|Written by Bob and Pat Canfield for Family Garden Trains
Evolution of the B&P Garden Railroad (B&P) - Part 6 - Track Repair, Wiring, and Storage
Note: This is a follow-up to The B&P Garden Railroad Part 4. In addition, technical aspects of the following text will be best understood if you first read the Family Garden Trains Primer Articles regarding HDPE Flexible Roadbed by Paul Race, Bill Logan and Bob Zajicek.
If you'll recall, we decided in 2007 to build an Outside O Gauge railroad, using a raised roadbed made from HDPE fabricated into a ladder-like framework (see Paul and Bill's HDPE Roadbed article for an overview). By the end of Part 4, we had the HDPE roadbed built, track laid, power applied, and trains running.
Work on the B&P during the past four months has been in three principal areas: (1) strengthening the HDPE Roadbed and refinement of the Atlas Track installation; (2) detailed track wiring and development of a portable TMCC - Transformer Cart to power the layout; and, (3) construction of a storage/display case for some of the B&P’s locomotives and rolling stock.
HDPE Roadbed Update
In Part 5, July 2008, we discussed how the expansion of our 100% plastic HDPE roadbed in the hot Southern Nevada Summer, exceeded the rail expansion of the Atlas Nickel Silver Track. A neighbor (and a retired engineer) researched the HDPE and calculated that the product expands approximately .25 inch for every 36 inches of roadbed length in our 110 to 115 degree Summer months.
We did not know this when we laid our 40 inch sections of Atlas Nickel Silver Track in the more temperate Spring time, leaving an approximate 1/8 inch rail gap between each section. It is now November and the expansion and contraction of the HDPE has come and gone with some track damage. The photo to the right shows damage to the plastic ties of our Atlas Nickel Silver Track due to road bed expansion and contraction. This, and other roadbed and track anomalies have been annoying but manageable.
To further strengthen the two mainlines, we have now installed approximately 30 of the fabricated aluminum strips first noted in Part 5 to the underside of the HDPE double ladder roadbed (see below). Other than this, the structural integrity of our HDPE “bench work” has held up well for more than a year.
Atlas Track Refinement
We continue to be frustrated with the frailty of the Atlas O Gauge Nickel Silver Track products as discussed in detail in Part 4. While the Atlas plastic ties have not warped in the hot summer months, the plastic appears to have become more brittle. Rail separation, due to the weak plastic spike/tie design continues to occur with the slightest provocation: especially where two sections of track are joined in a curve; and, with the many short lengths of center rail used in Atlas turnouts.
Split-Jaw Products Rail Clamps have proven to be very effective in smoothing out troublesome rail joints. In Part 4, we discussed the difficulties we experienced in joining multiple 40 inch flexible sections of Atlas O Gauge Nickel Silver Track over the B&P’s many, many curves. At that time we examined the Split-Jaw website for rail clamps suitable for Atlas’ O Gauge Nickel Silver Rail. Split-Jaw did not identify any of its product line as suitable.
In August, still searching for a solution to achieve smoother rail joints, we placed an online order for one each of several different sizes of Split-Jaw’s Rail Clamps. This was done in an effort to identify an appropriate fit for the Atlas Nickel Silver Rail. Instead of receiving our order, we received a personal telephone call from a Split-Jaw customer service representative, who correctly concluded, based on the peculiar nature of our order, that we were trying to determine which size rail clamp to buy.
Instead of letting us waste money and stumble through this process, the Split-Jaw team worked with us through several telephone calls and e-mails, determining that their Code 250 5.0 clamp will fit the Atlas Nickel Silver O Gauge Rail. We ordered several dozen Code 250 5.0 Stainless Steel clamps and retrofitted them to the problem rail joints. We are delighted with the results, as shown in the photo on the right. Had we identified this product when we originally started laying track eight months ago, we would have saved a lot of time and frustration.
Manually Controlling Turnouts
As we noted in Part 4, we removed the electric switch machines from our 14 Atlas Turnouts. Instead, we are using O Gauge Ground Throws from Caboose Industries (Lena, Illinois) to control the B&P’s 14 turnouts.
How to mount them in proper proximity to each turnout, given the nature of the raised HDPE open ladder roadbed, was the issue. Our answer was to fabricate small aluminum platforms, which we screwed to the side of the ladder roadbed (see below).
It is critical to follow the ground throw’s included “mounting” instructions to ensure that your switch points properly seat. The Ground Throws are made of molded Delrin (a high-temperature-tolerant Dupont plastic). After careful alignment, we mounted the ground throws to the aluminum platforms with “Super Glue” prior to painting, (see right).
In some cases, we determined that the ground throw would be easier to operate if it were remotely connected to the turnout. To extend the reach of the ground throw, we fabricated “music wire” extension rods that allow the ground throw to be mounted opposite the turnout, adjacent to a parallel ladder roadbed (see below).
After painting each ground throw’s aluminum platform, we put a small amount of red and green nail polish on either side of each ground throw to indicate whether a train will travel straight through the turnout (green), or switch to another track (red). To see more clearly, click on the photo above right.
Rewiring Atlas TurnoutsThe poor quality of Atlas O Gauge Nickel Silver Switch wiring, construction and point operation has become legendary. Simply “Google” the issue and you will find people like us who have found a high percentage of their Atlas O Gauge turnouts to have wiring and/or other mechanical problems. Even though we attempted to address this issue earlier (as discussed in Part 4), we continued to have problems.
Each of our Atlas Switches had center rail wiring continuity issues. To resolve this, we decided to install a bridge wire connecting each switch’s four separate center rail sections. To accomplish this, we used a Dremel Tool to notch the switch’s four pieces of center rail, then installed and soldered of a single length of wire connecting the four pieces together.
Some of the turnouts also have outside rail continuity issues. When needed, a similar process has been used to address this. The photo below shows wires connecting the inside rails on the turnout, and a few wires connecting the outside rails as well. If you can't see the connections well, click on the photo. The blow-up is pretty big but should give you all the detail you need.
[Note from editor: Non-O-gaugers will notice immediately that the center rail is soldered in a way that would derail any flange that hit the connection. As a non-three-railer, I had to remind myself that there is no flange on the center wheel. - ed]
Track Wiring for TMCC Control
Based on a lot of research, we, like many Garden Railroaders, decided to use two-conductor 12 gauge wire designed for low-voltage exterior lighting projects as our principal track wiring infrastructure. More than 400 feet of this type of wire runs adjacent to, or under every foot of track. Power connections to the track are made by wired rail joiners at regular intervals, not exceeding ten feet (discussed in detail in Part 4).
Paying careful attention to center and outside rail “phasing,” each rail joiner wire was soldered directly to its respective 12 gauge wire. Each of the soldered connections was wrapped with electricians “duct seal,” as shown in the photo to the right.
Each of the two parallel mainlines is broken into two separately wired blocks, North and South. Consequently, the two mainlines represent a total of four potential blocks. The two reversing tracks, North and South, are wired as separate blocks, and the North switch yard is wired as two separate blocks. This means that the entire layout can be operated as eight separately wired blocks. Rail joiners were used on the center and outside rails at every track joint, except for the center rail joints separating the eight blocks.
Currently, we have the two mainlines identified as 1 and 2. Mainline-1 is the North end outside track. Mainline-1 becomes the inside track on the South end of the B&P, and vice versa for Mainline-2. Each mainline’s two blocks are currently bridged. Additionally, we have connected the North switch yard’s two blocks and the North reversing loop to Mainline-2. The South reversing track is connected to Mainline-1. The consequence is that, currently, we are operating the entire layout as two blocks, 1 and 2.
Each of the two mainlines is fed by two 2-conductor 12-gauge wires. These four 2-conductor 12-gauge wires come together just North of Railroad Pass’ steel truss bridge. There the wires enter and travel down through PVC Conduit, then underground to a weatherproof electrical box where they are wired to eight “Banana Plug” connectors. The photo below left shows the location of the electrical box in relationship to the right-of-way. The photo in the center below shows the wires going into the PVC conduit. The photo below right shows the wires as they've been fed through the conduit into the electrical box, before they were fastened to the banana plug "jacks" shown in the next row of photos.
The photo at the left below shows the banana plug "jacks" on the plate in the electrical box. The photo to the right below shows the electrical boxes mounted as the edge of the patio, ready to accept power from our Lionel systems.
Each Mainline (blocks 1 and 2) is connected to one Lionel TMCC Track Power Controller (TPC 400) by two (2), two-conductor 12 gauge wires. Each TPC 400 is currently powered by a single Lionel 180-Watt PowerHouse Power Supply. Eventually, we will have two 180-Watt PowerHouses connected to each TPC 400. Unfortunately, for the last six months Lionel has had the 180-Watt PowerHouses on back order.
One TMCC Command Base is connected to both TPC 400s to permit TMCC transmissions to the locomotives. We purchased a second Command Base, thinking we would use one Command Base with each TPC 400. However, Lionel’s TMCC product instructions state that one Command Base can be used with multiple TPCs. Additionally, after researching this issue online and in back issues of O Gauge Railroading Magazine, we concluded that using multiple Command Bases might cause TMCC conflicts.
TMCC - Transformer Cart
When we started testing our track wiring and TMCC capability we used a Lionel 80-Watt Transformer and a Command Base. Initially we were setting the transformer and Command Base on the concrete patio or rock-covered ground. Our TMCC response was sporadic.
Then we accidentally discovered that if we lifted the Command Base off of the concrete patio, just a few inches, the TMCC functions worked perfectly. If we sat the Command Base back onto the concrete, the TMCC functions became problematic. We do not understand the technicalities of why this occurred, only that it did occur.
However, in our TMCC research, we found significant discussion about the importance of proper 110 volt AC earth ground connection to TMCC signal success. Until we built the Transformer Cart, we subsequently placed the Command Base on an empty shoe box, and consistently had good TMCC response.
Consequently, we decided that our Transformer Cart would be a place where the various electronic pieces could be isolated from direct contact to the ground, and be connected only with their dedicated 110 volt AC electrical outlets, and the layout’s eight banana plug track connectors.
Our intent in building the Transformer Cart was to have all track power and TMCC equipment on a portable, easy to handle, storable cart. We wanted to be able to quickly take the cart outside and easily plug into 110 volt AC power and the layout’s track.
The Transformer Cart is simply a light weight aluminum folding dolly from Home Depot (less than $30), with a light weight “L-Shaped” plywood box made to fit the dolly. The wood box is attached with four stainless steel bolts through the box and the aluminum dolly frame. The whole thing was sized to pass through interior house doors and fit into a closet for storage when not in use (see right).
Our research tells us that “The Command Base needs a good electrical ground to properly generate the TMCC radio signal. What is not widely known is a power strip with built-in surge protection can interrupt this ground. Some layouts where the Command Base was plugged into a power strip have experienced persistent (TMCC) signal issues that went away after the Command Base was plugged directly into a wall outlet or extension cord, bypassing the (surge-protected) power strip.”*)
Therefore, the 110 volt AC electrical connections for the cart’s TMCC devices and transformers are plugged into a single Non-Surge Protected power strip. However, this power strip is then plugged into a GFI protected 110 volt AC power source that we had professionally installed two years ago before installing the pond-less waterfall system (Part 1).
Four 2-conductor 12-gauge cables are used to take power from the two TPC 400s to the layout’s eight banana plug track connectors (see below).
We are using Lionel CAB-1 Remotes to control our TPC 400s and the B&P’s TMCC Command equipped, and conventional locomotives. At this time we do not intend to use TMCC to control any other layout function.
Our Transformer Cart gives us the ability to keep our electronic equipment safe and dry when not in use. When we want to play, it can be quickly deployed and connected to 110 volt AC power and the B&P’s track.
Note: - Your power supply systems' 110-volt AC power line must be connected to a GFI-protected circuit. Lionel transformers draw a lot of power, and they aren't, technically, designed to be used out of doors even on dry sunny days. You need to protect them and your operators from all danger of electrical shock.
After giving all of our Nickel Silver track an “Acetone” cleaning, we operated TMCC Command locomotives on both mainlines simultaneously with perfect results.
One of the issues that Garden Railroaders struggle with is how to store their trains when not in use. Some people design their layout so that a track siding connects, through a wall, to an indoor storage area. This is what John Blessing did in Arizona.
We considered this. However, the only interior location we could have routed our trains to was our garage, which would not provide the dust-free, air-conditioned environment necessary to properly store O Gauge locomotives and rolling stock.
Typically, when people with indoor storage and an outdoor layout, want to run trains, they have to carry locomotives and rolling stock from an interior closet to the outdoor track. Such is our case. Without a safe, dust free place to store equipment, we have the tendancy to keep our locomotives and rolling stock in their original factory packaging. Unfortunately, doing this significantly adds to the amount of time necessary to get a train from the house to the track.
During most of July and August, it was too hot to work outside on the B&P. Instead, Bob convinced Pat to remove a piece of art work from a hallway niche and let him fill the space with a train storage/display case. Limited by the size of the existing niche, Bob built the wood framed case, and used O Gauge aluminum shelving purchased from Glenn Snyder Display Systems, Buffalo, New York, for the interior. Once constructed, we had the glass doors fabricated to fit, and installed them using hardware available at Lowes, Home Depot, etc. (see right).
We need more than double the amount of space provided by this case to get all of our locomotives and rolling stock out of the closet. Unfortunately, for now, we are out of available wall space.
After more than two years of design and construction, we are now at the point where we can use the B&P with confidence. We are comfortable that if we invite friends to play, the B&P will reliably work as intended. It’s a nice feeling.
We are now looking forward to the many cosmetic issues involved with the installation of trestle bents, shrubs, additional track details, possible track-side structures, etc. We are a year late, but we will have trains running this Christmas.
We hope our experience gives you some useful ideas and helps you plan your project more effectively. If we can answer any questions, please contact us through the Family Garden Trains Contact link. Just put the words "Questions for the Canfields" somewhere in your comments and Paul will forward them to us.
Bob & Patricia Canfield
*Bob Bartizek, Reliable Command Operation Part II, Overcoming TMCC Gremlins, O Gauge Railroading, December 2006. [Click the return button to go back to where you were when you clicked here.]
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