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Reluctant control panel


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I have added a small control panel to the main baseboard. I always struggled to use my smart phone to control the Bluetooth relay board, and when I adopted DCC I realised one hand-held device is plenty and this has to be the throttle for the trains, not a phone for the points. I designed the baseboard to give a minimalist appearance, and the control panel rather spoils this, but the panel will let me operate the layout far more easily.

 

I am committed to DCC operation for my H0 trains, but I want to keep the ability to run my 00 trains and indeed brand-new H0 acquisitions from an analogue controller. Because of this, I want to keep the ‘traffic’ side of the controls separate from the ‘traction’ controls, even though I usually operate the layout on my own. I like having tactile feedback from controls too, and this means physical switches not a touch screen, and dedicated switches for each turnout and not the menu system of a DCC controller.

 

And so, I have ended up with seven toggle switches as ‘point levers’ for the Tortoise point motors. Logically, the baseboard might have four control panels (one for each of the three locations plus the main line) but the locations are close together and it would be quite overwhelming to do this. So I have all seven switches together on one panel.

 

The panel is a wooden box from a child’s jigsaw puzzle. I cut some grooves and glued in strips of darker wood to make the mimic diagram:

DSCF0299.jpg.49ada4e88064be109108fafaf851d436.jpg

 

The wiring is nicely simple. There are nine wires from the panel to the layout: one wire for each switch, and two wires for the split positive and negative power supplies. I used some slender 12-way cable bought on eBay, each core is 7/0.2 mm strands and I have three spare cores.

 

The attachment of the panel to the layout is anything but simple. I arranged some strips of wood, glued them onto each other and then into the box to make an angled tongue:

DSCF0264.jpg.6f245df5e2e64e9cbf71ced51137940e.jpg

 

The tongue fits into a slot on the front of the layout ...

DSCF0268.jpg.3f1784f6a06ef12467a79d451cf713b3.jpg

 

... and the panel hangs over the front of the layout, low enough to be as unobtrusive as possible and high enough to clear the doors of the cupboard underneath:

DSCF0297.jpg.16010ed1e59ebf166b7b577876f0efd1.jpg

 

The relay board is now redundant, but remains in place for a rainy day. I would have very much liked to tackle an Arduino project to control the relays (and the points connected to them) from a wireless panel, but I put off this project for so long it got blown away when I saw a demo of the Megapoints system. It does not seem worthwhile to tackle a home-made solution when a ready-made system can be had off-the-shelf. At the same time, Megapoints wants to take two dedicated wires to each stall motor and I could not find enough enthusiasm to rewire the motors and change the power supplies. So the layout has its seven toggle switches.

 

I would like to use servos for the points on my next layout. I hope such a layout will connect into the Shelf Island project, and if I use Megapoints to drive the servos it could have duplicated control panels, one panel here and one in front of the new layout. This is something for me to look forward to.

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That's tidy looking wiring & woodworking.

The important thing is the schematic on the panel looks nice & clear.

 

I think similarly to you: The throttle is for driving the trains & the panel is the signalman's job so why shouldn't they be separate?

 

Did you consider controlling the points with DC & using a control panel module to generate the DCC control signals from physical switches? DCC Concepts & MERG provide products for this. Such a system provides the ability to move the control panel & even have multiple panels.

I am not saying that is better than controlling by traditional wiring, just different.

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On 17/03/2020 at 08:28, Pete the Elaner said:

That's tidy looking wiring & woodworking.

The important thing is the schematic on the panel looks nice & clear.

 

I think similarly to you: The throttle is for driving the trains & the panel is the signalman's job so why shouldn't they be separate?

 

Did you consider controlling the points with DC & using a control panel module to generate the DCC control signals from physical switches? DCC Concepts & MERG provide products for this. Such a system provides the ability to move the control panel & even have multiple panels.

I am not saying that is better than controlling by traditional wiring, just different.

Thank you for your kind comments.

 

I’ve not heard of such a module, but then again I haven’t gone looking for one :-)

 

I missed out most of the history here to keep the blog post simple, but when I wired up the layout (track feeds as well as point motors) I had only analogue locos and they were all 00. I wanted to try DCC one day but I knew the layout had room for only two or three locos at a time and would be pleasant to operate with only one engine in steam. So I included a few isolating sections – one on the main baseboard and two in the fiddle yard. I wired up the rest of the track for DCC, meaning I put in extra isolating joints and track feeds so I could run trains without having to set the points to apply power to the desired track. All the track is live all the time.

 

During the next three years I started to buy and build H0 locos, and sold on most of the 00. One day I bought a Bachmann H0 ballast tamper, and bought the factory-fitted DCC version by mistake. I realised, I could afford to convert a dozen or so H0 locos and it was only then I started out with DCC.

 

I installed a simple changeover switch so the entire layout runs from either DCC (for H0) or analogue (for 00). Both sets of models run perfectly happily on the layout but visually they won’t mix together, so this is a nice compromise for me. There is no benefit in DCC for the 00 locos because I only run them for enjoyment as individual models, not for any formalised operations.

 

In these circumstances, I can switch off the DCC controller if I am running my 00 trains. There isn’t any obvious merit in using mechanical switches to control an interface board to tell a DCC controller to instruct points to move, and having accessory decoders for the points, especially when nine lengths of wire will do the same thing.

 

So I have “traditional” control of the point motors (toggle switches, wire and a couple of linear power regulators), and this is a common feature of the layout whichever controller I’m using.

 

My next layout will probably have a strictly H0 loading gauge, unable to accept much of my 00 stock. For this, the use of DCC throughout would have more appeal, but only if I’m using servos or some other motor which needs a driver circuit beyond switches and wires.

 

Before then, it would be good if this baseboard could have some level of scenic detailing. I find this extremely difficult for a freelance location and I still haven't decided where to take my cues. It would also be good if it wasn't another five years in gestation.

 

- Richard.

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