Anybody ever put a Magnetic Critter Controller into a PIKO Clean Machine?

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  • Member since
    February 2013
  • 916 posts
Anybody ever put a Magnetic Critter Controller into a PIKO Clean Machine?
Posted by PVT Kanaka on Monday, March 1, 2021 1:30 AM

On to a new project...It is actually a campaign I've dubbed the "Rehabilitation of the Missile Sponges."  In short, it is the restoration and upgrading of 45 mm gage models and toys we acquired to give the crew motive power they could run absent wires and absent putting more fragile or valuable models at risk.  They include a PIKO GE 25-tonner "Clean Machine," an LGB m2075 (battery), and an ezTec "Prairie."  The goal is to "reward" these little iron horses for their service by granting them new life closer to the model side of the spectrum. Along the way, I hope to use these projects to pick up new skills in crafting my own parts, painting, kitbashing, etc.  


First up is Diesel Dan, the youngest's Clean Machine.  I cannot speak highly enough about this model, though, were I to do it again, I would remove all the detail parts.  They are soft plastic, and they do not stand up to small engineers!  The on/off switch's location is also, in my opinion, hard to reach, and at least one safety railing fell to a not-so-small engineer fumbling for the switch.  Anyway, below find the state of play:

I'l bend handrails from wire.  Never done it before, but that is inexpensive and should be straightforward.  The other issue, and the reason for this post, is overcoming the weak spot of the on/off switch location.  I chose the GScale Graphics Magnetic Critter Controller because it is relatively cheap, it forces engineer's to get up and drive their train, and, frankly, because it intrigued me.


That now brings us to the issue, best shown in the photo below:

Going out on all nets to see if anyone has done this installation before.   In the meantime, I am trying to locate Diesel Dan's tech manual to plot my way forward.





  • Member since
    February 2013
  • 916 posts
Posted by PVT Kanaka on Sunday, March 21, 2021 3:03 AM

Been sort of quiet here, but I thought I should close this thread.  In short, you can install the G-Scale Graphics Critter controller in this thing.  This is how we did it and restored some of Diesel Dan's former glory over a couple weekends.


Kid-zilla, the 1:24 scale crew, and I finally started this project in earnest in early March:


Four screws on the bottom allow you to remove the cab and engine compartment.  Take off the cleaning shoes first to make it easier to reach the aftermost screws:

A close-up of the electronics gives an indication of how well laid out this little loco really is:

The wires have a good deal of slack, and their color codes match the manuals.  The GScale Graphics card is very well labeled.  The hard part was figuring out where to put the new magnetic controller card and the two magnets!  There is no room under the hood, so we spent about 20 minutes trying to slide off the cab:

The cab slides along two slots, and, for want of better word, tabs engage on the bottom to hold it in place.  It took some squeezing and wiggling, but we got it off:


As Kid-zilla demonstrates below, the cab floor is exactly too small to accommodate the new circuit board:

The 1:24 gang suggested we stick it vertically to what would be the instrument panel on the real thing (We got to see the real thing shunting stuff around the Hawaii Historical Railroad, by the way (VideoThe Real "Diesel Dan" Shunting Things Around the Hawaii Historical Railroad)!):


After a week in an overtime rich environment, Kid-zilla seemed a bit excited...

...for he knew  we were going to tackle Diesel Dan's new electronics!


The GScale Graphic controller is about idiot proof.  It is well labeled, and all you have to do is find space for the board and the new wires.   Everything on the model and this circuit board use screw terminals.  Besides tinning some wire ends, the only soldering was for the battery leads.  To pack  it all in, we took advantage of the exhaust stack that already serves as a cable channel to run the new wires to and from the new controller and to the auto start / stop reed switch that needs to go down by the tracks. 



Still, even with PIKO's clear diagrams and color-coded wires and the new board's design, I got some polarities messed up at first.  The other issue was getting power flowing for testing.   We braced the battery pack into Diesel Dan's opened hull and got 'trons to flow.  PIKO  provides ample extra wiring to make this possible.    GScale Graphics has an LED to let you know power gets to that board.  The board, and proof of interim success, are below:

The next issue was where to put the reed switches.  The start/stop one clearly went into the cab.  One for automatic station stops had to go down by the tracks.  There is no clearance under the chassis, and I did not feel comfortable placing wires near rotating wheels.  For those more comfortable than I modifying the base model, you might be able to mount the reed switch in the motor block itself:

There is space between the motor can and the bar connecting the cleaning pads.  Again, wires and moving parts bothered me.  We fixed the reed switch externally with double-sided tape and ran the wires up through the hole in the lower left of the picture above.  This is where forward / off / reverse switch is.  Them we fed the wires up the exhaust stack to the cab and wired it in.


We did a quick test on the lanai, where we discovered that you really need to use the start/stop reed  switch before testing the station stop switch! 

I think Kid-zilla's words sum it up!


Next, Kid-zilla filed a notch to  accomodate the new wires...

...we buttoned Diesel Dan up, and we were off the Triple O to test out Diesel Dan for real:

He spent the next two hours learning to use the "remote control" and setting station stops.  Success!


About a week later, we turned-to on those missing detail parts.  At the time, I had no idea what metal I bought.  Turns out it was "paino wire," and boy was it tough to bend and unforgiving.  To work it, we marked the cuts and bends using the original handrails as guides, clamped the "wire," and bent it to shape:


In retrospect, we should've  probably been wearing gloves and safety goggles for this step.


We did use our goggles to cut and grind the wire (picture courtesy of CINCHOUSE):

The sparks made Kid-zilla understand pretty quickly why we wore those goggles!


The wire gage was a bit bigger than the original holes.  Kid-zilla is a bit young for the Dremel, but he took to the pin vise:

Where I could, I saved the bolt plates from the original handrails.  I thought about cutting off the remaining ones, tapping holes, and installing them, but I have a feeling these handrails may not be as immortal as they may appear! Also, getting these rails bent and placed proved tricky, and I wasn't confident I was going to get everything to line up.  I have a feeling Diesel Dan may go to the paint and detail shop in the coming years, anyway, if Kid-zilla's interest in the hobby continues and matures. These are details he - and I - won't miss now but we might appreciate later.  


We also had to tack down a few point here and there with CA glue as we went over Diesel Dan's surviving detail parts.  Then, we had to find a bell for the horn.  Youngest Daughter gave us her bead collection, and lo! Kid-zilla found the tip of an old automatic pencil:

We cut it down, glued it on the horn mount, and voila!  You can see it below in the group shot:

The buildings, incidentally, are Grandpa's work.  This year, it'll be our job to repair and refurbish them.  Also, you'll note the reed switch stuck to the window.  Trains run around the island of No'u'ea in a counterclockwise direction for reasons lost to history, so placing the reed switch on the starboard side made good sense.  Diesel Dan, fully trimmed for the first time in over a year, ran all over the railroad without losing a part, validating the reed switch's placement.


We had one last side project.  I had picked up a Lil' Hauler hopper on the cheap after watching the discount get progressively larger over the last couple years.  The intent was to paint it and weather the heck out of it.  Instead, it became Kid-zilla's birthday present, and he likes it just fine as as a "jelly bean car."  He knew we had to lower the coupler, so we measured, cut and installed some wood from the scrap bucket, installed some of the last from a stock of donated hook and loop couplers, and Diesel Dan proudly took "his" new jelly bean car out for a spin:

Kid-zilla showed Y.D. and CINCHOUSE his rehabilitated train. CINCHOUSE apologized for not having the camera on hand to capture the look of pride on his face.


And that's that.  Were I to do this again (and were it my locomotive to begin with) I would cut out the cab floor to ease the wiring and make the windows opaque.  I'd probably also find a better wire for the handrails.  Diesel Dan would also sport either US Army or Hawaii Historical Railroad colors to mirror "his" cousins that once worked Oahu.  I am really very, very pleased with the Magnetic Critter Controller, and I would strongly commend it to anyone else who wants small hands to operate trains without risking detail parts or remote control devices.  As an aside, we almost lost the magnet today.  That would've cost me a buck to replace.  Imagine if that was a handheld throttle?  In the end, it all came together to make Diesel Dan look more like a "real" model and much more fun to operate for his primary operator, which was my objective.


On to the next project!


Have a Great Week!

Eric & Kid-zilla






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