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)

2 thoughts on “Switch control concept: use switch stands

  1. Trevor, I’ve liked this concept ever since having first read about them. After all, I’ve thrown quite a few of them in my 31 years on the RR! I liked these better than the groundthrows, you could get some a__ into it when bending the irons. Will be following your progress on these.

    • Hi Bud:
      Thanks for the kind words – glad you like the stands. I think they’re pretty neat.
      They’re actually done – for now. I may paint them at some point but on the other hand I do like the brass. Mechanically they’re fully operational and have been used in operating sessions for a number of months with great success.

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