Laying the Passing Loop

The track laying is progressing slowly but surely. I have extended the track from the head shunt. The passing loop, the point leading to the sidings and the track leading to the next baseboard are all in place.

I had quite a few problems soldering the dropper wires onto the points (called switches in the USA). I managed to melt the plastic sleepers on two more points (bringing the total number I’ve melted to three!). This was proving to be an expensive business and I decided I had to change my approach. In the end I made three changes that have made a big difference.

  1. Use single core wire rather than multi-core wire. The multi-core wire is thicker and required more heat to get a good joint. (At least in my hands). Single core wire seems to heat up more quickly and the risk of melting the sleepers is reduced.
  2. Changing my solder. I thought the solder I was using was good quality, but an internet search showed it was an ‘el cheapo’ brand. So I invested in decent quality solder.
  3. Using flux on the rails. The old solder I was using claimed it was self fluxing but it didn’t spread well over the nickel-silver rails. Now, I add a thin coating of flux to the rails and the solder flows really well. The only downside of this approach is that I need to give the points a good wash with water to remove any residue.

Laying the track was quite straightforward. I drilled holes in the baseboards to pass the droppers through and used a small quantity of super glue to hold the track in place.

Next, the point motors were screwed into position under the baseboard. The droppers from the rails, the wires powering the point motors and the wires to the frogs were soldered to the bus wire. I’m definitely not a ‘sparky’ so I took my time and double checked everything. Then, I connected the push to make switches that will operate the points. These are the yellow wires poking out from undernearth the baseboard – a temporary installation during testing.

I connected the controller and tested the track. Amazingly, everything worked and I spent a very happy 30 minutes running a couple of locos up and down the track. Playing trains is great fun!

* Sparky = English slang for an electrician


Testing the Point Motor and the Track

With the track in place, I was keen to test it.

Wiring up the point motor is quite easy. Cobalt point motors can be powered from the DCC power supply used to power the track. All I had to do was run two wires (black and red) from the power bus to the point motor. I soldered the wires to the power bus and connected them to the spring loaded terminals on the point motor.

You can use DCC commands to change the point, however I like control panels with switches to control points. (Call me old fashioned…) Cobalt provide built in terminals for ‘manual’ point operation. I connected two wires (yellow) to a ‘push to make’ switch and connected these to the terminals on the motor.

I decided to remove the point motor from the baseboard and test to see whether it worked.

As you can see from the video, it worked well.


I mounted the point motor back on the baseboard and completed the wiring.

To power the frog I connected the wire from the frog (green) to the purpose built spring loaded terminal on the point. That was easy.

Finally, to power the track in the head shunt, I soldered the dropper wires from the headshunt to the DCC power bus.

Now for a real test with a loco!

Again, I’m really pleased to say it worked!

I am definitely no electrician, I’ve never used Cobalt point motors or DCC before, and everything worked first go.

I’ve earned a beer 🙂

Fixing the First Track to the Baseboard

This week I’ve made a start on track laying.

To fit the points I needed to drill eight holes:

  • a hole for the throw arm from the point motor
  • four small pilot holes for the screws to mount the point motor to the baseboard
  • three holes for the wires connecting the point to the electrics (the two wires to power the rails and the wire to power the frog).

The photo at the start of the blog shows all the holes.

Drilling holes is easy, but it wasn’t a quick job. I must admit I spent ages measuring the positions to make sure I drilled the holes in the right places!

Cobalt provide very good instructions with their point motors. However, they don’t supply a template for where to drill the holes with the point motor (although they do provide one at extra cost). I made my own template from a scrap of paper, and it was a really useful to position the holes correctly.

After the measuring and drilling it was a straightforward job. I fitted the point motor underneath the baseboard.

The throw arm pointed up through the hole in the baseboard.

It was easy to lower the point into place, feeding the throw arm into the tie bar of the point and feeding the three electrical wires down into the other holes.

When I was happy everything was in the right place I glued the point, and the track for the head shunt, in position with a few blobs of superglue.

My First Attempts at Modifying Points for DCC

For my new layout I want to try a couple of things that I’ve never done before. These are DCC control and Cobalt point motors.

Peco points (called switches in the USA) are great and work well straight out of the box but to get the best from DCC and Cobalt point motors it’s a good idea to adapt the points. So having spent good money on these nice new points, I’m going to modify them!

I decided to do the easiest job first. Cobalt point motors have a positive action that holds the point tie bar in place. There is no need for the point to have the over-centre spring to lock the tie bar in place. The springs are easy to remove. I used a fine pair of pliers to remove the spring from the tie bar. Then I eased the other end of the spring out from under the retaining cover. The modified point is on the right.

Now to make the points DCC ready. There’s a very good guide to modifying points for DCC here so I will not go into great detail. In brief…

As the Peco 009 points are an older design and the first job is to cut the closure rails to electrically isolate the point rails from the frog. For my first attempt I used a cuting disc in a Dremel drill to do this. You can see this in the photos below, just above the black and red wires.

Next, to provide current to the switch rails (the moving parts of the point), you need to solder a ‘jumper’ between the stock rails and the closure rails. I simply soldered the red and black wires in place so they bridged, and joined, these two rails.

Finally, you need to make the frog live so that the point motor can change the polarity of the frog. I did this by soldering the green wire to the frog.

The photos above show my first attempt at modifying a point. In some ways it was a success. Electrically everything worked well, the switch rails are live, the frog is isolated and can be powered via the green wire. This was encouraging, for someone who’s not an electrician! However, I melted the sleepers quite badly. I tend to put too much solder on when soldering. I guess it’s because I don’t feel confident that I’ll get a good join if I use less solder. However, more solder requires more heating and this has resulted in the plastic sleepers melting. I need to use less solder, apply the iron for a short time and remove the iron quickly.

I decided to have another go. On the NGRM forum, Mark Greenwood suggested using a fine piercing saw to cut the closure rails. I followed his advice and I found the piercing saw gave a much finer cut, was easier to control than the cutting disc and resulted in less damage to the point. This time, I was much more careful with my soldering, used less solder, and kept the soldering iron in place for less time. Plus, I allowed the point to cool for about one minute after I soldered each joint, before I soldered the next one.

The result was much better!

Now, I have four more points to modify….

Transferring The Track Plan to Baseboard

I have a baseboard and a printed 1:1 scale trackplan. I want to transfer the plan from the printout to the baseboard so that I can lay the track according to the plan. First, I stuck the trackplan in place using masking tape.

On the plan SCARM adds a straight line at the ends of the points (switches). I cut through the paper along these lines with a craft knife. Additionally, I made cuts along the rails at each end of the point. Then drew the position of the lines with a marker pen, drawing through the paper onto the cork.

To mark the rest of the track I pushed a scriber through the paper at the ends of each sleeper, then pushed the marker pen through each hole to create a dot on the baseboard.

This gave me the position for each point, and dotted lines marking the position of the rest of the track.

It sounds quite a bit of work but you soon get a rhythm going and it really doesn’t take that long to do.

I spent quite some time designing the track plan on the computer. I’m pleased to say it was really simple to transfer an exact copy of the plan on the baseboard and I know exactly where to put each piece of track.

When Your Fiddle’s a Faff….

My layout ‘First’ will be appearing at the Steam in Miniature event at the Bure Valley Railway on the 9th and 10th September. I’m really looking forward to the event.

However, the current fiddle yard arrangement with it’s reverse curves (see picture above) is a faff. It works, by I have to run trains in and out of the fiddle yeard at a really low speed. And, to be honest, I don’t fancy working operating the layout like that for two whole days.

This has spurred me on to finally bite the bullet, rip up track and organise better access to the fiddle yard.

After much gazing at the layout I came up with a plan. A purple plan.

I decided to move the fiddle yard to the other side of the layout and install a point on the left hand side so that the access to the fiddle yard is virtually straight. Then, rip up the existing curves and the existing point and relay the track on the curve. I will have to move some of the electrical connectors (partly covered by the paper point template) so that the track can run to the fiddle yard. It won’t be the perfect solution, because I’m retro fitting everything to an existing layout, but I think it will be better than the current arrangement.

Decisions made, I drank a strong coffee and removed the track.

I tested the position of the new point, removed a little more track and then fixed the new point and new curve in place.

Connecting the track to the fiddle yard was pretty straightforward – it is virtually a straight length of track. Here it is pinned in place, before I soldered the joins to the copper strips.

I repositioned the electrical connetions. (The two connectors on the left power the point motors and those on the right provide the power to the track). I checked the clearances to check the trains will run trains past the plugs. No problem.

Finally, I soldered the wires to supply the track power to the toe of the point and did some test runs. I’m very pleased to say everything worked. Best of all it is so much easier to use that the previous arrangement. I can ‘zoom’ trains in and out of the cassetes very quickly rather than having to run them at low speed round the reverse curves.

In many cases I follow the old rule of: ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’. In this case a fix has been the right thing to do and I’m really looking forward to running ‘First’ for two whole days!

If you go to the Steam in Miniature event please drop by and say ‘Hello’.

Track Completed

Baseboard November 11th

Permanent Way crew (that’s me) have been busy. The trackwork is complete. The Clerk of Works (that’s me) may ask them to remove some of the sharper curves….

The Electrical Crew (yes, that’s me too) have started work and various switches and connectors are in place. The Missile Switches were for sale on Ebay and, although they are very big, I couldn’t resist them.