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Train Camera Installed in Combine

Posted by on Dec 19, 2014 in Locomotives, Miscellaneous, Tips DCC Components, Tony's Tips |

Don Fiehmann has forwarded this installation of the Train Camera in a small Combine.

Please note: Tony’s no longer carries this product as parts and availability were very unreliable. These articles exist purely for informational purposes. For further information contact the manufacturer directly at www.rfsystemlab.com.

Back in November 1969 I wrote an article call “Eye Level Layouts”. This was a way of viewing a layout that made thing look more realistic. Another attempt at getting closer to a realistic layout view was done when a modeler put his super 8 movie camera on an O scale flat car and ran it around a layout. When the film was developed it made as impressive show, just like riding the train. We all seem to have the desire see our layout as we would from one of our trains. Now newer technology can put us there via TV camera on the train.

There is a prototype having a camera car. In 1969 SP converted a retired Krauss-Maffei locomotive into a camera car. The car had a road number 8799 with a horsepower rating of zero! The controls were left in so the engine could be MUed with another engine for movement. The 8799 was used to film the railroad for use in locomotive simulators. The front of the engine was modified with a box like structure for the film equipment and the crew. My records show the camera car was still on the SP roster up to the1980’s.With the new Train-CAM an operational model camera car can be built.

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The Train-CAM is not only a very small TV camera, but also a low power transmitted. The combination of camera and transmitter are a cube of under 1/2 inch in size. The Train-Cam also comes with a receiver. The combination operates in the 2.4 GHz band has a range up to 30 meters (90 feet). This ultra high frequency band works well for this application because the antennas are very short and the frequency is high enough to be out of the range of most electrical static. Train-CAM is powered by single small rechargeable Ni-Cad battery that is charged from the rails. For operation on DC at least 4.5 volts is needed on the rails to charge the battery and on DCC the constant rail voltage will keep the battery charged. The combination of the TV camera/transmitter, rail voltage adapter and battery are small enough to fit in to an N scale dummy engine or box car.

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The Train-Cam receiver is a small box with a short antenna, cable for connecting to the TV set and a wall transformer to power the receiver. There are four different channels used for the link between the transmitter and the receiver that are selectable on the receiver. The transmitter channel is fixed and the channel number is printed on the back of the camera. This would allow four different engines to have cameras and operate on separate channels. These channels do not use the same frequency the as normal TV channels. The transmission method used between the camera and receiver is one that can deliver an improved image. The output from the receiver is a video signal that connects to the video input jack on the TV or VCR.

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The Ni-Cad battery acts as a temporary power storage so the camera and transmitter can continue to operate even with the loss of track power or the short interruptions due to poor wheel/rail contact. The battery also keeps powering the unit when on DC and the voltage is below 4.5 volts. A quick bench test of the camera and transmitter showed that the signal took about 30 seconds after power was supplied to bring the battery up to start to operate. I used a variable voltage power supply to bench test the power to the unit. A 13 inch TV set in the layout room was used to monitor the signal.

The depth of field with the very small lens was very good. The sharpest focus was at about 6 inches, but the books on the wall at about 9 feet were still OK. When installed in the coach the handrail was also in focus. The lens’ wide angle and the focus is adjustable.

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Camera, power adapter and batteries all fit into a 34 feet HO coach.

One of my concerns was the amount of power that would be used when there was 14 volts on the rails and only charging a 1.5 volt battery. I ran a test from 5 to 20 volts. At 5 volts the current was 105 mA (milliamps), at 20 volts the current dropped to 25 mA. At all voltage setting the power remained at just under a constant half watt. The power adapter does not even get warm. This is an excellent power management.

After the bench test the Train-CAM was installed in a small Roundhouse 34 foot combine baggage/coach. The Train-CAM was powered with a 9 volt battery. The battery gave the most reliable source of power over using the rail contact. The battery was connected to the two leads used normally used for the rail power. The coach has a removable roof making it easy to change the battery. A very small slide switch was installed under the coach so the power could be turned off when not in use. The camera was installed “looking” out the back window of the coach. Foam tape was used to attach the camera. This would give a view as a passenger would have riding in the coach or as an engineer from the cab if run in reverse. A short test showed that it helped to have the antenna separate from the rest of the circuits. A small hole was drilled in the roof allow the antenna to vertical, the same as the receiver antenna. It helps to have the transmitting and receiver antenna parallel to each other.

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Mini slide switch mounted under car for 9 volt battery.

The receiver was connected to a VCR so the trip around the could be recorded as I viewed it on the TV. That way I could show my layout fan trip to the group at a meeting at another location.

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Camera mounted in back window.

My first trip was to push the car ahead of a locomotive so the view looked more like it was taken from the cab of a locomotive. I got to see things I’ve never seen before! A number of views were very interesting. When I went through some yard tracks that were occupied it looked like a tight squeeze as the cars rolled by. When I came close to a passenger car you could see the interior of the car. You could watch the track side signals to be sure you were clear to continue. When going through a tunnel I saw a piece of newspaper that had been used in the scenery hanging down and almost touching the train. Does this mean that we are going to have to finish the inside of our tunnels!

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If you would like to see actual output from the camera check our website for a file that has a short recording taken from the cab of a locomotive.

With a computer program like Decoder Pro and the TV set next to the computer you could run a train and watch out the cab window. You could see the signals and position of the turnouts before you get to them.