Wiring up – DCC power bus and droppers!

Layout wiring is one of those time consuming tasks  that takes time, care and seemingly forever without any signs of visible progress up top on the layout itself. My strategy is to complete the track on one side of the layout, wire it up and get it all tested and working before moving on. This breaks up the project into manageable bites rather than doing all the track first and then being faced with a mammoth wiring job that takes an ice age or two to complete before a train can be run.

As I reported previously, Atlas code 55 turnouts have what is arguably the best electrical arrangement for feeding power along the layout, ideal for DCC. Even so for DCC, a power bus (two wires, minimum of 24/0.2 wire grade, of multi-strand copper) is necessary and droppers (single strand copper bell wire) should feed power to every piece of rail. Soldering all those droppers in through the yard and staging yard area has taken some time. At last, I have reached the junction at the west end, completed the wiring and ready to properly place the mainline track along the next part of the layout.

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This picture shows the feeding of bell wire for droppers through holes in the baseboard top at the west end of the reception yard roads. Each one is kept as short as possible and connects to the power bus.

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A sneaky peek under the baseboard. Each dropper is connected to the power bus. I prefer to strip the insulation from a section of power bus cable, about 10mm or so, and then wrap the dropper wire around the exposed section before flooding with electrical solder. This is a cheaper method than using suitcase connectors, you can attach more droppers per length of power bus and I think it’s more reliable than most forms of connector. A low tech solution but simple to do. If you strip each power bus in a staggered fashion, as shown, you can even get away without using insulation tape after you have finished soldering.

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Whilst on the subject of layout wiring, I did make a start on fitting micro switches to the turnouts, even though the Atlas ones have such short crossing vees (frogs) that it appeared that powering them through a polarity change switch seemed unnecessary. My locos ran through them without a hitch with no power applied. The staging yard area has turnouts with manual control using Caboose Industries ground throws. They work really well. A micro switch is fitted as shown above to change the crossing vee polarity as the turnout switch is changed. It’s another simple, low cost but effective method of control and very reliable.

The ground throws are useful indeed but will not be installed everywhere on the layout. Those turnouts on the scenic part of the layout within ‘Yard Limits’ will be manually controlled with micro switches for polarity change hidden under the baseboards and not on top as seen above in the staging yard. The mainline turnouts will be powered using Tortoise turnout machines which have neat internal electrical switches suitable for changing the polarity of power supplied to crossing vees. With the double junction at West Missoula now placed, installing turnout machines together with all associated wiring is next. After that, it’s back to track on the mainline. With yard work complete, track laying the mainline will be a breeze –  I hope!

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