Technical Questions

1. Switches (a) are you using switch machines or manual throws ... reasons for choice(s)?
2. Turntable (a) are you using a turntable?
.... If yes, ............(b) what brand? ............(c) DCC operated or toggle switch operated? ............(d) indexed or by sight
3. Operations (a) are you operating your layout? .... If yes, .............w/ waycards and bills? .............w/ car lists? .............w/ hidden staging?
4. Track (a) how do you keep your track clean?
5. Soldering (a) what wattage is your solderig iron? what brand? (b) do you solder your feeders to the outside rails or directly undernath each rail? (c) what diameter feeder wire are you using? (d) what diameter bus wire are you using? (e) what type of solder are you using? (f) HOW do you avoid melting the track ties???
6. Resistors? (a) can you please recommend a "How to" ... "Beginners and above" soldering, instruction book. I need help.
Thanks !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
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I run both hand throws (my own construction) and switch machines, both solenoid and motor typees. Track isn't kept clean as I run contact shoes and the only cleaning they need is when dust is deep and that just means the use of a car with a block of wood pushed in front of the first train to scrape the tops of the rails off. My track is usually so dirty thtat an Athearn loco won't run more than 20' before it solidly dies yet I can run all evening without any stutters. I've had turntables in the past from the Atlas one (buried with a bridge on top) to a homemade one. All weree handdriven from a geartrain underneth. Never got around to automating or electrifying them. For a soldering iron, I use a Weller TCP temp. controlled iron which is about 40W. The temp control means that I don't have to wait a long time for it to heat and don't have the tip overly hot. You pay more for one of these but it makes soldering a lot easier. It also helps in thatt ties don't get burned anywhere you solder wire to the rails on plastic track Then again, since I handllay track, I don't have that kind of probleem anyway. Probably the best guide to basic electronics is the Navy or Army manuals on the subject as they are designed to teach real electronics for repairing the military electronics. For soldering, they teach how to do electronic soldering with the old style irons but the process is still the same.
-- Bob May
rmay at nethere.com http: slash /nav.to slash bobmay http: slash /bobmay dot astronomy.net
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mc snipped-for-privacy@yahoo.com writes:

Machines (twin coil pecos run by team digital switch decoders). The layout is set up to run itself for a lot of routine things, like throwing switches when a train comes down the branch ends, and every switch setting is also echoed to a large set of light boards over the layout. Can't do any of that with manual throws!

We have one, originally made by lenz, bought on ebay for next to nothing. it's self-indexing, and originally could be addressed via a control board that we never could find for less than the turntable cost. I ended up tracing how the index worked and making a simple box that would advance the turntable one position for each press of a button.

My dad and cousin do the 'operating', but they do it to have fun, with a layout designed for a lot of switching and a lot of 'puzzles' to keep them interested. They have no desire to be realistic in terms of operation - just in scenery.

Elbow grease and track cleaner.

Depends. For electronics work I have a regulated soldering station. For under the track stuff, I have an ancient radio shack 130 watt soldering gun.

Outside sides of the rails. Much less hassle.

Feeder wires are solid 16 gauge wire - I have a giant spool of red/white twisted pair wire I bought at home depot for drops. Since all of these are short, it doesnt matter much what you use. Solid is nice because it's easier to solder cleanly to the rails - you can easily poke the wire through your scenery, bend it at 90 degrees so it runs along the rails, clamp it with a couple alligator clips, brush on paste, and zap.

BIG. Basically the largest stranded house wiring I could find. Two of these (also in red and white), run underneath the benchwork paralleling (more or less!) where the track is. When I need to make a connection, I chop out a piece of the insulation and simply wrap the feeder wire around it.

Rosin core silver solder.

Big alligator clips used for heat sinks. The trick is to get the section of the track you want to solder on hot FAST, and then be done with it. You melt stuff when you don't have enough wattage and it takes a long time to heat up the rail. Solder paste on the rails is a must as well. It takes practice.

Not sure what you're asking there. DCC doesn't use resistors that I can think of.

Gosh, I learned soldering by osmisis about 3 decades ago. No idea what a good book would be, but it's not really that hard. Just remember the one cardinal rule - heat the part, NOT the solder. *
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mc snipped-for-privacy@yahoo.com wrote:

Answers: 1. Both. Switch machines on those at the back of the layout where you'd be reaching over buildings, cars, scenery, etc. (layout is 27" wide around the walls), manual on those in the front where minimal reaching over is concerned.
2. No. I do have a wye where I can turn locos. Wired with an Auto-reversing circuit board.
3. Operations with carcards and waybills, 2 hidden staging tracks. Many ways to do this, but I use an Excel spreadsheet or two to assist in setup between sessions.
4. Rough side of piece of masonite (hardboard) attached to a wooden handle, followed by a piece of 1x2 wrapped with a shop cloth and soaked with denatured alcohol. I clean wheels by putting a piece of paper towel on the track, a few drops of denatured alcohol on it, then run one end of the loco onto it, hold it in place while increasing the speed, then repeat on the other end. Whenever possible, I avoid the track-cleaning rubber 'erasers'; don't like the way they can scratch the surface of the track.
5. 12 ga. solid bus lines to terminal strips. 20 ga. wire from terminal strips to track, soldered on the outside of the rail. Soldering paste and heat sink to avoid melting ties.
HTH
Matt (also)
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Great info from all of you as always!!! Thank You!!!
I'm creating a notebook of suggestions and facts, and these are exactly the type of entries that will become long term references as I proceed with my first module. I want to complete a 3' x 8' module whose wiring, switches, and lighting work perfectly. It'll certainly be a testing ground filled with mistakes, but I sense that eventual success will lead to more confidence to then create far more complex, connecting modules. I would love to begin with a Walthers electrified turntable at one end of this module, but its high cost may delay such an ambitious beginning.
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In message
mc snipped-for-privacy@yahoo.com writes

As a very good knowledge base I'd suggest that you look at the NMRA's web site http://www.nmra.org/ click on beginners guide then you'll have most of the information you will need.
Good luck with your project
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Mike Hughes
Marketing Co-ordinator NMRA British Region
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mc snipped-for-privacy@yahoo.com writes:

3 feet is a bit on the tight side for making reliable loops. We aim for at least 20 inch diameter turns, and prefer 22 inches. a 4x8 might do you better than a 3x8.

Plus they don't work very well. I know they've improved, but the older ones are pretty crappy. Also note - for DCC, you're going to to need to have a reversing circuit for the bridge, because it can swap directions. That's not a big deal, most DCC manufactures make really simple to use ones you just splice into the track wires, but it's something to remember. A common starter layout has a dogbone or oval with a diagonal piece of track connecting the two sides - that piece of track in the center needs a reverser.
This is what I use: http://www.digitrax.com/prd_powerman_ar1.php
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Responses are inlined and from the perspective of the River City Model Railroad Club's layout.
mc snipped-for-privacy@yahoo.com wrote in

Switch machines (tortoise) on all main line switches except most cross overs, ground throws in switching area. We're working on upgrading to power routing ground throws in the yard throats, and all new work will be done either with tortoises or power routing ground throws.

There's one installed, but it isn't hooked up yet. I think it was made by Walthers, but I'm not sure.

We have plans for layout operating sessions, but most of it is informal. We have to watch for each other's trains and schedule meets ourselves. One of the best operational features (IMO) is the single track sections, requiring operators to actually operate.

Regular running combined with metal wheels. Track that doesn't get run on much needs occasional cleaning, which is usually done with bright-boy type cleaners.

15/30W switchable Radio Shack (Both my personal iron and the club.) I'm tired of buying a new iron when the tip goes bad, though, so I'm looking in to getting a better iron.

Outside of the rail

18-20 ga

12 ga main DCC bus (Black/White for mains, Red/Black or Green/Black for switching areas) 16 ga 12V power bus. (Blue/Yellow)

60/40 leaded rosin core (just don't eat it.)

Clean tip, flux, and thinner diameter solder (0.040" I think).
First, flux and tin the wire. Next, apply flux to the outside of the rails. Place wire and rail together and apply tip of soldering iron. Before you touch the soldering iron to the rail, wipe it on a wet sponge or paper towel first. The flux should melt and the solder on the tinned wire will attach to the rail. It should take less than 3 seconds to make the connection.
It takes practice, and I still manage to melt a tie or two every so often.

Do you mean terminators? They're a resistor & capacitor connected together to eliminate certain types of noise. If your buses are less than 30', don't even worry about them. If more than 30', consider them only if you're having trouble.

When you get a couple hours, visit the Wiring for DCC website. http://www.wiringfordcc.com
Puckdropper
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Hi,
another view ;-)
mc snipped-for-privacy@yahoo.com wrote:

The decision is quite simple for spaces that are not easy to reach - get a switch machine. For easy-to-reach switches, you can decide...
Manual throws via rod and linkage to the front panel seems a good idea to me, while grabbing some control on the layout is probably not what I like, but that's my opinion. And since my layout is foldable I need powered switches for the rear section, anyway...
On my small layout I use solenoid-type switch machines throughout (still got to hook up the rest). They are connected via two 30-something-wire cables to the self-built control board which uses "touch-screen" technology: I printed a schematic track plan and glued it behind thin pvc glass. Then I drilled holes on each side of the switches and put a screw in, with a wire from the screw (via cable) to the switch machine - one for each direction. A cord with a 4mm-plug is fixed to the control board, so touching the control board screws with the plug will actuate the switch machine. At least for a small layout this is quite nice.

Not yet (no space ;-)
If I ever had the space, I would get a turntable from any manufacturer which fits my needs (some are not available in all wanted diameters). As for the control, I would decide on buying the mechanics - if it comes with power that's fine, if not I can self-build ;-)

Just test-running now, but waycards or car lists are sure a nice option, I can even imagine several puzzles and luckily, ten-sided dice are available ;-)
Again, my layout is foldable, so there is very little room for hidden staging. Still I have managed to include a tunnel section in the rear half with my main loop of single track having a hidden double-track section which must act as "staging". But I have managed to have a section of track leaving the board so I can use train cassettes (long straight box with track) to drive trains in and out of the loop.
Well, I've still got to get the IR light sensors to work that will detect the presence of a train in the hidden sections, so I can see whether the train I just entered may foul a switch. I'll use fancy lighting boards ("signals") to relay the information, though I still have enough wires on my cables left to display the information on the control panel.

Several of my cars sport these little cleaning pads from Noch. Also I do have a "track cleaner" which feels like a rubber. And finally I'm thinking about building a "work train" that includes a vacuumer and a rotating felt pad. The work train has to wait for the layout to complete, though. Using a commercially available vacuuming car seems impossible, as I saw one of those on a fair recently and they are too long for my little layout with its tight corners...

The wattage doesn't matter much, as long as the iron is regulated. Get one with a "power station" that lets you choose the temperature (doesn't matter how) and exchangable tips. It might be a good idea to stick with one of the major brands, as I find it harder and harder to get tips for mine (which is only about 10 years old). Apart from that, all "good ones" regulated irons have enough wattage to seriously do damage ;-)

Again, I have a small layout (5' x 3'; 1,5m x 0.9 m) and I have a lot of electrical sections (~12) since I'm running DC and have the control panel wired to allow running two trains at once (two throttles and a switch matrix). So none of my sections is longer than 1.5' (50cm). Since I use flex track and have built the layout with as few track connectors as possible, I do have the luxury of attaching the wires to the track connectors. There is a section, however, that doesn't have any connectors (except for isolated ones), but that section also crosses the folding gap, where I have used screws in the baseboard with the tracks soldered on, so I simply added the wire to the existing solder point.
If the sections were longer, I would simply add more "powered" connectors, as the longest piece of flex track I can buy is about 2' (60cm). That should do fine.
By the way, I'm confident that my wiring would need little work (if any) if I ever decide to switch to DCC, which is great since I do have a lot of power feeds to the track anyway.

Probably too little, but I already got the larges diameter that fits in a 30+ strands cable and can still be fitted into a 36 pin Centronics connector (the ones used on old computer printers). But as I have lots of them anyway and not too much equipment on the small layout, the sum of them will be able to satisfy my power needs.

No bus ;-)

Solder quickly. Well, first clean the spot to be soldered, then slide all the ties a bit away and apply some solder to the spot beforehand. Both sides. Now just place the track, use pliers to keep it in place and quickly solder. Takes about three to five seconds.

There are a couple of "Electronics for model railroad" books and internet guides. You may find an old book on the topic at your library. While most of them are very biased and only give the ideas of the author ("my way of doing it is best and all others will lead to doom" kind of way), they provide a good starting point ;-)
One lesson already learned while constructing my layout: start with even less! The smaller your first layout is, the easier it is to "finish" it - which is good for motivation. Just get a shelf layout with one or two switches for starting and run the track "over the edge" so that you can build a larger one around it later. That way you'll have encountered most problems you'll face later on - I'm just learning the lessons all at once which can be quite dissatisfying :-(
Have fun!
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You're very likely right about that. And keep the power feeds! They'll work nice for occupancy detection or switching automation should you ever take the plunge to DCC and want to try fancy stuff. *
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Hi,
sorry for the late answer :-(
PV wrote: (hopefully DCC compatible analog wiring)

Well, I do think that a well-designed analog layout is almost at once suitable for digital, as the wiring problems are quite similar for both (not that mine is particularly well designed, but I tried). You still need enough feeds, you still need isolated track joiners near turnouts/switches, you still need to care for wyes and loops... Sure you can take a shortcut here and there, but in the end neither digital or analog is much simpler than the other (on a reasonably complicated layout ;-) But that's just my opinion.
As for the fancy stuff, I'm still struggling with the IR occupancy detectors - I tried to place them diagonally across the track and I do have the impression that I overestimated the range, so I have to try again ;-) Maybe I should try to place them below the track and operate them reflectively? I'll try and see ;-)
The IR detectors will be used to provide fake signaling (so that I know whether a train is fouling the turnout in the tunnel section) and for activating traffic lights when a train approaches ;-) Probably there'll be other uses... Still a lot to do, so I can't say yet.
Have fun!
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I really hate IR detectors. Besides being yet another thing that stops working if it gets dirty, it takes a lot of tweaking as you say to get them to be reliable and not randomly turn themselves on and off. There are nice current-sensing solutions for DCC and DC both - the only wrinkle is that you need to put on resistance wheels and isolate sections of track you want to use for sensing. That's why I mentioned keeping the various block feeds - you could easily hang a current-sensing unit on those blocks and you've got easy occupancy detection. There's some pretty excellent signaling systems available for DCC. *
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Hi,
PV wrote:

Agreed, IR is only the second best choice... Well, I'm thinking about providing a 10kHz "phantom" current on the ground wire and using that for occupancy detection on the feed wire (because I have the sections wired as if they had a common return, which works well enough for DC in my setup. But I haven't found a reliable and simple circuit to do so - the ones I did see were rather unsuited for home-brewing on the living room table... Most are too complex in terms of "number of parts" - my control box has less than 20 discrete components in it, other than wire and terminals/switches, that is.
So, if you've got a simple circuit you would share, I'll be happy. If I can use it for train lighting, I'll be even happier. But it must not influence the DC train power (which diode-based detectors do) and it must live with "common rail" technology and with track sections that are "off" at times... The old-fashioned "HF lighting circuits" are almost what I'm looking for ;-) Oh, by the way, my throttles are basically "black boxes" - they work very well but I cannot modify them without destroying them... (They're not my dream throttles but they're reasonable).
But even then I need to check the turnouts optically - neither a non-modified axle nor a vehicle with overhang may go unnoticed. IR-based detectors are quite acceptable there, with no stray light (tunnel) and rather moderate levels of dirt present. For the crossing lights, I could use current-based detection, but for the turnout protection, I shouldn't ;-)
Have a good time!
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On Wed, 25 Nov 2009 12:34:03 +0100, Bernhard Agthe wrote:

Hmmmm - how about an old cheap (and small) laptop and a couple IR capable remote cameras - or regular with suitable lighting. Perhaps in a while there will be used netbooks available for little cost as people step up to the next new thing.
--
Steve

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snipped-for-privacy@commoncast.net writes:

These days, you can get a simple IR camera for about 15 bucks each on ebay, and a lot of them come with a giant spool of video cable so you can route them to a video decoder. We've got 4 cameras on our layout that cover concealed track and hard-to-see places. Get one with active illumination - the passive IR ones don't work very well and tend to be super-grainy.
And then to add to the fun - get a 4ghz microcamera with transmitter. You can fit the camera and a 9v battery neatly onto a flatcar, or build it into a dummy engine if you want to be a little more fancy. $20-$50 will get you a perfectly adequate camera. Besides the fun of making in-motion videos (I really need to put some up on my website one of these days), you can also use it to check out your scenery at ground level, and it sometimes is VERY helpful in locating that one car that mysteriously fell off the train and landed who knows where under the paper mache. *
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I played around with that once years ago, and it worked fairly well and it got around the problem of detectors going dead when the track was off. It has to be really low current though, or the motors will sing.

That's the hard part, yep. Classic DC block detection never got much better than variations on this: http://www.tslrr.com/detector.htm (detector 2), and that as you say causes a small but noticable speed difference between detected and non-detected sections. You can put the diodes on all your blocks to balance it out, but I'm not a fan either.

A lot of better switch machine motors have a way to mount a position switch. If you want positive feedback, that's the way to go. Again, on DCC the booster will keep track of your last commanded direction, so your signaling system has what it needs without wiring switches.
You can do all the same things as DCC (well, short of being able to run engines on the same block in different directions and speeds) in DC, but it takes a lot more tinkering. *
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One thing to note about IR detectors is that they really like to be buried deeep into the roadbed. They really only work well when the only thing that they can see is the spine of a car. Putting them flush to thee ties means that they will be seeing light from everywhere and skeleton frame cars woon't bee detected with them. I'll also note that IR detectors have the most problem with light colored bottoms on cars. Much better to paint the frame bottom black, prefeerablly flat black.
-- Bob May
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When we had a couple on the layout for a crossing, I put the detector in the bottom of a short length of plastruct tube that I spraypainted black inside and out, and it seemed to help a lot. *
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snip

Thank you for waking everyone up!
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On 11/17/2009 1:02 AM LDosser spake thus:

>

Yeah, I guess he (dare I assume that gender? I think so) has been the Chief Instigator of most of the recent threads 'round 'heah lately.
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