Friday, December 9, 2011

SoundBytes XLIV

The Holiday Season is here. We want to wish everyone a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!
In this post, we’ll share our Holiday Schedule; discuss recent announcements for future products in Blackstone Models, including new Tank Cars and C-19s, and for our Tech Tip, well look closely at the new lighting decoders for Blackstone Models Coach and Caboose.
Also, for those of you wanting a wish list to give your loved ones, we have our “Honey Please” lists for both SoundTraxx and Blackstone Models found on the home page of each.

Holiday Schedule:
For the Christmas and New Year Holidays, we will close so our staff can spend time with their families for the week of December 26th through the 30th. We will re-open January 2nd, 2012.

Narrow Frame Tank Car 3rd Release
Back by popular demand, Blackstone Models will be doing a 3rd run of the UTLX Narrow Frame Tank Car. These are available in both weathered (W) versions and non-weathered versions. The new part numbers are:
B340607(W) - UTLX No. 12812, Yellow Lettering
B340608(W) - UTLX No. 12822, Yellow Lettering
B340609(W) - UTLX No. 13119, Yellow Lettering

We are also proud to announce CYCX Narrow Frame Tank Cars!
HOn3 modelers will immediately take note of the unique livery of the Penn-Conley Owned CYCX cars leased to the Texaco company. In stark contrast to the yellow lettering of the typical UTLX car, these second-hand UTLX narrow frame tank cars are adorned with white "Gothic" style reporting marks and utilize a more spartan approach to the data painted on the tank ends. None of the CYCX cars are equipped with tank side ladders that were applied to certain remaining UTLX cars during the war years. Because they were few in number, the CYCX cars are a special addition to any modeler's HOn3 collection and will find a special place in the consists of those diminutive tank and manifest trains! The new part number are:
B340610(W) - CYCX No. 63, White Lettering
B340611(W) - CYCX No. 64, White Lettering

Non-weathered cars will retail for $67.95. Weathered versions will retail for $75.95. The guaranteed pre-order deadline is January 13, 2012. We expect these to be in stock and shipping to dealers in the Summer of 2012.

New C-19s!
Blackstone Models is proud to announce the release of 7 new versions of the popular C-19 along with a re-run of a popular road number. Newly-tooled tender styles allows us to model new versions, including the popular RGS #41. 
Otto Perry photo from James L. Ehernberger Collection

These will all be available with sound and optionally weathered. Versions are:
B310201-S: #345 Flying Grande Herald, Switcher Pilot
B310209-S: #342 Royal Gorge Route Herald with Straight Sided Tender
B310210-S: #346 Post Wreck, Flying Grande Herald, Flared Top Tender
B310211-S: #401, Class 70, Late 1910s 401 on Straight Sided Tender
B310212-S: #40 RGS “Rising Sun” Herald
B310213-S: #41 RGS, 30s 40 on Straight Sided Tender
B310214-S: Painted/Unlettered, Diamond Stack, Flared Top Tender, Russia Iron Boiler
B310215-S: Ptd/Unl, Later Style, Straight Sided Tender

MSRP will be $499.95 for non-weathered versions; weathered versions will list for $554.95.

Tech Tip:
We have recently begun shipping the lighting decoders for the Blackstone Models coach and caboose. These are designed for these models, but can be adapted for use in other models as well! Designed for use in both DCC and analog DC, this produces flicker-free operation for up to 2 minutes after track power has been removed.
Each decoder is equipped with 3 surface mount LEDs to illuminate the interior of your car. There are also 3 additional lighting outputs for other lighting options, such as marker lamps, rear flashing lamp, Stove flicker, and more. All of the SoundTraxx Hyperlight effects are built in. This means that you could use a MARS light effect for the interior lamps if you want to.
The decoder is just like any other decoder; it will use a short address (1-127) or a long address (0001-9999) and can be consisted with decoders installed in other cars on the same train! One popular feature of this decoder is the ability to adjust the brilliance of the outputs with a CV. This allows the marker lamps or interior lights to be adjusted to your desired brilliance. To dim the interior lamps, for example, CV 55 adjusts brightness for FX5 (Interior lamps) and FX6. This CV can be adjusted from 0-100 (Numbers above 100 will default to 100). To set the interior lights to 50% bright, set CV 55 to 50. It is just that easy!
This decoder can be used in many ways. Feel free to explore the potential uses. The User’s Guide for the lighting decoders can be found here:

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

SurroundTraxx and Other New Products, and Blackstone Models Updates

Even though is seems like we just started 2011, we’re heading into the Holiday season! Time flies when you’re having fun and keeping busy! We want to wish a safe and Happy Thanksgiving to you and your families. Just a note, we will be closed Thursday and Friday in observance of Thanksgiving. We will reopen Monday, November 28.

This time, we will talk briefly about new releases from SoundTraxx. We also have some pre-order items coming up for Blackstone Models. We’ll discuss upcoming shows and appearances and our Tech Tip will explain how to set up the echo feature in SurroundTraxx.

SurroundTraxx Now Shipping

After finishing the revisions to the SurroundTraxx manual, we are proud to say that this item has started officially shipping out to stores this week.

More information about SurroundTraxx can be found at The manual can be viewed online in the Manuals section of our website.

This revolutionary sound system allows full sound for any scale, and is ideal for N- and Z-scale models, which are typically difficult to equip with great sound due to the small speakers required. Instead of onboard speakers, SurroundTraxx allows you to use speakers of any size that are installed around your layout, and directs the sounds so that they appear to "travel" with your locomotives.

Other New Products Now Shipping

We have also been shipping out the TSU-1000 for Dual GE FDL-16 (P.N. 827124) for the GE U50 locomotive. This is the decoder to use for the new Athearn HO U50 locomotive available now in stores!

The lighting decoder for the Blackstone Models Long Caboose (P.N. 810137) is now shipping as well. This is patterned to easily fit inside the Blackstone caboose, but can be used in many different styles of cabooses.

Be sure to see your local hobby shop or favorite dealer for more information and to order.

Blackstone Models Updates

Blackstone Models has made several product announcements that are currently open for reservations. For starters, we announced six new road numbers for both the D&RGW 3000-Series Boxcars and the D&RGW 5500-Series Stock Cars, which are available in both weathered and non-weathered versions. We also have a second run of Jackson & Sharp Open Platform Coaches, two new Pullman Green cars, a 3-pack of the Denver & Rio Grande Passenger Coach Red cars, along with painted, unlettered versions of each Pullman Green and Passenger Coach Red car.

We have some K-27s still available for pre-order as well. These are expected to arrive in February. The East Broad Top 3-Bay Hopper is still available if you have not yet placed your orders. We have received the pre-production samples and these are great-looking, excellent-running and reliable cars, synonymous with the name Blackstone Models!

Upcoming Trade Shows

As we approach the end of the year, we have only one more show before the Christmas break. We will be in Oklahoma City at the OKC Train Show December 3 and 4, 2011. In January, we will be in West Springfield for the Railroad Hobby Show at the Eastern States Exposition Center. Be sure to come by and visit our booth and see all the new products and any new sounds we have to offer!

Tech Tip: Setting Up Echo with SurroundTraxx

With the shipping of SurroundTraxx, we’ll share a few tech tips with you to help get the best from your new surround sound system for your layout!

SurroundTraxx has the ability to model environmental sound effects to the sound in each zone, like reverb and echo (which are not the same thing). An example of this would be if part of the layout is set in the flatlands, while another portion is up in the mountains. In the mountain zone, a light echo can be reproduced to give the feeling of being in the mountains. Likewise, if the layout has a switching area with lots of buildings up against the track (an "urban canyon"), reverb would be more appropriate.

For the example on how to do this, we’ll set up heavy echo in Zone 4 for the whistle, bell and exhaust.

To set up the amount of echo desired in the zone, press in the knob to get to the menu. Rotate the knob until AUDIO appears in the window, and then press the knob to select. In the window, SND ZONE:1 will appear. Rotate the knob until the desired sound zone is displayed, SND ZONE:4, then press the knob. Rotate the knob until ECHO: 0 is displayed in the window, then press the knob. Following the list in the SurroundTraxx manual on page 2:27, rotate the knob until ECHO:6 is displayed, then press the knob to save the setting. Repeat these steps for any other sound zones that this effect is desired in. When finished, rotate the knob until EXIT is displayed, then press the knob to return to normal operation mode.

Now, it is necessary to apply the echo to the individual sound effects as desired. Starting from the normal operation of SurroundTraxx, press the knob to display ROUNDHOUSE. Press the knob to select, then rotate until EDIT LOCO, and then press the knob to select. Rotate the knob until the road number or address of the desired loco to edit appears in the display, and then press the knob. Rotate the knob until WH FX appears. Press the knob to edit the whistle echo effect. This is where the percentage (0-255 = 0-100%) of the heavy echo selected in the audio menu will be applied to the selected sound effect. For heavy echo in the whistle, dial in 200, which is done by changing the individual digits. Press the knob to select each digit, make and save the change.

When finished with the whistle, move on to the bell. Rotate the knob to BL FX, press the knob to select, and enter 100 (we'll use this lower value since the bell is not as prominent as the whistle) by following the same procedure as was done for the whistle. Then rotate the knob to select EX FX and enter 125. Rotate the knob to EXIT and press the knob. Now run your loco through sound Zone 4. Blow the whistle and listen to the echo effect in Zone 4 and hear it gently fade out. Ring your bell and listen to the exhaust.

Repeat this procedure for each of the locos in your roundhouse so they all respond to the echo effect. Without setting up the FX in the loco profile, that loco will not give the echo effect in any zones.

This is just one of the many ways SurroundTraxx delivers great sound to your layout. Being able to reproduce the ambient sounds of an area as modeled in the individual sound zones creates the sounds of a train running in the real world. You get to be there to enjoy it!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

SoundBytes XLII

Model train season is upon us now! Time to start migrating back to our layouts and get back to railroading. Here at SoundTraxx, we are gearing up for show season. We’ll let you know where we will be in the upcoming months. Also, we will share the new announcements from Blackstone. Last, for the Tech Tip, what to do about a loco making sound, but no control.

Upcoming Show and Appearance Schedule:
Show season is on us. We will be venturing out to a few shows in the next couple of months. George will be at Arnie’s Trains,, in Westminster, CA on October 21st giving clinics about using and programming Tsunami as well as answering questions. Next up is Trainfest in Milwaukee, November 12th and 13th, Following that is The Oklahoma City Train Show in Oklahoma City December 3rd and 4th, If you are able to attend these shows, be sure to come by, meet our personnel and ask any questions. We always enjoy meeting our fellow modelers. Come by to see what’s new!

SoundTraxx News
With the release of the new Athearn U-50 model, we have been asked many times if we will have a
correct decoder for this locomotive. The answer is: YES! We are producing a dual GE FDL-16 decoder for use with the Athearn U50, part number 827124. This decoder will have dual recordings of the FDL prime movers to more realistically reproduce the sound of the prototype locomotive’s twin U25 locos on one frame. These are shipping now and will be available at dealers soon!

Blackstone Models News
With the recent National Narrow Gauge Convention in Hickory, NC, we of course, took the opportunity to make some announcements for upcoming new products!
To start, we will be doing 6 new road numbers for each of the 3000 series Boxcars and 5500 series Single-Deck Stockcars. Also, we have announced a second run of passenger cars, included are 2 new green coach numbers, green painted/unlettered, a painted/unlettered red and a 3-pack of red fully decorated passenger coaches for the early 1900s Denver and Rio Grande scheme.
Other additions to the line are the much requested tank car trucks (Both Arch Bar and Bettendorf) that will be available separately now. A new accessory lighting decoder for the Blackstone Models Long Caboose will be available soon as well.
Last, we will be doing a new run of C-19 locomotives with a few of the D&RGW and RGS road numbers that were not done last run mostly due to the different tenders. Details are still being ironed out, so as soon as we have these completed, we will make the formal announcement, including road numbers and part numbers.
Dealers are taking reservations on these new announcements now! For more information including part numbers and road numbers, go to 
We also received the first pre-production samples of the upcoming East Broad Top Hopper car for inspection and testing.
Visit our website ( ) to check these out. Demand is high on these cars.  Be sure to get your desired quantities on order with your dealers.

Tech Tip:
We get calls from time to time about a locomotive idling on the track, but will not respond to the assigned address. This could happen if you are attempting to program the locomotive on the programming track without the PTB-100. If this happens, the decoder is not malfunctioning or defective, it simply has the wrong address in it. All commands to run to motor or blow the horn/whistle are being sent to an address that is not active. How can this happen?
The programming track is set to about ½ power of the normal DCC system. The idea for this was to protect the decoder against short circuits or faulty wiring. What happens is the Tsunami, a powerful and capable decoder, has a processor that, unfortunately, needs more power than most programming tracks provide. Therefore, when programming, the decoder may get enough power to ‘wake up’ the processor, but this is after some of the programming commands have been sent, resulting in an erroneous address being programmed into the decoder. When placed on the main track, the address that is active is not the one you are expecting, so it does not respond to the address you assign to the cab.
There are two ways to remedy this situation. One is to select each address, starting with 1, then 2, until the decoder responds to any commands sent to that address. With 9,999 possible addresses, this may take some time to do. The second, and more reliable way (Not to mention quicker) is to get a PTB-100 from a SoundTraxx dealer. This will amplify the power on the programming track to levels that the Tsunami will reliably read and write CVs. Because DCC programming commands sent on the programming track are NOT address dependent, the decoder will accept programming the address on the programming track and activate this address. The decoder will respond with no problems then. The PTB-100 will also use LEDs to give visual indication of the programming process to ensure proper programming as well as short circuit protection. Retail price is $59.95.  These are found at any of our reputable dealers!

Friday, September 9, 2011

SoundBytes XLI

Wow, this is the 41st edition of SoundBytes! We hope this is informative for all who read. If you would like to see something noted here or a Tech Tip about a specific subject, please e-mail George at
This is a quick turn for the next edition of SoundBytes to gear everyone up for the National Narrow Gauge Convention this week in Hickory, NC. In this edition, we will meet the newest face at SoundTraxx, Jaime Ferry. We will also have the last installment from Jeff at Blackstone Models about model selection and production. Our Dealer Spotlight will fall on Spring Creek Model Trains in Deshler, Nebraska.

Intro to Jaime Ferry
Jaime joined our team in July as an administrative assistant. She grew up in Massachusetts and relocated to Durango to work with SoundTraxx.

She grew up admiring layouts of her close family friends, Bob and Cheri Payson now of Santa Fe New Mexico. Bob modeled the Boston area centered on his scratch built Boston Harbor scene. While Jaime has not (yet) modeled herself she always admired the hard work and detail put into his layout.
Since moving to Durango, Jaime and her fiancé have started the preparations for building their own layout. They plan to model their home, the Boston Area, and may throw in a tourist narrow gauge railroad so they can model the Blackstone Models. Outside of work and planning their layout, Jaime is an avid horseback rider and owns a Quarter Horse named Awesome.
Jaime has worked for the Ritz Carlton as a concierge and several other customer service oriented companies. If there is anything she can help you with, “It would be her pleasure.”

Blackstone Models
Product Development Primer
Part 3
By Jeff Johnson
In our second installment of the Blackstone Models development process, we discussed the research phase up to the 3D model preparation of the prototype.

Now the drawings are off to our manufacturer! Depending on the project and development schedule, we may see a first offering of 3D model designs within 6 to 8 weeks for us to review and begin the model design and review phase.
We will often make certain specific requests concerning the construction and ask our manufacturer to work within certain guidelines. That said, it is important for us to give some leeway with our design partners in order that they may create a model that they can effectively deliver to the production floor with few worries. Some of the salient points that are considered in this important step include:
· Ensuring the accuracy of the prototype specific detailing.
· Accepting certain limitations that the molding and assembly process may require.
· Reviewing the proposed assembly process/hardware and identifying any constraints that may arise in the assembly phase.
· Assuring that the proposed parts and assembly are compatible with previous designs to ensure product consistency.
· Reviewing the cost effectiveness of the assembly process to avoid needless “design creep” that may challenge our ability to keep the model affordably priced for the future.
· Signing off on the various Bill of Materials for each version to ensure the detailing differences are understood.

Locomotive creation adds considerable time to the above process as we determine the sound system constraints and motor/gearing assembly, as well as the electrical pick up design. Before we can sign off for the next step, the SoundTraxx engineering team is hard at work determining the Tsunami decoder layout and wiring that the locomotive will utilize. As an example, the C-19 required a reduction in physical wires running between the loco and tender as well as the sound system PCB (Printed Circuit Board) size when compared to our K-27 design.


After many weeks of detailed study and revisions, we make that decision to head to the tooling department. The 3D model goes through a final sign off from the tooling department to determine the feasibility of each part and any limitations that may need final study, than it’s off to cut hard tooling.
For locomotives, it may easily take three or more months before we see the first test shots and/or running samples. This break in the model design phase means it is time to gather final information and create the decoration liveries, box artwork, insert documentation, and labeling. During this time we will also receive box and protective blister proposals from the manufacturer for approval.
All the while, the engineering team in Durango has created prototype sound systems for the locomotives. These decoder samples will need to be in the hands of the manufacturer when the first loco parts are coming out of the molds.

The first engineering samples arrive! Now it’s off to test….and test. We spend considerable time sending our samples through the paces to see how they will work in the real world. Locomotives add considerable time to this process. A small team of beta-testers will join us in this phase as we try to find any weakness in the first sample that could spell difficulty ahead.
Using our own “risk management” type of processes gleaned from experience, we endeavor to identify roadblocks or missed opportunities that may play out in the final production phase. Once we review these samples, we will usually make a few tooling updates and await the second samples. These second samples will take many weeks to prepare, and we will usually couple the paint and decoration approval phase to coincide with their arrival. For livery and decoration, we keep a critical eye out for adherence to our artwork that we created to match each prototype.
Our product testing will continue through this phase as we attempt to ensure that no stone has been left unturned. All the while, the manufacturer has spent weeks designing and preparing the final assembly tools and jigs that will assist in consistent assembly of the products.

The samples have been approved and our final purchase order was prepared weeks in advance of production so our manufacturer has had time to order consigned parts from their vendors. For locomotive production, the sound systems are completed and sent off so their arrival will coincide with the first models headed for assembly. Scheduled months prior, our manufacturer goes to work shooting the zinc and plastic molds and sending them off to the assembly floor. Within a few weeks, we will receive at least two samples of each production piece/version to check for the success of the quality control process. If we identify any issue, this is our last chance to make adjustments prior to shipment. Our manufacturer is eager to please and they studiously review any feedback and make any revisions to assembly if the need arises.

The excitement has been building for us, and finally we receive the shipping documents that verify our latest release is on the way. We can now start to contact dealers and confirm the ship dates. It will be 3 to 5 weeks before the cartons arrive at our door. Once received, the models are subjected to final testing and inspection before we send them your way.
After all is said and done, one final critical eye is the most important, yours! We will always value our customer feedback and sincerely hope you will take a moment to tell us of your experience with your latest Blackstone Models purchase. If you haven’t already done so, please log onto the Blackstone Models website and partake in our surveys so we may continue to work in filling your product desires.

Thanks for following this development primer. We hope that you have gleaned a little understanding into the process, one that we enjoy each step of the way!

Dealer Spotlight: Spring Creek Model Trains

David Zucker along with his wife Debby, started their hobby store business in 2000. It has been a lifelong dream to own a model railroad hobby store.
Through dedication and catering to their customers, they have grown from a 5’ x 10’ x 6’ trailer to a store and a website. David actually began a manufacturing venture in the hobby several years ago. His weights were specialized for several different cars that did not come with a weight from the manufacturers. Current stock is designed to accommodate the contemporary HO and N scale modeler, including a full range of SoundTraxx and Blackstone Models Products. They still love doing the weekend "train shows" and travel throughout the Midwest.
You can find out more about Spring Creek Model Trains by calling 402-365-7628, visiting them at 304 East Bryson Avenue in Deshler, NE, or visit their website: You may also find them at a train show near you. Be sure to tell them you heard about them here!

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

SoundBytes XL

We have many things to discuss, so we are posting another edition. This time, we will talk about an annual event at the Durango and Silverton, known as Railfest, The second installment from Jeff Johnson about gathering research and collecting prototype data for Blackstone Models, and a primer about the features and uses for our new SurroundTraxx. Also, don’t forget about the National Narrow Gauge Convention coming up soon, September 7th through the 10th in Hickory, NC

RailFest 2011

The Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad Held its annual Railfest this past weekend. This annual event invites narrow gauge fans from all over to partake in special events, photo trains and excursion runs featuring visiting narrow gauge equipment. This year, the Eureka and Palisades #4

and the Rio Grande Southern Galloping Goose #5 were running, along with Denver and Rio Grande Western Painted passenger coaches and the #478, a K-28 Mikado.

On Saturday, Jarrette was front Brakeman on the #478 Photo Special while George rode and enjoyed the many run bys by taking video and still photos.

It left Durango at 6:30am and returned as the last entrant to the Parade of Trains at the Durango Depot.

Jeff played music on the Presidential Dinner Special on Sunday. Overall, it is a fun weekend and if given the chance, plan a trip out here in August to attend. We offer Factory Tours at SoundTraxx as well to complement the events in town for the week. For more information on Railfest, please visit

Blackstone Models:
In our first installment of the Blackstone Models development process, Jeff Johnson, The Project Manager for Blackstone Models, discussed the decisions that go into determining the viability of a project and product selection. In this week’s entry, Jeff will focus on the research and development that goes into each new product to ensure the quality and accuracy for the new designs.

Through the years, there has been a maze of information and drawings compiled for many of the prototypes that we choose to re-create in HOn3. Most of the more popular drawings are quite fine in detail and dimensional integrity, while a few have appeared that are less than stellar in these respects and have occasionally resulted in questionable results when used for product development in the past. It became apparent early in our design process that we needed to get back to the original sources so we could use reasonably sound judgment as to the integrity of our model designs.
Does this mean that every fine rivet detail, nut, bolt, washer, etc. is always a flawless match for every single road number and era of a prototype? A qualified no on this one! Obviously a manufacturer has to determine a sensible way to bring a realistic model to fruition and also keep the development cost bearable for all. The qualifier for this one is that we find it very important to research the prototype early in our design phase so we may make decisions based on knowledge and not on ignorance due to hasty or incomplete data collection. Unavoidably, molding tolerances and model assembly processes will drive small compromises that are simply part of the manufacturing world, and we endeavor to know what we are starting from so that any such compromise is built on practical principals.
The following bullet points reflect the core of our resource material for model development and include the aspects we consider when observing information:
· Existing Prototypes
     We spend time in the field after locating the best surviving prototypes and measure them in great detail. At this stage, some very important considerations must be taken into account;
     1. Does the prototype generally match its appearance from the intended model era?
     2. Have subsequent/modern era rebuilds altered dimensions or detail placement?
     3. Does the prototype chosen best represent the entire class respective to subtle differences in individual pieces of rolling stock?
· Railroad Standard Drawings and Specifications
     In conjunction with studying the field dimensions, we pour through all original source
material we can obtain in order to confirm or challenge findings in the field. Occasionally,
certain aspects of official standard drawings have even been found to be incorrect when
compared to the “as built” prototype. We also pay close attention to specification revision
dates in order to confirm that this data is concurrent with the era we are re-creating.
· Study of Historical Photographs
This exercise cannot be underestimated as many subtle variances among cars and
locomotives may be observed depending on the photo vantage points and the era represented.
We may also note road number specific paint and lettering details that can be applied to the
models in the decoration phase.
· Consultation with Historians
Blackstone Models has been greatly enriched through our association with respected
researchers. We don’t assume that the results of our own discovery phase are always ground
breaking. In fact many individuals have spent years collecting and analyzing unpublished
photos and documentation that may support or challenge previous conclusions. We are
extremely grateful for the remarkable outpouring of data that we have gleaned through the
assistance of others.
· Existing Products Comparison
After detailed study through the steps listed above, one may ask why it is necessary to
compare this information with other products. This is not to attempt the critique of other
manufacturers’ work, but rather to earn a respect for model standards that have gone before us
and to understand the perceptions and expectations that may exist for our customers.
We have developed a great deal of respect for many manufacturers that have paved the way
through the years with wonderful kits and thoughtful research. In fact, a few of us here at
Blackstone Models were building these kits and collecting early brass locomotives in our
formative HOn3 years. For this inspiration, we are quite grateful!

After collecting the needed data, a fairly arduous task commences with the creation of 3D prototype solid model drawings, road number versions matrices, and model livery specifications. And it never fails….as we confirm the final requirements of our prototype design, a few additional details have emerged that we can’t resist incorporating into the final product.
In our next installment, we will pass on some “fun facts” in the prototype-to-model phase, culminating with final production and the delivery of our latest HOn3 offering to our doors in Durango.

SurroundTraxx Overview

SurroundTraxx is a surround sound system for your layout. Utilizing the Digitrax Transponding block-detection system, the locomotive is detected in a particular block and this information is relayed back to the command station.  SurroundTraxx listens for transponding communication and accordingly sends the sound profile of the detected locomotive to the speaker assigned to that region of the layout. As the locomotive traverses the layout, The Transponding detects the loco is in another block, and the SurroundTraxx transfers the sound to the speaker assigned to the new block.  This allows the sound of the locomotive to follow from speaker to speaker, simulating on-board sound.
The SurroundTraxx is capable for support of up to 6 sound zones
or up to 5 zones while utilizing a subwoofer.

The SurroundTraxx will simultaneously produce sound for up to 6 locos at a time, but will store up to 99 locomotive profiles. The sounds for each loco will follow that loco from speaker to speaker around the layout. Even if all 6 locos are in one zone, all the sounds will emanate from one speaker.  Setting up the locomotive profiles in the SurroundTraxx allows the user to fully customize the sounds for each loco, with multiple exhausts, whistles or horns, bells, air pumps or air compressors, coupler-clanks and more to faithfully match the intended prototypes.
Included in the box is the SurroundTraxx unit, a 6’ speaker harness, power supply, LocoNet cable and the User’s Guide on CD. We do not include speakers to allow the user to select the type of speakers they desire. For example, if Joe wants simple speakers on the layout fascia, he can use any bookshelf speaker, but if John wants to use the subwoofer, he would prefer less expensive, potentially smaller speakers, since the bass is coming from the subwoofer. Each layout is different as is the listener; so different speakers can be used with the SurroundTraxx to accommodate all preferences.
One example of the features built in the SurroundTraxx is the ability to add echo to a specific sound zone, giving the effect of running through a canyon. As the loco leaves this zone, the echo no longer applies to the sounds for that locomotive.
This is a new product that is shipping to dealers now.  We are currently working on updating the SoundTraxx website to provide more information about SurroundTraxx and the concept behind the technology.  Finally, big sound can come for the N- and Z- scalers with a full range of sound without having to fit tiny speakers onboard their locomotives.  If you have any questions about the implementation of SurroundTraxx, feel free to call us and we will be glad to assist in any way we can!

Monday, August 15, 2011

SoundBytes XXXIX

It’s been a really busy summer here. We have been getting the new sounds out to the dealers, getting SurroundTraxx packaged and shipped, attending the National Train Show in Sacramento, CA and last, hosting our annual Dealer Training here in Durango last week. It seems as though it was just the first of the year here! Time flies when you’re having fun, right!
In this edition, we will hear from Jeff Johnson from Blackstone Models in the first of 3 installments about the model selection processes we employ to select projects for Blackstone Models. Also, we will take a sneak peek at the Dealer Training seminar we held here last week. Last, for our Tech Tip, we will give some wiring advice to help with your decoder installations.

Dealer Training.
This is an annual Seminar we conduct in which we invite our dealers from around the globe. We spend 4 days helping them become more familiar with our products, SoundTraxx and Blackstone Models. This year, it was held at Ft. Lewis College in Durango, CO. During the week, we share the many features of our products, share the details of our product line, give them an overview of decoder installation, do a decoder installation, and program and set up the decoders for their in-store demo units! We also take a day to have a good time and ride the Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad. Everybody has a good time, learns a lot and leaves with confidence in our products seeing the factory and seeing our commitment to producing a great product.

This year was especially fun. There was a rockslide on the railroad up in the mountains that caused our trip to be postponed a day. The biggest problem was we could not go all the way to Silverton, but we had a good time anyway! Some photos of the rockslide and its cleanup can be seen here:
This year was our biggest class ever with over 40 attendees from all across the continent. To see if your dealer has attended, look up their listing on our dealer page from our website. They will be designated with a large gold star!
We want to issue a big Thank You to all who attended this year, Ft. Lewis College, The Bar D Wranglers, The Durango and Silverton Railroad and all who made this past week a success for us and for all attendees.

Blackstone Models:
Product Development Primer
Written by Jeff Johnson
Blackstone Models has existed as a division of SoundTraxx since the announcement of our K-27 locomotive development in 2004. To date, Blackstone Models has released two distinct classes of HOn3 locomotives and eleven types of HOn3 rolling stock pieces.
Many of our customers have inquired about our development process (i.e. ‘how do you select a project, develop it, and decide how to release it to the market’). While certainly not exhaustive, this three-part presentation of our development process may help answer some basic questions you may have concerning Blackstone Models product releases.

With the release of the very first K-27s, boxcars, and stock cars, we felt assured that these staples of narrow gauge railroading would be well received by our core audience/potential customers. The unanswered question was how we needed to continue building a successful business while creating the quality of product that would continue to appeal to existing HOn3 modelers. The added goal was to introduce this wonderful corner of the hobby to budding modelers. First, let’s take a look back at the principals that we used to guide us in the quest to get rolling. Some salient points were agreed upon at the inception of our new division:
· Locomotives must be designed with reliable and consistent electrical pick-up
· Locomotives would be offered with state-of-the art sound systems that accurately capture various prototype sounds
· Each offering would be created “Ready-to Run”
· All models would be extensively tested during the development stage
· All of our models should be consistent with details that mirror the unique variations found on the prototype
· Thoughtful historical research would be key to satisfying the requirement of producing a model that accurately represents the era intended
· Customer service and support must be key to ensuring that our products are well received and that they will stand the test of time in realistic operating scenarios
While following these guidelines during the release of our first few products, lessons have been learned and new innovations have been created to ensure consistent quality.
As we find ourselves seven years down the road and a dozen or so releases behind us, the question is often begged: ”What’s next?”

Obviously, choosing a successful product release results from exploratory research that will ensure a reasonable return on the investment that will keep us afloat and able to expand for the future. This means that many departments of our organization must come together and review the viability of product proposals in order to ensure success. Key components to this process include:
· Customer Surveys (trade shows, online data collection, customer comment cards)
· Competitive Products Survey (we ask “what are we offering that is unique?”)
· Online Modeler Forum Feedback
· Manufacturing Limitations and Costs (How do we satisfy our customer requirements and work within our means for long term success?)
· Available Prototype Data (Do we have access to the prototypes and/or reliable historical data that ensures we may produce an accurate model?
Manufacturing requirements reach far beyond the obvious of how we can make a part or assembly. Minimum order quantities (MOQs), additional costs for producing unique version details, and potential delivery schedules are all figured into the decision of product viability. Today’s manufacturing costs are steadily rising, therefore the balance between additional investment for unique model versions must be very carefully weighed with the ability to produce and move a quantity that will constitute a successful release.
Considerable preliminary research of the model prototype and design must be conducted prior to our selection of the next release. Occasionally, it may take weeks or even months to find and gather enough information to simply determine the viability of a project as viewed from the design phase. This process is especially laborious when creating a model such as the C-19 considering the many detail and varying assembly requirements.

After satisfying the above-mentioned considerations, the excitement begins! We are ready to make our announcement to our customers and dealer network. During this time we are able to gather pre-orders that will help us determine the quantity we will want to produce. Immediately following this, the Blackstone Models design team is off to work finalizing the necessary research and pre-production drawings to submit to our manufacturer.
In our next installment of the development process we will give you a window to view the steps involved in bringing together the research prior to releasing our next model to the manufacturer. Stay tuned!

Tech Tip:
For our Tech Tip, We will share with you a few secrets regarding wiring in decoders and the wiring inside the models to help lead to a better install.
When cracking open a model to install a decoder, you may notice that the wires are not always the colors that you expect them to be. Sometimes, the two track pick-up wires from each side of the lead truck of a diesel, for example, may both be black. This can lead to potential issues when wiring up a drop-in style decoder. The color of the wire is irrelevant to its ultimate purpose, sending power from point A to point B. The colors are usually there to help in troubleshooting or following wiring diagrams. The inside of many models are assembled with the thought that the model will not be re-wired, so they may use whatever wire colors they have, or use black wires where they may be visible from outside the model.

Ultimately, do not always assume the wires are color coded correctly. We have seen instances where the red wire off an LED was attached to the negative lead while the black wire was attached to the positive lead!
The secret is not to panic. Take your time and use a multi-meter to test the model to be sure the wires go where you expect them to. For example, lets look at the track pick-up wires on the diesel. To start, set your multi-meter to Ohms, or if available, set it for use as a continuity tester. Take the exposed end of the wire and touch one lead of the meter to it. Take the other lead to the meter and touch wheels on one side of the truck assembly. If the meter reads 0 Ohms or in use as a continuity tester, it beeps, then this wire goes to that side of the truck, and label it as such. If you do not see any conductivity, then conduct the same test, but touch the wheels on the other side of the truck.
When conducting this test for lighting, be sure your meter does not send out too much voltage that could potentially burn out any small voltage lamps. Most wires to lights could be more easily traced.

Another tip to share is many of the factory-installed circuit boards have the wires held in place using small black plastic clips. (We call them snoods to reduce confusion with other board mounting clips). Our drop-in decoders are designed so that you can re-use these if you desire. Other boards have small plugs and do not come with these snoods.
In both cases, we suggest soldering the wires to the decoder for a more reliable and trouble-free connection.
When working on a model, be sure to take your time to ensure the decoder is installed properly and without any problems. Using these tips, you should be able to confidently peer into a model knowing that you will be able to figure out the wiring and wire in the decoder properly the first time. Also for more information and techniques, be sure to look at our decoder selector for installation documents showing step-by-step installs into specific locomotives.

Friday, July 22, 2011

SoundBytes XXXIX

Welcome back from a great Fourth of July holiday. In this post, we will share with you the big announcements we had at the NMRA National Train Show in Sacramento.  Also, see some of the locomotives on display at the Sacramento Railroad Museum.  Last, a tech tip for many who may have just started in DCC and sound, and a refresher for some.

2011 NMRA Show

This year, the NMRA National Convention and train show was held in Sacramento, CA. We had worked hard to have a great presentation, along with some much-anticipated announcements. We enjoyed our time at the show, and especially enjoyed talking with our many customers.
Among the announcements we made were new sounds added to the diesel Tsunami decoders. Added in are an EMD Turbocharged 567,

 a dual EMD 567 for use in EMD E-Units,
 an ALCO 251 Super-charged for RS32 locomotives
and last, a Modern GE FDL-16, complete with the famous ‘whooping’ air compressor.
These will be available in a range of decoder formats. Also, we announced that we are now shipping SurroundTraxx to our dealers, our new surround sound system for your layout. For more information on all the NMRA announcements and to hear sound samples, be sure to check the website, .

On the Blackstone Models side, we will be doing another run of the popular tank cars, with 3 road numbers each in the narrow frame UTLX cars and the frameless Gramps cars. These will be shipping to dealers in mid to late fall. Last, we will be doing another run of K-27 locomotives. This will not only help newcomers to the scale with the availability of a locomotive, but we will be re-running some of the popular models that were not done last time, like the famous RGS 455 post-wreck.
These models will also be the first run of K-27s available factory weathered. These locomotives are expected to be arriving spring of 2012. Please visit our website for more details, .

While at the show, we had an opportunity to visit the Sacramento Railroad Museum located only a few blocks away from the convention. They had a great collection of locomotives
and it is definitely worth the trip to see and experience the life as it was in real railroading.
You can visit their website and plan your trip at

Tech Tip:

There is lots of jargon out there that can seem intimidating and cause some to be apprehensive toward DCC. Once you can see how a CV is constructed, it is easier to follow, and less intimidating. So lets explain how a CV value is determined.

Configuration variables or CVs as they are called are designed to allow a modeler to customize decoder properties such as the address, volume settings, momentum, throttle response, and lighting effects. Each CV has 8 bits in it and a range of 0 to 255 (Which is the total of all 8 bits turned on). When a bit is turned “off” or not selected its value is 0. When a bit is turned “on” or selected its value is 1. As shown in the chart below

the total values are exponential meaning that as you go from right to left the value of each bit doubles. Again think of each CV as an on/off switch where a value of 0= off and a value of 1 = on. In the CV example shown below, lets say we were looking at CV 29 which is known as the configuration register CV, we have turned off bits 0,2,3,5,6, and 7 and turned on bits 1 and 4. Turning on bit 1 enables 128-speed step mode and bit 4 enables customizable speed curves. Therefore to achieve this we would set this CV to a value of 18. For more information on adjusting your SoundTraxx decoders CVs to enhance your enjoyment check out the manuals and technical references found on our web site, .

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

SoundBytes XXXIIX

Happy Fourth of July!! Please have a safe and fun weekend. This weekend, take time to remember why we celebrate this day. The United States of America is a beacon of freedom around the world, and without freedom, we would not be enjoying the world’s greatest hobby!

On a short post this time, we start off with a talk of the big upcoming show, NMRA Convention and National Train Show in Sacramento, CA. Also, George just returned from the N-Scale convention and we’ll talk about news related to that. Next, we will take a sneak peek at the upcoming Blackstone Models EBT Hoppers. Last up will be our next dealer spotlight, Hobby Smith Hobby Shop in Portland, OR.

NMRA National Train Show

NMRA and the National Train Show are just around the corner. This year, it is in Sacramento, CA at the Sacramento Convention Center July 8-10th in conjunction with the NMRA National Convention the preceding week. We have been working hard to get ready for this show. We will have a few announcements in both SoundTraxx and Blackstone Models, so be sure to come by and see what we have new for you and your layout.

National N-Scale Convention

George just returned from the National N-Scale Convention in Hershey, PA this past weekend put together by the N-Scale Enthusiast. He went there to promote and officially kick off shipping of the much-anticipated SurroundTraxx system.
This is a revolutionary sound system to give full surround sound to your layout, be it a small home layout, or a large club. George gave a clinic about the SurroundTraxx and its features to about 35 attendees. Overall, it was a fun weekend. We would like to thank the N-Scale Enthusiast and all who worked hard to put this convention together.

East Broad Top Hoppers

We have been working on this model to ensure the most accurate representation of this model as we have built a reputation on. We have been given the newest CAD drawings that we can share with you. These models will be produced to arrive just after the first of the year, so be sure to get your orders in for these cars before the deadline passes to prevent being left out after they sell out, as has many of the most recent Blackstone releases.
On another note C-19s are selling out, so be sure to get yours before they are all sold out. We have only the 347 with the black boiler and the 345 in the Bumble Bee scheme left. These are selling out quickly.

Dealer Spotlight

Our Dealer Spotlight this time is The Hobby Smith, located in Portland Oregon.

The Hobby Smith is a full line model train store that carries HOn3, HO, N, Z and Lionel. In their store you will find a great selection of SoundTraxx DCC products along with brass, books, DVDs, consignments and used equipment along with HOn3 products including Blackstone, Micro Engineering and more. The Hobby Smith does DCC decoder and sound decoder installation in all scales plus repairs. They do offer reservation discounts, terms and ship products anywhere. Located 17 minutes from the Portland airport and right off I-84 this is truly a friendly model train store that is open everyday except Monday.

You can find Ron and his crew at 1809 NE Cesar Chavez Blvd. Portland, OR 97212 on the web at or call them at 503-284-1912. Toll Free 1-877-284-1912.