During the past two weeks I had the opportunity to beta test the new ProtoThrottle from Iowa Scaled Engineering. The ProtoThrottle is a miniature EMD control stand that fits in the palm of your hand. It has realistic controls just like those found on a prototype locomotive. The controls include a fully detented throttle with 8 notches plus idle, a detented 3-position reverser handle, smooth resistive independent brake lever, spring loaded horn lever, bell button and rotary controls for the front and rear headlights including ditch lights. The ProtoThrottle is wireless and works in tandem with different DCC systems through a receiver purchased from Iowa Scaled Engineering.
Setting up the ProtoThrottle was relatively easy following the instructions provided by Iowa Scaled Engineering. Since I operate my layout with a Digitrax DCC system, I purchased a Digitrax LNWI (LocoNet Wi-Fi Interface) receiver to allow the ProtoThrottle to communicate with the proprietary Digitrax DCC system. The ProtoThrottle receiver then connects wirelessly via Wi-Fi to the LNWI which is then connected to the LocoNet. It all sounds a little complicated but it really isn’t. Once I had everything hooked up I programmed the ProtoThrottle following the instructions. The throttle allows you to configure each function to the appropriate control. You also set up the points in the speed curve for each notch on the throttle. With the set up for the ProtoThrottle completed it was now for the fun part, operating!
Fortunately I have had the opportunity to ride in the cab of a prototype locomotive and see how the engineer operated the controls. With the ProtoThrottle I now felt like I was back in the cab of a prototype locomotive and it was a much more realistic way to operate my model locomotives. As you move the throttle handle you hear the prime mover throttle up according to each notch in the throttle. Once you have your momentum up, then you notch back down and begin to coast. When you want to stop, you notch down to idle, apply the brake and bring the locomotive to a smooth stop. Once stopped, you center the reverser and give a “centered and set”, that allows the crew to simulate hooking up the air hoses. When you are ready to move again, you move the reverser lever to the direction of travel, throttle up a couple of notches and then release the brake. As you approach a grade crossing, you activate the bell and begin the grade crossing sequence with the horn. The spring loaded horn lever is excellent and gives you much better control than a simple push button found on all other throttles. Operating with the ProtoThrottle is so much fun and it gives you the feeling that you are operating a real locomotive.
While I had the ProtoThrottle for testing I invited several people over to operate with it. I explained the operation of the ProtoThrottle, gave them a brief demonstration, and then let them operate with a locomotive to get the feel of the throttle. Once they were comfortable with the operation of the ProtoThrottle we began an ops session.
Boras (Left) and Scott (Right) visited my layout to operate with the ProtoThrottle.
Overall the crews were very impressed with the ProtoThrottle and liked how it operated. They thought the size and weight of the throttle was not a problem and they quickly became familiar with the controls. They also felt that the operation of the ProtoThrottle was very intuitive and after operating for a short period of time did not have to even look at the throttle to operate it.
Left to Right, Jeff, Chriss, and Gene each got to operate with the ProtoThrottle during a full ops session on my layout.
One additional benefit of the ProtoThrottle is that it slowed down the operating session. Crews had to slow down and plan their moves just like they do on the prototype which leads to a more realistic operating session. Operating with the ProtoThrottle added about 10 minutes to an ops session for each switch job. For modelers with a small layout this is a huge advantage, it gives you a longer ops session without adding any more track or industries.
I think the crew at Iowa Scaled Engineering has developed a very innovative product that will change the way model railroaders interact with their locomotives. Just like DCC and sound has added enjoyment to operating model trains, the ProtoThrottle has added a new realistic and fun way to operate our locomotives. If you are interested in finding out more about the ProtoThrottle check out the website at www.ProtoThrottle.com.