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Greetings everyone,

I did try to search for the correct topic. Was concerned about the waking old thread thing. Anyhow, I scored an old 990 at the greenburg show at Va beach last weekend end. Of course I didn’t think to check batt compartment at show. It was one of the worse cases of corrosion I’ve seen in one. I got it cleaned up though and it appears to be okay. I was watching the prices soar on eBay when I decided to purchase it. I watched one go from $525 to $2600😳.  Keeping in mind I’m using two PW ZWs. By watching the Lionel vids on YouTube. The rep is saying I need a power master and a power master bridge to operates conventional engines. I keep seeing many versions of what I need to use. They have managed to make something once simple into something very confusing. Until I retired I was a licensed electrical contractor as well as an HVAC tech. At this point with these “toys” I feel like an idiot🤪. I ordered a power master from CharlesRo to be later informed it’s on back order. I found two bridges. As far as I know I need one more power master and one more cable. Unless I’m completely offtrack. Im considering tearing it all out and going to slot cars🤣🤣🤣  

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Keep in mind that you only need a Powermaster if you want to control your conventional engines using the Legacy 990 remote.

You can run your conventional engines just fine with the ZW's, even with the Legacy 990 base connected to the layout. The 990 is used to control Legacy/TMCC command controlled engines. The 990 base does not supply any power to the track - it only supplies a signal to control Legacy/TMCC engines. The power to the track is still supplied by the ZW transformers.

It can be a hard concept to grasp at first, but think of it this way - command control engines require about 18 volts to run properly, whereas conventional engines run best at about 10-12 volts. Therefor (for all intents and purposes), you cannot run a command control engine and a conventional engine on the same track at the same time because if you set the transformer voltage at 10-12 volts for the conventional engine, the Legacy/TMCC engine will not operate correctly and if you set the transformer voltage to 18 volts, the conventional engine will fly off the track.

So, once you hook up the 990 base to the track, if you want to run your conventional engines, just put them on the track and use the ZW transformer handle to operate the trains at the voltage you select. Even though hooked up to the layout, the 990 base signal does not interfere with the conventional operation. If you want the convenience of being able to run conventional engines using the 990 remote, then buy a Powermaster and integrate it into the system. It allows you to vary the voltage to the track for running conventional engines using the 990 remote, much the same way as if using the transformer handles on the ZW.   

If you want to run your Legacy/TMCC engines, then put them on the track; turn on the 990 remote; and then turn on the transformer and set the voltage to 18 volts.

Hope this helps.

I just use a regular transformer all along. Been doing it the same way since I was a kid. None of this hi tech confusing stuff for me.


I don't mean to rain on your parade but how is your comment helpful here?

In the spirit of constructive criticism I'm assuming that you're telling @obxtrainman that there's a very simple answer to his question, and that, coming from an expert, it's just better to forget the whole thing because a handheld controller is a ridiculous feature that no one in their right mind, not to mention most of us on this forum, would ever consider using?

Are you, by chance, trying to stop the rest of us from pulling him over to the dark side, whatever that is?  If so, thank you for saving him by heading us off at the pass.

In the end he didn't ask whether he should do it.  He asked if he had the right pieces in mind to do the job.

Unfortunately you answered a question that wasn't asked.  But, thank you for answering it anyway, and @BigAl56 for his similar answer as well.


Last edited by Mellow Hudson Mike

Not really a lot to add, but hopefully summarizes what others have said. The 990 base is designed to control command control engines (TMCC or legacy), it is akin to radio control airplanes. On a command control engine, the voltage to the track is constant 18 volts. The 990 base sends a command to the engine (it uses the house ground wire running from the outlet the 990 is plugged into as a transmitting antenna). An antenna in the engine picks up the signal/command, and does it. So if Engine is sitting still on the track (again, w 18 volts there), and you on the remote increase the speed, it tells the engine to let power flow to the engine (some fraction of 18 volts), you increase speed, more power. You hit 'whistle' on the remote, tells engine via the sound control to blow the whistle, etc.

What you seem to want is to control conventional engines (the one you control via the handle on the transformer). What you want is a legacy powermaster (they have a 180 watt or a 360, prob 180 would be fine). You hook the powermaster between the power output of the transformer (the A or B if I remember the ZW correctly), and the output of the Powermaster goes to the track middle rail (ground is wired back to transformer, same was as it always has, IDK if the legacy power master has a ground connection, if it does goes back to U, too).

Running it is simple. Set the transformer handle for the side you wired (let's say A handle) to 18 volts. With the 990 remote you tell it to address the legacy powermaster (it is easier then it sounds). at that point, it is like using the handle on the transformer, only now direction, whistle/bell and speed will be controlled via the remote, so you can walk around and watch the train rather than being tethered to the transformer handle.

If you use both arms of the ZW (ie have block wiring to allow running multiple trains), then you would have a legacy powermaster wired to the A handle and another to the B. If you have a loop of track set to B, to run an engine on there, you address the B powermaster in the remote, and tell the train to go forward, etc. You can have two engines running, same way you do with the handles, A is running one looop, B the other, but the powermaster does what the transformer normally does, all the transformer does is put 18 volts to the powermaster, rest is up to that unit.

I thought I had made a post thanking everyone for their input, apparently I messed it up. I think I’m on the right track now. Other than the current 990/base3 fervor that set me off spinning trying to acquire parts, I’m only out $100 for two bridges I found over the weekend online. I ended up here today because of searching specs for he new parts I need to build shelving for. At least I know now that I don’t need shelving 6 feet away from the PMs. Things are looking up!


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  • 69D13B82-9348-4A87-BA7E-47D379201127: 😜
  • 3A172EA5-D8F0-4873-AE0A-28B2377B16B6: 🤪

To give you guys an idea. When I started this 20+ years ago; people actually came here. Dads used to lay on the floor under the table with their small children to listen to the rumble while playing with cars. Hence, changing horses midstream. I was going to run wiring through the table framing and dress with a skirt. Then I over thought it about the small room illusion thing. I did the most ignorant way of finishing and wiring the layout. I dug ditches to run the wires on top of table. I have pics if anyone is interested.  I’m well aware of using relays for blocks. With these pics maybe you can see how I painted myself into a corner. Let me know if I rattle on too much.


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  • 4BDE33D5-D219-46E7-9690-8BE1A3BA6AD4: Work
  • 87D02854-3220-4E4F-8952-168F38E746C2: Of an
  • 89DF16DC-DAD2-4FE8-BA55-10C6E9E55A4E: Idiot
  • 17D5EA83-6F82-4F14-9018-920AC726E28E: Don’t take a 20 year break
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Wow a lot of hate for the power masters, it's funny no one mentions the Legacy power masters in those posts.

About 1.5 yrs. after I returned to trains(I liked and had toy trains as a kid(the 90s) then about 17 years later I started getting into it again) I purchased the original TMCC system- that was summer of 2018 I believe.

Didn't have a command loco yet, so I used a power master. It was a good starting point as I got into the habit of ensuring what voltage level tracks were set at, learning about adequate circuit protection, and viewing command control not just as "Lionel TMCC" but as multiple systems that could be integrated with their various components. The PMs still served me well as controls for accessories.  

Before I continue, here's what you need if you want to use the Legacy system cab2/base2 to run both conventional and tmcc/legacy engines on a loop of track:

Track, transformer, wire, etc...all those basics

Legacy Powermaster or TPC300 or 400 to switch between conventional and command (original PM with bridge isn't something I've done and I don't know if it will give you full access to all features )

The above is really it, just set up your layout like you normally would and then add in the Legacy system and Legacy PMs and/or or TPCs.

Back to what I was saying about power masters and info on how they are beneficial to command and conventional running

The PM is at the least a nice "get your feet wet" to using your cab1/1L/2 remote.

Whether running conventional, command, or both- you'll enjoy the Legacy system. After TMCC I got DCS and finally Legacy. For command control(tmcc or legacy equipped) locos, there are different settings for different types- find one that works and you'll notice the performance will improve.  Sometimes I get confused when running multiple locos if they're on different setting- example a 2 TMCC with odyssey in 32 speed step TMCC mode, a K-line w/ TMCC & cruise in 100 speed step R1000 mode and a 2 Legacy locos in Legacy mode. You have control over 5 locos which is pretty cool, but I've previously gotten confused about which loco I was controlling and accidentally sped it up to near full throttle. HIWEVER- easy fix, you can just put all in TMCC mode so they're all at same speed steps, or maybe put 3 in TMCC mode because your K-line runs netter in that mode anyway and keep the Legacy locos in Legacy mode.

In terms of conventional and the benefits of a Powermaster or Legacy Powermaster, the remote controller just becomes an extension of the transformer handle with added benefits. As an operator/collector of prewar Us/European trains as well- I can tell you that even with the original power master my prewar locos ran better. While the original powermaster controlled the track voltage, the Legacy PMs and TPCs can do so much more. When it comes to Legacy and conventional, the Legacy PMs or TPCs, you can impose speed steps on to each block or track. TPCs let you run conventional engines on the assigned track at 80, 200 or 400 speed steps. what does that mean? Now, let's say we're at 80 speed steps- imagine each turn of the wheel on your handheld remote is like moving your ZW lever in increments of .2 volts. You have the much of a degree of fine control over your engine and that's only at 80 speed steps. I didn't pick .2 out of the air, if you put your lever all the way up you hit 18v, same with turning the remote's wheel. Step 80 would be full throttle, 18v/80steps= .2v per speed step.I love my ZW, but you can't get that type of control with it or any transformer for that matter.

Please keep us posted on your progress and don't hesitate to ask for help!

The PowerMasters furnish conventional power to the track allowing operation of traditional trains that would normally be operated by cranking the handle on the transformer up and down. The power master just goes in series with the ZW output and allows you to use your cab handheld remote instead of standing over the ZW.  What I and others are saying is after going all-in with TMCC when it first came out many of us found that running conventional trains was easier and more fun standing over the transformer and cranking the handles than hooking up the PowerMasters and adding another electrical layer to the layout.

Here's a tip for you MTH early Protosounds users. If you want to use a Powermaster to control your early MTH Protosounds engines pick up a 75uF 50v or greater non polarized capacitor and attach it across the PM  output.

OP said that PW ZWs are being used for power.  Sounds like some investigation into better / faster circuit breakers is in order, and possibly the use of TVS to protect the newer engines.  There are lots of endless threads about those topics - suggest searching for them.  The good news is that circuit breakers and TVS diodes are very inexpensive and easy to install.

Update on my confusion. Now that I have two PM bridges in hand, and knowing I won’t need them once I get two 6-37146 (180watt) Powermasters in hand if Lionel actually ships them. Would it behoove me to keep the PM  Bridges or send them back. With my luck if I send them back I’ll end up needing them. I contacted store I preordered the PMs from about any kind of expected arrival date. I was told maybe in March. The store I’m thinking of returning the  Bridges to, told me good luck on the March thing. I guess my question is, is Lionel actually still producing the 180 PM. Thanx for any advice and knowledge in advance.

I finally hooked up the two Legacy Powermasters, and the Legacy 990 control system today after achieving goal of pretty much finishing TT area. I did make a couple of wiring changes to clean up the hookups. I hooked up the Powermasters according to instructions. To keep things simple I connected the LPMs to the two channels I was using for track 1&2. I connected the 1st one to Channel D of the 275 watt PW ZW. I connected LPM 2 to channel D of the 250 watt PW ZW. I connected the common from the Legacy 990 base to a open common on the fist 275 watt PW ZW. Most of the commons are hooked up to a “ common” terminal strip that then ties into both ZWs. Everything at this point is copasetic. Except for the point that up until the change, the 250 watt   ZW would warm first followed by the 275 watt ZW. Now it’s reversed???  The 275 with the straight common from the Legacy base hooked to it warmed first. Doesn’t make sense considering it is only UF signal.  I can retry with hooking the 990 base common to the common” terminal strip” .   Anyhow, without having a true Legacy engine I still can’t test the used 990 system I bought at the train show the day after Lionel dropped its 2022 catalog with the base 3.

I have two 1st gen TMCC engines I can program into system. But I need to change Traction tires, oil and grease first.

My question is why did the two transformers swap on which one got warmer first by adding the 2 LPMs and the Legacy 990 ?

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