Blinking Auto-Reverse Controller

Revised 01-05-12

This unit is complete and ready to ship - please email dave@davebodnar.com for more information.  Click here for pricing.

A new option has been added to have the point-to-point run once each time a button is pressed.  This is ideal for demonstration or institutional installations.  Click here for details.

Click here for information on setting up your new unit!

Click here for an interesting alternative controller that can give nearly unlimited station stops and very precise speed and direction control.

Windows Media Player Needed to View

If you are having trouble viewing the video Right Click the box below and choose Play

 

  • The Blinking Auto-Reverse Controller (BARC) makes running trolleys and other point-to-point railroad engines a simple and enjoyable experience

  • Even though the unit was initially called the "Basic" Auto-Reverse Controller  its microprocessor brain gives it a host of features in a small package

  • The only connections are to your DC power supply and to the track. 

  • Since the BARC controls your trolley by time you can run it on a point-to-point or loop layout with our without cut rail and diodes that are normally used at both ends..

  • If you choose to use the cut rail and diode that such systems traditionally use at each end  click here for information on how this works and how to make your own track sections

(Although the term "trolley" is used in the notes below the BARC will work with any small DC powered engine including G, HO, N and TT scales)

Features

  • You supply DC power from your power supply to the BARC
  • Since the BARC can control the high and low speed of the trolley power can be supplied from a fixed output 12-20 volt power supply, such as a "wall wart"
  • A potentiometer, labeled "Time", is used to set the time that the trolley will run between reversals.  This time can range from a few seconds and over 8 minutes.

  • A second potentiometer, labeled "Speed", is used to adjust the high and low speed setting of the trolley

  • If cut track & diodes are used the trolley goes to one end of the track, stops where it enters the diode protected section and waits until the relay reverses the power
  • If cut track and diodes are not used you can manually set a stop point where the trolley will stop and wait for the total time that you selected to expire before it reverses.
  • When the relay reverses the trolley goes to the other end and the process repeats
  • A set of 3 LEDs is used to show the time setting and the time remaining as the trolley runs
  • The same LEDs also show the number of "laps" or reversals that have taken place.
  • A fourth LED indicates whether the running / delay time is always the same or is set to be changed randomly
  • A "deceleration point," where the trolley will begin to slow down, can easily be set as the trolley is running

Track Preparation for Those Using Cut Track & Diodes

  • A section of track must be cut and a diode must be installed across the cut at each end of the track

  • Both track sections need to be cut on the same rail and both diodes must be installed with the same polarity, that is the band on the diodes must point in the same direction.  Note that the drawing above is for a G scale layout.  If you work with HO the diodes must have their bands pointing in the opposite direction.

Power Connection

  • Power from your DC train transformer or power pack can be connected directly to the power terminals on the board

    • a minimum of 7 volts is needed for operation but 12 volts is preferred
    • you may use an inexpensive train power pack or even a DC "wall wart" style power supply
    • the maximum speed of the trolley is determined by both the power output of your power supply and the high speed adjustment on the BARC
  • The power from your DC power supply goes to the coaxial connector labeled "DC In"

    • Proper polarity must be observed. 

    • The center of the plug from the power supply must be positive.

  • The track is connected to the female connector labeled "Out"

 Power Supply Precautions!

  • If you use a standard model train power supply  that has a switch or throttle that allows the train to run in both directions you MUST make sure that the proper polarity is supplied to the circuit
  • The center pin of the coaxial connector MUST be positive.  If you provide reverse voltage, even for an instant, you may damage the unit's voltage regulator.
  • For this reason a fixed voltage DC power supply is preferred.  An old laptop power supply or other "wall wart" power supply providing 12-20 volts at 1 amp or more works well.
  • Note that the BARC will shut down and reset if the voltage goes much below 7 volts.

  • The voltage regulator on the board can get very hot if more than 18 volts is supplied

Setting Maximum & Minimum Speed
  • The maximum speed of the trolley is determined by the voltage supplied to the BARC by your DC power supply. 
  • In addition you can set the top speed to a lower rate by following this procedure:
    • Place the trolley in the center of the track
    • Hold the "Set Max/Min Speed" button when you apply power to the BARC
    • The 10's and 100's LEDs will flash.  release the "Set Max/Min Speed" button
    • The trolley will begin moving in one direction
    • Adjust the speed potentiometer (the one on the left) to increase (clockwise turn) or decrease (counter clockwise turn) the top speed
    • If the trolley comes to the end of the track and stops just momentarily press the "Set Deceleration" button to reverse the trolley and continue adjusting
    • When you are done adjusting the top speed briefly press the "Set Max/Min Speed" button.
    • The 10's and 1's LEDs will flash
    • Adjust the minimum speed with the Speed pot
    • Briefly press the "Set Max/ Min" speed button when done
    • The BARC will remember that top speed setting, even after power is removed, and use that settings until you reset it.  Note: while the trolley is running  the low speed setting is dynamically determined by the position of the Speed pot.  that is, you can move the pot as the trolley runs at its low speed and either increase or decrease its speed.
Setting Acceleration / Deceleration Rate
  • The rate at which the trolley speeds up going from its slowest to fastest speed and the rate at which it slows down is preset at a rate that is likely to satisfy most situations
  • If you would like to experiment with changing this rate follow this procedure:
    • Complete the Set Maximum & Minimum speed as described above
    • When done hold the "Set Max/Min Speed" button for several seconds as the lights flash quickly
    • When the flashing stops release the button
    • Use the Speed pot to set the rate of acceleration / deceleration.
    • The full counter clockwise position gives a very fast acceleration / deceleration while the full clockwise position gives a very slow, gradual rate of change
    • The trolley will continuously accelerate & decelerate to show your selected setting, pausing for1 second at the maximum speed and again for 1 second at the minimum speed
    • Remember that briefly pressing the "Set Deceleration" button will reverse the trolley should you run out of track
    • Briefly press the "Set Max/ Min" speed button when done
    • The BARC will remember the rate you have chosen.
Setting Time
  • When the unit is first turned on the 3 red LEDs flash together showing the version number of the software.  (Version 5.2, for example, would flash 5 times, pause briefly, then flash 2 times) 
  • During this flashing you have an opportunity to change the time setting. 
  • The speed potentiometer, the one to the right, makes time adjustments
  • Turning the potentiometer counter clockwise decreases the time and turning it clockwise increases the time
  • The time range is from a few seconds to 512 seconds, a bit over 8 1/2  minutes.
  • You will note that there is a slight detent, or bump in the potentiometer movement, that you can feel when you pass the center point

  • If you turn the Speed potentiometer while the LEDs are flashing out the version, the LEDs will begin to flash out the time in seconds.
  • The LEDs are labeled 1, 10 and 100.  To indicate a time of 135 seconds the 100's LED would flash once, the 10's LED three times and 1's LED five times. 
  • Each time the potentiometer is moved the time will change the time and the unit will flash out the new setting.
  • If you stop adjusting the potentiometer and allow the new time to be flashed out three consecutive times the time will be stored and the unit will start operating.
  • Note that time can be adjusted at any time during the BARC's operation by turning the potentiometer a bit either way.  This will put you back in the mode described above. Note: this feature removed 6-20-06
Random Time
  • To make the time between reversals somewhat random hold button 1 for a full second as the unit is turned on.  The red Random LED will light.  Repeating this procedure will turn off the random function.
  • The random time is computed using this formula:  1/2 of the time selected is added to a random number between 1 and 1/2 of the time selected.
  • For example, if the time were set to 200 seconds the random times would be between 101 and 200 seconds.  If 120 were set the random time would be between 61 and 120 seconds.
  • Using this formula insures that your trolley will have enough time to traverse the track before it reverses since the time is never less than 1/2 of what you have selected.

Getting started

  • Install cut / diode equipped track at each end of the line of track

  • Connect the unit to the DC output of your power supply. 

    • This may be a constant or a variable direct current power output.

    • Be SURE to observe proper polarity!

  • Connect the output of the unit to the track

  • Place a trolley, small engine or rail car on the track

  • Turn on the power

  • Adjust the time with the Time potentiometer

  • After the BARC initializes your engine will begin its journey in one direction or the other

  • Once it hits an end it will delay, reverse and continue

Setting a Deceleration Point

  • As the trolley approaches the end of its run you can set a deceleration point where the BARC will slow the trolley to a lower speed as it enters the diode protected end of the track and stops

  • Hint:  let the trolley run a few laps before setting the deceleration point.

  • Press and hold the "Set Deceleration" button when you want the deceleration to begin

  • Release the "Set Deceleration" button once the lights begin to flash rapidly

  • You can now use the speed potentiometer to adjust the low speed setting

  • This will be necessary if the speed is set so low that the trolley stops rather than slows to a crawl

  • Once set the BARC will remember the deceleration point until you either choose another, earlier deceleration point

  • If you want to do a later deceleration point do a complete reset first.

 Time Reported During Timing
  • As the BARC operates it flashes out the time remaining until the trolley is reversed. 
  • You may notice that the flashing will frequently skip a second or two as it reports, for example, 33, 32, 31, 30, etc.  This happens when the time needed to flash out a report exceeds one second. 
A Note About Time
  • The accuracy of the time reported by the BARC is reasonably precise
  • The time between trolley reversals can be off by a few seconds due to the varying time needed to report the number of laps run and the time needed to accelerate or decelerate.
Laps Completed Report
  • Each time the time count reaches zero the BARC reports the number of times the unit has reversed the trolley.  You can think of this as the number of "laps" that have been completed.
  • The report is similar to the time remaining report except that all 3 LEDs flash before and after the laps report and the report is flashed out somewhat more slowly than the time remaining report.
  • If the number of laps exceeds 999 the counter will continue to report by flashing the 100's LED correctly.  If you are on the 1345 lap, for example, the 100's LED will flash thirteen times, the 10's four times and the 1's five times.  If you let it run for a few weeks it will eventually reset to zero when it gets past 2^16 which equals 65,535!!
Complete Reset
  • The BARC can be completely reset to its factory configuration by following this procedure.
    • Turn the BARC off
    • Hold BOTH the "Set Deceleration" and "Set Maximum" buttons down
    • Turn on the power to the BARC
    • All four LEDs will begin to flash
    • Hold the buttons until the LEDs stop flashing.  This takes about 3 seconds
    • Release the buttons and all is reset
    • Releasing the buttons before the LEDs stop flashing will abort the reset
An Added Bonus!
  • If your computer is equipped with a standard 9 pin serial port you can see the progress of your BARC and see the total laps completed by your trolley.
  • Receiving reports from the BARC involves starting a terminal program, like HyperTerminal.  Set it to 2400 baud, No parity, 8 bits, and one stop bit.   It must also be set to use COM1 (or whatever com port you prefer) rather than a modem.

    The images below show how I set up my computer.  To get started on a Windows 98, 2000, ME or XP computer click Start then All Programs then Accessories then Communication then HyperTerminal.  If HyperTerminal is not there you may have to install it.  For instructions on how to do so just search Google for "Install HyperTerminal".  Here is a sample link on how to do the install from IBM's web site.

    When you first start HyperTerminal you must create a new connection.  Type a name for the new connection (I used Com3 9600 BARC) in the Name box.

    Click OK

    In the Connect To box I selected Com3 - you are more likely to be using Com1

    Click OK

    Change the next screen so that it looks like this:

    Make sure Flow Control is set to "None"

    Click OK


    Connect the 9 pin serial plug to your PC's serial port.  The cable is short and may require a serial extension cable.  Plug the 2 pin header into the board where it is labeled "serial" - make sure the white wire on the connector that goes to the board goes to the pin marked "-".

    If necessary click on Call / Call to connect to the port.  Once connected you should see information like that show below on your screen.

Using the BARC for the First Time

Here is the procedure I use when setting up the BARC for its first run.

  1. Set up the track with diodes as described above or just run on an oval.

  2. Connect the power to the BARC and the track leads to the track.

  3. Make sure the unit is completely reset by holding both buttons while applying power.  Hold till lights stop blinking.

  4. Remove power.  Hold the Set Max/Min button and apply power again.  The 10's and 100's LEDs flash

  5. Set the Maximum speed by adjusting the Speed potentiometer.

  6. Press the Max/Min button again.  The 10's and 1's LEDs flash.

  7. Set the Minimum speed by adjusting the Speed potentiometer.

  8. Press the Max/Min button again.  The unit flashes out the Software Version Number.

  9. While the version is flashing adjust the Time potentiometer and the time setting will flash.  You can continue to adjust the Time potentiometer until the time you set is allowed to repeat 3 times.

  10. The unit will begin to send the engine in one direction or the other.

  11. Allow it to go back and forth once or twice.

  12. Press the Set Deceleration button a bit before where the track ends and it will mark the deceleration pont.

 

Set Maximum / Minimum Speed - on startup hold "Set Maximum" Button – Release once 2 lights blink “up” - use "Speed" pot to adjust top speed - push "Set Deceleration" button to toggle direction – Press “Set Maximum” again – 2 lights blink “down” - repeat procedure for minimum speed. – press “Set Maximum” again when done or hold for 3 seconds to set acceleration rate (see manual)

Set Time - use "Time" pot to vary delay time from 3 to 512 seconds

Set Deceleration Point - as the trolley runs briefly press the "Set Deceleration" button until the lights flash

Activate Random Time - Hold "Set Deceleration" button at power up - Random LED will light - repeat to turn off

Full Reset - Hold both buttons for 3 seconds on power up - lights will flash - release when lights stop flashing

 

 

New Case

The connections to the power supply and track are on the back of the new case.  A 2.1mm coaxial plug connects the unit to 12-23 volts DC - the center pin is positive.  The track connections are by insulated screw terminals.  Both of these connections can be seen at the top of this photo.


Run Once Option
Many BARC users are using the system on demonstration and institutional installations like the one that I have installed at Pittsburgh's Children's Hospital.  That layout has a Mr. Rogers Trolley on a point-to-point setup.  Each time a visitor pushes a button the trolley starts up and completes a full round trip. 

The BARC has been modified so that an additional connection is available next to the track power connection.  The two contacts can be connected to a SPST momentary push button switch so that it operates as I described above.  If you wish to use the BARC so that the train runs continuously just place a jumper between the contacts.

This photo shows the new contacts on the left labeled "Run Once".  A jumper has been installed in the instance.  Replace it with a connection to a push button switch to use the "Run Once" option.


Z-Scale Modification

The BARC has been modified to accommodate Z-Scale trains that run on 10 or fewer volts of DC power.

A 12 volt regulator (7812) and three 3 amp diodes were added to the power input circuit to limit the voltage that is available to the train being controlled.

 The regulator is attached to the heat sink on the right.  The diodes are just below it.  A capacitor was also added to allow the processor to work at the lower input voltage.