It has become obvious from your feedback that a lot of new folks to DCC (and a few old ones) don’t completely understand what their throttles can do, especially when it comes to programming. I’ll talk more about basic programming in a followup post. However, the throttle is probably the most important part of your DCC system since you use it to communicate with the command station and decoders. So if you don’t have a clear understanding of how it works and what it can do you are hamstrung from the get go. First, there are two types of throttles, (1) master or programming throttles, and (2) basic throttles. Basic or utility throttles as simplest so let’s start there.
Basic throttles have a knob or pushbuttons for speed control, a numeric keypad for entering addresses and controlling functions, and in some cases dedicated function buttons. They also have either a pushbutton or toggle for controlling the direction of locomotive travel. They cannot program decoders. Some may have small rotary switches for entering addresses.
Because of their simplicity and smaller number of buttons they are easiest to use and less confusing. Enter a locomotive address, hit the right button and off you go. Because of their limited capabilities you don’t have to worry about a new user accidentally reprogramming a decoder and they are less expensive. They are smaller than the master throttles and often easier to hold and manipulate.
Most DCC systems sets come with a more advanced master or programming throttle. These are much bigger, have a lot more buttons, a digital screen, and with Digitrax, a pair of control knobs for running two trains at once. In most cases to acquire a locomotive you hit a select button, enter the address, and then the enter button and off you go. Most also have a lot of other buttons to deal with. Some may be used for controlling accessory decoders, and some for programming. The important thing is to not push buttons aimlessly just to see what they do! My recommendation is to sit down with your new throttle connected to the command station, open the manual, and follow the quick start instructions. Each throttle is different enough that it is always a good idea to do this.
The various types of keypads either have specific functions identified as F1, F2, etc. or simply numeric 1-0. There may also be specific buttons for horns and lights. In any case you need to know what functions corresponds to which function number. Lights are “0”. The bell is “1”, whistles and horns ar “2”. Function 8 is usually used to turn the sounds on and off. Other than that you have to look up the function number assignments in the decoder manual of info sheet. I have written previously on the inconsistency of function assignments and how to deal with them so do a search for more on that topic.
Programming is different with each master/programming throttle so I am not going to really go there. This is another case where sitting down with the throttle and manual, and going through the steps will be the most productive way to learn the process. Personally I rarely use my throttles for programming anymore. It is so much easier to use DecoderPro. This is especially true with sound decoders and working with anything more than programming an address. About the only time I use the throttle is when I speed match locos since I need to experiment with several different values. So if you got a new DCC system or throttle for Christmas sit down with it and learn what it can do. Finally, keep in mind that no matter how bad you screw up, you can always reset a decoder to factory settings, and turning the power off and back on will clear the command station, so don’t panic and start hitting buttons.
My final tip is about the speed control knobs or pots. Folks love to hold a throttle in the palm of their hand and use their thumb to spin the knob. However you eventually will pay for doing that. The pressure of your thumb against the knob puts pressure on the shaft which is then transmitted into the potentiometer mechanism. This can lead to uneven wear on the internal parts of the potentiometer and in a year or so you will be shipping your throttle back to the factory for repair because it doesn’t work right. This is one of the biggest complaints I hear from folks. To prevent this hold the throttle in the palm of your hand and use the fingers on your free hand to turn the knob—no uneven pressure and your throttle will last a lot longer. This is not a problem with the thumbwheel control on NCE Procabs.