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DCC HO Scale Gandy Dancer Handcar Project

Updated on July 23, 2016

Introduction

I thought it would be neat to add a Gandy Dancer Handcar to my HO scale DCC (Digital Command Control) layout.I am an avid model railroader and have been updating my layout for about 5 years now. This is the latest improvement on my list.

The Purchase:

I found two HO scale DC (Direct Current) Gandy Dancer Handcars made by Bachmann on Amazon. I purchased the Christmas Gandy Dancer Handcar with Santa and an elf driving it as it was significantly cheaper than the Gandy Dancer Handcars with two railroad workers.

Bachmann Trains Operating Gandy Dancer Christmas
Bachmann Trains Operating Gandy Dancer Christmas

This is the Gandy Dancer I purchased from Amazon for this project!

 

The Decoder:

My DCC layout uses the Digitrax DCS50, an all-in-one Command Station/Booster/Throttle in one package. As my layout is quite small I do not need any external boosters or throttles. Even though you should be able to mix/match different brands of decoders with command stations as they all following the same DCC standard, I always like to purchase Digitrax decoders so that they are the same brand as my command station. I chose the Digitrax DZ123 decoder for this project.The DZ123 is:* Small it was designed to be used on Z scale model trains.* Cost effective, due to its limited functions, it is relatively cheap.

Digitrax DZ123 Decoder on Amazon

Digitrax DZ123PS Z DCC Decoder, 1.2" Wire 2-Function 8-Pin 1A
Digitrax DZ123PS Z DCC Decoder, 1.2" Wire 2-Function 8-Pin 1A

This is the DCC Decoder I purchased from Amazon for this project.

 

The Problem:

My HO Bachman Gandy Dancer Handcar and Digitrax DZ123 decoder arrived from Amazon. Upon taking both out of the package I knew I had a problem. Where was I going to install the DCC decoder? Unlike a locomotive that has a cavity in the shell there was no such place to conceal the decoder on the Gandy Dancer Handcar.

The Solution:

I decided that the best solution was to hide the DCC decoder in plain sight. I would mount it on one side of the Gandy Dancer Handcar then paint it to look like a package or maybe Santa’s bag of presents for all the good children of the world.Other Factors:Before committing by cutting the length of the DCC wires, I decided to temporarily wire the DCC Decoder to the Gandy Dancer Handcar to see if it would work.

Step 1: Prep Handcar for DCC Decoder Install

The Gandy Dancer Handcar consists of two metal halves separated by an insulator. Each half has electrical continuity to the wheels on that side of the handcar and transfer electricity to the motor via two copper spring contacts. These spring contacts must be de-soldered and removed before you wire the DCC decoder in place. The copper spring contacts are circled in the picture.

Step2: Preliminary DCC Decoder Install

Solder the gray and orange motor controller wires to the motor as shown in the picture. The black power pickup wire is attached by slipping the stripped end under the tightened screw at the base of one side of the Gandy Dancer Handcar. The red power pickup wire is attached by slipping the stripped end under the tightened screw at the base on the other side of the handcar. Remember, I indicated that each side of the handcar base has an electrical contact to the wheels on that side of the handcar.

Step 3: DCC Decoder Programming

Now it is time to program the DCC decoder with an ID and set parameters. I use a small piece of track connected to the program terminals of the Digitrax DCS50. My DCS50 command station is connect to my computer via a Digitrax PR3 computer interface I use the free JMRI DecoderPro to program my DCC decoders as it's graphical interface makes programming a snap!

Step 4: Road (Rail) Test

Next I placed the now DCC controlled Gandy Dancer Handcar on my DDC Layout, set the ID on my DCC Command Station to the ID assigned to the handcar and tested that the speed and direction could be controlled.

Step5: DCC Fitment

Now that I tested that the DCC Decoder installed on the Gandy Dancer Handcar works as expected, I went ahead and hot glued the DZ123 Decoder to the side of the handcar and cut the orange, grey, red, and black wires to length. Any other wires not used I cut off as we do not require any lighting for this install.

Step6: Final Touches

Going under the "hidden in plain sight" premise, I painted the DCC decoder a dark brown using acrylic paint to make it look like Santa's bag full of presents. In addition, I painted the DCC decoder's entire wires engine black to make them look like pipes connected to various parts of the Gandy Dancer Handcar.

Step7: Convenience

I also label each of my DCC decoder equipped vehicles with the Decoder ID. I know that this detracts from the realism slightly but it make up with convenience of knowing the Decoder ID of any given vehicle on your layout.

The Gandy Dancer Handcar in action!

 

Conclusion

With a little ingenuity you too can add a Gandy Dancer Handcar to your HO Scale DCC layout.

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      Rich Schneider 

      8 months ago

      I love the "hidden in plain sight" concept, very ingenious.

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