Tasha Oates updated July 14, 2011

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  • Panel Controls

    TAKE THE CONFUSION OUT OF CONTROLLING THE TRACK AND SWITCH MACHINE POWER ON YOUR RAILROAD WITH A PROTOTYPE-STYLE PANEL

    1. The "schematic style" control panel is the most graphic method of grouping the on-off switches, reversing switches, and track switch con trolling pushbuttons. MRC's S.P.S.T switches sell for $.90, their D.P.D.T switches for $1.20, and ammeter or voltmeter for $3.25. The Kadee push buttons are $1.35 for three pair. The screw covered black strips are MRC's "terminal strips"; an invaluable aid in organizing the dozens of wires that lead to the control panel. The terminal strips are $1.50 each.

    2. The first stage in preparing for the installation of a master control panel is to attach all of the wires that will eventually lead to the panel to one side of the terminal strip. "The "terminal strip" allows you to complete the wiring of your layout and control panel in separate segments so the panel can be removed or replaced without cutting the wires; simply unscrew the wire from the "terminal strip." Each of the wires should be marked with a different color, number, or letter "code" so any short circuits or malfunctions can be easily traced from the control panel to the wire's connection on the layout.

    3. It's best to use two separate "terminal strips;" the electrical power wire connections and the other for the wires that lead from the switch machines to the track switches. You can connect one "hot" wire to your power supply and use its bare end to check the operation of all of the power and switch wires before proceeding with the wiring of the actual control switches and push buttons on the control panel.

    4. The frame for the control panel can be assembled from straight pieces of 1 x 3 lumber with each corner joint nailed and glued solid and square

    5. Cut a piece of 1/8-inch thick Masonite to exactly match the outside dimensions of the frame and attach it with small woodscrews.

    1001 Model Railroading Ideas - Fall 1971 - Page 69 1001 Model Railroading Ideas - Fall 1971 - Page 70

    As long as your model railroad is nothing more than a simple loop, you won't have to worry about controlling the various tracks; just connect the power pack to the tracks and circle around to your hearts content. When you begin to add more tracks, reversing loops, and pushbutton operated remote control track switches, you'll soon see the need for some sort of control organization so you can push the right button or flip the right switch on the very first try . . . . You don't have to have a giant size club layout (like the Salt Creek Society of Model Engineers) to need a custom control panel; a double track oval and a few yard tracks and sidings will require enough push buttons and switches to make such a panel well worth while. Some model railroaders group their buttons and switches in rows along the edge of the table with numbers or letters on each corresponding to identical numbers or letters placed on small signposts beside the track that each button or switch controls.


    This system works particularly well with the control switches and pushbuttons that Atlas makes for their HO scale track pieces. The best control organization system seems to be that used by the full-size railroads where a simplified line drawing of the track plan is painted on the control panel with the appropriate pushbutton or switch mounted on that portion of the panel that corresponds to the segment of track or track switch that you want to actuate. All of the control panels on these pages are this type and their operators swear it's the only system to use. If you've enough rudimentary knowledge of carpentry to construct a tabletop model railroad, you have the one for skill you need to knock-together a Masonite-covered control box to house the control pushbuttons and switches for your model railroad empire. The size of the front of the control panel must be large enough to accommodate the schematic drawing of your railroad's present and planned trackage.


    6. Tape pieces of square-lined drawing paper together to match the size of the panel. Trace a schematic drawing of your railroad's trackage on the paper; marking the exact locations of each track switch-controlling pushbutton and track power switch beside the corresponding part of the schema tic 's track plan. Transfer your fullsize drawing to the control panel's Masonite face after the face is painted black or dark green.

    7. Use an electric hand drill to drill all of the mounting holes for the panel's switches and pushbuttons, then press 114-inch wide white striping tape (from a drafting supply store) over the lines of the schematic drawing of your track plan. Here, Kadee's pushbuttons have been installed on each side of the track switches - the wires from the switches will be connected to the appropriate button to throw the track switch to the track route nearest the pushbutton.

    8. The on-off switches (to control the flow of power to the electrically isolated sections of the track) are bolted in place next. These switches can be located right on the section of track (on the panel's schematic drawing of the track plan) that they control.

    9. A hole saw or coping saw can be used to cut the round holes that are needed to mount the optional ammeter and voltmeter on the panel face (the square faces of these meters will hide the rough edges of the hole).

    1001 Model Railroading Ideas - Fall 1971 - Page 71 1001 Model Railroading Ideas - Fall 1971 - Page 72


    The panel face cart vary from a minimum of about 9 x 24 inches for a small yard or oval railroad to the giant 3 x 12 foot panels needed for the complex trackage of a club-size layout. The sides of the panel can be 1 x 3 pine boards nailed and glued together. The control panel face is best made from 1/8-inch thick Masonite; attached to the 1 x 3 frame with woodscrews so it can be removed for maintenance or future additions. The panel can be mounted on the edge of the layout in either a vertical, horizontal, or slanted position to be most comfortable for you to reach and see - if your layout is near eye level the panel would best be mounted vertically; if the layout is near waist level, you'd want it mounted at a slight slant or completely horizontal depending on how much aisle space you have and the size of the panel itself. You have the choice of building your complete train control system into the panel or just mounting the remote controlled track switch push buttons and on-off power supply switches on their appropriate portions of the schematic track plan.


    10. The $2.00 paperback book HOW TO WIRE YOUR MODEL RAILROAD (available from most hobby shops) will give you all of the information you need to determine which wire to connect where on both your track and control panel. Each connection must be securely soldered in place.

    11. This compact control panel contains all of the power and track switches to operate Al Hetzel's relatively complex HO scale model railroad. This particular layout is nearly 48-inches off the floor so the panel is mounted horizontally to the edge of the bench work for best visibility.

    12. You may wish to mount your speed and reversing control power pack beside the master control panel to simplify the panel's construction. Some modelers prefer to disassemble the power pack' so its controls can be mounted right in the master control panel. This particular power pack is the best from the MRC line; their "Controlmaster V" transistorized pack with variable engine acceleration and braking controls; $26.95.

    13. It's a good idea to build a separate panel for the more complex portions of your lavout like big yards or round house and turntable areas. Al Hetzel used a rotary power switch (from an electronic supply store) to control the flow of power in to the individual tracks that lead off of his Conrad Geiger-brand turntable. The power and track switch controls for the engine servicing trackage are all on this separate control panel.

    14. & 15. The wiring on the backside of the control panel can be completely confusing if each wire is not color, number, or letter coded for easy identification. The wires on this panel (on the Thunderbird Model Railroad Club in Phoenix, Arizona) are neatly laid out and the main collection of wires is laced together with string as it leads from the "terminal strips" (in the base of the panel) to the panel front. Be sure to leave enough length in the wires so the face of the panel can be unscrewed (or hinged up) without breaking any of the wire connections.

    1001 Model Railroading Ideas - Fall 1971 - Page 73 1001 Model Railroading Ideas - Fall 1971 - Page 74


    You can mount your speed and reversing control power pack beside the panel or remove the parts from the power pack's case and mount them in your own panel. If you are familiar enough with the electronic aspects of the hobby you may even want to assemble your own power pack inside the control panel. We used Model Rectifier Corporation's fine line of on-off (called a "S.P.S.T." or single-pole single-throw switch) and power reversing switches (called a "D.P.D.T." or "double-pole double-throw" switch) with Kadee's tiny pushbuttons for actuating the remote controlled track switches' switch machines. If your power pack is not equipped with meters for registering the amount of volts and amperes that are flowing to the track we'd recommend you encorporate Model Rectifier's voltmeter and ammeter in your panel as well. Most hobby shops and mail order model railroad supply firms can supply all of these items.

    17. The master control panels for the Salt Creek Society of Model Engineers club layout in Elmhurst, Illinois are located on an elevated platform to simulate the control tower operations and panel locations used on the full-size railroads.

    18. The control panel on Ray Dove's HO scale layout has a scaled down replica (rather than a squared-off schematic) tape drawing of his layout. His waist-high tableware requires a nearly horizontal placement of the panel so it can be clearly see and operated.

    1001 Model Railroading Ideas - Fall 1971 - Page 75

    Article Details

    • Original Author 1001 Model Railroading Ideas
    • Source 1001 Model Railroading Ideas
    • Publication Date Fall 1971

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