and solder in the harness also fall into this group. Rewiring, Soldering required (Rating = 3) – This is probably the most common rating. Here you must disassemble the locomotive remove existing wiring or power paths, isolate the motor’s brushes, and add new wiring as examples. Most Athearn locomotives fall into this group as does most other locomotives that are not DCC ready.

Small space, DCC ready, Soldering required & Install motor, wire, Soldering required (Rating = 4) – There are very few locomotives that earn this rating. These are the more difficult due to space limitations, and other factors above the 3 rating. Bachmann’s 44 Tonners & the 0-6-0T earned this due to the small space required even though they’re DCC ready. Note that the Bowser GMT1 earned this also. It required a new frame, motor, and gearing to get it powered before DCC could be installed. The GMT1 is also known as the AERO Train.

Rewiring, Soldering required (Rating = 5) - This was because of the tiny motor wires required to DCC this older version of the Bachmann 44 Tonner.

Too complicated, Locomotive not worth it (Rating = 6) - The locomotives that fall into this group are ones that I would have to machine a new frame, rebuild the motor, re-gear, replace the motor and gears, etc. Such locomotives include Older Mantua diesels that have the motor mounted to the truck, which would include some Bachmann’s, LifeLike’s, and other manufacturers. Most of these would be “toy trains” that were included in the cheap Christmas train sets.

It should also be noted that while all the above locomotives are HO scale, I used HO, N, and Z scale decoders during the installations. What you need to look for is what amperage rating of the decoder. How much current will it handle, not what’s it called. All the decoders I use have a rating of 1.25 amps or higher (up to 2 amps), most are rated at 1.5 amps.

All decoders were tested using Loy’s Toys tester prior to installation. So far I’ve managed to short out 4 decoders when doing installations and have had only one decoder go bad after being used. Digitrax will repair any of their defective decoders for $17.00, which isn’t bad considering what you pay for them. Don’t know what the policies are of other decoder manufacturers, as I have only used Digitrax decoders in my installs with the exception of the built-in decoder in the Atlas Locomotive.

Should all locomotives have decoders? The short answer is no. The long answer is it depends on the locomotive. I’ve several older Mantua Diesels, Athearn rubber band drive diesels, and “cheap” (i.e. toy train diesels) that will never get a decoder. Yes, I do run the cheapies when I want to really test some track I’ve installed especially switches. These locos are great for picking points, but not for regular service. Also their good for checking clearances, if they don’t rub or catch nobody will. I have at least one or two brass locomotives that will probably not get a decoder unless they come out with something smaller than a Z scale decoder. Both these locomotives are HO scale, but probably should really be HOn3. I also have some expensive ( i.e. valuable) brass locomotives that are better left alone. Currently I have around 188 locomotives and will probably leave twenty without DCC.

Copyright © 2003

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