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rookie model railroader needs some help...

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  • Member since
    April 2003
  • 305,206 posts
rookie model railroader needs some help...
Posted by Anonymous on Monday, September 15, 2003 11:18 AM
i'm a beginner to model railroading and need to get some questions cleared up. first, how many electrical connections from the power pack to the actual track do i need? does this depend on the size of the layout? i'm thinking that my beginning layout will be about 4x8, and i'll add on later. second, what's really better: track connectors or soldering track sections together? i've heard argument over ease of use and better performance for both. obviously, connectors are easier to use, but i want a quality run out of my layout. is soldering track sections hard to do (because i'm not the best as soldering)? third, power packs... do i need to buy a seperate power pack for running my train(s) and another for running acessories? i've seen a whole bunch of packs for running tains, but do they make ones for running acessories? i've bought a book about basic wiring (the Model Railroader Magazine one) and have read a lot of articles about wiring, but these few questions still stump me. thanks to anyone who can help...
  • Member since
    April 2003
  • 305,206 posts
rookie model railroader needs some help...
Posted by Anonymous on Monday, September 15, 2003 11:18 AM
i'm a beginner to model railroading and need to get some questions cleared up. first, how many electrical connections from the power pack to the actual track do i need? does this depend on the size of the layout? i'm thinking that my beginning layout will be about 4x8, and i'll add on later. second, what's really better: track connectors or soldering track sections together? i've heard argument over ease of use and better performance for both. obviously, connectors are easier to use, but i want a quality run out of my layout. is soldering track sections hard to do (because i'm not the best as soldering)? third, power packs... do i need to buy a seperate power pack for running my train(s) and another for running acessories? i've seen a whole bunch of packs for running tains, but do they make ones for running acessories? i've bought a book about basic wiring (the Model Railroader Magazine one) and have read a lot of articles about wiring, but these few questions still stump me. thanks to anyone who can help...
  • Member since
    February 2001
  • From: East Lansing, MI, US
  • 223 posts
Posted by GerFust on Monday, September 15, 2003 11:52 AM
ssoross (MR. Pelendrome):

I would go for using soldered rail. Since it is your first layout, be careful about soldering items like turnouts, in case you change your mind later.

I've had 4x8 layouts that suffered from conductivity far from the pack, especially with dirty rails. It's worth the few extra minutes and insurance to connect the leads to the track in multiple placed. Unless you are using DCC, it is probably best to wire the layout in isolated blocks, so you can add sidings and yards later.

I also recommend using a separate power pack for accessories, espcially if you are using a cheap power pack or one that came with the layout in a starter kit.
[ ]===^=====xx o o O O O O o o The Northern-er (info on the layout, http://www.msu.edu/~fust/)
  • Member since
    February 2001
  • From: East Lansing, MI, US
  • 223 posts
Posted by GerFust on Monday, September 15, 2003 11:52 AM
ssoross (MR. Pelendrome):

I would go for using soldered rail. Since it is your first layout, be careful about soldering items like turnouts, in case you change your mind later.

I've had 4x8 layouts that suffered from conductivity far from the pack, especially with dirty rails. It's worth the few extra minutes and insurance to connect the leads to the track in multiple placed. Unless you are using DCC, it is probably best to wire the layout in isolated blocks, so you can add sidings and yards later.

I also recommend using a separate power pack for accessories, espcially if you are using a cheap power pack or one that came with the layout in a starter kit.
[ ]===^=====xx o o O O O O o o The Northern-er (info on the layout, http://www.msu.edu/~fust/)
  • Member since
    April 2003
  • 305,206 posts
Posted by Anonymous on Monday, September 15, 2003 2:07 PM
I agree with Gerfust in soldering the track but not the turnouts. You should use as many blocks as you can. I started with a power pack and switched to DCC and the blocks have come in handy for block detection and signalling which no doubt you will get into later. As for a power pack for accessories, it depends on the accessories. For example, I use Tortoise switch machines and use a surplus transformer that I had from one of many gadgets around the house that had a power supply. According to the manual for the switch machines, I can run 20 off one transformer.

Good Luck
  • Member since
    April 2003
  • 305,206 posts
Posted by Anonymous on Monday, September 15, 2003 2:07 PM
I agree with Gerfust in soldering the track but not the turnouts. You should use as many blocks as you can. I started with a power pack and switched to DCC and the blocks have come in handy for block detection and signalling which no doubt you will get into later. As for a power pack for accessories, it depends on the accessories. For example, I use Tortoise switch machines and use a surplus transformer that I had from one of many gadgets around the house that had a power supply. According to the manual for the switch machines, I can run 20 off one transformer.

Good Luck
  • Member since
    December 2002
  • From: US
  • 725 posts
Posted by Puckdropper on Monday, September 15, 2003 2:13 PM
My basic rule of thumb is to have track feeders at each end of a block, and keep the blocks to under 3 feet (HO scale) I usually don't solder the rails together, but do solder feeders to the rails.

I'm building a layout on modules, so wherever the track crosses a divsion, there will be a feeder.

Btw, before you try soldering rail, you may want to read books/magazine articles on soldering. It's a very simple thing to do, once you get the hang of it. A book/magazine article will explain the process better than I can right now.
  • Member since
    December 2002
  • From: US
  • 725 posts
Posted by Puckdropper on Monday, September 15, 2003 2:13 PM
My basic rule of thumb is to have track feeders at each end of a block, and keep the blocks to under 3 feet (HO scale) I usually don't solder the rails together, but do solder feeders to the rails.

I'm building a layout on modules, so wherever the track crosses a divsion, there will be a feeder.

Btw, before you try soldering rail, you may want to read books/magazine articles on soldering. It's a very simple thing to do, once you get the hang of it. A book/magazine article will explain the process better than I can right now.
  • Member since
    April 2003
  • 305,206 posts
Posted by Anonymous on Monday, September 15, 2003 3:51 PM
I would solder most rail joints but not turnouts. Also leave some joints with small gaps for expansion/contraction unless you have a controlled environment. Basements generally change temperature with the seasons. You could buy some brass sectional track and practice your soldering on them. Be sure to use a small (20-25 watt) soldering iron so you don't melt all the ties.
  • Member since
    April 2003
  • 305,206 posts
Posted by Anonymous on Monday, September 15, 2003 3:51 PM
I would solder most rail joints but not turnouts. Also leave some joints with small gaps for expansion/contraction unless you have a controlled environment. Basements generally change temperature with the seasons. You could buy some brass sectional track and practice your soldering on them. Be sure to use a small (20-25 watt) soldering iron so you don't melt all the ties.
  • Member since
    August 2003
  • From: Pittsburgh, PA
  • 208 posts
Posted by preceng on Monday, September 15, 2003 7:21 PM
Definately use seperate power packs for the accessories, particularly the turnouts. If you use the same pack for turns and cab power, the train hesitates wen you throw a switch for the turnout. It will drive you nuts
Allan B.
  • Member since
    August 2003
  • From: Pittsburgh, PA
  • 208 posts
Posted by preceng on Monday, September 15, 2003 7:21 PM
Definately use seperate power packs for the accessories, particularly the turnouts. If you use the same pack for turns and cab power, the train hesitates wen you throw a switch for the turnout. It will drive you nuts
Allan B.
  • Member since
    September 2002
  • From: Nova Scotia, Northumberland Shore
  • 2,479 posts
Posted by der5997 on Monday, September 15, 2003 9:29 PM
Soldering is not as hard as it may seem to you right now. The low power (20 -30 Watt) iron is a good choice. Practice a bit on thngs that are more or less scrap anyway , the brass rail tip sounds pretty good to me. Ties won't melt if you are quick, and if you pack some wetted facial tissue around the joint you are soldering, they won't melt at all. Fancy name for the tissue is a heat sink. (when you get into building your own circuits, and don't laugh, I started out knowing beans about soldering and have built a few circuits that actually work. If I can, I'm sure you can [:)], you'll need more specialized heat sinks, but the tissue will do fine for now.)

One thing you can do to make it easier to solder the power feeders, is to solder the feeder to the rail joiners. How? Fancy way first. With a razor saw cut the middle of one side of a joiner in two places so that you can pry out the cut section as a tab. Solder the feeder to the tab. Slide the joiner onto the rails, and mark where the tab comes. Drill a hole in the road bed and sub roadbed at that spot. Remove the joiner, bend the feeder wire at 90 degrees, push it down the hole, and attach the joiner to the rails again. Solder the joiner to the rails. The heat sink this time is to prevent your feeder from coming off the tab.
Less fancy way. Solder the feeder to the bottom to the joiner. Getting the heat sink to prevent the feeder from unsoldering if you are slow in your rail joiner soldering work is trickier with this technique.
Have fun!

"There are always alternatives, Captain" - Spock.

  • Member since
    September 2002
  • From: Nova Scotia, Northumberland Shore
  • 2,479 posts
Posted by der5997 on Monday, September 15, 2003 9:29 PM
Soldering is not as hard as it may seem to you right now. The low power (20 -30 Watt) iron is a good choice. Practice a bit on thngs that are more or less scrap anyway , the brass rail tip sounds pretty good to me. Ties won't melt if you are quick, and if you pack some wetted facial tissue around the joint you are soldering, they won't melt at all. Fancy name for the tissue is a heat sink. (when you get into building your own circuits, and don't laugh, I started out knowing beans about soldering and have built a few circuits that actually work. If I can, I'm sure you can [:)], you'll need more specialized heat sinks, but the tissue will do fine for now.)

One thing you can do to make it easier to solder the power feeders, is to solder the feeder to the rail joiners. How? Fancy way first. With a razor saw cut the middle of one side of a joiner in two places so that you can pry out the cut section as a tab. Solder the feeder to the tab. Slide the joiner onto the rails, and mark where the tab comes. Drill a hole in the road bed and sub roadbed at that spot. Remove the joiner, bend the feeder wire at 90 degrees, push it down the hole, and attach the joiner to the rails again. Solder the joiner to the rails. The heat sink this time is to prevent your feeder from coming off the tab.
Less fancy way. Solder the feeder to the bottom to the joiner. Getting the heat sink to prevent the feeder from unsoldering if you are slow in your rail joiner soldering work is trickier with this technique.
Have fun!

"There are always alternatives, Captain" - Spock.

  • Member since
    January 2001
  • From: Guelph, Ont.
  • 1,476 posts
Posted by BR60103 on Monday, September 15, 2003 9:47 PM
I'm going to take a different tack on this.
The number of wires to the layout will depend on how complicated it is.
Since you are a novice, your first track plan will probably not be your last and may not last too long. If you start soldering your tracks together, you may get locked into a layout before you've tried all the variations.
Use the longest track sections you can -- preferably 3' flexible track. Put feeders where they're required for your blocks and switches then add more if your trains seem to slow down. If you put track sections together and take them apart a lot, the rail joiners will loosen up and not conduct as well -- replace them or start soldering.
We used to be able to buy "accessory power packs" but I haven't seen advertising for them for years. You can use the packs from train sets after you but a better one for running, or toy train transformers. If you have a lot of accessories, you may want a larger acc. power pack. Check the voltage and AC/DC requirements on your accs., you may want a number of small packs. Remember that you don't change all your switches at once so you won't need a big pack for that -- until you have a dozen operators!

--David

  • Member since
    January 2001
  • From: Guelph, Ont.
  • 1,476 posts
Posted by BR60103 on Monday, September 15, 2003 9:47 PM
I'm going to take a different tack on this.
The number of wires to the layout will depend on how complicated it is.
Since you are a novice, your first track plan will probably not be your last and may not last too long. If you start soldering your tracks together, you may get locked into a layout before you've tried all the variations.
Use the longest track sections you can -- preferably 3' flexible track. Put feeders where they're required for your blocks and switches then add more if your trains seem to slow down. If you put track sections together and take them apart a lot, the rail joiners will loosen up and not conduct as well -- replace them or start soldering.
We used to be able to buy "accessory power packs" but I haven't seen advertising for them for years. You can use the packs from train sets after you but a better one for running, or toy train transformers. If you have a lot of accessories, you may want a larger acc. power pack. Check the voltage and AC/DC requirements on your accs., you may want a number of small packs. Remember that you don't change all your switches at once so you won't need a big pack for that -- until you have a dozen operators!

--David

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