How did the FREMO start to go digital?

from the personal point of view of Stefan Bormann

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The first try to use command control in FREMO took place in Nienburg in 1986 (?). People tried to use Selectrix on a layout that was considered large at that time. I was not present, but from the stories I learned that the implementation was rather unprofessional and therefore the results where not convincing. Only one booster was used to supply the entire layout. Locos in some distance from the booster feed could not be controlled.

As a result of this bad experience nobody wanted to think about command control for years. In 1997 a few people who did not share the bad experience of Nienburg gathered to give command control another try.

First we provided ourselves with an Overview about commercial systems, to be able to select the best one. It was clear that we would not pick a system that made us dependent on a single manufacturer - therefore we choose NMRA-DCC. This is the track signal as standardized by the NMRA. A lot of manufacturers are producing compatible products, so we can choose decoders from a large variety of brands.

On the annual meeting in Nidda 1997, we informed those members who showed interest, but we did not get much feed back. One more group emerged, who wanted to use command control. This group seemed to be revived by our actions and wanted to give Selectrix another try while persistently ignoring the advantages of NMRA-DCC.

At that time we where sure to use NMRA-DCC as track signal, but by that decision we did not yet choose any particular command station. As the NMRA-DCC protocol knows some variants (14/28/128 speed steps, two and four digit addresses), we decided to use a command station that is capable to send all variants to the track simultaneously. This restricted (at that time!) the number of possible vendors to ZIMO, Wangrow, NCE, Ramfixx and Digitrax. While some of us knew the WWW pages of the manufacturers by heart already, it came apparent that no manufacturer sold a throttle that was similar to our popular analog FREMO throttle. So, one of our requirement was that the protocol of the input bus, which connects the throttles with the command station, was available. While thinking about home-brewed throttles, we wanted the protocol to be open for FREMO specific additions; polled busses seemed to be too restricting and are by nature slower. ZIMO uses the event driven CAN bus, which is popular in industrial applications, but the system is expensive. Wangrow, NCE and Ramfixx all use the same polled bus and are expensive, too. Digitrax had the best price/performance ratio and uses the event driven LocoNet, but LocoNet was not publicly documented.

In summer 1997 Carsten Möller and Stefan Bormann visited the annual NMRA convention in Madison. We informed ourselves further and contacted the manufacturers Wangrow and Digitrax. The chief developer of Digitrax, AJ Ireland, assured us that LocoNet documentation will be publicly available in the near future. After this we decided to purchase a Chief system from Digitrax - while being in e-mail contact with our friends in Europe. We performed our first tests in the same year using the Chief to drive partial layouts on regional meetings in Bremen (D) and Lichtenvoorde (NL). Also in the same year, the first regional meeting was run by a Selectrix system in Bruchköbel (D).

We started developing our own handheld throttle "FRED" in late 1997. It was used the first time on the regional meeting in Oberwildflecken (D) in 1998, which was entirely run by a Chief system. An WWW Index is available, listing all meetings in '97 and '98.

On the annual meeting in Lilienthal (near Bremen, D) '98, we had the biggest layout in the history of FREMO until then. Electrically, the layout was partitioned in three parts:

Both command control systems proved to be usable on FREMO meetings. Though on this and following meetings it became clear that NMRA-DCC and LocoNet won recognition among the groups H0-Europe, H0m and parts of H0-USA and both analog operation and Selectrix will play only a minor role in the future.

In 1999 there are virtually no meetings that are run with any analog system. There is one single meeting that was run with Selectrix only, the annual fall meeting in Millingen (NL) had a branch line operated by Selectrix. All other meetings are driven by NMRA-DCC only.

In these FREMO-DCC web pages only the activities of the NMRA-DCC group are covered. The reason is not bad will of the participants, but the absence of WWW authors within the Selectrix group.

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Author of this page: Stefan Bormann.
Remark: the introduction is the personal point of view of the author! This is not an "official" publication of FREMO. Logo