Wiring I

After all track (except a few short lengths leading from the turntable, which will be dealt with later) was glued and had set for a few hours, I started drilling 1/16″ holes between ties on each side. These will be used to run short lengths of 22-gauge wire (feeder wires) from the tracks to the main lengths of 16 gauge wire (bus wires) under the layout. I didn’t want to drop too many feeders, as each will need to be soldered to the track and suitcase-clipped to a bus wire, but I also didn’t want to risk any dropouts. So I dropped feeders at 6″-10″ intervals and, of course, I had to feed each isolated section of track coming out of a turnout.

This week, I will start dropping feeders and hopefully connect the bus wires next weekend.

And, while this won’t be exciting to anyone except me, I bodged up some wires and soldered them to the headshunt, then cleaned the track with a Brite-Boy. This allowed me to program the 0-6-0 “Bellwether” to run back and forth on about 10 inches of non-isolated track. Really exciting to see it working. The Bellwether is running on address 6407, which is the loco number painted on its side.

As far as I can tell, the little engine runs beautifully; I can keep it at a very slow crawl.

Turnouts II

I spent about an hour soldering terminal blocks to each side of the circuit boards on the SMAIL motors. This will allow me to connect and disconnect wires as needed. I figured this would be easier than soldering wires after the SMAILs are in place. I’m not great at soldering, but I think they came out alright.

Laying Track III

I pulled the springs out of the turnouts this morning, then started the slow process of gluing the track down. I used Aileen’s Tacky Glue, based on many recommendations, as it dries more quickly than some white glues, but not so quickly that adjustments can’t be made.

I laid one section at a time, to ensure good, tight connections, and weighed down sections with books while the glue dried.

To fill in the gaps under fishplates and near turnouts, I used some Peco SL-308F ties, slipped under the rails. I ordered another package of those a few days ago, as I will need them before gluing a couple of sections (the short length leading into the turntable, as well as the rearmost spur). I should be able to start wiring everything up while I wait for the spare ties to arrive.

Turnouts I

$250 later, I have six Circuitron SMAIL switch machines and mounts.

SMAIL is an acronym for Slow Motion Actuator with Integrated Logic. SMAIL switch machines are essentially Tortoise motors with DCC decoders built in. These are not cheap, but by all accounts they are leaps and bounds beyond solenoid switches in terms of performance, and are reliable and long-lasting.


I purchased the remote mounts for two reasons. First, the SMAIL machines are slightly too tall when mounted vertically. My layout simply doesn’t have enough clearance to mount them that way without some significant modification. To keep the profile low, I had planned on using SMAIL (or Tortoise) machines with horizontal mounts from the start. Second, the remote mounts are designed to transfer the sweeping motion of the SMAILs’ swing-arms to a pivoting wire. This means I don’t need to drill a large hole directly under each turnout, but can drill a small hole near each throw-bar instead. I can then attach a narrow wire to one of two pre-drilled holes on each end of the throw bar, and it should work. Much easier to install that way, and I can finish laying track before mounting the SMAILs.

I spent about an hour today reading instructions and assembling the mounts, then I attached the SMAIL machines.

Laying Track II

I spent six hours or so this afternoon cutting and situating most of the track:

I also made a few recesses in the cork beneath the track. These are located in places where I will likely want to uncouple wagons while shunting. When I start amassing some wagons, I will replace the clunky Rapido couplers with Dapol Easi-Fit knuckle couplers, which will uncouple when reversed slightly while situated over a magnet.

After digging out each recess, I drove a couple of screws in:


Then I placed a rare-earth magnet into each recess, which held fast to the screws:


There are three magnets on the layout. I could have placed more, but there is a chance that they will occasionally cause unintended uncoupling, so I placed as few as I could while enabling me to uncouple and shunt in each section.

Here, I’ve moved the track aside to display the magnets:

GWR 0-6-0

I haven’t spent much time working on LSR lately, partially because I’ve been waiting for a DCC-equipped engine so I can test track before I finish laying it down.

About a month ago I finally ordered a Graham Farish class 64xx 0-6-0 (with pannier tanks) from Hatton’s. I really have a soft spot for class 0-6-0 engines—the DC engine that I have tucked away with my Inglenook is the same class (but is based on a U.S. prototype, with a tender instead of panniers). Hatton’s fitted the engine with a Bachmann E-Z Command 90-degree 6 pin DCC decoder before sending it across the pond, and the package was finally delivered today.

The long turnaround was partially due to Hatton’s having something of an inventory problem; a week after I placed the order I received an apologetic email stating that some items listed “in stock” were actually not. I called several days later to ask for clarification (“…is the order cancelled or on backorder?”) but it seems they had already processed my purchase without error, and it was in line to be fitted with a decoder and tested. I was told I’d receive an alert when it shipped. A week later I inquired again, and was told it shipped already, but the tracking number wasn’t registering, so they didn’t know which side of the pond it was on. 

I’ve gotten used to the fumblings and bumblings of model railway manufacturers and sellers in the U.S., so it’s actually kind of heartwarming that U.K. modelers are experiencing the same thing. Overall, though, Hatton’s seems to be a friendly, hard-working group, and their personal communicativeness makes up for any lack of automated processes.

Anyhow, I’m excited to finally start tacking down some track this weekend and running this little bugger. I think I’ve already named it “Bellwether,” for being the first of the flock.

Forgive the bad lighting:

Laying Track I

I have no idea what I’m doing.


Using a 1:1 printout as a guide, I am cutting flex-track to length (roughly) and fitting up turnouts with fishplates (little joiners that connect sections of track together).

I have been scouting around the internet for months, looking for a definitive and understandable guide to wiring a simple layout. Conclusion: either I am a complete idiot or there isn’t a single set of rules.

My biggest question was this:

Do I need to modify my electrofrog turnouts to become “DCC-friendly” as some sites suggest? Will my locomotives cause a short in the turnouts and shut down the system if I don’t?

I still don’t know for certain.

Those who modify electrofrog turnouts (by cutting gaps in the rails and adding jumpers from the stock rails to the point rails) never seem to have suffered the fate they are so laboriously protecting themselves from. Those who don’t modify their turnouts don’t seem to be suffering either, except in rare instances and due to specific issues.

In recent years Peco has updated its electrofrog turnouts to feature gaps and jumper-sites already prepared, but my turnouts are older and are not quite so fancy (and that’s likely why they were discounted). I read a claim in the official DCC wiki that Peco will completely discontinue electrofrog and insulfrog turnouts in favor of a “unifrog.” I can only find unifrog turnouts in a single larger scale (HOn3), though, and I’ve read absolutely nothing anywhere else regarding the discontinuation of electrofrog and insulfrog turnouts in other scales.

Anyhow, there is one very important rule to follow when using electrofrog turnouts with DCC, on which all sites agree:

When connecting the frog-end of the rails with fishplates, the inner rails (the “crotch,” so to speak) needs to be gapped or (better yet) connected using an insulated rail joiner. This is to prevent a short when a train runs past the “fouling point” (i.e. when a train approaches the frog-end of a turnout that is not switched in its direction). Here you can see the metal fishplates on the stock rails and the plastic insulated joiners leading into the frog:

I haven’t laid much track yet, but I’ve gotten past the initial intimidation, and I will keep at it when I am able this week.

Scratchbuilding with Cardstock III

I spent a number of hours cutting and pasting up a platform station in printed cardstock, but haven’t been impressed with what I’ve come up with thus far. One of the biggest issues I’ve run across is my inability to square the masonry windows properly. Masonry windows have no external frame to cover up the fit, so any imperfection becomes glaring.

I’ve thought about creating a new station with clapboard siding, but I’ve decided against that, as the brick station is part of the reason I really like Hemyock. In addition, even though I have a decent printer it doesn’t print detail as sharp as I’d like, so I’d probably have wound up resorting to a professional printer and spending quite a bit of money and time on that.

Thus, I will probably end up purchasing an inexpensive plastic station from Peco or Hornby and modify it a bit to add an adjacent signal box.

Oh well. The time I spent designing cardstock buildings, etc. might have been spent working out the wiring plan, which is more important at this stage anyhow. Thus, putting together the track and wiring it up will be my next project.

Scratchbuilding with Cardstock II

Just wanted to post a brief update, as I think I’ve finalized a printable station for Little Snoring. This weekend I hope to start printing and cutting, and I ought to have plenty of leftover windows and doors for this project (I purposefully designed it with few).

Next, I will need to work out the platform and then create a few outbuildings. If this whole “printed cardstock” project works, I’ll be ecstatic. Not only will I save myself a great deal of money, but if I bodge anything up I can simply redesign or reprint and (perhaps most importantly) the outcome will be fully customized to my vision. It is likely that I will create new versions of these models in the future, after figuring out a thing or two about what works and what doesn’t.

For now, I’ve decided against fully detailed interiors, as I’m not planning on lighting the structures. If I change my mind, I will rebuild (or retrofit) them with interiors and will likely use Woodland Scenics’ Just Plug lighting system.

Anyhow, here’s the updated station, sans platform:

Little Snoring Station

Powercab PCP Panel Installed (Sort Of…)

I spent about an hour this afternoon drilling and then filing a rectangular hole into the front of the terminus module, just big enough to fit the circuit board of the PCP panel that came with the NCE Powercab. This is where the Powercab controller (and an optional second controller) plugs in. I haven’t fully attached the panel, as I still need to put some kind of cosmetic fascia around the module. I’m almost ready to start wiring, though, so it’ll be good to have this in place.


Did I mention the Powercab controller yet? I purchased it at the same time as the track and turnouts, while Tony’s Train Xchange was having a ripper sale.

The Powercab is a neat little DCC unit: it provides power while also controlling locos and accessories. For a layout as small as Little Snoring, it should be all the power I need. This simplifies the wiring (and makes the whole project a lot less expensive).

Here’s a pic of the Powercab, for those not familiar:


Next up: wiring. However, before I start, I need to purchase a locomotive with a DCC decoder. I don’t want to get too far into wiring without being able to test each length of track and every turnout in real time. The PowerCab doesn’t have the ability to run DC motors, so I need to save up some dollars for a loco. In the meantime, I will finish the Elkton Creek smelter and continue to design Little Snoring station.