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HO switch machines

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  • Member since
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  • From: Oklahoma
  • 42 posts
HO switch machines
Posted by jobfather on Thursday, January 11, 2007 1:10 PM

I am finally getting around to a layout after years of waiting but am having a problem selecting a remote switch machine.  Where I can easily reach a turnout I plan on using manual throws but for those locations not readily accessible I will need remotes.  In analyzing available machines the Atlas are attractive because of size, price, adaptability but a number of people have said they will only last a short time.  The Tortoise machines seem hefty etc but with their size can only be mounted by burying or hiding which is a lot of extra work I would prefer not to engage in.  My layout will also be with layers of 2" foam which also complicates matters.

Can anyone suggest a reliable, small machine that would fit the bill? 


  • Member since
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  • From: New Brighton, MN
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Posted by ARTHILL on Thursday, January 11, 2007 1:20 PM

Iam still a fan of Humpyard Remote manuel switch levers. They were easy to install, easy to adjust and work well. They are also fun and look good.

If you think you have it right, your standards are too low. my photos Art
  • Member since
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  • From: Bedford, MA, USA
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Posted by MisterBeasley on Thursday, January 11, 2007 1:25 PM

I am using some Atlas machines that I used on my layout 40 years ago.  That's not continuous service, of course, because they were all packed away in boxes for most of that time, but they are a good 40-50 years old and they are still working.  They've been moved from their original brass turnouts to new nickle-silver ones, of course, which says something else good about Atlas - their parts stay compatable for a long time.

But...they are ugly.  I hate the way they look.  I've begun making scenic covers for them so I can't see them, which is a lot of extra effort.  Atlas does make what they call "under-table" machines, but the throw rod is only an inch long, so that's as thick as your table + roadbed can be.  Since I use 2-inch foam, it doesn't work.  I did take one of them and glue it to the underside of a turnout, which I then put down on the layout.  So far, so good, but if it ever fails I'll have to rip things up to fix it.

The thing about Atlas turnouts that is unreliable is the pushbutton controller.  They have a habit of sticking, and if that happens at the wrong point, you will melt your switch machine.  I replaced all of mine with simple SPDT momentary toggles.

In some places, I'm using Peco turnouts and switch machines.  These mount easily right to the underside of the turnout, but they do require a hole in the layout to fit into.  I cut the hole all the way through so I can (maybe) replace one from underneath if necessary.

Tortoise machines come with built-in auxiliary contacts for signalling or indicator lights.  You can buy an accessory for a Peco to do the same thing for a few dollars.  Atlas makes a "deluxe" switch machine (under-table only, I think) with contacts, but of course that's more expensive, too.

It takes an iron man to play with a toy iron horse. 

  • Member since
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  • From: Oklahoma
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Posted by jobfather on Thursday, January 11, 2007 1:37 PM

Mr. Beasley...

You may have offered a solution...gluing the machines (lightly) to the underside of the turnout ie like with Atlas under table machine.  Then it would work with any brand turnout too.  Cut out some foam and drop it in....will give it some thought.  The only negative is like you said....replacing a burned out unit.  Thanks.



  • Member since
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  • From: Pacific Northwest
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Posted by Don Gibson on Thursday, January 11, 2007 1:55 PM

ATLAS Switch Machines have two things going for them.

They MOUNT on the turnout; and are CHEAP.

They are mechanically and electrically simple.

They are also in plain sight.


My layout will also be with layers of 2" foam which also complicates matters. Can anyone suggest a reliable, small machine that would fit the bill?
Atlas' top mounting is simplest

For under table mounting I think I'd use Rix switch machines w.Rix rax'. they can use longer throw rods (2" foam).




Don Gibson .............. ________ _______ I I__()____||__| ||||| I / I ((|__|----------| | |||||||||| I ______ I // o--O O O O-----o o OO-------OO ###########################
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Posted by lvanhen on Thursday, January 11, 2007 8:17 PM
 ARTHILL wrote:

Iam still a fan of Humpyard Remote manuel switch levers. They were easy to install, easy to adjust and work well. They are also fun and look good.

Sign - Ditto [#ditto] As also stated, Atlas are UGLY.Dead [xx(]  They can be mounted under the layout, but a 1/16" difference in mount will make them unusable (don't ask how I know this!Clown [:o)])  There's also a new one on the market at the Walthers site, it's mechanical, mounts under the layout, and looks like it has a lot of variable mounting choices.Cool [8D]

Lou V H Photo by John
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  • 50 posts
Posted by yesterdaysradio1 on Friday, January 12, 2007 9:25 AM


     I was in the same situation when I returned to model railroading. I had dozens of twin coil switch machines packed away (30 years). The hobby has advanced a lot. Never forget what you already know. The old style L shaped wire to transfer the motion of the under table switch machine to the turnout works quite well. Jigs can be made to give you foolproof installation. The nice thing about this is it can be done without disturbing anything on the layout. it only takes a small hole (less than .093) through the table.

   The problem of activing signals, panel board lights, and frogs is easily solved by adding a micro switch ($1.00 each) to each side of the switch machine. This is done at the work bench by mounting all componts on a subplate. I also included 4-40 screws for wire contacts. This minimized solding under the table. A standardized hole in the subplate gives a foolproof location for the subplate. I setup a production line and made a dozen in a day. Installation on the layout is 15 minutes.

  I hope this helps,


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Posted by tomikawaTT on Friday, January 12, 2007 11:33 AM

First - All of my switch-throwing mechanisms, manual and electric, are mounted at the aisle edge of the layout, below track level.  Motion is transmitted by mechanical linkage, the final leg of which comes up through the tabletop, subgrade etc through a brass tube, bends toward the throw rod and is bent down through a hole in same.  That half-inch length of bent paper clip is the only part of the linkage that is visible in the sceniced part of the layout.

What drives the other end of the linkage is determined by whether or not the points must be controlled from more than one place:

  • If so, the actuator is a twin-coil switch machine, either ancient KTM (Kemtron equivalent) or more modern Rix.  Both have built-in electrical contacts - the KTM's are 3PDT. 
  • If not, the actuator is an electrical switch with the linkage attached to the handle, mounted in a niche in the fascia.  The contacts handle frog power and panel indicators.

I don't use tortoises because their power requirement is incompatible with the rest of my control system, and I don't use Atlas machines because they don't have the necessary electrical contacts.  I do not consider adding a separate relay as a suitable procedure - the electricals are complex enough as-is.

Just my My 2 cents [2c].  Feel free to disagree.

Chuck (modeling Central Japan in September, 1964)

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  • From: SE Minnesota
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Posted by jrbernier on Friday, January 12, 2007 12:04 PM

  I have read through most of the replies and have a few comments:


  • Gluing/Bury the machine under the turnout - How do you ever get at it for maintenance?  With a switch machine, this is a real issue.
  • Most switch machines can be mounted near the table edge and the throw cabled to the actual turnout.   Tortoise even has a 'remote' mount for this.  Usually one can use the flex cable material available in the R/C section of most LHS.  The #1 maintenance issue with remote switches is the machine or the linkage.

  I originally had Kemtron twin-coil machines mounted iunder the layout.  They work good, but the contacts provided do not have a lot of current handling capability, and they can get out of adjustment.  I used the contacts to power LED's on my panel.  after about 3 years one of my SPDT momentary toggles 'stuck' and fried a motor.  After that episode, I have just had some contact adjustment issues(17 years).  3 years ago, I pulled all of the Kemtron motors and replaced everything with the Tortoise motors.  This amounted to 12 turnouts in the staging area for the most part.  Everything else is 'hand throw' operation.  The Tortoise solution is not cheap(although I have found them for as little as $6/each at train shows).  The mounting is super simple, and the operation is flawless.  I have the panel LED's wired in series with the drive circuit, so only 2 wires go to each motor.  An old 'wall wart' power supply powers all of the Tortoise motors.  Turnout motors are not an area to go 'cheap' on, and my final cost for each installation is about $12/turnout.  Even buying news Tortoises, you can find them in the $13 range if you do some 'on-line' research.

Jim Bernier

Modeling BNSF  and Milwaukee Road in SW Wisconsin

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  • From: Elyria, OH
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Posted by BRVRR on Friday, January 12, 2007 12:12 PM


I use a combination of Atlas switch machines and Caboose ground throws for my turnouts (Snap-Switches). I use the Atlas machines because that is what I had when I enlarged the BRVRR layout. I converted the surface mount (visible) machines to under table machines with a little epoxy, a paper clip and a small piece of plastic tubing. Details on my website.

In the 6 or so years I have been back into model railroading I have had only one machine fail. It melted when my grandson leaned on a switch too long. I still use the Atlas slide-switches since they are cheap and in my eyes at least, reliable.

I would like to use tortoise machines, but the cost is prohibitive for me. If I have to replace any machines it will be with the Atlas Deluxe under table machine, which has contacts for signals and such.

If you have Atlas (or any other brand of switch machine) they can probably be made to work. If it is a matter of economics, I don't think you can go wrong with the Atlas Deluxe machine. Reliability, versatility and cheap.

My 4-cents worth.

Remember its your railroad


  Track to the BRVRR Website:

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  • From: Florida
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Posted by railroadnut675 on Friday, January 12, 2007 8:18 PM
I don't know exactly what type of auto-switcher I have, but it's a 1"x1" black box.Nothing special, but gosh its efficient-- mostly there are some track elevation things going and if you have many switches and turnouts (I actually have a miniature railyard on my layout) the wire work is a nightmare until its done
All hail the Mighty HO Scale Does thinking you're the last sane person on Earth make you crazy? -- Will Smith from I, Robot

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