Turnouts III

On LSR, there are a lot of steps and pieces involved in throwing a single switch!

First I bent six piano wires like so:

Then I cut six lengths of brass tubing like so:

I drilled a 1/16″ hole two ties away from each throw bar, like so:

And then I inserted a length of brass tubing into each hole until it was level with the tops of the ties:

And a bit of fussing on the underside. The feeder wires almost thwarted three or four switches, because they are so close. Almost.

With a pair of pliers, a pencil, and some wizardry, I bent each piano wire again after measuring each turnout from the hole in the throw bar to the center of the brass tube.

Then I inserted the piano wire so the long end extended through the brass tube to the bottom of the layout, and the short end was dropped into the hole in the throw bar:

After checking to make sure that each turnout moved freely, I flipped the module and bent each length of wire at a right angle:

Toggling this wire back and forth from under the layout throws the switch. The remote mounts will be affixed to these wires, and the SMAILs will be attached by wire and tubing.

I think I’m at the halfway point now with the turnouts. For fun, I connected a SMAIL to the terminal block and programmed it into the PowerCab. It moves exactly as I expected. Hopefully by the end of this coming weekend, I will be able to switch my turnouts by pressing a few buttons.

Wiring IV and First Run

I finished wiring all of the track except for the turntable. There are a few things I would do differently next time, but overall I am pleased with how it looks and functions, and it seems pretty bulletproof.

On the topside, my turnouts are still without the SMAIL switching machines (which will be installed and wired up soon), so the points on the turnouts aren’t very reliable. If I don’t hold the points in place tightly, trains running close to them will falter or stop completely.

It works well enough with a pencil in hand, so despite the lack of switch machines and without regard to my fledgling abilities with the PowerCab controller, here’s footage of the first run of the Bellwether.

The thump at the end of the video was my cat, Pisces, who batted the out-of-frame Bellwether off the tracks. This is why I will usually be operating the layout at shoulder-level, atop the bookcase which started this whole blog.

Here’s a photo of the perpetrator:

Wiring III

Bus wires going in. “Quick splice” connectors are key here; initially I thought I’d have to strip and splice, which would have taken days of soldering and shrink-tubing. Each connector takes maybe a minute or so to pry open, place the wires, plunge the metal clip, then snap the top down.

I ran out of connectors though, so can’t finish it all today…

I also connected the wires to a terminal strip at the “open” end of the module. This will make it easier to connect a second module later on.

Wiring II

I spent the better part of today cutting, stripping, and crimping wires, then (making a mockery of) soldering the feeders to the track.

Once the feeders were all in place, I started running the bus wires down the layout, but I didn’t get too far yet. Perhaps this weekend I will finish connecting all feeders to the busses, and then the Bellwether will be able to traverse every inch of the layout except the turntable and beyond.

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: