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Back when MTH was still the new gorilla on the block (mid-90's), and I was becoming bored with HO, I purchased a Premier steamer...20-3013-2, Santa Fe Northern, 4-8-4 2-rail configuration.  In that era, MTH offered several of their Premier steamers in O2R or O3R, same price.  I hadn't made the decision whether I was destined for 2-Rail or 3- in the longer scheme of things.  Don't ask me why I chose the O2R, I ordered it!  It beautifully graced a shelf for some layout on which to stretch its legs.  But since that short showing, she's been a box-queen.

So, now that I'm thoroughly intrigued with Dead Rail, and experienced the same in a successful conversion of an LGB Mogul using a complete package purchased from a vendor at a York meet many years ago, that MTH Santa Fe Northern...with its bodacious tender!!!...came to mind...

Would it be a logical DR candidate??

I have a huge investment in fun now in O3R, complete with a basement empire using Ross/Gargraves track.  That track geometry has been tolerant of several pieces of 2-rail rolling stock, but my layout radii (O72 minimum...firm!) are surely incapable of handling that 2-rail 4-8-4 and montrous tender.  So this would be an effort in search of a layout.

The 20-3013-2 model has an electronic whistle and minimal lighting, Seuthe trickle smoke, no command control in its infancy, ...conventional to the max.   My interest, besides providing on-board battery power, would be to have it R/C DCC/Sound capable, maybe w/synchronized smoke.   The latter feature, I know, consumes a lot of power, so it might not be as feasible.

What are your thoughts, recommendations, caveats, suggestions, etc.?   (Like, take 2-aspirin, get plenty of bed rest, and lay off the cheap wine??)

Thanks for considering!


Last edited by dkdkrd
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Well . If it had been mine , It would be converted already.  ( I do love Northerns)    I prefer the K.I.S.S. method , by  Adding a DTDP switch to  re route power if i chose to.  So I have  receiver , sound, and battery in the engine, with a plug for a Aux. battery car.   No smoke , no cab lights, no crew talk ( I run Steam)  So I have a complete self contained locomotive  that I can operate with simple controls   ( just like the engineer ) .  Many of us were doing this  back in the 90's   May I also suggest  thinking out of the Box and putting up a loop of scale track  either indoor or out to  Run your train with the freedom  of R.P.R.C  ( Dead Rail )

Sounds like a great DeadRail project.  Easiest and cheapest might by Blunami.  I also like RailPro, but the initial expense will be higher because you have to buy the handheld controller.    But for follow on projects the control/sound RailPro boards will be about $75 cheaper.  Of course, there are probably a dozen other DeadRail capable systems out there, but I have only worked with these two. @BOB WALKER is the DeadRail master.

Lots of vendors including OGR sponsors sell Blunami.  IMHO the best buy with coupon code (bnsf6951) and shipping is YankeeDabbler.  Others have it cheaper, but after you add in their shipping, it becomes more expensive.  Note... Today you have to use an IOS device (iphone, ipad).  But Android is coming.  I am a beta tester for the Android and it works very well.  I'm not sure when the production version is coming.

I have not done Steam in Blunami yet, but Soundtrax does not disappoint on Diesel sounds and capabilities, so I think it's safe to assume their Steam is just as awesome.

I did do a Steam in RailPro.  This is an MTH RailKing that I custom painted.  If you don't want to watch the entire video, start at the 4 minute mark to watch the engine run.  My sounds are at about 50%.  So this does get a lot louder if you like.

I do not have a stake or interest in any company and I am not getting paid by any of these companies.   Just thought I'd throw that out there.  This is just my experience and opinion.


KD, It would actually be pretty simple with a Blunami. Single board has motion and sound and you don’t have to invest in DCC control.

I added smoke control with a small reed relay controlled by one of the 6 programable outputs. Same for operating coupler. I am using track power but a battery could be used in place of it. Only downside of a battery is a smoke unit will drain it faster.

If you do use a Blunami I would suggest installing it in the tender under a plastic coal load as metal will greatly reduce the distance that a bluetooth signal will work.

There are few threads on the DCC forum about doing all this.


If you go to my website and search for MTH, so will find posts on several MTH dead-rail conversions (I've done over 20). I use PS-3.0's DCC capability. If the locomotive was originally 2-Rail, I show how to wire for both dead-rail and track-based DCC operation. I use low-cost ($39.99 with a 13A output) "ProMiniAir" receivers I offer on eBay that are compatible with Airwire transmitters. I also provide on eBay "ProMiniAir" transmitters compatible with Airwire receivers.

Thanks, guys, for all the suggestions...and encouragement.

I'm going to do some disassembly in the coming days, take some photos, post on this thread to show specifically what I have to work with.  Just before disassembly, though, I plan to set up a few lengths of old Atlas (European vintage) 2-rail track to check out the mechanicals...try to get any binds and grinds behind me so I can focus on the electricals.

I'd really like to wait for the Android capable versions of Blunami.  In my 20+ years (Covid-inspired retirement, now) behind the counter at our LHS (counter-intelligence...) helping the HO-philes I developed a lot of respect for the Soundtrax technology/service folks.   (Ditto, Digitrax.)  But, not sure of their Blunami Android O-applicable steamer timing...and the 'itch' may be too much for this ol' phart.  I'm sort of like the dog who sinks his teeth into the tire of the passing car and WON'T let go!

Ron...I really like your problem solving videos re this topic.  Very inspiring!!

Pete...It would, indeed, be interesting to use track power JUST for the smoke feature, batt for control, sounds, lights?  I seldom...if ever, per my fading memory! with smoke 'on' on the O3R stuff.  It's more of a ventilation nuisance in this house.

Darrell...Will indeed check out your website!



Last edited by dkdkrd

KD i'm not sure that I understand... why would you spend money and time on a loco that you might not be able to run?

I'm skeptical about 2R flanges on 3R track (especially switches!)  But you could test it:  Disconnect the motor from the existing circuit boards.  Make up a portable DC power supply consisting of three or four 9V batteries wired in parallel.  You could mount them on the tender frame, or on a flatcar with double-sided foam tape.  Connect the batteries to your loco motor with clip leads, and let it run around the layout.  You won't be able to control the speed, but at least you'll find out if the loco will handle your curves and switches.  If it runs too fast, add diodes or a resistor.  You should also try your loco in reverse by swapping the connections to the motor leads.  Good luck!

@Ted S posted:

KD i'm not sure that I understand... why would you spend money and time on a loco that you might not be able to run?


"I'm sort of like the dog who sinks his teeth into the tire of the passing car and WON'T let go!" in my response earlier today.

And, why did I make a Dead Rail conversion of an LGB Mogul?....same 'reason'.

There are just some things about this hobby that I can't resist trying myself...even if it makes little sense to the casual observer...reader.

Anyhow, trying this engine on my O3R (O72 minimum, firm) layout is not even an option.  The MTH box label clearly states a "72 inch radius" minimum for this O2R loco.  That's radius.  In O3R parlance that would be an O144 curve...diameter.  Sure, I could test it on a straight section of the layout, but I have about 30 feet of old Atlas (Austria) 2-rail straight track I can set up on the floor for test purposes.

Also, there are a couple O2R clubs in the area.  Although I'm not a member, I know a few guys who are.  Perhaps they'll let me run it at least once just to see how it performs...assuming we're successful, of course!

But, back to the issue of spending time and money.  Those aren't of concern to me.  Having fun, trying something new, giving a 'box queen' (I can't really give a satisfactory answer as to why it bought it in the first place 25 years ago!!!...see my OP!) a second life, a few more features, some loving attention, etc., etc., blah, blah.  That's what the hobby is all about for moi.  Besides, the more things I do that make no sense to the casual observer, the more fun I give to those casual observers trying to figure me out.....

Just ask the wife.  She's an Ebay trade assistant.  One of her clients had a partially-built LaBelle HO 1905 passenger car (combine) kit in his collection she was selling.  The builder had made a very admirable start.  Nonetheless it wasn't getting any traction on the market.  She sez, 'What should I do with this?'  Sez I, "Leave it here on the workbench.  I'll finish the kit, build it into something unique."  And, so I am...almost done.   HO.  Haven't done much with that in about 20+ years.  The kit said 'Finish me!  Finish me!  Pleeeeeease!'.  Now how could I turn that down, I ask you???

But, thanks for your concern and helpful suggestions.  For now, I think I'll try a couple aspirin tablets, sleep in a bit longer in the morning, and buy better wine.  It helps.

Havin' fun.


Last edited by dkdkrd

As promised, here are some pics of the candidate...

All 31" and 13# worth...

IMG_1237 [2)IMG_1238 [2)

Put her on some track, ran her fwd/back at a slow speed.  Lights all worked.  However...

There was a decided hitch at precisely each rotation of the drivers.  Not much, but even at a faster speed you could hear the looseness in the tender draw bar rhythmically acknowledge the bind.  Ah, well, so it goes.

So to find the bind, as well as take some internal pics to show the space available in engine and tender, I began the disassembly.  Here's what the innards revealed...


And, yes, there is a HUGE amount of volume to work with in the tender!!  The only circuit board is for the constant voltage lighting.  It's double-side taped to the tender floor.  Speaker holes are already in the floor at the forward truck.  A hefty speaker, the Blunami decoder, battery pack, and charger port should fit that tender, I should think.  More on that later, though.

Back to the 'hitch'...  I removed the motor coupling and worm gear.  Yep, gently free rolling on the track yielded the same bind point.  So, at the bind point I probed the drive rods, valve gear, etc. to see what might be tight, revealing the source of the bind.  And...BINGO!...there it was.  The right side piston rod was tight in the cylinder chest.  It appeared that it had bottomed out in the chest bore.

So, I carefully removed the steam chest casting to investigate further.  What I found was that the piston rod on the right side was 1/16"+ longer that its counterpart on the left side!!!  The left and right piston bores in casting were both the same depth.  Fortunately, the bore depth showed about another 1/8" of metal available.  So a #37 drill bit was run an additional about 1/16" into the right bore, shavings cleared out.  I also carefully removed some off the end of the piston rod with a few strokes of the file.

Bottom line after reassembly?...  NO BIND, whatsoever!


Meanwhile, I had sent Soundtraxx an email re Blunami and this project.  As Ron indicated earlier, he's part of the team doing Beta testing on the Android-compatible changes to their 4408 decoder.  No further hints on production availability date.  The Steam-2 sound profile will continue to be available.  It has 90 whistle options, of which 4 are Santa Fe whistles.  There are 3 heavy chuff sounds that are appropriate for a 4-8-4 locomotive.

I'm rather mystified looking at the boiler space on how to do a separate smoke chuffer, triggering from the drivers, and power feed from the track.  Smoke isn't of primary importance at this stage, anyway.  That Seuthe trickle-smoke cartridge is pathetic for this engine.  Thank heavens it's easily removed!!  

Oh, yes, Pete...  This is not a coal tender, obviously from the photo.  It's a hefty 5-walled box on a sheet steel floor.  So, will I need to provide some other modification/addition (antenna-like?) to enhance communication with the Blunami decoder?  Thoughts?

Also, re the 4-wire production tether?...  Will this survive the rebuild, or do I need to plan on something else for engine-tender electrical connection?  Among the details I'd like to add in this project are a (insulated) cab deck apron to the tender.  Not sure the existing tether will allow for this, but I really haven't given it that much thought yet, either.

She's taking a nap now.  Need to assemble a BOM (Bill Of Materials), identify some source/brand purchases, plan any cosmetic features/work along the way, etc., et al.




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Last edited by dkdkrd

KD, two things you mention where the Blunami falls down. AFAIK there is no antenna input or at least its not indicated in the instructions. This could greatly reduce how far the bluetooth signal can travel if the board is surrounded with metal.

Second fail is there is no chuff switch input to the board. You can trigger a smoke fan externally but not the chuff sound so smoke and sound will be out of phase. Its random so it depends where your chuff switch is at startup.

Some DCC decoders do have a means to accept a chuff switch but not Blunami yet.


Last edited by Norton
@Norton posted:

KD, two things you mention where the Blunami falls down. AFAIK there is no antenna input or at least its not indicated in the instructions. This could greatly reduce how far the bluetooth signal can travel if the board is surrounded with metal.

Second fail is there is no chuff switch input to the board. You can trigger a smoke fan externally but not the chuff sound so smoke and sound will be out of phase. Its random so it depends where your chuff switch is at startup.

Some DCC decoders do have a means to accept a chuff switch but not Blunami yet.


The lack of a chuff trigger to synchronize the sound to a smoke puffer was confirmed in their email reply.  But that all-important word..."yet"...was in the same sentence.  Implies they've given some competitive thought to the matter.  So, as in many things, we'll wait in hopefulness.  Smoke is not an immediate priority for me, anyway.

I failed to ask about the signal range and material impediments.  As the production units become available for ordering, I'll be sure to pose the question.  That could be a game changer issue if that monster box of a tender is too much of a signal killer.  Maybe this engine/tender is not that appropriate a candidate after all?

Any thoughts regarding the production 4-wire tether?  Is the wire size and number of leads yet appropriate for this effort?  I'm intrigued with the current effort that Pat (Harmonyards) is doing re improving connections between the tender and locomotive.   I'd like to straight-line the tether as part of this project if possible, but I need to know more about the whole electrical/mechanical scheme of things first.

Currently sorting through available speakers and batteries.



Last edited by dkdkrd

You can easily swap out the 4 wire tether for ten wire. Thats what you do for a PS2/3 upgrade. 4 is OK for motor and headlight. You want more if you want smoke, class lights, cab light, etc. straight tethers are not an issue either. You can use a MTH diesel tether which is straight or just straighten the right angle tether. I do it both ways.

As for range I first installed the 4408 Blunami in the engine and range was about 10 feet. After installing it in the tender under the plastic coal load range was over 40 feet including 2 floors and at least 6 walls. Likely much more in open space.


Bob, Pete...

RE the range issue...  So, I sent another email to Soundtraxx re this topic.  Also included your experience, Pete, in engine vs. tender mount.

The reply I received this AM is that, yes, metal vs. plastic enclosures may give different range results...but the 10-foot range may have been more the result of how close the 4408 was mounted to a metal wall.  Mr. Carnaby (Soundtraxx) feels that the 4408 should be able to work in my application's tender within a maximum range of around 50' (100' if it were of plastic construction).  The key is to have sufficient space around the Bluetooth chip.  His recommendation was to find a spot with at least 1" clearance beneath the chip.  Mounting the chip too close to a metal wall for sure will affect the range of performance.

So, I guess I'll have to set this concern aside until I know more about what else is being packed into this shell, the size parameters, etc., and what space is left to work with for optimizing the chip performance.   Still, with some lingering uncertainties, it's a bit of a pricey gamble at this point.

Ah, well, never expected the project would be without some road bumps and a 'pothole' or two.

KD, good to know about board location. Mine was within a 1/4” of the top of the engine shell. Not much choice in an engine. Your tender is huge and not much else needed there besides the battery and speaker.

Plastic shell diesels offer few obstacles. Blunami would be the way to go with those as the potential is there to out perform Legacy.


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