LAMRS Equipment, The Process

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The Process

I follow a process to determine what state a loco is in and what to do about it. The process sort of follows the practice of medical triage. The object of the triage (or sorting) is to determine what resources might be necessary to bring a loco back into serviceable condition and to determine if ANY amount of applied resources would be effective at all. The resource that is most important is money. Time is "free" because this is all volunteer work. The club has lots of equipment but a limited budget. If a piece is deemed to be too expensive to return to service, then it is scrapped (kept for parts, sold, given away or actually trashed). There is no point in keeping useless stuff around except as a source for hard to get parts for other old stuff.

The most important characteristic that I look for is the potential for reliability. The LAMRS club layout is large and supports high traffic densities on a single main line. One bad runner can totally mess up the works, especially if it decides to stall in a tunnel or on hidden track under the layout. The club has enough hanger queens already. A good looking loco that won't run reliably is not of much value to the club.

Running noise is a problem, but not a serious one as long as the noise is not too loud. Noise is often and indication of an unreliable loco, but not always.

All of the equipment that I get is assumed to have some kind of problem and probably has not been converted to DCC (although some has). The issue is to determine what the problem(s) is(are) and to determine what it would cost to fix it. Then an estimate must be made to determine if the equipment would even be useful if it worked perfectly.

If the cost is not large and the equipment would be useful and reliable, then it is worth fixing. If not, it goes to the dead line. The cost of a decoder is deemed acceptable for any loco that would be useful after a DCC conversion. Couplers take a lot of abuse and are not expensive, so coupler repair is also reasonable for any loco that would be useful. Major repairs (motors, gears, major body damage) is subject for immediate transfer to the dead line. Sometimes the problem can be fixed by simple wheel cleaning, dressing the brushes, lubrication, or adjustments.

Dead line locos are a good source for parts for repairing other locos where those parts would be hard to get. Better to get one running loco from two junkers than to junk two of them.

My process typically follows steps like these, but the actual flow may change depending on what I find. Each loco also gets routine maintenance and adjustments in the case it isn't obviously beyond recovery.

  1. Visual inspection for obvious damage
  2. Test on a DCC programming track to see if there is a responding decoder
  3. Test run on DCC or DC depending on the presence or absence of a decoder
  4. If the loco is new or appears to have little use, it gets a few minutes of breakin running at a variety of speeds in both directions.
  5. Immediate mechanical repairs if they are both cheap and easy and can help determine the loco's status
  6. Wheel cleaning
  7. Power pickup check for all wheels
  8. Complete lubrication (if possible)
  9. Coupler adjustments (as required)
  10. Minor cosmetic damage repair (as required)
  11. Final test on a running track
  12. Data summary so that the information just collected is not lost or forgotten

By the time I'm through this list, I've usually determined if the loco is worth saving or not.

I normally don't care much about the ease of installation of a decoder in a loco. If the loco has some kind of standard connector, all the better. If not, then no big deal either. I have yet to come across a loco, either in HO or large scale, that I could not get a decoder into somehow. If the loco runs well enough to use, then it runs well enough to convert to DCC. The LAMRS runs DCC exclusively so that a good loco without DCC has the same utility as a broken one.


After I had gone through about 30 locos, I found that it was sometimes difficult to get a clear direction as to what to do about any given loco so I've made up some rules. I think that this is fair because the club's general philosophy about members providing "free" labor is that the member pretty much gets to choose what he is going to do provided that it doesn't cost anything.

However, there are times that the club needs to intervene in the process because it involves expending some club financial resources. This flow diagram is the way that it has been working out but the flow is subject to change.

The club has a stock of decoders, but most of them are old and of lower capability of current production decoders. There are a bunch of generic 28 step decoders, a few small MRC decoders and a few older Digitrax decoders. I assume that any really nice decoders that the club held in stock have been used already.

I have no problem using the older decoders up in older locos as they have been sitting around for years already anyway, nobody else wants to use them. Further, each of these older locos may or may not be a "really useful locomotive" depending on how well it runs over the long haul, how reliable it proves to be in extended use and whether or not it fits into the general operating scheme of the club. Over a period of time, if any given loco proves to be popular AND that the decoder capability is holding it back, then the club may consider investing some money in that loco for a better decoder. If the loco just sits, then it can be sold "DCC equipped" or converted back to DC and sold. The decoder can be recovered to go into some other high milage loco.

The club divides operating sessions into time periods. According to the club web site they go like this:

In choosing which loco to upgrade, I've followed a sort of a process too. It goes like this:

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© 2009-2010 George Schreyer
Created 9 Dec 09
Last Updated December 2, 2010