Sunday, January 29, 2023

Replacing My Last Twin Coil Switch Machines

Ever since I watched the Allen Keller Great Model Railroads video on Roy Kuykendall's layout, I've kept one of his remarks in mind: "The electric switch machine for turnouts is one area that desperately needs innovation. The electric switch machine is an elaborate little device the makes a pair of points switch just a few fragments of an inch on a horizontal line. In order to switch, three separate wires are needed to connect to a control device on the power panel. There is a need in the hobby for something much simpler, more durable, and more inexpensive than these current devices."

Actually, you normally needed six wires, three to control the twin coil solenoid, and another three to power the frog via the switch machine relay contacts. I think Ron made those remarks before the Tortoise switch machine was in general use. I think I remember getting my first Tortoise about 1987 or so. The Tortoise site suggests it was introduced in 1986. I built the layout that was the 1.0 version of my current layout starting about 1988, but I had a supply of twin coil machines from prior layouts and used those for most of that layout, which I moved to the current location in 1993.

When I rebuilt and expanded that layout into the 2.0 version then, I kept the twin coil machines on the 1.0 section but moved to Tortoises on the new and expanded construction. In the years since, the twin coils have gradually worn out, while converting to DCC was another driving force that made me want to update switch control, However, by that time, I was old enough that I no longer wanted to climb under the baseboard to remove the twin coil machines and install new Tortoises in their place.

As I pondered this, I began to realize that if I simply replaced the HO turnouts (mostly from former Walthers Sinohara) with Kato Unitrack equivalents, these had switch machines built into the roadbed. Not only that, but they powered the frogs and routed current internally as well. The Kato solenoid needs only two wires for control, and with frog power and current routing internal, no extra wires are needed tor this. As a result, we've moved from three or six wires with twin coil switch machines to just two wires with Kato Unitrack.

I don't know, if I were to build a whole new layout from scratch, whether I'd start with Unitrack. If I were younger, I might look at other new technology. But given my age and physical capabilities now, Unitrack means I could build a pretty satisfying layout without the need to crawl under the baseboard.

In any case, my layout had three remaining twin-coil switch machines at the back of Zenith Yard, well past the point where I'd want to reach under the baseboard to do anything. Below is the area in question, with o,ld Shinohara code 7o switches:

The Unitrack HO #6 switches correspond almost perfectly with the length and angle of the old Sinohara code 70 #6.
TRhe shots below show the progress of the tearout and demo:
And the shots below show the reinstallation of replacement Kato HO Unitrack #6 switches and some of the additional Unitrack:
I just left the twin-coil machiness where they were under the layout and routed the Kato switch machine wires to new DCC accessory decoders that are controlled from the DCC command station.

Sunday, January 15, 2023

ScaleTrains HO Norfolk Southern 9-40CW

Just yesterday I got one of the new-run ScaleTrains HO Norfolk Southern 9-40CWs in the mail. For whatever reason, these were delivered to NS with 4000 horsepower rather than 4400, but with no mechanical differences from the 4400 implied in the GE 9-44CW model designation. The railfan press at the time said this could be changed to 4400 horsepower with just a software change that could be implemented by a road foreman of engines. I had a chance to chat with an NS engineer around that time, but he said he didn't think a road foreman would be able to do something like that. Since then, I've heard nothing.

I certainly like ScaleTrains locos,. This afternoon I programmed mine and added it to my JMRI roster. As far as I can see, the DCC defaults are best for very large or club size layouts, with a fair amount of extra momentum built in for acceleration and deceleration, as well as a prime mover delay in the acceleration sound that makes the engine rev up a few seconds before the loco starts moving. If that's what you like, great. My layout is small enough that I like more instant controllability.

I changed CVs 3 and 4 to 0 to limit acceleration and deceleration momentum. I changed CV 124 to 16 to eliminate the prime mover delay. All these will let me run a ScaleTrains loco with ESU LokSound 5 in multiple with locos with other makes of decoder, and I also just feel more comfortable with the faster throttle response.

My next step will be to change out the couplers for Kadees.

These locos make it out to California, so I've been able to shoot some without traveling back east.

Sunday, January 8, 2023

Just Plug Lighting Progress

Without really having a plan to do this, I spent the last several weeks adding a lot more Just Plug lighting to my main HO layout and an N scale T-TRAK module.
In the above photo, I added a Just Plug warm white LED to an SLM Public Library kit, on the left, and an SLM Queen Anne apartment building, on the right. I also added Woodland Scenics Light Diffusing Window Film to both buildings. I installed Woodland Scenics traffic lights at the intersection of Hill and Lake, center. There is also a Just Plug lighted pickup truck making the turn onto Lake at the intersection.
In the photo above, I added a Just Plug cool white LED to a Walthers N modern suburban station kit that I had reworked to turn the gable entryway toward the tracks on an N scale T-TRAK module. I added Woodland Scenics Light Diffusing Window Film behind the windows and doors. There's a light leak below the center set of station windows that I need to block off.

Because this is a T-TRAK module with the only power connection via the DCC bus and the Unijoiner connection for, I used an NCE Illuminator under the deck, fed from the track, to power the Just Plug connection instead of a Woodland Scenics Light Hub. You can see how the wiring works below -- the heavy-duty DCC bus wiring is optional and not needed if the module is connected to other powered modules.