Wiring

And now for the phase of layout construction I’ve been looking forward to the least, but on the critical path to an operational layout. Live steam and Diesel prime movers are physical impossibilities in N-scale (although in G . . .) so it’s breaking out the soldering iron and figuring out how to move electrons around. If I were doing standard DC cab control, the wiring would be straightforward, but I’ve elected to use DCC, and that has it’s own challenges. While the actual wiring is considerably simpler, DCC is much more finicky than DC.

After due diligence, I decided on 20-gauge bell wire for the track feeders, and 14-gauge solid wire for the bus. In N-scale, with a maximum of two locomotives operating, this is more than sufficient. I had a plan for wiring the railroad, and the first step was to provide access for the feeder wires:

Wiring tubes

After the track was positioned, the plan was to determine where feeder wires needed to be, and use 1/4″ plastic tubing to provide access to the layout bottom. So many feeders. The thing I gleaned from the literature was that DCC required a lot of feeders. I marked the feeder locations on the table surface, then used a drill to make a hole. I inserted the tubing and cut it flush with a motor tool. The flip-top design of the layout started to pay off here. After inserting the tubes, it was on to soldering feeders.

Feeder wires 2

Feeder wires 1

The idea was to attach the feeders, then mount the track and thread the feeders through the inserted tubing. This worked out pretty well. I don’t know what the ‘accepted’ practice is, as I’ve found that someone with a modicum of trade skills can figure how to do this. It’s a model railroad, but at this point, it’s a construction project.

My thinking was to insert the feeders, then run the bus wire through the midpoints and solder everything together. Lacking a 12 VDC power source, I used the multimeter to check continuity on each feeder. I’d considered cobbling together a basic 12 VDC source from spare computer parts, but was too lazy. You and both know this is going to bite me in the ass. Next time, I’ll make the feeders longer, run them to a terminal strip, and attach the bus wires there. As it is, this is what the under-layout wiring looks like:

Completed wiring under table

What the photo doesn’t show is where I had to detach the table from the desk to get to the sawmill portion of the layout. This was an oversight on my part. You’ll notice in the upper left-hand side wires going to the table edge. I’d thought about how power would get from the power pack to the track, and as there wasn’t anyplace to put the power pack on the layout, it would probably rest on the slide-out shelf. But how to connect them. I didn’t want a permanent connection, as the layout is meant to be semi-portable. I did have a bunch of RCA cables laying about, so an idea was born. If I terminated the bus wires to the table edge with female RCA jacks, I could connect the power pack with male jacks.

Power jacks

I had originally thought to use a blank switchplate drilled for the jacks, but then it occurred that I could use a single gang switchplate and be done. I’m still on the fence about how this looks, so I’ll give it some time.

The major delay in initiating the wiring phase was what to do with the turnouts and crossing. There was conflicting information: some said wire jumpers, others said no, Peco Elctrofrogs(TM) would work fine. One person recommended just wiring feeders and letting it ride. This is the route I took. The concern is that as the metal wheels of the locomotive (and cars) cross the frog , they will create momentary shorts. Not a problem with DC wiring, but as I said, DCC is finicky. So I soldered feeders and laid track.

Track after wiring

The layout after wiring.

Right now the track is laid and spiked down, and the wiring is done. I’ve invested in the last major bit of capital investment in the locomotive and power pack. I’m using the Digitrax Zephyr control and an NW2 for the locomotive. I’d originally planned on a 4-6-0, but Northern Pacific locomotives have a channeled tender frame, and the S-4 class has inclined cylinders, making a reasonable representation of this class a modeling project for later. Using the NW2 will set the layout time frame a few years later than I’d planned, but I can still use the S-4 class in the same period.

I’m anxious to see how the layout will respond ‘live’, especially the turnouts and crossing, which has  a mess of jumpers. I’m not worried about the trackwork, as I’ve run the lightest cars I have around the layout under MHP with no problems. I am concerned that I’ll have to tear up the track and jumper all the turnouts.

I’m looking forward to the scenery phase of the layout, when I can make my vision come alive.

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