It is Christmas Day, and I am happy to report that today I formally completed the track work for my branch line! It was a nice Christmas present to myself. This photo shows the entire left-hand side area. I finished the track itself about a week ago, but it took me the rest of the time (given all the Christmas activities) to finalize the three remaining Tortoises. I was able to run the NW2 and the two freight cars shown in the photo around the entire area with no problems. I love S-scale, because I just don't have any problems with the running qualities of the equipment.
The same section of the layout, but taken from the other angle.
This area has a special situation in that I wanted to have one spur also serve as a programming track. However, that spur is on a different module from the one under which all the electronics is stored. I needed to have wire come up from the cabinet under the layout, up to the second module. To maintain the ability to easily disconnect the modules, I decided to have some bridge wires between the modules. Similarly, the Digitrax DS44 stationary decoder resides on the second module but it needs to control two Tortoises on the first module. Again, more wires that need to cross between the modules. I installed two six-position barrier strips, one on either side of the modules. I then connected them via some bridge wires. These will be easily removed when it is time to take the layout apart. I will hide them under scenery or a structure in the future.
The other side of the barrier strips have the more permanently installed wires hooked up in the next photo. I labeled each pair of contacts above the barrier strips so that I know which belongs to what.
As I mentioned above, the programming track started this all. I will be installing a switch in the cabinet under the first module. This switch will determine whether the rails of the spur are connected to the normal DCC bus or the programming wires. I didn't plan for this ahead of time, so I had to drill two holes to guide the programming track wires behind the layout and to the cabinet underneath.
While spending over a year building the track work for this layout, I had lots of time to think about the electrical connections of the layout. I had planned to wire the layout with wires above the benchwork. This worked out great and I'm very happy with that solution. I had, however, forgotten to integrate a programming track. I prefer to have a section of track set aside to double as a programming track so that an engine can be driven on to it and have its decoder programmed. Because of this, and some other thoughts I had accumulated while building the layout, I decided a nice utility panel was in order. The photo below shows the state before the panel. I used the ON/OFF switch on the power strip attached to the back of one of the cabinets as the master ON/OFF switch for everything. Initially I thought this was a great idea. It is nice to know that once that switch is OFF, everything is turned OFF. However, there have been times where I wanted to have the DCC ON and the lights OFF, and vice-versa. This solution didn't allow for that. Also, plugging in power tools while building the layout was a bit of a pain because the strip is set back so far. Now with the addition of an extra set of wires (seen the center-top of the photo) to control the signal going to the programming track on the layout, I needed to come up with a more elegant solution. The rest of this page shows the utility panel I decided to build.
The next photo shows the parts that will be integrated into the utility panel. Going clock-wise from the left side, I wanted to integrate a two-plug 110-volt power source. This will make plugging in soldering irons, drills, etc. much easier. These will be "ON" all the time. The circuit board is the Soundtraxx PTB-100 programming track booster module. It will feed one side of the programming track switch. Next are two Digitrax panels. The top one is the UR-91 which receives wireless signals from the throttles. The other panel is a UP-3 which will be used to preserve the battery in the throttles while the system is OFF. Next is the toggle switch (Radio Shack #275-664) that will control what is connected to the spur's rails; either the programming track or the normal DCC bus. The remaining three switches (Radio Shack #275-0693) will be used to toggle ON or OFF the layout's lights, the DCC system, and the accessories line. The master switch of the power strips in the back of the cabinet can still be used to turn everything OFF, in case of an extended absence, such as a vacation.
I spent quite a bit of time thinking about the panel and what is supposed to be on it. I made several sketches to make sure everything was included and would fit. I took several measurements on different days to make sure I had them right. Of course, I made many last-minute changes when I went to the garage to actually start building the panel and discovered what I had and what I didn't have in terms of wood material! :-) The next photo shows the front of the panel cut to size and having all of the components' holes cut out. I originally planned on using Masonite hardboard for the panel, but I figured the lighter color of this 1/4-inch plywood would make things easier to see. I didn't want to take the time to paint the panel since it will be hidden behind a cabinet door most of the time. The mounting holes for the parts were made using a drill. The large round holes for three of the switches were made using a Forstner bit in a drill press. The larger openings were cut out using a fret saw.
Next, I glued pieces of 1/2-inch MDF (and one 3/4-inch plywood piece) to the front of the panel. These will provide the installation support of the panel and the offset required to allow clearance of the switches and the throttles plugged into the Digitrax panels.
I then mechanically installed all the components.
Here's a view of the backside of the panel.
When the utility panel is put to use, I want to be able to keep the Digitrax throttles plugged in so that I don't have to keep taking the batteries out when I am done with running trains. I wish that Digitrax would put an ON/OFF button on throttles, but they don't seem to be inclined to give us that much desired feature. So, I need to be able to plug the throttles into the UP-3 panel and lay them down. I decided to integrate a thin shelf under the panel to hold the throttles while plugged in. The shelf will be glued to the back of the panel. I cut and glued the angle brackets to the top of the shelf, as shown in the next photo.
The Soundtraxx PTB-100 module is mostly utilitarian. However, it does provide three board-mounted LEDs to provide status information while programming. I figured it might be useful to see those when the need for them arises. I therefore couldn't completely hide the board. I decided to mount it onto the above-mentioned shelf. First I needed to mount this board to a piece of MDF so that it could be mounted to the shelf and have the LEDs be visible. I decided to mount the board to some Velcro® strips so that it is removable in case of failure.
Here the board is being glued to the shelf. The LEDs are near the bottom of the board, and the shelf will sit about 3 inches below the utility panel, so they are visible. The remainder of the shelf will provide space for two throttles.
This vast mess of tools and wires were all necessary to build this panel. This photo shows all the wires attached to the back of the components.
I spent a day hooking up all the wires. The next day I covered all the exposed joints with electrical tape and liquid electrical tape. I then installed the panel using screws attached to the cabinet. On the right hand side I was only able to install one of the three screws; I just couldn't reach the other two screws. However, it appears that the panel is solidly installed. Unfortunately a victim of last-minute changes was the shelf. It turns out it is just too narrow for two throttles and the PTB-100 board. Oh well, most of the time I only use one throttle anyway. I can always add another shelf under it. All-in-all, the panel is a great success and I already enjoy using it.
I re-attached the cabinet door, and this is the view in the room. I also didn't take into account the cord of the throttle hanging down, but there appears to be enough clearance between the front of the panel and the door for the cable, so it all worked out OK.