Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Electrical Block Wiring

I’m waiting for a few last parts to come in for my control box, so I’ve instead been working on wiring the underside of my bench-work. I purchased 3 - 10 position terminal strips off eBay and attached them to the main support frame. I then connected all of the different power blocks to the corresponding terminal connector. All of the switch machine and turn-table controls were also wired to the terminal strips. The common DC and common AC grounds terminate on the strips as well. The wires from the control box will come through the large hole to the right of the terminal strips, and will attach to their appropriate terminal position screw.
Terminal stripsTerminal connector wiring

I tried to keep the wires as organized as possible; however, since I wired the layout in stages, the final wiring resulted in lots of connection in the individual leads. For these connections, I used high quality male & female connectors, wrapped in electrical tape to prevent loose connections.
Electric block wiring

I have also decided to build my own track signals from scratch. I purchased the small LED lights and black display faces off eBay for a very reasonable price ($5.00 for all of the LEDs and 8 black display faces). I used super glue to attach the LEDs to the display faces. I then soldered all the grounds together, and ran one common ground to all 3 LEDs. I then soldered individual wires to each LED.
Lit scratch built trackside signalScratch built trackside signal

These wires will then go to the control box and their corresponding relay switch, which will control what LED is lit up depending on the turnout position. I used standard telephone cable for my leads, which worked perfectly as there was a black, red, yellow, and green wire which matched perfectly to the LED light colours. I still need to figure out how I’m going to construct the rest of the signal structure, but I’ll save that for the new year!
Scratch built trackside signal

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Resistor Board - Part II

I’ve been quite busy with work lately, so I haven’t made huge progress recently, but never the less, things are still going forward. I’ve added the leads to resistor board I built last month, so it will more easily be connected inside my control panel. A note however; as said in a previous post, I know this resistor board didn’t have to be built, but I did it to keep things organized.

Resistor board with connection leadsResistor board with connection leads

One thing I realized however with adding the leads to the board was the large amount of extra wire that is required to do it this way (opposed to just having a resistor added directly into the wired circuit). With this system, leads need to come to the board to reach the assigned resistor, then must go back out to the component. This requires only more wiring length, so not a big deal at all. The added LED light on the board is for testing purposes only.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Resistor Board - Part I

Now that my control panel is mostly done, I’ve been trying to figure out the best way to layout the wiring inside to keep it tidy and organized. There are lots of individual circuits, so I decided to use a grid style PC board for the components, such as the bridge rectifiers and all of the resistors.
Resistor board with bridge rectifierResistor board

I realize that I could have probably cut down on the amount of resistors I used, but to keep the wiring as close as possible to my original plan, I opted to keep a resistor for each individual circuit. I’m sure there are a thousand different ways this system could be wired, however this is the one option that I chose.  I used my soldering iron to attach the components directly to the board. I will then eventually attach all my wiring to the back of the board to each appropriate component.
Resistor boardResistor board solder points

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Control Panel

Since my last update, I have been working almost daily on my control panel (almost completed below). I have also finished the complete wiring plan for my control box (also seen below). The wiring plan includes the planned wiring for the control box, all lighting (including trackside signals), switch machines, power blocks, and under-table wiring. I have been working and modifying this electrical plan for quite some time now and even though it looks quite large, it’s actually quite simple, as it’s just a combination of several circuits. Some of this is already wired, such as the under-table switches, but it’s still nice to see how it will all work together.

Completed model train control panelWiring schematic for Ty’s Model Railroad

As for the control box, it has been quite a learning experience, with lots of trial and error, blood and frustration. In the end however, the almost-finished product turned out pretty good. I planned the control panel to be a box-style board, with all the lights and switches on top of a tilted face; all wiring and electrical components stowed inside. Now I’m definitely not too experienced in wood working, but with a little research, I decided to use ¼” hardboard to construct the control box. Like always, I made a detailed plan of what I wanted, however cutting the board was another story. I found it almost impossible to cut the pieces perfectly straight without a table saw. I had to try several times, and after lots of dissatisfaction I finally cut some satisfactory pieces with my jig saw. I then glued it all together with Weldbond white glue.

Control panel box construction

Once dry, I measured and cut out the holes for the voltage meters. These meters will eventually monitor the cab1 and cab2 controls. I decided to go with analog gauges instead of digital ones just for a little bit more of an old-style look.

Cutouts for voltage metersVoltage meters in control panel

I was planning on painting my control box originally, however after constructing it, I realized that paint was not going to be enough to cover up the many cutting imperfections. I then decided to cover the box with recycled black and wicker aluminum cladding. I was not able to bend the cladding well enough to cover the box, so I cut individual pieces for all 5 sides. I also had to cut holes in the cladding to fit over the holes in the box for the voltage meters. This was quite the process, as I didn’t have anything to cut a perfect circle out the size I needed. To do this, I used a small drill bit to drill several dozen holes around the traced circle. I then re-drilled these holes with a larger bit until the holes all connected and the center circle fell out. With a bit of modification and filing, it fit perfectly over the control box holes.

Control panel claddingControl panel cladding

For the corners and trim, I used ½” steel ‘L’ molding, which was also a huge pain to cut perfectly. The finished product turned out better than expected, however there are some noticeable imperfections. I used PL Ultimate construction adhesive to hold the molding on, which worked great. At this time I also positioned then attached all of my Atlas switches on the face of the control panel to get a good idea of the direction I was going.

Titanium control panel trimTitanium control panel trim

Panel with Atlas controls

The next item for construction was the display for the turnout positions as well as the 13 power blocks. I had originally planned to show all of these on one diagram, but because I had the room and didn’t want everything looking cluttered, I separated the 2 diagrams. I cut frames for each diagram out of 1/16” craft wood board and stained it dark ebony. For the diagrams, I decided to use digital vector images I created in Photoshop instead of using the traditional tape-method. I then printed these high resolution images on photo paper at Wal-Mart. Once glued to the frames, I glued the entire units directly onto the control board. The numbers on the diagrams correspond to the switch numbers and the power blocks.
Graphics for power blocks and turnout positionAlmost complete control panel

Designing track graphics in Adobe Photoshop

Next I drilled holes through the switch position diagram and installed my LEDs which will indicate the switch’s position; red for the turnout and green for the main line. Switches 1-3 are all for the main front line and switch 4 is for the turnout to the turntable.

Turnout position LEDs installed

The LEDs at the top of each switch control are for stick-protection. I’ve heard that Atlas switch controls sometimes stick and will burn out switch machines, so I added this little feature that will indicate a stuck switch. The LED will light only for the moment that the switch is pressed. If the switch sticks, the LED will stay on, indicating power overload (see wiring diagram above). I then drilled more holes for the switches and indicators for the accessories, such as layout and power LEDs.
LED holder drilling

Once everything was attached, I started to label all of the Atlas switches. The numbers that were included with the switches didn’t fit correctly, nor did they look good, so I constructed my own, once again in Photoshop. The original ones I designed were black letters and numbers on white. The bright white stood out too much, so I inverted them, with white font on black background.

Controller graphicsGraphics on Atlas selector

Once printed, I cut each letter out, put it on double sided tape, and stuck it to each switch. The final look was much more conservative.

Graphics on Atlas switch controllerCompleted model train control panel

I will still need to label the rocker switches and some of the other LEDs on the control panel, but the almost complete product turned out pretty well. The next step will be all of the wiring. The control box will eventually be mounted to a piece of plywood with the cab controller right beside it. The final plan is to have the entire unit fold away under my layout, but that situation of for another day.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Turnouts & Switch Machines

No major changes have happened to the layout in the last 3 weeks other than the installation of 4 new Atlas under table switch machines, 1 Atlas trackside switch machine, and a new motor for my turn table. I have also been collecting the various parts and components for the control panel that I am still in the design stage on. I will need 4 Atlas snap-relays, as well as the dual cab MRC controller I’ve had my eye on. I will have more details on this when I get a more finalized plan on its design. In the meantime, I’ve installed 4 Atlas under table switch machines on the front area of the layout, completed with roadbed to cover to hole and eventually blend into the track bed.

Atlas turnout switch pointsAtlas turnout switch points
The under table switches installed pretty easily, with only a few adjustments needed in the end. The hardest part was keeping them positioned while screwing them in, luckily I had a helper to assist me with this. Another factor that needed great attention was the ease of movement of the turnout itself. The actuator motors themselves are pretty powerful, especially with around a 16VAC burst of power. However the issue comes from the very small distance of movement as well as the plastic pin that goes through to table and attaches to the switch. The switch movement is just barely longer than the distance of the turnout itself, which doesn’t leave much room for error. With this, the plastic pin does flex, so if there is ANY resistance in the movement of the turnout, the switch will not completely move the track, even if perfectly centered. Because of this, I ended up having to remove the roadbed under the sliding bar of the turnout to ensure there was very little resistance. After a few adjustments, everything worked fine.
Under table switch machine wiringAtlas under table switch machines

As for the wiring, each switch machine will be on an independent Atlas switch controller, green being for the main line and yellow being for the turnout. All are grounded by a common ground, which is the center brown wire. Switches 2 and 3, which branches from the main line to the front spur, are on a common switch and operate in unison, as they will always need to be switched together when crossing off of or onto the main line.

Trackside switch machineTurntable motor

Unfortunately, I was not able to install a under table switch (at least not easily) to the turnout to my turn table. Because of this, I had to use a trackside switch machine. I wired it just as I did with the under table switches, and attached it to the same brown common lead. I will have to find some way to hide this machine in the future. I have also attached my new turn table motor. It works great, but is a little loud. Hopefully this will be quieted slightly when the cover is attached. With that, there is where I am this rainy Wednesday evening.


Friday, August 20, 2010

Trestle & Turntable

I’ve now started the planning stages of the main control panel and wiring, and have purchased more than half of the components. I plan to build the unit out of wood, covered in aluminum cladding. I’m still not entirely how it will look, but I’m going for an all-in-one unit with all of the switches, lights, and wiring, which will fold somehow under to table to hide away when not in use. I’ve also painted the turn table to make it look a little more unique. I also stained the trestle a dark, rich brown colour. I used a toothpick to paint on little bolts.

Painted wooden train trestlePainted atlas turntable

I have also completed further testing and all the layout works great. The cab and cars I have are absolute crap; however they run smooth, so once I get brand new cabs and stock, I assume they will work even better.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Laying Track - Part II

The track on my layout is 99% complete, with just a few small items to finish. I have almost completed the turn table, however it still needs to be painted to get rid of the “plastic sheen,” so it is only tacked in place, thus the approaching tracks aren’t attached either at the moment. I also painted and installed the bumpers, 5 in total on my layout. They look pretty decent, however may need a little more detail added in the future. My turnouts also look and fit great. I tested them with a few cars and they see to carry the cars very smoothly.

Atlas turntableInstalled Atlas turnouts

I’m still not sure how the descending grade from the trestle is going to work out with a full set of cars and engines. It’s just so steep as it needs to drop down 3.5 inches in a very short distance, leveling out briefly halfway for the crossing. This is the one part of this whole project that has me worried. At this point the layout is divided into the planned 12 electrical blocks, using insulated terminal joiners. I have also attached all terminal connectors, feeding the wires through drilled holes to the underside of the table (pictured below).

Completed track on right half of layoutWire leads to terminal connectors

Tomorrow (which I guess now is today), I plan to paint the turn table to make it look a bit more realistic, and finish attaching the approaching tracks. The big project now is to start the wiring and construction of the control panel. The under-table switches and wiring components also need to be done at this point. I also need to test me track with an engine, so for the mean time I will probably just attach all the terminal connectors to one main wire and control box, just to test things out. That will be a next weekend project.

Completed track left half of layoutCompleted track right half of layout

Completed model train layout track work

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Laying Track - Part I

It’s been a little while since my last update, and it might seem like not much has been done, however this is not the case. I’ve spent most of the time since my last update planning the wiring in more detail as well as the design of the main control box. I have a diagram drawn up, but I need to make a few changes before I post it on here. As for the actual layout, I’ve been working on attaching the track to the roadbed, as well as installing the terminal connectors to each isolated track section. Below are the 60 degree crossing as well as the right side curves and trestle. I have not yet attached to track to the trestle or bride as they still need to be finished with paint and stain.

60 degree rail crossingTrack installation

In the next photo are the remaining 4 turnouts that will be at the front of the layout. They have been measured about 10 times to make sure they fit, along with assorted Atlas track pieces. I will attach these track pieces last as I want to complete the rear sections first and not have to lean over the delicate switches all the time. At this time I have also laid the descending track from the trestle to the 60 degree crossing. This part is the one the worries me the most. I have tested this with an old Canadian Pacific engine it works fine, however it isn’t prototypical at all and I haven’t tested it with cars. I will just hope for the best. Also notice in the background track right before the bridge the terminal connector wires coming below the track and though the main benchwork.

New Atlas Mark 4 turnoutsNew Atlas Mark 4 turnouts

As for the left side of the layout, the curve of the figure-8 is complete, leaving the outer main curve as the last large section of track that needs to be completed (other than the front section). This entire curve will be flex track. Also notice my new track bumpers that will be used at the ends of the staging area and soon-to-be turn table. I also built my own terminal connectors by soldering bare wire to the bottom of track connectors. I have installed a bunch on the layout already, and they hide great. I did this by drilling holes the width of the wire right beside the track, right through the roadbed then running the wire through to the underside of the table. They are almost impossible to see.

Track installation on left side of layoutHandmade terminal joiners

I will be working on the remaining track and start wiring during the next few weeks. Under-table switches, turn table, and the control box are also on the list for things to start working on.