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NCE/Wangrow History

I originally wrote the following NCE history story back in Jan 1, 2005 but I do update it when new information becomes available.

NCE history cannot be told without including Wangrow Electronics which was the manufacture of the DCC system called SYSTEM ONE or SYS1 for short.

I am responsible for this sections accuracy.  The information is based on discussions with Jim Scorse over the years and independent research.



NCE ROOTS WITH WANGROW ELECTRONICS

Don Wangrow (1st Photo: Don in blue is talking to the customer) wanted to build a DCC product recognizing the growing potential.  He got some investors to provide development money into Wangrow Electronics which Don used to contract out the design and later build up inventory of the SystemOne products.

Jim Scorse   of future NCE corporation with a MSEE (Master Science Electrical Engineering) worked at Harris corporation for a long time.  He decided he wanted to start his own business.  Jim used Keller Engineering's Onboard command control system for his O scale layout but found problems with the system when more than 4 engines were running at the same time.  He starting working on a solution for it with Mr Keller at one point he was going to meet him at the Valley Forge NMRA convention in August 1993 to see if they could develop a potential NMRA Standard for the OnBoard system with Jim being an east coast manufacture.  At the convention Jim discovered a panel discussion that was working on what would become the NMRA DCC standard.  Jim was so impressed with the DCC proposal he left the convention and went home to start working on it right away.   By late October of that same year, Jim has his first working decoder up and running.


Seeing the DCC market potential with the DCC standard soon to be released Jim decided he would start NCE to make DCC equipment.  (3rd photo on left side in white shirt)  Jim was active with the DCC chat groups and attended more NMRA conventions to be involved in the DCC standards developments.   In the process met Don Wangrow running a company with his name that was also building a DCC system (called System One or SYS1 for short) using a contract design company with a lead Engineer named Karl Kobel who also was a model railroader.   However Don and the contract company knew very little about software and as a consequence the command station was the one part of the complete DCC system that Wangrow was way behind on. 


Jim on the other hand already started development of the command station, hardware and software, on his own.  Jim got together with Don Wangrow and later showed him his command station.   Jim told Don he would retain ownership of the command station software but would sell him the command station software chips sets and ROMs (EPROMS).  (This would become very important point in future that change everything)  Jim had told Don that he was also interested in manufacturing many of the products which also worked to Wangrow's favor.  Jim also designed the engineer (small) cab hardware and software and wrote the manual for it and shared the documentation with System One. 


In terms of the rest of the SYS1 DCC system, Don had already got Karl Kobel (2nd photo: Karl is closest to us with his right hand near the throttle) and company he worked for to design the full featured master throttle (Master Cab/ProCab), dual 5 amp booster along with the 1/4" cab bus system.  (The accessory decoder was a third party design sold by System One.)  Karl Kobel did the dual 5A Booster design himself.  Many of the Wangrow’s decoders were unique Wangrow designs developed by Karl Kobel and his team at the contracting firm.


Karl also wrote PC level software for Wangrow.  EasyRamp was developed to allow easy programming of decoders long before JMRI.  He also developed a lesser known product called Commando which allowed the computer to program and backup the settings of the command station.  The software was also compatible with Ramtraxx and NCE Master Series systems.


Together (photo below from left to right) Jim, Karl and Don had a mutually beneficial relationship for a long time until Jim was ready to introduce his own system.

Although there was no official press release, Wangrow Electronics started shipping the SystemOne system in December 1994.  .   


START OF NCE
Jim Scorse knew that cash flow, cost control and independence depended on him doing all of the manufacturing.  No sub-contract manufacturing for any NCE made product was his rule.  To that end, NCE got started doing contracts with Wangrow to build some but NOT all of the System One system products depending on how Wangrow awarded contracts out.  

Initially Jim built products in a 12sqft room inside his Garage at his home called the "barn" and latter in his basement.  

NCE also developed and built the System One command stations, every 10Amp booster made and Engineer cabs.  His also built some of the decoders.  NCE never built the accessory decoder nor the dual 5 amp booster.  The 10Amp Booster was sold under both NCE Master Series name and Wangrow's name.   (Jim is a O scale modeler.)  

To offer his own DCC system, NCE followed up with its version of the SYS1 system in March 1995 and called it the Master Series.  This included developing his own line of 
decoders and of course priced them independently.  One of Jim's first decoder products was a Decoder Kit that you could build yourself.

Some of the earliest NCE DCC systems where even shipped with the System One manual since NCE did not have it’s own yet.  Like System One, there was no press release to mark the introduction date.  Several ROM software updates followed quickly for both systems until the 1996 ROM was released which was widely distributed and why most people think of this date as the product introduction date.


In 1997 NCE moved into his first office building shown on the left and hired his first employee that June.   Jim put together a full development lab as shown in the 2nd and 3rd photos.  4th photo show his compatibility testing setup.

NCE was able to make the Master Series product line for less money than System One could.  However out of a sense of fair play, NCE sold the system for the same price as System One.  Jim also warned Wangrow that he was going to have to add a lot more value to the system if they were going to maintain that price level.  Jim foresaw sales 
of SystemOne products dropping with the introduction of the brand new Digitrax's new DCS100 Chief system.  It was a clear sign that they, SYS1 & NCE, were no longer price competitive.  Since Don did not act, for what ever reason, to these facts, Jim knew he had to move forward and faster with his own new DCC system if NCE was going to survive.


NCE INDEPENDENCE

NCE's last key piece of becoming 100% independent for Wangrow was the fact he did not have the plastic mold (Die) for the MasterCab/ProCab.   Jim had to invest his own money to get a mold made.

By early 1998, Jim Scorse had all the pieces in place to introduce his new lower cost DCC system called the PowerHousePro.  The new system was going to be offered at a lower and more competitive price to Digitrax than System One was offering. 

Since SystemOne used contract manufacturing and the volumes were low, cost remained very high.  The "dual" 5A booster configuration was forcing people to pay for second booster that the majority of the customers did not need to buy.   Another cost issue was the two metal boxes for a complete DCC system.  Jim's PowerHousePro integrate a command station and one 5A booster in a single metal box.  With these changes and others, NCE was able to offer it DCC system at 2/3'rds the retail price of Wangrow's and become competitive with Digitrax's Chief. 


DECLINE OF WANGROW

One of the key agreements Jim made with Don was that whatever software Jim made, the ownership would remain with him.  Consequently, NCE burned every single ROM (EPROM) for every single SYS1 command station and engineer cab Wangrow shipped to maintain control.

Prior to NCE PowerHousePro product introduction, Jim gave Don the courtesy and opportunity to buy his product and sell it under SystemOne name.  Don refused and that was start of the end for SystemOne.  Jim then broke relations with Don and introduced his new system in Late 1998.   Don failed to understand the concept of Intellectual Property and the Copy-Right laws which is what command station software falls under.   Don thought he could just copy NCE's EPROMs that he had of the existing command station software and produce those on his own.  When it was explained to Don, Don suddenly found himself without the ability to sell any command stations and thus any new systems. The final SYS1 ROM was released in April 1999 and that was the end of the ROM supply for SYS1. 

Wangrow then attempted to developed his own Command Station ROM using 3rd party developers but quickly learned the hard way that is no easy thing to do.  Wangrow had to take the extra steps to develop it in what is known as a "Clean Room" where the programmers are not allowed to see any of NCE code.  The project never got very far.

Logical assumptions would say that sales tanked and operating income dropped.  The additional cost of suddenly having to pay for development of a whole new ROM ate up cash that was needed to build more of the non competitive products would put any company out of business.  An so it was with Wangrow’s cash going out faster than it was coming back in.  Unfortunately out of stock of existing product and accessories resulted in growing lost sales compounding the income problem even more.  The first physical proof of trouble took place on Tony's Train Exchange popular DCC Website.  The SystemOne product line suddenly disappeared from his catalog.

System One unofficially went out of business when Don passed away in 2003.  The financial/investment partners closed the business completely sometime later.

POST WANGROW HISTORY

Karl Kobel still worked on developing his popular EasyRamp software.  However things have slowed a bit since the introduction of JMRI "Decoder Pro" which is a platform independent (works with any computer (PC/MAC) and DCC system made) program that is used to program decoders and is Free to download.

Jim scorse continues to develop new products at NCE and because of the high degree of backwards compatibility, everything made as of the day of this writing (1/21/05) works with SystemOne and Ramtraxx systems.  However, in terms of future growth outside of adding cabs and basic accessories and one cosmetic EPROM upgrade, the SystemOne and Ramtraxx products are at the end of the line.  Despite that fact that System One and Ramtraxx are out of business, the DCC systems are still excellent full feature systems that are more than adequate to meet most model railroader needs today if you can buy them at entry level DCC system price.  If your needs grow or products fail, turn to NCE for compatible products such as Cabs, Boosters and new NCE command station upgrade (CS02).

RamFix (RamTraxx) Technologies HISTORY

Richard Wendt of Ramfixx corporation located in Canada was a Model Railroader.  His company sold RAM for computers.  In 1995, Richard decided to offer his own DCC system called RamTraxx and worked with NCE and Wangrow to gain software and hardware design rights.  Unlike the NCE Master Series or the System One system, Ramtraxx put both the booster and command station in a single box and started to sell the product in 1996.  It was about 20% cheaper than SYS1 system.

One big design flaw with the Ramtraxx system was that even though the system offered a dual 5 amp booster in the same box, if you used one of the booster outputs is in autoreversing mode, a bug in the booster hardware would cause both sides of the booster to shutdown if the autoreversing section encountered a short circuit.  This  severely limiting the dual booster flexibility.  

Like SystemOne, Ramtraxx had to use a contract house to manufacture it’s system.  Compared to SystemOne, Ramtraxx had limited financial and marketing resources and in the end was never able to recover any of the cost.  At some point Ramtraxx went out of business for lack of funds to continue to support the product.   

In 19XX, Ramtraxx closed down.  The next year, System One purchased the assets and customer contact list from Ramtraxx.

NCE Today (10/9/14).

NCE currently occupies a 6000SQFT building with 14 employess.   NCE has made well over 1 million decoders some time ago and is approaching 70,000 PowerCabs to date


ADDITIONAL NCE PHOTOS

2nd NCE Building and "Pick & Place"  machines building NCE products.



Jims Office at NCE's 2nd building.





3rd NCE Building Photos

NCE current building was formally a warehouse converted latter to a gym.  NCE completely remodeled the interior themselves doing work in the late evenings and weekends.