Large Scale Central

Baldwin Electric Wireless RC Build

Back in 1982-1983, when I first started my LALS club project Baldwin electric, all electric powered locomotives at the time were controlled by tethered hand controllers. Then about 10 years ago, many of the large 1/8th scale diesels (GP38’s, SD45’s and the big SD70’s) started using electric powered trucks and the locomotives were still tethered to the engines by bulky cables. If you were just one person doing switching operations and making up a simple 2-5 car train, it was a lot of physical work doing this with a tethered hand controller. Up and down on/off the engineers riding car to change turnout and walking back and forth to check couplers and make sure they were connected and locked.

This is how we ran our two Baldwin electrics for many years.

Our tethered controller on the seat of our wood reefer. Top toggles controlled lights. Marker lights, number board lights and ditch lights from the left toggle. Headlight controlled by right hand toggle. UP is bright headlight. DOWN is dim headlight. RED button is dynamic brakes/hard braking. Knob is speed control with a detent on the counter-clockwise rotation for easy braking. Bottom left toggle activates the mechanical bell (actually a 8 inch diameter , “Alarm Bell”. Forward?Reverse direction right hand side toggle. The horn/whistle button is bare seen on the extreme right hand side of the box, just to the right of the speed control knob.

You can see the cable going through the floor of the reefer and out to the rear of the engine.

Cable from the reefer to the MU plug at the rear of the engine. There are MU plugs on both ends of the engine.

MU cable between two engines and the safety chain just in case of coupler failure.

Old LALS Baldwin electric attached to reefer. This is the first 1/8th scale engine I built. It was part of a 25-engine project, begun in 1982-1983.

Fast forward to 2020. Because so many engines are now controlled by RC/wireless including the very large diesels (weighing in excess of 800-1000 pounds each), we asked our electronics guy if he could design a RC/wireless system to run our Baldwin electrics. Earlier this year (2021), he built his first prototype receiver for our locos.

This is the result. Nice and compact (about 3 aches by 5 inches long) and fits nicely under the rear hood.

This is the transmitter we use. All speed control, direction control, marker lights, number boards on headlights and ditch lights (if the engine is so equipped). All braking, bell and horn/whistle are wireless controlled. Never have to touch the engine when running! So much easier doing one-person switching operations this way.

Transmitter size comparison sitting on the hood of one of our electrics (one of seven in our Baldwin build).

Our electronics guy “binding” the transmitter to the new receiver on our newest electric. Binding is the same thing as “pairing”. So the transmitter and receiver can “communicate” with each other. Note the RC activation toggle in the upper right corner of the engine main panel. Flip the toggle flipped toward the main power switch, a RED light comes on to show RC is activated. These engines can be run either “tethered” OR “RC”, just by the flip of the switch.This was installed about a month ago.

A revised design of the previous receiver in the new electric. This receiver now has a completely new dynamic brake system. This unit is now able to bring TWO MU’ed locomotives to a dead stop on a 2%-3% grade (700 pounds total!).

Electronics guy installing the “binding” to bind the receiver/transmitter.

Installing the latest revision receiver into my 40 year old LALS project Baldwin electric. This receiver does not stand as tall as the first prototype with more clearance under the cab body hood.

Installing the RED RC activation light and the RC activation toggle (just to the left and above the main engine power switch).

Hooking up the wires to the terminal strip.

This was completed last Wednesday, August 9th. Both engines are RC/wireless controlled now. The range is about 100 feet, but you don’t run these heavy engines by line-of-sight. You still want to be within a few feet of these to be safe. The next test is to run both engines from my wood caboose with three pieces of rolling stock between the caboose and the two MU’ed Baldwin’s. That should be a kick and a little intimidating considering the entire train weighs probably 1200-1400 pounds! And that’s just one passenger…the engineer. In the next few weeks, our electronics guy is going to design a RC hand controller to activate the turnout controls because there will be an issue with the engineer being too far away from the mechanical trigger switch for the turnouts. By the time the rear of the train reaches that trigger, the train will already be past the turnout points and into the block.

This wireless system is quite ingenious (IMHO) because of a couple of items. As I said, you don’t lose the tethered control aspect. My grandkids or anyone else for that matter, who doesn’t feel “comfortable” using RC to run a heavy train, can just flip the RC switch, plug the tethered controller in and still run normally. Also both engines can run tethered AND MU’ed. Additionally, you can use either transmitter and still run BOTH engines MU’ed. You just pick your choice of transmitter and plug the MU cable in and the transmitter ONLY “talks” to the receiver/engine that matches that transmitter. Yet both engines are controlled separately with headlights, number boards and marker lights with EITHER transmitter. The MU cable transfers that information to either engine because the engine still “thinks” it’s actually “tethered” and not running RC! AND of course they can be individually operated by wireless and not be affected by either transmitter and be their own separate trains. If you feel “brave enough”, you could control BOTH trains independently by yourself! So many operating possibilities :).

I want to give well deserved credit to the man who designed and built the electronics for these Baldwin engines. His name is John Smith and he is a 30 year member of Los Angeles Live Steamers. He also designed the automatic block control and signal system for the entire layout at our club. The man is “magical” when it comes to electronics. When he finished the first iteration of this system and installed the receiver on the first Baldwin to go RC, we made suggestions as to what we wanted in the braking system and safety features. And came came up with changes in hardware and software (programming) of the receiver AND the off-the-shelf transmitter.

Thank you John. :slight_smile:

VERY interesting. I find it fascinating all the stuff that keeps being interesting. I need MORE money and a LOT more time.

Edit: Don’t let modern “dialogue” ever overtake common sense.