Workshop‎ > ‎Battery locos‎ > ‎

Cliff Barker battery power

by Mel
The obvious draw-back of using track power is the constant need to keep the track clean. I don't find this too much of a chore during the Spring and Summer months, but as we move into Autumn and Winter it often means that there is no such thing as a "quick running session". My solution for the coming months is to battery power my fleet of trams using the Cliff Barker range of battery power and remote control devices. I've had a go with this system which Bram Robinson has fitted to some of his fleet and have been well impressed. A phone call to Cliff made my mind up as he seems to be an excellent chap and all of the neccasary kit was ordered.
The fleet
The Gooey Interchange Tramway (locally known as the old GIT) was originally built to connect the Western end of the Wetton Gooey Light Railway to a nearby canal basin. The line never really made any money and was eventually absorbed into the WGLR in the 30's. The combined railway just about survived into BR ownership after the war, but the GIT section was closed prior to the ownership of the preservation society. However, the tram loco's did survive, the Diesel having been used on the WGLR and the two steam trams being "stored" at the back of Gooey engine shed (ie lost under a mass of bramble bushes).
In reality the tram fleet consists of a converted LGB diesel shunter;
a Hartland steam tram;
a re-painted LGB steam tram and a re-painted Kiss coach which was kindly given to me by Mike Duffy and is known as the ex Bolton Corporation coach.
The plan
The plan is to put the radio control reciever, aeriel and battery pack (10 re-chargable AA's) into the coach together with the control switch and battery charger socket. Leads from the coach will then plug into leads in the locos which will have all of their track power pick-ups removed (allowing them to be safely used on powered track if neccasary, but still under battery power). Of course, I will only be able to use one loco at a time, but I do that anyway and all trains will have to run with the coach coupled next to the loco, but again, that's how I run the trams normally either with extra coaches added or goods stock to make-up mixed trains. Best of all - no Winter track cleaning!!
The kit
All the kit that I needed arrived this morning from Cliff. When I say all the kit, I mean ALL - even down to a bolt, washer and nut to mount the reciever/speed controller with.
In the photo we have a battery charger, batteries (x10), wiring connectors etc., battery holder and controller handset. Cost of this little lot? A few pence over £160 including p&p. Obviously, if I do any more conversions, I won't need another charger.
Fitting the receiver/speed controller and batteries
Fitting requires a bit of soldering, but Cliff's instructions are excellent and fitting is fool proof (must be if I can do it!). I made a bracket for the on/off switch, charger socket and on light out of a piece of L shaped plastic which was stuck to the end wall of the coach with double sided tape. The charger is plugged in in this pic. The red LED warns you when the system is turned on so that you don't plug the charger in. As it is illuminated whenever the train is running, it can be used as a tail light if required.
On the other side of the compartment the receiver/speed controller is fitted. The wire that sits above it (on top of the compartment wall) is the aeriel. I'm not sure how well this will work in this position - we'll see.
Two additional leads run under the coach to a female connector. This will plug into a male connector from the loco.
So, the batteries were charged up - would it work? Thankfully, the answer is yes - it works superbly straight "out of the box". The handset is very easy to use. The "TX" light illuminates when commands are sent to the receiver. The blue button is for a remote uncoupling feature (still being developed). The red button is emergency stop. For the train to go forward you press the green button until the required speed is reached, yellow slows it down to a halt (reverse procedure when travelling backwards). Alternatively, to stop the train you can press the grey "halt" button and it will slow down before coming to a gentle halt. Press the white "resume" button and the train will gently pull away until it reaches the speed that you were running at before halting. All of the speed settings, acceleration etc are adjustable - not that I've found this neccasary. Using the F or R buttons the train can easily be run at less than scale walking speed - almost impossible for a 4 wheel chassis with track power unless the track is ABSOLUTELY spotless.
Here is the connection between the coach and the tram loco. It's not exactly invisible, but some of that is down to the fact that I have to allow quite a bit of slack wire due to my R1 curves, plus the fact that the plugs are bright red. I think some "camouflage" may be in order.
This train ran all afternoon (somewhere in the region of 4 hours) without showing any sign of requiring a re-charge. The horizontal aeriel under the coach roof works you'll be pleased to hear.
Tonight I have converted the diesel tram to run with the battery coach (about a 45 minute job now). I'll try and make a video sometime in the next few days to show the trams in action.
Perhaps one day's running is not really enough to draw any meaningfull conclusions, but I have spent many an hour operating Bram's similarly equipped locos on the West Mids GSS test track. So would I recommend the Cliff Barker kit for converting to battery power? Too right I would!!
A short video of the tram loco with it's mixed train on the WGLR. Getting a 4 wheeled loco to run this smoothly and reliably at such slow speeds would be very difficult using track power, especially over point work (as when the train passes Castle Halt at the end).

YouTube Video

Another video showing the other two tram locos in operation (sorry Graham, forgot to operate the starter signal from Wetton - damn!!).

YouTube Video

Made a couple of small modifications today. First (having read this article) Cliff advised me to make a small brass plate to mount between the receiver/controller and the partition in the coach. The reason is that the bracket is formed from a heat sink and he was slightly concerned about this being mounted on to plastic.
Also, I frosted the glass in the compartment that's full of the control gear using a method that we used for simulating smashed windscreens in my car modelling days. I cut two pieces of perspex the same size as the windows and then smeared them with plastic cement (the type used for Airfix kits). This is then "dabbed" with your finger. The more you dab, the more frosted it becomes. The perspex was then glued to the windows using Bostik general purpose glue.

Running smoothly
When I was first contemplating this conversion, we had quite a debate in the comments (below) on the merits of maintaining the option of track power and removing all of the electrical pick-ups. Now, if you chose to, it would be fairly simple to retain all the pick-ups and (via a switch as Bruce suggests) have the option of either track or battery power. From my point of view, having gone to battery power, I wouldn't want to go back to track power for these locos. But another big advantage from this approach has become apparent from a couple of weeks of running - the lack of drag from the "bullet" pick-ups (which press against the back of the wheels ......... sort of like brakes????) and the skates (which drag across the top of the rails .......... sort of like dragging your feet???) makes one heck of a difference to the smooth running of the locos. You can see this just by pushing the locos along a piece of track with your finger. I am also convinced that this is making a big difference to the battery charge life.
Before removing the pick-ups, the diesel wouldn't pull the skin off a rice pudding (despite some added weight), but now (at pretty much the same weight) it pulls just as well as it's two sisters. I'm not neccasarily saying that the skates were acting like jacks, but it certainly pulls a heck of a lot better resting only on it's four wheels.

Although I'm pretty much happy with the look of the two LGB locos, I wasn't at all happy with the way that the Hartland model looked. What I had in mind was something less toy like and inspiration came from the (standard gauge) Wisbech & Upwell Tramway locos (also the inspiration for the Rev. Awdry's Toby the Tram).
The bodywork and roof were given several washes of greatly thinned Tamiya NATO black, each wash being wiped off almost immediately with kitchen towel. This was repeated until I got the look I wanted. The chimney and bell were also treated in this way.

A pair of cow catchers were built from strips of plastic card, Araldited in place and painted matt black. The lower bodywork was then airbrushed with Tamiya acrylic greys and good old NATO black.

The numbers came from a GRS transfer sheet and the BR crests from Fox Transfers which are made for gauge 1, but you get three different sizes which are ideal for G or 16mm. The black LGB tram carries the largest size crest, this one (and the diesel) the medium size.

Update -one year on.
Re-visiting this thread I realise that it's now a year since dipping my feet into battery power, so how has it worked out? Well I am now planning to go pretty much 100% over to battery power (track power will still be available for visiting locos) and that pretty much answers the question really doesn't it.

I currently have 2 wagons fitted with Cliff Barker supplied batteries and RC kit and about 75% of my current loco fleet have been converted to run with them. In the next couple of months I intend to convert both my LGB Corpet and Wangerooge diesel to self contained battery RC.

Throughout the Summer months I have tended to run on battery rather than track power. The batteries are still in good condition, in fact I have NEVER had the batteries go flat during a full days running. Re-charging still takes just under an hour per wagon after each running session.

Bram and I have even been experimenting with a shunting facility that he happened across recently. I've never been much of a shunting operator, but I am now a convert and have spent many an hour happily picking up wagons from various sidings and then dropping them off again on the return journey. Basically, you set your train running and press the HALT button so that it clears the points. Having re-set the points you then press the REVERSE button followed by RESUME. After a realistic pause the train will then reverse into the siding returning to the speed setting previously set. It's easier to do than to explain ............... but it's blumin good fun!!

Removing the pick-ups is something that I cannot recommend too highly. LGB locos run SO much better without them. Also I have found that I don't need to clean the wheels. I wonder if this is down to the fact that live steam is seldom used on my railway and also that I have a policy of only ever using rolling stock fitted with metal wheels? 

To illustrate this point - WGLR No.1 was built from a GRS Kerr Stuart body kit mounted on a brand new and un-run LGB Otto chassis last November and has only ever run under battery power. This loco has seen more use this year than any of my others, the wheels have never been cleaned and this is how they look today (Oct 11th).

Apologies for the poor photo, but it does illustrate how clean the wheel treads are. As I mentioned above, my railway seldom sees live steam running, but No.1 has run on lines that are used for live steam as seen here at one of James's dad's open days.