Seeking hints on building a control panel ...

Arguments about cart-before-the-horse aside, I'm almost ready to wire my outdoor G-scale layout, which I'm planning to run using standard
DC power and isolation blocks (as I don't have engines ready to run any of the various cab-controlled systems).
I need to build a control panel for a couple of main loops, one extra small loop, plus a few sidings, with controls for a mix of LGB and Aristocraft remote switches, which I have the respective controllers for.
I don't plan on leaving the control panel out-of-doors, which means I need one or more type of snap-in/snap-out connectors so I can easily connect and disconnect the wiring (run to a central spot). And I also need to mount and wire some switches and power selectors so I can supply/cut power to my sidings (which I'd like to supply by selecting one of three separately controlled power supplies).
Since I'm not an electronics hobbiest, and this is my first layout, I'm looking for recommendations for a source for switches and connectors that are good for this sort of thing. Mail-order is OK. Could I find what I need at Radio Shack (since they are everywhere)?
Any other advice anyone would care to volunteer from experience is welcome, too.
Thanks in advance. -mark.
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Mark Sornson wrote:

Radio Shack is everywhere, so anything you can get from Radio Shack is something that you can get anywhere, and probably find replacements for in the future. Unfortunately Radio Shack is contracting the range of parts stocked, and in a few years may be down to nothing more than AA batteries. Plus the quality of Radio Shack toggle switches is lower than I would like. Good mail order houses are Mouser, Digikey, and All Electronics. Addresses and such will turn up with a bit of googling. All is a surplus place, offering some good deals, but here today gone tomorrow. By sure to order some spares so that you can replace failed stuff in the future. Surplus house wire makes a good power bus. Surplus telephone wire or LAN wire is good for signal circuits. Double Pole Double Throw (DPDT) toggle switches, Single Pole Single Throw (SPST) push buttons are most useful. Model railroading voltage and current levels are low enough that any switch offered will have voltage and current ratings adequate to the task. Traditional model railroad control panels have a schematic track diagram with the toggle and push button switches mounted on the schematic to indicate which track block or turnout they control.
David Starr
David Starr
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Excellent question - I just faced the same problem, so I offer the solution I chose and look forward to other's comments on your question.

I have elected to go the same way.

My layout is basically two reverse loops connected by single track, with a passing siding at the half-way point on the single track, plus some additional spurs. Most of the main line track is Aristo, with an 8' dia. min radius, and to carry-over this minimum, I'm using the LGB wide radius (8' dia.) turnouts. I bought an LGB turnout controller (the orange box thing), but decided instead to use Radio Shack push-buttons integrated into my panel fed through an appropiately wired pair of diodes. I am using the LGB auxiliary contacts added to the EPL turnout motors to cut-off power to the spurs when the turnouts are set for the main line - saves wires back to the control panel. I am using the spring switch feature of the LGB manual turnout controls to correctly route my trains around the reverse loops and onto the right hand passing tracks. This has worked fine with metal wheeled Bachmann cars, LGB and Aristo locos, and heavier Aristo rolling stock even with plastic wheels. I did have to add weight and a spring to get Bachmann 4-6-0 pilot trucks to track through the spring switches reliably.

I initially also planned to use multi-conductor connectors to make my panel removable, but could not find any that were weather proof at reasonable (i.e. really cheap) cost. I instead decided to make my panel semi-portable on a semi-permanent cable pendant. I went to a local estate liquidator's shop and found a nice metal box that had apparently been designed to hold "IBM" Hollerith cards that was about the right size. Inside just below the lid I mounted a piece of 1/8" white plexiglas as the contorl panel surface and mounted my control toggle switches and pushbuttons to that surface. On the base of the panel I mounted Radio Shack European style terminal strips, the transformer from an old Marx 75 watt toy train transformer asmy main power supply, and an Aristo "Train Engineer" walk-around control receiver. I found a tail end scrap of 24 conductor 18 gauge stranded cable at a local electrical supply wholesale house at a good price, and use this to attach the control panel box to my layout central terminal connections under the deck behind my house. The rest of the layout wiring is all done with low-voltage outdoor lighting UV resistant 16 gauge zip-cord from Lowes and Home Depot - again cheap and low voltage drop. It's only been 3 months, but so far leaving the box connected and storing it between operating sessions in a plastic bag under the deck has worked fine with no moisture or bug problems. I do plan to disconnect the 24 wires from the under-deck terminal strip in the fall (a couple minute job) and bring the panel & cable inside for the winter.

I used Radio Shack pushbuttons as they are small and readily available, but as another responder has noted, RS quality is declining - the pushbuttons would start to melt if I was not careful in my soldering, letting the terminals sag into the plastic cases and upset pushbutton relability. I fortunately had 40 year old Cutler-Hammer DPDT's left over from another project to use for the track power controls. I suggest you try a local electrical supply wholesaler or an industrial supplier like Grainger to find good quality switches.

You're most welcome. Geezer
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Somewhat cheaper than DigiKey and better for small orders are Jameco and All Electronics:
http://www.allelectronics.com/ http://www.jameco.com /
All Electronics is more of a surplus place than a full-service components dealer, but they always seem to have connectors and switches in stock.
For mounting a control panel with a lot of wires I'd look first at D-sub connectors, like RS-232 connectors except that in addition to the 9-pin style used for serial ports, you can get them with as many as 50 pins. They never cost much and each contact is good for over an amp (I forget the exact limit) and if it's not enough, you can double up the contacts. But with any connector that you don't pay a limb or two for, I'd worry about walking away with your panel and leaving the connector out in the weather. You might do well to recess the connector in a box and screw down a cover with a rubber gasket over it when it's not in use, or find a box with a spring-loaded flap.
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Mind if I slap the aforementioned horse? Unless your layout is going to be a compact oval in the flower garden, I'd actually recommend DCC. Individual wiring to electrically powered/controlled turnouts, blocks etc will use up an awful lot of wire. Using the rails as the main conductors will save almost enough to pay for accessory decoders. Likewise, the saving on wire to switchable blocks will save you almost enough to equip your locos with decoders. Not having a fixed control location will be justification enough for the rest of the expense. I'm assuming a wireless hand-held controller with provision for operating accessories here.
Regards, Greg.P.
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