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My son and I are new to this site, and he is also 'new' to Model Railroading. He's received a number of sets over the years, and we finally have the space to occasionally lay down the track. and run some trains. I used to model in N scale (20 years ago), but we are now doing HO. Since we can only set up on the living room floor for a few days before my SO gets unhappy with us, we're sticking with EZ-Track and relatively inexpensive equipment. I've hit the junk tables at train shows and grabbed 3-for-$10 freight cars (usually life-like or model power with all-plastic wheelsets) and converted a few of the better cars to have Kadee couplers on at least one end.

His big request has always been to run two (or more) trains at a time; to that end, I bought a Bachmann EZ-DCC set with locomotive. Obviously, our older locomotives won't work on this without conversion, but we are able to run one non-DCC model with the DCC unit. We do have one special set, an Athern PRR passenger set train, that we'd like to use more frequently, but we're concerned about damaging it running on the DCC track (as warned in the manual) When stopped, the non-DCC loco we're using (an old 0-6-0) makes a terrible noise, so we've got a few questions.

How seriously should we take the warning of damage to the DC locomotives?
How difficult is it to install a decoder in the Athern locomotive? Are there any places that may do this for us? Is it worth it to convert this old locomotive, or should we save our money for a new DCC-Equipped or DCC-Ready model (it's an F7/9)


Hi Hank, welcome to the site and welcome to the hobby.

One thing you might consider is how delicate the models are. If your son is around 14 or older, he can handle find detailed models without problems. Younger boys then to break bits of fine detailed models (ask my father:p). Cheapie older models like you have, will have molded handrails and such like, so can take quite rough handling. The fancier models have lots of extra detail, wire handrails, window wipers, sand pipes, etc, which can break off if handled without care.

Should you take the DC warning on DCC seriously. Well, if you had expensive DC locos, then you would. But if you have cheap locos, maybe it isn't so important. The motors might burn out, but they can be replaced with new second hand locos. Personally, I don't run DC on DCC.

How hard is it to install decoders in Athearn locos? The DCC ready models are very easy, just get a plug in decoder and plug it in. Older ones might no be DCC ready, in that they need their pick-up wiring redone to avoid live chassis feeding back into the decoder. That will burn out the decoder. I've done this on an older model and I thought it was easy.

There are places that can do it for you but would the cost be worth it for old and cheap models? It might be for the one special PRR train, but maybe not of other locos. Given they are cheap, why not try it yourself?

Should you save your money for a new model instead? The cheap locos give you and your son a chance to learn about maintaining and upgrading locos. That might be good experience in time.


He's eight, and has outgrown Geotrax and Thomas (his first electric set was Thomas). He's learned how to couple the cars properly, and he's very careful now with the cars and locomotives. He laid out a double loop with a single spur (the "yard"). Of the three older locos we have, only the PRR Athern one is worth the upgrade to me; the others came with sets and aren't really worth it. I ordered decoders with plugs for the two DCC-Ready locos we have (a Life-Like Proto 2000 SD50 and a Bachmann Spectrum Acela set I received as a gift about 10 years ago). I took the Acela's body off and I see how to connect the decoder, but I haven't done so for the SD50. The instructions for that one say I need to replace the light bulbs for use with DCC, so I have to look at the specs and see if I can get them at Radio Shack.

He's a big steam fan, so next train show I'm going to look at the bargain tables again.


Well-Known Member
hello hank i take it your member name has to do with big boy 4014 ?? nice that they are looking to restore & run it . welcome you & your son to the hobby


I realized too late that it was supposed to be 4012. The kid wants one badly, unfortunately, it's not a sensible purchase without a permanent layout, and that has to wait a few years.

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