Friend's going DCC
An ex-coworker of mine has a little bit of the bug.  He's retired and stops by occasionally to see my progress.  His typical involvement in the hobby has been setting up something for Christmas, but he has some space available in his basement.  He has a few locomotives he'd like to bring over and operate on my layout, but mine is DCC, and he inquired about retrofitting his locomotives.  

I call Sam "Mr. Microhands".  Seriously, he has really tiny fingers and hands and we'd always employ him for tightening fasteners in really tight quarters.  He's also a Ford guy - drives a 66 Fairlane as his daily driver, has a 66 Galaxie convertible, does all the maintenance and repair on them, has a '60 Impala and his wife has a '69 Camaro R/S.  He's also an electrical engineer, so I anticipate he'd have no issue installing an encoder.

Figured we'd start slow and easy - he bought a Digitrax encoder (no sound) with a harness with long leads that we're going to fit into an Athearn blue box Alco 1000 switcher.  It'll be good to have some foreign power run through the gorge at some point soon and I'll get some pictures.
Check out my "Rainbows in the Gorge" website:
If this is the first install there are some tricks to make a blue box loco run well.
Be happy to share if interested.
Be glad to pass those along - I've never done an Athearn, but I did pass along a video on the subject to him. As I recall, those use the frame to pass the low side of the power, knew about that issue, but if there are others, be glad to hear about them.
Check out my "Rainbows in the Gorge" website:

be attentive when installing DCC in older Athearn Blue Box locos.
In any case the motor has to be removed out of the main frame. The reason is a mandrel at the retainer clip on lower side of the motor. This mandrel is partly stamped out of the long retainer clip which also retains the lower motor brush. The mandrel is bent downwards and reach out to the main frame, thus making direct electrical contact of the motor brush to the main frame (grounding); going further to the trucks, non insulated wheels and at least to the rail.
Running DC without decoder this short way is o.k.

  Icon_exclaim But with DCC both motor brushes have strictly avoid any electrical contact to the rails. Indeed the motor must have only electrical connections to the decoder motor outputs. Otherwise you will fry your decoder and let the magic smoke escape. ($$ - $$$)

For this:
- remove the motor
- pry off the mandrel
- insulate the area with tape
- and it is much easier to solder a wire to the motor brush when it is outside
- and don't trust the electrical conductivities of the simple sheet metal stripes
- replace these all with wires
- clean thorougly the sinter iron wheels, they are prone to for sparking (DC only without decoder it does'nt matter, but with DCC it can be confusing for the decoder -> jerky running can be one of the cases)

With the motor removed- you can reverse the two motor brush clips- top to bottom, bottom to top. Solder a wire to the clip which will go on the bottom, lots easer now than later like Lutz said. Be careful when you remove the brush clips, the brush is spring loaded and will fly apart if you are not careful. Also on the two trucks, solder a wire to each of the pick-ups that make contact with frame pivot point. This makes a better connection than the truck just touching the frame. If your loco does have sinter wheels you can replace them with a better quality wheel from several sources.
Remove the metal strip that makes contact with the trucks on the top side and make up a jumper so both trucks are hooked up by soldering the jumper to both trucks. Trim off any metal on each truck to clean up. Now you can install the decoder.
Thanks Lutz! I'm going to pass that along!
Check out my "Rainbows in the Gorge" website:

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