Thursday, March 21, 2013

Sound Effects Come to the S&C

Pushing the "Water" button will start the sound
of a tender being filled with water.
One of the things that I have been toying with over the years is adding sound to the railroad. I don't mean in the locomotives but in other areas. For example, if a rule is established that all locomotives take water at Peters, then how long does that take? How long does it take to load a stock car? Why doesn't the band ever play anything? Those problems have now been solved.
   Recently, a friend of mine, Keith Robinson, turned me on to some sound modules on ebay. They used mini SD memory cards to hold the sound files and could play back up to 500+ separate files. I purchased a couple and tried them out. They work great! The memory card makes it very easy to record the sound(s) you need but it does take some playing with the sound files. Although the modules are new, the technology appears to be a bit old. They will only work with memory cards with less than 1 gigabyte capacity. Try to find one of those at your local store. I did find some 128 megabyte cards on line which is more than enough capacity for any sound I will ever use.
   Also, the sound has to fit within some fairly old parameters. The free program, Audacity, allows these modifications to be made but not with the current version. I had to download an earlier version of Audacity (V. 1.2.6) that could save the files in the older format. In spite of this, the end result still sounds good.

The power supply (right) and sound module (left) are mounted on a wood block for ease in attaching to the layout. The SD mini memory card fits into the slot on the sound module. A Radio Shack amplifier stands beyond.
 To implement all this fun, I built some 9V power supplies. These take 12V DC power from an accessory bus I have running about the layout and drop it down to 9V DC to power the module and the Radio Shack amplifier I use to deliver the sound. A push button on the fascia completes the installation and now S&C engineers know how long it takes to fill the tender tank. A similar recording will eventually go by the stock pens to tell operators how long it takes to load a stock car. I even have a recording for the bandstand at Oakdale. The band has a 5 or 6 song repertoire and each push of the button will start a new Sousa march.
   The possibilities are high but I have to keep the volume low enough so that all the cows mooing, water running and band songs won't send my operators marching away.