Aristo-Craft FA’s A – B – A units

My 1st challenge was learning, about the locomotives, both in real life and the model so I could understand if they were diesel-mechanical or diesel-electric,  based upon the design and what I had learned about the F7 locomotives in that they were  diesel-electric, I figured it was safe to assume that the FA locomotives were also diesel-Electric.

Why, was this information important, well because, I’m installing Zimo decoders, in the locomotives, and there is no specific sound project for the FA locomotives? With that, I also needed to understand how the locomotives sound in real life.

To start the Real life locomotives were made by Alco, so I figured if I started with a sound project for Alco locomotives around the same age, that it would be a good start. Then came the question what does the horn and bell sound like.

After some research, I learned that F stands for Freight, and P stands for Passenger, this opened my research for sounds and videos, finding that the Napa Valley Wine train is typically run with PA locomotives. – now I had some sounds to work with, here’s one of the videos I found.


For this install, I’m actually working with 3 locomotives, they are identified on the models as A, B & C,  with the same road number, so, 56A  56B and 56A. prototypically each unit would have its own road number and was identified as A or B units. The ones with the crew cab are A units and B units are the ones without crew cabs.  they are normally identified simply as ABA or whatever combination thereof, for example, AA or ABBA and so on.

for this installed sound decoders in both A units and port sound to the B unit from the lead A unit.  The key part to me is consistency between all three units – this means that the function key mapping and wiring are the same.

Each unit, has a smoke generator, interior lights, with both A units having headlights, number plate, and cab lights.  having the same road number provides for some interesting ideas for consisting – there are basically 3 types of consists setup within DCC.

there’s the basic consist – these means each locomotive within the consist has the same decoder address and in theory each of the functions match

there is an advanced consist, this means that the there is a consist address that’s been set up within the decoder, in order to operate the locos, you need to use that assigned address.

and then finally there’s a base station consist, this means you basically create a consist address that is stored in the base station memory.

why, is this important, well it depends on the user and how each decoder is addressed. in this case the owner wants the flexibility of being able to run say just one of the A and B units while having a locomotive sit. in the yard.

what I did, is set up the short address as 56, then used the long address converting the A B and C to decimal numbers as if they were hexadecimal, making the long addresses as 5610, 5611 and 5612, this now allows the flexibility of using a basic consist by shifting the addresses from the long to short or using a base station consist.  It’s also why maintaining consistency with regards to the programming was important.

who knew, toy trains could be so complicated! – do not be mistaken these are not the Walmart Christmas tree train.

Aristocraft, these FA units were made by Aristocraft trains – they were touted as models for the modeler, they came with interior lights, some of the lights were already separated a dummy motor and a socket for installing decoders or receivers, they also came with plugs to plug a battery car into. all in all a thoughtful design – however that DCC socket is only standard to Aristocraft. it is not recognized by the NMRA and modern DCC standards. but it did help create the modern recognized socket.

the board with the wires connected to it and the jumper board is where the socket is.  – this is what it looks like opening up the loco. IMG_5244

basically, this means that unless I get a specialty decoder or receiver for the socket that no decoder is just going to plug into the socket.  The question, Do I make my own plug and wire the decoder to it? liked I’ve done for a couple of the other aristocraft locomotives. or do I pull the board completely?

after studying the board, the wiring I decided to simply pull the board and make a mounting system similar to what I did for the LGB F7s   only with a couple of sockets that I removed from the original board for the smoke generator and lights.


here’s the decoder mounted in 56A, I retained the original speaker connection and board that the motors were plugged into.

The smoke units are an interesting story to themselves, they too have had their own evolution. after looking at them, I realized that the units are simply the original form TrainLi/Zimo proline smoke unit, which has been modified for direct control from the decoder, so I simply modified them, desoldering some capacitors and cutting some traces then soldering in an extra set of wires, and we now have smoke controlled by the decoder.

Greg has provided a more in-depth history and information about modifying the smoke generators, you can find that info here.



here’s a video showing all three units running, for the 1st time, I’m using a base station consist

then finally using what is called swiss mapping, that allows me to group functions together, I created a logic that allows me to individually turn on/off specific lights or all of them when the headlights are turned on. additionally, when there is any movement the cab light turns off.

here’s a video of the lighting effects






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