Realistic Switch Control in MRH

The August 2014 issue of Model Railroad Hobbyist is now available online, and it includes an article on how I use garden scale switch stands to control the turnouts on the Port Rowan layout.

It was great working with Joe Fugate at MRH. I’m looking forward to sharing more articles with his readers.

Click on the image to read the article (if you enjoy it and want to see more like it, be sure to give it a good rating on the MRH website):
 photo MRH-2014-08-ArticleLead_zpsaeb95645.jpg

(If you’ve just found this blog via the article in MRH, then welcome! I hope you look around and enjoy what you see…)

Switch stand mechanism mods

Reader Wayne Smith asked about the modifications my friend Chris Abbott made to the Sunset Valley RR garden scale switch stands I use to control the switches on my layout.
Switch Label photo Fascia-Labels-01_zps655faee2.jpg
(Click on the photo to read more about these stands)

Wayne writes:

Since reading your blog on the switch stands, I have purchased one of the switch stands to see if it would work on my layout.
However, can you advise how Chris made the connection at the base of the switch stand to the torque tube/crank, which is fed down through your wood base.
I assume he must machine it from the square section into a round section to make the joint.
Look forward to your comments and/or some photographs of how this works.

I asked Chris if he could provide some comments and since they may be of use to others, I’m quoting Chris here:

Wayne, sorry to disappoint, but there was actually very little machining involved. A short section of K&S round tubing was slipped over the square at the bottom of the turnout stand’s shaft to extend its length. This round tubing was cross-drilled to match the hole in the stand’s shaft where a long set-screw had been removed. A flat piece of brass bar was soldered to the bottom of this short tube to act as the throw lever for the Bullfrog. An even shorter tube section, just slightly larger than the shaft extension, was pressed into the pine shelf material to act as a guide for the shaft extension.

Chris also provided the photos, below (thanks Chris!)

Switch Stand Mods photo SwitchStand-Gubbins-01_zps09e3bccc.jpg
(Note the brass cube at the base of the shaft, between the legs of the switch stand. As it comes from Sunset Valley RR, this has a long set-screw in it that’s drilled so that one can insert a wire to link the stand directly to the head bar on a garden-scale turnout)

Switch Stand Mods photo SwitchStand-Gubbins-02_zpsf0aede3d.jpg
(These extension tubes are cross-drilled to match the hole in the above-mentioned cubes. A plate is soldered to the bottom each tube. This will become the lever that controls the Bullfrog)

Switch Stand Mods photo SwitchStand-Gubbins-03_zpsf301ed30.jpg
(Looking at the underside of a shelf. The lever has been drilled in a couple of places to give us some options when connecting the clevis that is part of the R/C aircraft control rod system used to control the Bullfrog. Note also that the extension tube passes through a larger brass tube that’s pressed into the shelf to act as a guide. Once installed on the layout, a small shot of WD40 sprayed onto the extension tube and allowed to work into the space between it and the guide tube keeps everything running smoothly)

 photo SwitchStand-Gubbins-04_zpsc6a8bf10.jpg
(The extension tube projects from both sides of the shelf. The switch stand will be mounted with small screws onto a pair of ties glued to either side of the extension tube, then linked to the extension tube with a screw. This allows the whole mechanism to be disassembled if necessary – although the stands were mounted on the layout at the end of February 2012 and there’s never been any reason to take them apart)

Wayne – it was a very good question: Thanks for asking and I’m glad Chris and I could provide an answer!

A visit and sushi with Tim

Fast Tracks owner Tim Warris dropped in yesterday to see the layout and discuss a project with me.

It was Tim’s first visit to my layout and he said very nice things – which is gratifying in two ways. First, because Tim lives in Norfolk County and is quite familiar with the area I’m modelling – so when he looked at St. Williams and said, “I see this all the time around my home” I knew I was doing something right. And second, because Tim knows more about building reliable track than anybody else I’ve met – online or in person – and he really liked my track.

Tim was especially impressed by my use of garden scale switch stands linked to his Bullfrog manual switch machines to control the turnouts:
A lever and control rod photo SwitchStand-Installed-02.jpg
(click on the image to read more about my turnout controls)

He also liked how I used two small throwbars – a head rod and back rod – instead of what he described as a “log” to throw the points:
Head Rod and Back Rod photo 10Turnout-04.jpg
(click on the image to read more about these)

We also discussed spikes (I use the very tiny milled steel spikes from Proto:87 Stores and have written about my experience with them extensively on this blog)… the tobacco-growing industry in Norfolk County… and how I want to address the reliability problems I’m having with my CNR passenger cars.

Tim is intrigued by my problems with the passenger cars. He rolled a set of trucks over my track work and was appalled at how sloppy the axles are in the side frames. The good news is, he took a set of trucks and wheel sets home with him to play with – and he may be able to offer me a solution. Fingers are crossed.

Later, we met up with my wife for dinner at Akai Sushi. Anybody who knows Tim knows that sushi is a great choice. There are many, many sushi restaurants in our neighbourhood but this was the first time we had visited Akai – and we’ll definitely be going back, as it’s the best sushi we’ve had in our area. Very fresh and beautifully presented in a lovely room. I’m sure I can lure Tim back, too.

Great to see you, Tim! Next time, we’ll run an operating session, too…

Derail Detail

Derail Overview photo Derail-Overview_zpsd9f5c60f.jpg

Reader Steve Lucas sent me some interesting information to help me detail my recently-installed derail on the coal track in Port Rowan. (Thanks, Steve!) Here’s a look at what I’ve done.

In a comment on a previous post, Steve noted that in the 1950s, the CNR would add a “D” to the target on the switch stand if it lead to a track that had an independently-controlled derail (i.e.: one that was not linked mechanically to the switch stand). They would also add yellow paint to the switch stand handle to remind the crew that there was a derail to unlock and clear. I found a “D” in an old set of HO Scale Herald King decals for a CP Rail gondola. The “D” actually came from the decal set identifier, which now reads “GON OLA”. Thanks, Herald King!
Coal Track switch stand photo CoalTrack-SwitchStand_zps8e67c6e1.jpg

It occurred to me as I was painting the handle of the S scale switch stand that I should mark the fascia-mounted turnout control for this switch in some way as well. Yellow paint wouldn’t do it, as most people don’t have to look too closely at the garden-scale switch stands to operate them. In fact, I can do it pretty much by feel. In any case, the turnout controls tend to be in a low-light situation when we’re operating the layout – in the shadow of the fascia itself. Therefore, I decided to mark the stand that controls the Coal Track switch in a tactile fashion, by adding a length of heat shrink tubing to the handle:
Coal Track turnout control photo CoalTrack-TurnoutControl_zpsd03e5c08.jpg

We’ll see if it feels different enough to remind people that there’s something special about the coal track siding. If not, I’ll cut this off and try something else – perhaps, a couple of narrow bands of heat shrink instead of a solid length of it.

Closer to the derail, I’ve added a couple of important details, seen here:
Derail Detail photo Derail-Details_zps9fb4bf16.jpg
(Click on the image for a larger version)

First, at left, is a length of rail spiked to the ties at an angle. Some CNR info from Steve notes that if a derail is placed close to the clearance point of the spur, or at the base of a steep downgrade, a guardrail must be installed to help divert successfully-derailed equipment away from the main track that the derail protects. I assume in this case that the farm crossing will get torn up rather nicely by derailed equipment, but that the equipment will eventually hit that guard rail and stay off the main track. In any case, it’s a very visible detail. I bent and filed the ends of the rail in the same manner that one does a traditional guard rail for a turnout frog and then glued and spiked it in place. I’ve given the rail a first coat of paint and will weather it after the paint dries.

To the right of the crossing, a yellow post marks the location of the derail itself. I cut a five-foot piece of S scale 4″x4″ lumber and shaped the top into a four-sided point using an emery board. I drilled a hole in the base for a .015″ piece of wire, and a hole in the scenery to mount it.

The photo also shows that I’ve painted the derail. I gave the block a coat of yellow, but the rest of it is painted with Neo-Lube. I didn’t want to use regular paint here, since that could gum up the sliding piece. As the name suggests, Neo-Lube actually lubricates the operating mechanism.

I’m pleased with these little details. All that’s left to do is mount a control on the fascia and connect it to the mechanical switch machine under the derail. Until I get that done, I’ll leave this detail in the “clear” position: I don’t want to put any cars on the ties by accident!

Working switch stands

Switch stand, installed.

The last time my friend Chris Abbott visited, he brought along a real treat for me: The eight switch stands I needed to control the turnouts on my layout! We’ve installed them and hooked them up, and they work wonderfully.

Switch stand, installed.

Chris was over a couple of weeks ago with a proof of concept for these turnout controls, and since I wrote about it then I won’t repeat the information here. Since it worked as planned, we made notes about how to mount the finished stands on the layout and he went away to modify the stands to work with radio control aircraft control rods:

The view from below.

Chris also created some nice shelves for each stand.

(In case you think he was doing all the work, while Chris was beavering away on the stands I was spiking down rails so that we’d be able to install all the mechanisms. A couple of thousand spikes later…)

Installation involved mounting the shelves on the front of the benchwork. We added a square of Masonite behind each stand to offer some protection from errant elbows:

A row of switch stands.

The squares will be replaced when the permanent fascia is installed but in the meantime it is the same height as the planned fascia so we’ll see how effectively the stands are protected.

The stands move a control rod, which in turn moves a mechanical turnout linkage under each track switch. This linkage is called a Bullfrog and is a product from Tim Warris at Fast Tracks*:

A Bullfrog, installed.

Since it’s easier to show people how this control works than it would be to describe it, I’ve created a 30-second video showing how these switch stands enhance the play value of an operating session. As a bonus, the video shows how a length of brass chain and a luggage lock can be used to lock the stands. (I bought eight locks from a local hardware store for $1 each. All came keyed to the same key – not the best for securing one’s luggage, perhaps, but great for this application.)

Switch Stand Video - Cover photo
(Click on the image to watch the video.)

Today, model railway enthusiasts can control turnouts from the keypad on a DCC throttle, so this mechanical system may seem old fashioned. But having thrown a few switches at museum railroads, I’m pleased at how well this system recreates the work of a real crew. It’ll add a lot of fun to switching my layout.

Switch control concept: use switch stands

I’ve had this idea for quite a while but this is the first time I’ve actually put it to use on a layout.

My friend Chris Abbott came over last night with a proof of concept for my switch controls. The highlight is this beautiful brass switch stand:

Switch control that looks the part.

Each track switch will have one of these mount on a shelf on the fascia, below track height.

Here’s the background:

A couple of years ago I purchased a dozen of these switch stands from Sunset Valley Railroad*. I planned to use them as I am here, on an indoor layout. But these are actually built to throw the points on outdoor, live steam layouts – which means they’re designed to withstand the elements as well as knocks from woodland critters, multi-pound locomotives that derail, and over-enthusiastic live steam enthusiasts. At more than US$20 each, they’re not cheap – but given their construction and detail they represent tremendous value.

These stand work just like the real thing: To throw the points, one lifts the lever to unlock the mechanism, turns it through 90 degrees, then drops the lever to lock the mechanism in the new position.

The switch stands are designed to connect directly to a turnout using a bent rod, but we needed something more flexible. Enter the Bullfrog, an easy-to-build mechanical turnout control from Tim Warris at Fast Tracks*:

The Bullfrog uses aircraft control rods – a yellow rod in a red plastic sleeve, like the choke cable mechanisms of old. If one buys these from an R/C aircraft hobby shop, they come with nice brass clevises.

Some work on Chris’ part created a lever that attaches to the switch stand to operate the control rod. This lever consists of a brass tube that’s a press-fit into the shelf, acting as a bearing for a second brass tube. This second tube is drilled to accept a screw to secure it to the mechanism on the switch stand. At the other end, Chris soldered a brass plate with a couple of holes in it to accept the clevis. Here’s a photo of the gubbins:

The lever under the shelf.

The best part is, it’s fully serviceable – if necessary, we can unhook and unbolt, and drop everything out.

Chris and I test-fit a Bullfrog under my first switch last night:

Bullfrog installed.

The proof of concept works – beautifully. Chris and I have thrown real switches while working on the train crew at a museum and we agree that this gives on the feel of bending the iron. Our mechanical linkage is smooth, but with just enough resistance that it’s not sloppy. And the locking lever on the Sunset Valley stand holds the points securely in both directions.

(The Bullfrog includes a spring and ball lock, but we didn’t bother installing these. The Bullfrog also comes with a microswitch for frog power routing, but I’m going to use the Hex Frog Juicer from Tam Valley Depot* for this so didn’t bother installing the microswitch, either. I’ll return to unused components to Tim next time I see him.)

Now that we know the system works, and we have made notes on minor adjustments to the proof of concept, Chris is going to build eight production models for the layout. Meanwhile, I’m going to be busy spiking down track switches so that when we get together next, we can install the switch stands. We have designed the shelves so we can unmount them when it’s time to add fascia.

We are now puzzling over options to add a padlock to each switch. We’ve had some ideas on this: stay tuned!

Chris and I are both thrilled by how this project is turning out.

(*Check the “Links” section on this blog’s home page for the most up-to-date links)


First cows, now bullfrogs:

Bullfrogs, from Fast Tracks.

I spent an evening at the workbench assembling Bullfrogs. These are mechanical linkages for controlling turnouts, designed and manufactured by Tim Warris at Fast Tracks*. They’re quick and easy to build – and inexpensive, too.

As the photo shows, I’ve done all eight that I’ll need for my layout, spending about 15 minutes on each one.

I will be using Hex Frog Juicers from Tam Valley Depot to control polarity of the turnout frogs so I did not bother mounting the control switch included with each kit. I also did not bother installing the steel ball and spring that provides a positive locking action since I plan to use a control on the fascia that includes a positive locking mechanism.

I’ll give the excess gear back to Tim next time I see him, so he can sell it to somebody else.

(Thanks for another great product, Tim!)