Frank Verrico, a veteran DCC user and customer support tech, reviews the DCC Specialties Tortoise Buddies.
I was forwarded samples of this unique new product to perform an independent review. There are four items in the DCC Specialties Tortoise Buddy line-up; The Baby, Jr., Sr., and Wiz-Kid. I tested the two top end items, the Sr., and the Wiz-Kid, with the following power supplies:
- MRC Train Power 027 (for AC 3 rail 0 scale trains) 0 -17 variable AC output
- MRC Rail Power 6200 (DC Trains- N, HO, 0, and G scales) Mode ll- 0 – 14 variable DC output
- MRC Prodigy Advance DCC System 14.5 volts dcc constant track output
Operations: as per the instructions the Sr., and the Wiz-Kid operated flawlessly on all three types of power, and the direction switch of a DC power pack has no bearing on the position of the points.
Other Similarities: Although both the Sr. and the Wiz-Kid, (along with the Baby and Jr.) look alike (size and appearance) they are quite different if you look closely.
The Wiz-Kid has extra I.C.’s on the underside, and both have a slightly different arrangement of the green screw terminals, on the top sides. The items circled in blue can be confused with solder points for hook ups, but they do not work. The J3 Feed Through, (included on both units tested) are soldering points for ganging up to four tortoise switch machines. The LED Outputs, J4 are a nice feature for having turn out throw indication on a display panel, and work well on both the Sr. and the Wiz-Kid, (no resistors needed). Both items also feature board mounted “Power On” yellow LED, and both a green and red LED indicator to show turnout position, (clear or thrown).
A nice feature of both items is the “slip on” fit to the Tortoises, which makes it easy to disconnect wiring from the Tortoises, if they ever need replacing or re-aligning.
Power in Equals Power Out: Voltage applied to the inputs, (J2) of both items, is the same coming out of the Feed Through connections at J1 and J8. Both items got a little twitchy with input voltages of 16 volts and higher. These two items seemed to work best at approx. a 15 volt max. Most train control variable output power packs can put a lot more voltage to the rails then 15 volts, some going up to 20 volts output, (for larger scales), and most dcc systems work at approx.. 14.5 volts to the rails. Circuitron cautions in their instructions not to exceed 12 volts DC to the Tortoise switch machines. I placed a call to Steve at Circuitron, to ask about this. Steve stated that although the motor can handle voltages in excess of 12 volts without burning out, it is the torque on the geared drive which can shorten the life span of the drive, operating at 16 volts adds 50% more torque, makes the tortoise operate faster, but will create more wear and tear.
The Sr.: This item has easy to use screw terminals for Power in (J2), LED Outputs, (J4), and DPDT switch hook up, (J5). Follow the hook up diagram on page four of the instructions for the DPDT switch; connect wires to power in, slip the Sr. onto the Tortoise, turn on your power supply and away you go. You will see the power indicator LED come on, and either the red or green LED will light up showing you the position of the turnout points. The position of the points will stay where you left them, upon powering down the Sr. and the re applying power next time you fire up your layout. Very nice and easy. This item only can only be used with a DPDT switch used in the J5 DPDT screw terminals, soldering a SPST switch or momentary contact push buttons to the J7 Switch Controlsdoes nothing.
The Wiz-Kid: The Wiz-Kid also has easy to use screw terminals for Power in (J2), LED Outputs, (J4), Logic Switch Control, (J7), and Auto Throw, (J6). Hooking it up is basically as easy as it is for the Sr., except this item can use either a SPDT switch or two momentary push button normally open switches. Hooking up a DPDT switch to the solder tabs at J5 doesn’t work. The Wiz-Kid also has a logic circuit built in, so that the turn out points default to the cleared, (green LED), when powered up. If using two push button switches when you fire up the power, all your turnouts will move to the cleared position regardless of what position you left them in, when you powered down. Make sure to check turnouts before running trains to make sure they go where you want them to go, (if not using the Auto Throw feature). When hooked up to a SPDT switch, if you left the turnouts in the “thrown” position when finished running trains, when you re apply power, the turnouts will cycle to the default “clear” position first then back to the “thrown” position. Again give it a few seconds after powering up your layout, before running trains to make sure the turnouts move to the last position you left them in.
The Auto Throw Feature: Is only able to be used with the Wiz-Kid. Follow the directions on page 3 of the instructions to use this feature, as it works quite nicely. The instructions state that if using this feature you must use the same voltage input power from the power supply, (power pack or dcc system) used to control the trains. You cannot mix the various types of power together, (AC, DC, or DCC). Two important notes on the instructions; you must apply input power to the J2 terminals or the Wiz-Kid will not power up. There is also a purple line in the hook up diagram that states; “Optional Electro-Frog Connection”, if not using this connection to power your frogs, you still must use a jumper wire to connect “J3 Feed Through Terminals”, 4 and 5 together.