Norbert's American Flyer Trains - Engine and Train Car Modifications

April 2, 2020

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5.1 Conversion of Steam Engines to DC Operation.

I've started to experiment with DC operation of locomotives. Here's how I converted a Steam Engine to DC:

Tender Connection for DC Operation - Jan 2010
View of connection looking towards the Engine

Tender Connection for DC Operation - Jan 2010
View of connection looking towards the Tender - the switch determines the track polarity for the train going forward

Tender converted for DC operation
Component layout inside a tender converted for DC Operation

The wiring to convert to DC is pretty straight forward. (You do need to remove the existing Reverse Unit / E Unit) Essentially, the stator is provided with DC power of a fixed polarity -- that's what the rectifier does. The rotor's polarity depends on the polarity of the track. Hence by changing the polarity of the track, one can change the direction of the train
Wiring Diagram for DC Conversion

5.2 Conversion of Diesel Engines to DC Operation.

Converting a diesel is essentially the same. The colors of the wiring is a bit different ...

Diesel Converted for DC Operation - Dec 2009
Interior View of a diesel including conversion to LED Lighting

Diesel Converted for DC Operation - Jan 2010
View of the bottom of the diesl showing the track polarity switch.

Wiring Diagram for DC Conversion of a diesel

5.3 Transformer Rectifier for DC Operation

Rectifier - Jan 2010
Transformer Rectifier with reversing switch

Rectifier - Jan 2010
Another Transformer Rectifier with reversing switch

Drawing and Circuit Diagram for Rectifier with Reversing Switch

5.4 Conversion to LED Lighting.

Replacing the light bulbs in the engines with LED lights is beneficial in that LEDs should never burn out, and perhaps more importantly, LEDs will not get hot and melt the plastic. For a relatively constant light output, I regulate the track voltage to 5 Volts DC and use a 100 ohm resistor with the white LEDs. Here's a diagram of what the circuit looks like.

LED Light for Atlantic
Example of an Atlantic shell converted to an LED headlight

LED Light for Atlantic with DIN connector
Example of an Atlantic chasis with LED Light and DIN 5 connector. Note use of heat shrink tubing to prevent shorts

Conversion to LED Lighting

Here is how I converted a Spotlight Car to LED lighting. I used hot-melt glue to attach all the components on the underside of the flat car.

ATSF Spotlight car with LED Light

Here is an improved circuit for LED lighting. It uses a constant current source with a lower drop out voltage. The LED will maintain roughly the same brightness over the entire voltage range from an American Flyer transformer.
Constant Source LED Lighting circuit

Constant Source LED Light constant source LED for steamer
Examples of constant source LED Light: one on the left for a caboose; one on the right for a steamer

5.5 Morse Code Searchlight Car

Morse Code Spotlight Car
Click Picture for video

This is a neat project which has a searchlight car flash out a message in Morse Code. It probably could be done with a PIC microcontroller (Maybe a future project) but I chose this time to do it with parts that I mostly already had. The morse code message is stored in bit D0 of an EPROM (a dot uses one byte, a dash uses 3 bytes, and spaces are of various durations). At the end of the message, D7 is used to reset the 4040 binary counter. The rectifier, voltage regulator and 555 timer clock circuit are located under the flatcar. The 2716 EPROM and 4040 CMOS counter are on top under a "shed". The 15,000 uF Capacitor ensures power continuity when crossing switches and other short duration power interuptions. (I claim it looks like a fuel tank) A transistor driver and LED are located within the searchlight housing.

2716 EPROM and 4040 binary counter LED and Transistor Driver for Spot Light
A look underneath
Note that underneath the flatcar, used hot melt glue to keep all the wires in place and insulate the open connections from unintentional grounds.
Circuit Diagram
Software for creating EPROM binary file

Over Christmas break in December 2011, I learned how to program and use PIC microcontrollers using the PICKIT 3 from microchip. For my first project I decided to redo the the morse code searchlight car. This version is much simpler -- I could fit the PIC and the LED driver circuit within the searchlight housing. Only the power supply had to be located under the flat car.

Spotlight internal assembly Spotlight internal circuit
Spotlight internal circuit

Morse Code Spotlight car - PIC
Morse Code Spotlight car - PIC
Morse Code Spot Light Car using PIC

Circuit Diagram
Code to Program the PIC

5.6 Making custom Stickers

I discovered that one can make passable stickers by printing on ordinary paper on a color laser printer. Apply a strip of double side stick tape on a flat, glass surface, apply the paper, then cover with transparent tape. Trim with a knife and ruler, then carefully peel and apply.

Sticker on the glass
Double Side Tape, Art work, and top layer of clear tape applied

Eliminating the waste around the artwork
After cutting around the artwork, peeling away the waste

Final Sticker
Final Sticker, ready to be applied

Final Product
Final Product

5.7 Use of DIN-5 Connector for Engine Tender connector

For many of my operating engines, I've used a DIN-5 Connector for the electrical connection between the tender and the engine. This allows me to swap out tenders for a given engine. I've started to create a DC tender and an AC tender for some of my engines. Note that for some engines, one has to ensure the drawbar is insulated to prevent a short. Some engines, such as the Franklin engine, use the drawbar as a conductor (in this case for the smoke unit). The DIN-5 Connector is mounted to the engine shell via a piece of plexiglass (see the document below for templates for a few different engine shell styles)

Wiring Diagram and Templates for DIN-5 Tender Connection

5.8 AC- DC Reversing unit

I normally don't operate my trains much in reverse. That said, it is nice to be able to reverse an engine to assist in recoupling cars that became decoupled, or for parking a train. The normal American Flyer e-unit that cycles between forward and reverse isn't the greatest when trying to use control systems. DC makes reversing easy, but you need a seperate transformer to make action cars work. One solution to this problem is to have the train run forward on AC power, and backwards on DC power. I've developed a number of circuits to do this, and have settled on using eitherpower FETs in an H-Bridge configuration or a 5 volt relay to change polarity, and two different sensing circuits. The first sensing circuit will have the engine move forward on AC power or DC power of one polarity. The engine will move in reverse with DC of the other polarity.

Lately I have been using the relay version for steamers because it is simpler to construct and still works reliably. Getting the relay to fit in a diesel is a bit more challenging, so I tend to use the FET based circuits for them.

The second sensing circuit is a little different in that it will reverse with DC of one polarity or with AC with a DC offset of the same polarity. Otherwise it move forward. This second circuit allows one to use a Railsounds controller to reverse the direction of the engine. Hence the engine will move forward with pure AC or DC of one polarity, and will reverse with DC of the opposite polarity or AC with a DC offset.

The AC-DC controller uses a half-wave bridge rectifier to produce the DC for reversing the engine. I do not suggest operating trains in reverse for extended periods of time using this particular controller because the half-wave rectifier has a very non-sinusoidal current waveform that I am sure the transformer wasn't designed for. Because the "Base Connection" connects directly to the track (only the variable voltage output switches between DC and AC), action cars will work normally.

AC-DC Reversing Tender under test
AC-DC Reversing Tender under test

AC-DC Reversing Circuit
Relay Based AC-DC Reversing Circuit Board for Steamers

FET based Circuit for steamers and single motor diesels
Relay version for steamers
FET based Circuit for steamers and single motor diesels adapted for use with Railsounds Controller
FET based Circuit for Can Motors and double motor diesels

Circuit for AC-DC Control Switch
Railsounds Controller ... Railsounds Controller for Reversing and Whistle

RailSounds Controller wiring for Reversing and Whistle

RailSounds Controller for Reversign and Whistle
RailSounds Controller for reversing and whistle

Evolution of AC-DC Reversing circuits

AC-DC Reversing Tender with DC Polarity Switch
AC-DC Reversing Tender showing both the DC Polarity switch (back switch) and the Auto-Forward-Reverse locking switch

5.9 Conversion of a Pacific to a Hudson

Here's a simple conversion of a Pacific to a Hudson by replacing the trailing truck. Obtained the trailing truck from LBR Enterprises . The tender for this engine includes an AC-DC reverse circuit.

Conversion of Pacific to Hudson
Conversion of a Pacific to a Hudson

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