American Flyer 800-809 Northerns
A Review and TMCC Conversion

Click on images for larger view.

First a brief  review of the new Lionel / American Flyer offering of their version of the AC Gilbert 4-8-4 Northern. The finish and redesign in general is top notch exceeding the original. My example did have a problem with the smoke board regulator not functioning but since I was not going to be using the board it did not matter in my case. The smoke element did show signs that it had worked at some point.
The Railsounds are excellent and  pulling and general performance is better than the original by far.  

It gets a bad mark for the smoke unit's sound and chuff rate  though. The smoke unit looks like it had some thought in it's design but the sound gets an "F". It does not chuff,  it  SQUEAKS.  

The black drivers aren't as flashy as Gilbert's white sidewalls but probably are more prototypical,  

 As an example, American Models got it right with their smoke unit design's two puffs per revolution and better chuff sound.  

Four puffs per revolution with a mechanical chuffer is not practical but two is and makes a good representation of the prototype's effect. Enlarging the hole in the baffle gets rid of  the squeak but also silences the chuff some. But with Railsounds doing the chuffing do we need a chuffer sound too? Just modulation of the smoke volume is all. 
I have the Grey 809 Northern converted to TMCC now too.

 It is one of the most handsome locos produced by Lionel. 

Now on to the

Conversion !
First I debated whether to convert the new Northern to TMCC because it can only be done by removing the nice Railsounds unit. It does sound nice 

But TMCC it had to be! So much for collectabilty and originality. It is my loco and I have a TMCC layout!

There is no room in the loco for TMCC components. They will only fit in the tender. So by removing the Railsounds in the tender and electronics in the loco and adding an ERR Sound Commander and TMCC boards you have TMCC and good sounds. Not quite as rich as Lionel's original Railsounds unit but nice. 

These boards are off the shelf items by ERR and do not need to be customized

I used the Electric RR's Cruise Commander board but a standard AC/DC commander or others will do also. I had to add a 1/4" thick plastic spacer between the heatsink and the chassis for speaker clearance.

There is a tether added between the tender and loco for the power. motor, headlight and smoker

I used both the track power and tender power coupled through the tether to give really good power pickup.

All of the original electronics are removed including the volume control.

A square hole was cut in the tender's front casting for the Molex tether connector. A notch was enlarged in the loco's blackhead to clear the loco's tether.

 I made a bracket out of .032" aluminum for the sound board  that used the volume control bracket mounting holes.

The hall effect trigger board is removed from the front truck and a reed switch and magnet is added to the rear truck for the chuff trigger.

This means it will have only 2 chuffs per driver revolution instead of  Railsound's 4 but with only one smoke chuff per rev from the smoker it actually looks better.

The antenna is simply a piece of solid hookup wire spot glued with CA glue to the bottom of the tender chassis. Not real professional looking but it's where it does not show. 
 I thought the smoke unit's sound baffle was installed backwards but after making a replacement baffle it did not really matter which way it was facing. I did make the hole a bit larger and it helped reduce the squeaking sound until you reach high speeds. Even a bit larger hole may have helped that.  It must be the velocity of the air and size of the hole that starts it squeaking.

 The smoke element was changed from the original 18 ohm to 27 ohms to work with TMCC and bypass their smoke board.

The smoke output is more than adequate but two puffs per driver revolution would have been a better design.

For more details on silencing the smoke unit click here.

With the TMCC and the ERR Cruise Commander the performance was outstanding to say the least! 

I spent a couple of days before doing any modifications mulling over the best way to proceed and design the installation of the components. 
Document the wiring before starting so you don't make mistakes.
Carefully keep track of the screws and parts when disassembling so you get the right ones back where they belong.

One item that you need to be aware of is that to remove the chassis from the loco I had to remove one of the valve gear hangers to get clearance. There is a small spacer washer or lock washer under the bracket that must be reinstalled or the valve gear will bind. 



The Tether connector Mouser part #s are:

6 pin connector shell part number:571-874562
Connector pin inserts part number 571-1021282 (Female)
Double row header part number 649-68691-172 (male) Cut to length needed

Smoke unit modification resistor:
Smoke Element 27 ohm 
Lionel 600-8141-055

For product information see
The Electric RR Co.

The Electric Railroad Company
939 Wood Duck Ave.
Santa Clara, Ca.  95051    USA


Wiring Diagram

Click on drawing for larger view

        Testing before final assembly            TMCC Conversion finished