Sorry for the lack of updates weekly. We've been very busy for the last week or so now that Emily is home. I have been able to work on quite a bit here and there though. The staging, west helix, and mainline are complete and operate up to the first turnouts. I've been doing a little testing before I glue down the track and install feeders on the upper level. I'll be working on the east side as time allows too.
In testing I found that every locomotive made it up the helix and onto the scenicked deck, including the L-1 but not the I-4. The four wheel pilot truck was shorting around the final curve in the helix that leads to the exit curve There was no way to avoid an 'S' curve here. But that wasn't the issue per se, apparently the final track was leading into it was too sharply curved. I just had to pry up the track (it was already glued down), and adjust it slightly. Now everything runs fine.
I also just installed my first DCC decoder. Well, actually it's the second attempt. It's just the MRC 16-bit drop in for the Atlas S-2. Eventually I plan to replace the Atlas S-2 with something that has better detail. It's a relatively easy install. You do have to mill two ridges off of the weight, and there are 4 solder connections. I had one already, and the motor control worked, but not the sound. It was the older 8-bit version. This one works just fine.
I'm well aware of the reputation MRC has for their decoders, and from what I've read and experienced they did have a lot of issues with their earlier decoders, but the newer ones are OK. I have to admit, when I first tested this one I didn't like the sound at all. It's better with the shell on. I still need to find the correct horn and bell. But it will work for this application and I wanted something relatively simple. The speaker is attached directly to the board, and it would take quite a bit of work to fit a standard sound decoder and speaker in this model as there is very little room.
In the process, I also took a look at the rear power truck. There was a rather loud 'click' (actually, more like a thump) in a stead rhythm. My guess was a problem with one of the gears in that truck. I managed to disassemble it enough to take a look and didn't see anything obvious. I ran a thin blade through a couple of the gears that seemed to have too much gunk in them. I'm not sure I really did anything, but I tested it without the wheelsets and it sounded fine. After reassembling it's much better. There is still an occasional click (and it's really a click this time), but it's much, much quieter. So for the time being I'm satisfied.
It will pull 10 cars up the helix without a problem, and it will struggle with up to 15. That's workable, because I'm sure the Holyoke freights that used the DEY-5 locomotives hauled a lot less than with a J-1 (or the later DERS-2b or 2c pairs).
So, a little progress here and there.