Testing Sergent Couplers and iPhone Throttle

A couple of days ago, I visited Trevor Marshall and his Port Rowan S scale layout and had a chance to try out two different pieces of equipment that have piqued my interest of late.


CNR 1560 is working the Daily Effort in this shot from 1955. Taken from an adjacent field, the photo shows a wooden van being shoved down the run-around track at Port Rowan so the crew can begin the process of setting out two cars and lifting two more for the return trip.

Trevor fitted enough equipment with Sergent couplers so that he could run an operating session.   We used the Sergent-equipped fleet to run the Daily Effort to Port Rowan and back.  I can say that I like the look of the Sergent couplers, without a doubt.   Their functionality was very good, but still left a bit to be desired.  I like the fact that the couplers require a stop for alignment, just before coupling.   Some might find that tedious.   The uncoupling process functioned flawlessly, but there were a few instances when the knuckles didn’t lock after the couplers were mated.  This could be a matter of fine tuning, lubricating, or break-in.  Overall, I was impressed enough to consider running some test on my home layout (I’ll have to actually build that layout first). Until I’ve had some time to use them at home, and until Trevor has had the opportunity to work out the bugs on his, I’ll reserve judgement.  I’m very hopeful that this will work out.

It was about halfway through the operating session that Trevor mentioned his iPod app that he uses as a throttle.  I switched from the regular Lenz throttle to the iPod app and thoroughly loved it.  The app is called TouchCab and it only works on iPods and iPhones through a wifi interface to the Lenz DCC system.

I like that the app uses icons to represent the various functions (the whistle looks like a whistle graphic, the bell looks like a bell, etc.) which made me much more confident while running a train.  Speed is controlled by swiping across the screen, and is represented on screen by a graphic showing throttle setting from 0-100%.

IMG_3056The best thing about the app is that it completely removes the need for the user to think about what the different numbers on the throttle mean.  Also, having been a Mac user for nearly two decades, both professionally and for my personal use, I find the interface familiar and comfortable.  For context, I don’t own my own DCC system, so I’m always operating as a guest on another person’s layout.  So far, I’ve used NCE, Digitrax, and Lenz handheld throttles.  I find all three to be different renditions of clunky and alienating.

Clearly, the throttle app is not for everyone.  As I step closer to the major purchase of a DCC system for my home layout, the ability to run a throttle app has become a significant factor for me to consider.


2 thoughts on “Testing Sergent Couplers and iPhone Throttle

  1. I hadn’t heard of the TouchCab throttle until reading your blog post. Thanks for the insight.

    I don’t use DCC on my home layout but am a regular operator on a couple of local layouts that use the Lenz system at their heart. I am planning to make the leap to DCC this fall/winter so I’m paying extra attention to what others are using and what they think of them.

    For a wireless throttle, I’ve been using WiThrottle (http://www.withrottle.com/WiThrottle/Home.html) with JMRI (a popular option here on the Island) and quite like the interface. I find the screen layout clean so I can focus on running my train and not looking for a button on a screen.

    I’ve had a few tries at the Engine Driver throttle for Android and find it clumsy to use. I don’t know if that clumsiness is a function of the Engine Driver to JMRI interface or something more local.

    I agree with your thoughts on the proprietary throttles bundled with each of the systems. I think I’m just old fashioned but I like a throttle that’s just a knob for speed control and a switch for direction. It should fit comfortable in my hand. Most of all, I like if I can use it with just that one hand and concentrate on my work and not the throttle. I like Lenz’s little LH90 and have really come to like NCE’s little CAB06 throttle. Most the others, like Lenz’s LH100 and that “Hammerhead” from NCE feel a lot like dragging a laptop around the layout.

    I’ve been following Trevor’s thoughts on the Sargent couplers and it’s interesting to read your’s as well. Thanks for sharing them.

  2. I hadn’t heard of the Touch Cab throttle until I used it on Trevor’s layout. I’m still catching up with technology in the hobby, because I’m focused on preparing my layout space right now. It’s a whole side of the hobby that I’m slowly becoming familiar with.

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