Sunday, October 17, 2010

Model Railroad Layout Wiring Management

Managing wires for a model railroad layout

Layout wiring for a large model railroad can be a very complicated and time-consuming issue. Using DCC to power your track makes it a little easier, but if you use infrared or radio control for walkaround throttles or if you have a large enough layout that requires power districts with circuit breakers, it gets more intense. Then if you add lights to your structures and other special effects like fire and welding scenes, automated features, remote-controlled turnouts, signals, etc., the layout wiring becomes very extensive and sometimes a little overwhelming to the non-electricians among us. The shear number of wires involved in a large model railroad containing all these exciting features can be quite daunting when you begin the process. The main thing to keep in mind when starting this project is that it?s actually easy to hook up one wire at a time. It may take a while to get all the wires that you need hooked up, but it?s definitely doable and very satisfying in the end when your visitors come over and see what you?ve done. You do have to be in the mindset of enjoying the process and try not to be impatient about the amount of time required to do it right.

Managing all this layout wiring is part of that process that should not go unheeded. It?s extremely important as you go along to keep your wiring neat and professional looking. This will not only add to your personal satisfaction with the job you?ve done, but it will also make life much easier when (not if) you have to troubleshoot later. Don?t ask me how I know this.

Most of us have a plywood base and the wires from the track and from accessories are threaded down through holes drilled in the base to the underside of the layout. A lot of the work associated with train layout wiring therefore involves stooping, bending or crawling under the layout. If you have to spend many hours doing this, it tends to be rather backbreaking work.

I decided to do something different for my current layout...

Layout wires embedded into foam base

By using several layers of extruded foam on top of plywood as a base, I can now run all of my track, turnout and accessory wires to the front of the layout, rather than to the bottom. Now I can just sit on a stool in front of the layout and do all the wiring from there. I use my Tippi foam cutter to make grooves in the front of the foam base and on the surface of the unfinished layout to ?house? and manage the wires. When I?m finished with all the wiring for one section, I just replace the hardboard fascia for that section. If I need to get to the wiring later to add an accessory wire or track feeder, I can remove the fascia, work with the wiring in the front of the layout section and then replace the fascia again.

Layout wires embedded into grooves in foamboard at side of layout rather than at the bottom

To make some sections of the hardboard fascia easily removable, I have placed hinges on the bottom of the fascia and Velcro on the top so that I can easily just pull down a section of the fascia when I need to work on wiring and then put it back up when I?m done.

As you can see from the pictures this keeps all the layout wiring fairly neat. You can easily see what goes to what in most cases. You could also label some of the wires if it?s not already evident where they go. My track buses (12 gauge) are red and black, and my accessory buses (14 gauge) are green and white, and remote turnout wires are clear, so it?s impossible to get them mixed up.

Try to have as much fun with this part of the hobby as you do with the other parts. The end result will amaze your friends and yourself as well that you had the wherewithal, fortitude and patience to do it!

View the original article here

FNarrow Gauge Model Railroads

The increasing popularity of building narrow gauge model railroads probably has to do with two main factors...

One is that this smaller gauge track allows you to put more of the larger scale railroad equipment and operations in smaller spaces. The trains will be able to negotiate tighter curves than they would be able to otherwise.

The second is that more companies are making more lines of narrow gauge locomotives and rail cars than ever before. The advertising for these models is increasingly prevalent in the model railroad literature, thereby promoting even greater popularity.

For example, if you like the size of HO equipment and structures, but your space is limited (and whose isn't when it comes to building an empire), and particularly if you like rugged mountainous terrain with small trains winding through and around mountains, valleys and gulleys and/or if you like logging railroads, you might want to consider building a layout using HOn30 scale, where basically you have HO trains running on N scale-sized track. If you are more interested in long straight runs of passenger trains, you would probably choose standard gauge instead.


The naming of narrow gauge scales is a little confusing at first. You have to remember that the lower case n stands for narrow gauge, not N-scale.

Also, remember the difference between the words gauge (the measurement or distance between the rails) and scale (the ratio of the size of the trains and structures to the prototype).

So what does the designation HOn30 or On3 mean?

The initial letters refer to the scale size of the locomotives, rail cars, structures, scenery - everything except the track.

The numbers at the end of the designation stand for the distance between the rails. For example, if the number is 30, that means there are 30 scale-inches between the rails, instead of the usual standard 56-1/2 inches. Or, if the number is 3 or 3-1/2, this means there will be 3 scale-feet or 3-1/2 scale-feet respectively between the rails.

So, the definition of the following scales would be as follows:

On30 - O scale trains running on rails that are 30 scale-inches wide (HO track)

On3-1/2 - O scale trains on rails that are 42 scale-inches (3-1/2 scale-feet) wide (S scale track)

HOn30 - HO equipment on 30 scale-inch wide rails - N scale track (Same as HOn2-1/2)

HOn3-1/2 - HO trains on 3-1/2 scale-feet wide rails (TT scale track)

Nn3 - N scale trains running on rails that are 3 scale-feet, or 36 scale-inches, wide (basically, Z-scale track)

Sn30 - S scale equipment on 30 scale-inch wide rails (HO track)

What is a scale-inch or scale-foot?

A scale-inch is the actual measurement in a model that corresponds proportionately to the prototype. For example, one scale-inch in N scale is actually 1/160 of a real inch. In HO scale, one scale-foot would equal approximately 1/80th of a real foot.


The availability of these models has previously been a limiting factor to building a layout of this type, but no more. Supplies for all of the above scales are increasing in the marketplace. They may not be available in your local hobby shop yet, but they are easily found on the Internet and can be ordered through your local hobby shop, or ordered online by yourself.

* * * * *

So, if you are looking for something a little different to model than just the regular standard scale, if you like the idea of running larger scales in smaller spaces, short winding trains in mountain areas, logging railroads or other short line railroads, you may want to consider this gauge. Many model railroaders are moving in this direction.

View the original article here

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Train Camera for Your Model Trains

Train cam

Installing a train camera is an exciting way to bring a new perspective to your layout. You?ve seen the trains running throughout your scenery and landscape from a bird?s eye view and probably (hopefully) from eye level also, but it?s always from the outside of the train, as if you?re a rail fan looking on.

Imagine the fun of watching your scenery and mountains roll by while you?re sitting in the cab of your own locomotive, or maybe watching everything go by from the rear of the train.It?s especially fun to watch other trains either coming toward you on a second track or moving along with you. You can really get a first-person sense of what it would be like to actually be the engineer on your own train!

If you?re a dispatcher in a model railroad operating session and you need to see what?s going on in the yard without having to leave your control panel, you can send your train cam to the area to check it out!

Amazingly, you can do all of this now with a small wireless color video camera attached to your train.

The TC-9P is powered by a rechargeable Nicad battery, which begins charging any time the rail voltage is above 4.5v. It works on AC, DC and DCC powered track, and can be installed on any scale train - even Z scale.

It works by wirelessly transmitting a high quality color video signal to a wireless receiver within a 30-meter range. The transmitter itself measures 0.6 x 0.6 x 0.47 inch, contains a 270,000 pixel ?? CMOS Image Sensor and transmits a 2.4GHz microwave signal.

The wireless receiver can be connected to any TV or VCR with an RC video input.

The picture has good resolution and color and wide angle focus with enough detail that you can see turnout points, signals and crossings easily and can even work in tunnels with very little light!

The Train Camera System contains everything you need to get started including the transmitter with microwave antenna, controller, rechargeable battery, wireless receiver, AC adapter, and video cable.

You could install the transmitter on the front of your locomotive or on top if you have enough clearance on your layout for it. If you wish, you could cut out one end of a passenger car or boxcar and install the camera inside so that it?s not readily seen from the outside. You could also install it on a flatcar and angle it to the inside of your layout so your can watch the scenery go by as the train rolls through the landscape.

Overall, this is another great way to enhance your layout, to ensure your scenes are viewed at eye level for the best perspective, to see what it would be like to be an engineer on your own train, and mostly to have fun!

View the original article here