Let’s Get Wired

The New New Project Part 11

Finally! Had you given up on me? My last post was May so I don’t blame you if you had. I’ve still been working on the layout. I actually was controlling a train with my phone the other day, but I’m getting way ahead of myself.

Wiring is one of the aspects of the hobby like carpentry that, for me at least, is not very appealing. Fiddly, mucking about under the benchwork kind of stuff that I avoid when possible. However, if I want to run trains it’s the only way, at the moment, to make that happen. There are new technologies out on the bleeding edge to switch to battery powered locomotives with wireless control. Last summer the Love of My Life and I built a garden railway that runs that way. I plan on posting about that someday too. Battery technology will have to get even better for that to work in N scale. For more on battery powered indoor trains check out this site: https://www.deadrailsociety.com.

I did some reading and research while I was building the benchwork and such. I knew I was planning DCC for control and I had already bought an NCE Power Cab for my last project. There’s a DCC website that has a lot of information (http://www.wiringfordcc.com) plus I spoke to other modellers and read forums. As you might imagine there are as many ideas as there are people, so I had lots of information to sift through. In addition there are many great videos on YouTube. I found a series by Mike Fifer and he, like me, is using Kato Unitrak in N scale so his videos have been immensely helpful.

Warning: Geeky Technical Information To Follow. Reader Discretion Advised

In the end I decided on bus-type wiring with wires coming off at various points using suitcase connecters, running to power distribution blocks and finally to track feeders. If this were a computer network I would call it a star topology. Maybe it would help if I showed you some photos.

If you have never worked with (or even heard of) suitcase connectors before, they are a solderless connector that is used to create connections. The key word for me there is solderless. I hate soldering. I have heard as many people say that hey hate suitcase connectors so opinions vary. How do they work? I can’t say it better than the Micro Mark website where I bought them: Dubbed ‘Suitcase Connectors’ by expert model railroaders, these Insulation Displacement Connectors (IDC’s) let you connect track feeder wires to main bus (power supply) wires without having to strip or solder. Simply place the connector over the wires and crimp the metal tab with pliers. The tab pierces the insulation and locks the wires together. Snap the lid shut, and you’re done! source: www.micromark.com.

For the main bus I bought a spool of 12 gauge speaker wire and to connect the bus I used 18 gauge wire. The track feed wire is 22 gauge. I used Kato’s Unijoiners which are wires soldered onto rail joiners. I fed the bus through the centre hole I drilled on the table sections back in part 5 and ran it down the centre of all the tables. For the parts where I had to go around a corner I used a screw-in hook. I then secured the wire to each end of the layout with staples. I made sure to separate the two wires when stapling lest the staple cause a short. This meant that the bus wire is conveniently located at the centre of each table. So far that’s worked well.

My layout isn’t large enough to warrant ‘power districts’ whereby there is a separate DCC booster for each area but the layout is broken up into a series a blocks to allow for more feeders and separations. This helps to isolate for trouble shooting. At Mike Fifer’s suggestion I insulated the two ends of each turnout (unless it’s connected to another turnout). This avoids most power routing issues but means more blocks and feeders are required.

There are different ways to do power distribution blocks but the way I settled on was to use terminal block barrier strips (hey, I didn’t come up with the awkward name). Then I run a back jumper wire connecting half the terminals and a red jumper wire connecting the other half. This means you can connect the feeder power to any of the appropriate coloured terminals and the track feeders to the rest. Typically they have 12 terminals which means you can have six blocks being fed by one strip. You can see the finished product in use above. It does mean making 5 short jumper wires of each colour but it’s a task easily carried out while watching television. The giant lobster claw is holding an example below.

To connect everything up, I feed the wires down through holes in the table, after cutting off the plugs that they come installed with. Then it’s a matter of putting all the pieces together. For work under the table I sit on a low stool and use a flexible desk lamp. This has made the awkward task somewhat less so.

Once I got the first area hooked up I, with sweat on my brow, placed a locomotive on the track, connected up the throttle (Oh yeah, forgot to mention, the throttle just wires into any power block.) annnnddd…it worked! I had one small problem where one of the block feeder wires wasn’t properly connected but once I sorted that out everything ran fine. Whew!

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