Category Archives: Test Layout

PC&N Mini Layout – Lighting Experiment

There will be a number of face structures along the edge of the mini layout.  The PC&N will have many more.  One issue that needs to be addressed is how these structures will be lighted.  While I am capable of fabricating LED circuits this layout has a significant number of projects.  A turn key solution is welcome as long as it is cost effective.  Woodland Scenics has released structure lighting system they call their Just Plug system.  Here is a schematic.

Woodland Just Plug Schematic

I’m going to experiment with the Get Started system on the left.  Assuming the experiment goes well, the system used on the PC&N will be some form of the Expand system in the right.

The system can be powered with track power or with a power block.  Because the PC&N is likely to be radio control battery power, the power block will be used on both the mini-layout and the PC&N.  One power block can support up to 50 LEDs.

Wpoodland Power Supply

The power supply plugs into either a Light Hub or an Expansion Hub.  An Expansion Hub supports up to four Light Hubs.  Expansion Hubs can also be ganged if more than four Light Hubs are needed.

Woodland Expansion Hub


The Light Hubs support up to four LEDs which can be dimmed individually.  This version included two LED Stick-On lights.

Woodland LED Stick-On

The LED Stick-On lights are normally used to provide lights to structures.  They are available in multiple colors.

Woodland LED Nano

LED Nano lights simulate individual points of light like in street lamps or automobile lights.  They also are available in multiple colors.

You might notice at the top left of both the Light Hub and Expansion Hub there is a jumper.  That jumper can be replaced with an Auxiliary Switch which can turn of all the power to the LEDs supported by that unit.

Woodland Aux Switch


There are two additional components.  One is Light Diffusing Window Film.  The other is a Light Blocking Kit that kills light leaks.  The following image shows a structure without the window film on the lift and with the film on the right.

Woodlands Light Difusing

Experimental System Components

I ordered the following:

  • One Power Supply
  • One Light Hub with two Stick-On Lights
  • Two Nano-Lights
  • One Auxiliary Switch

Bashing Just Plug

It is likely that any switch could be substituted for the Just Plug switch, allowing lights to be operated from a control panel.  In addition, they claim to be DCC compatible but fail to elaborate.  I suspect a stationary decoder could be used to switch lights on and off as long as the decoder has adequate power handling capability.

Could you fabricate your own lighting extensions from a Light Hub?  The answer to that question remains to be seen.

PC&N Mini Layout – Battery Power Experiment – Components

Tam Forney Harness

Receiver Harness

The above screen shot is of the wiring harness in the Tam Valley Forney modified by Duncan McFee.  His Company, Tam Valley Depot sells the DRS1 receiver.  The receiver receives DCC signals via radio from the transmitter I will discuss a bit further down the page.  Here is a screen shot of the receiver from the Tam Valley Depot web site.  As you can see, it is quite small – 1 5/16″ x 3/4″.

DRS1MkII Receiver


Modelers source their own batteries, but Gordon makes a number of recommendations in his e-book.  Individual Lithium Polymer battery cells have a nominal voltage of 3.7 volts.  Two wired in series give you 7.4 volts (above image) and three give you 11.1 volts.  I hope to standardize on 11.1 volts.

Basically, there are two choices.  One is to buy a battery pack from a radio control dealer or hobby shop with the appropriate voltage.  The second is to buy individual cells and assemble the packs yourself which gives more control over pack footprint.  Wiring within a battery pack wired in series is not daunting (red to black, black to red, etc.)  One of Duncan’s recommendations is of a Polymer Lithium Ion Battery – 400mAh from the SparkFun web site.

400 ma LI-Po

These 3.7 volt cells are around $7.00 apiece and include a PC that provides over current, over voltage and minimum voltage protection — the three conditions that are leading causes of Li-Po failure.  Height is 35.5 mm, width is 25.5 mm and thickness is 6.7 mm.  A stacked pack of three would have a thickness of a bit over 21 mm.  For those of you that are metric impaired, there are 25.4 mm per inch.

SparkFun also offers a 3.7 Volt 110 mAh Li-Po battery.  Its dimensions are 28 mm high by 12 mm wide by 5.7 mm thick.  A stack of 3 would have a thickness of just under 18 mm.  The pattern also has a PC that protects against ver current, over voltage, and minimum voltage.

110 MAH Li-Po

A third option is a 240 mAh 3.7 volt Li-Po offered through manufactured by Tenergy,  It also has PC board protection,  Dimensions are 25 mm high by 20 mm wide by 6 mm thick.  A three battery stack would be just under 19mm thick,

240 MAH Tenergy Li-Po

In summary, three different batteries at three different footprints offer three different capacities.  The best battery will be the one that offers the greatest run time given size constraints.  Run times are very dependent on the current draw if the engine,.

Power Switch

One thing the above harness doesn’t show is a switch to turn the power off from the battery.  Duncan recommends a switch that is displayed in the following modified harness image.  The switch os from and includes a push button to toggle on and off.  Gordon recommends substituting a reed switch which can be turned off by a magnet.

Harness polulu

The switch shown in the harness is an earlier version.  I plan to go with the later version which is the Mini Pushbutton Power Switch with Reverse Voltage Protection, LV.  This switch is 0.6″ x 0.7″ x .0.12″.  You can see the mini push button in the lower right portion of the board.  The Polulu switches go for around $4.00.  Depending on the Loco, I may use the mini push button switch and skip the reed switch which is available from

Polulu Switch

Transmitter Wiring – Existing DCC

Tam Valley Depot also sells the DRS1 MKIII Transmitter.

This is a two wire device.  It can be wired directly to the track inputs in the lower right corner of the NCE PCP board.  Pretty simple!


Transmitter Wiring – Full Wireless DCC

The disadvantage of the above approach is that the NCE throttle would be tethered at multiple points along the layout facia.  While NCE offers a wireless radio throttle, it uses the same frequency as the DRS1 Transmitter.

A second option involves using a CVP Airwire T5000 wireless throttle.  It sends a full DCC signal to the receiver and supports up to 16 channels and multiple engines per channel.  Rather than using an existing DCC system, it functions totally independently of any form of track power.  Apparently on Channel 16 it can communicate with the DRS1 Receiver.  However, if multiple throttles are being used and ll set to Channel 16, there may be interference.


On the other hand CVP makes a receiver called the Convrtr that accepts signals from the T5000 and performs the same function as the DRS1 except it supports all 16 channels.  The board is larger and nearly twice as expensive.  Dimensions of the Convrtr are 0.8″ x 2″.


In theory a mix of both receivers could be used with the Airwire T5000 functioning as the transmitter.

Transmitter Wiring – Full Wireless Non-DCC

DelTang of the UK makes a system that transmits using the 2.4 Megahertz radio channel.  It is a proprietary non-DCC system.  The receiver costs $46.  It is very small as shown in the following image.



The transmitter can be bound to up to 12 locomotives.  It is available in kit form for $38.

This is a fairly ideal system for powering locomotives that are non-DCC, or for which only basic functionality is needed.  One of my Shays is non-DCC.  All of my garden railroad engines are non-DCC.

The fact it operates at 2.4 megahertz is also a major plus in that there would be no radio interference with either of the other two systems.  It supports 2S and 3S Li-Po packs so my standard battery pack configurations would work with this setup.

Would it make sense to run a hybrid system?  I think it might.  Use the DelTang to power engines that are non-DCC or where bypassing DCC would still allow the level of functionality I desire,  Also use it in situations where space to store a receiver and batteries is very limited.  I think of the critters I want to run.  Use a system like the NCE/Tam Valley Depot combination to power locomotives where more space is available and where the use of sound is a plus.

Battery Charging

Of course, battery powered engines need to have their batteries charged periodically.  Li-Po batteries are very sensitive to how they are charged.  In addition, individual cells in multi-cell packs need to be balanced.  There are three charging choices here.

  1. Charge through the track.  This means at lest a portion of the track needs to be powered.  It also means that track voltage would need to be rectified and the charge rates managed.  I am not crazy about this option as I have no experience with Li-Pos and don’t want to be building circuits.
  2. Charge through a connector in the engine.  This might be a viable long-range solution.  But over the short haul I want to inspect the Li-Pos on a regular basis.
  3. Remove the batteries for charging.  This is the approach I am going to take over the short haul.  Thought needs to be put into how to make removal easy.  But the advantage is that a discharged battery pack can be swapped quickly for a charged pack for longer sessions.

The above decision means considerable thought needs to be put into not only space for batteries and other components but ease of swapping.  Duncan recommends going with a sophisticated battery charger.  He likes the HiTek X1 but is not specific about the version.  I like the HiTec H4 AC/DC.  It is capable of balanced charging on 4 battery packs simultaneously.  If I buy this $200 charger, I guess I’m pretty committed to battery power.  However, I do have a garden railroad hiding under mulch in my back yard.  That railroad will be brought on line this summer and will definitely be a battery powered railroad.  Of course large scale locomotives have a lot more space to hide batteries that will need to be charged.


This page has laid out a number of available options.  There are many others.  As additional work is done on the approach I will take, links to those posts will be added below this post.

PC&N Mini Layout – Battery Power Experiment

Tam Forney

Tam Valley Battery Powered Forney

One additional experiment I want to conduct on the mini layout os to power some engines using battery power.   Can DCC coexist with battery power.  Yes, if the right add on components are used,  Battery power in the smaller scales is still at what I would refer to as the “bleeding edge stage.”  There are no turnkey solutions at this point.  But a group of loosely organized San Diego battery enthusiasts have formed what they call the Dead Rail Society to promote the concept and encourage research and development of what they consider to be the future of model railroading.  Click the link in the previous section and pay them a visit to lear more.

Modelers wishing to experiment with this approach are left to pull together components from a variety of sources to implement their systems.  A variety of approaches are out there.  Because I already have an investment in NCE DCC, I feel the components and approach delivered by Tam Valley Depot makes the most sense.  Here are the features:

  • The system provides an alternate route for the signals generated by any DCC system to an engine.  Rather than running through the track. the signals are transmitted through the air via radio waves.   In my case that means I can use my NCE Pro Cab to communicate with my engines, either through the track or wirelessly.
  • A receiver in the engine catches the signals and transmits them to the engine’s decoder.  The decoder is not aware that they came via radio signals as opposed to track power.
  • The engine is powered electrically via a battery pack rather than through the track.  Battery pack size was a major problem in years past in the smaller scales but the emergence of Li-Po batteries has changed everything.  Li-Po packs are small enough to be concealed in On30 engines.
  • Because the power is delivered via batteries, there is no need for boosters, circuit breakers and other expensive component add ons to a DCC system.  In fact there is no need to wire the track or turnouts at all — Thus the name Dead Rail.  I have not been looking forward to wiring a layout.  I’ll wire the mini-layout.  But the decision  whether to wire my big layout can be left until after my battery experiments are complete.
  • Cost looks to be a push.  What I save on track wiring will be spent on components to power my engines with battery power.  I could support both on the large layout but make some districts battery only.  Obvious candidates are mining and logging.  Track powered engines couldn’t operate in the battery districts.  But battery powered engines could operate anywhere.
  • There is no need to clean track with a battery powered layout– another task I dread.  There are no problems with track continuity, turnout frogs and reversing loops.  It is more prototypical for an engine to pack its own power.
  • With my experience assembling radio shack electronic kits like amplifiers in my early years, the circuits needed for battery power look simple unless I try to build them from scratch — which I won’t.  Somehow working at my bench to convert a track powered DCC loco to battery power feels as though it will place less stress on my body than wiring a layout from underneath.

In the following posts, I’ll take you through the components and wiring needed to implement my battery powered experiment.  My approach mirrors closely that outlined by Duncan McRee in his 42 page e-book on the subject.  The book is available for around $5.00 through his Tam Valley Depot web site.  The image at the top of the page is from his e-book.

PC&N Mini Layout Final Track Plan

This version is the final track plan for the shelf layout.  It is simplified somewhat from Plan 2.  Given that track crossing from the left to the right side of the layout needs to be joined, I reduced the number of crossing tracks by 1.

This is the track plan for the left side.

Shelf Layout 1 - Left

The fiddle shelf (blue) allows me to add complete consists to the shelf layout by just dropping the shelf into place.  A rack on the wall going into my man cave can store up to six consists.  I plan to have a similar fiddle shelf area on the large layout.

The left side is 10′ long and 15″ deep.  In addition to being stage left for this layout, it also contains two industrial sidings.  The track plan was produced using Any Rail 5, with the trackage from their Micro Engineering track library.  This entire shelf is part of Power District 1 along with a portion of the right side.

This is the track plan for the right side.

Shelf Layout 1 - Right

There is room for a small engine service facility.  I also included the turn table from the second plan.  The location of the control panel and the break point between Power Districts 1 and 2 are also identified.  A Peco turntable is used to turn engines and send them to the engine service facility.

If you read through my page on this layout, the shelf layout is both a test track and a small switching layout.  The switching layout will allow me to run trains while the big layout is under construction.

The bottom two tracks on the layout will be double track, allowing HOn3 equipment to be run on that portion of the layout.  That is important as the mining district of the PC&N Layout will be HOn3 track with HOn3 equipment.  So this layout will be able to test both ON30 and HOn3 equipment.  Track will all be Code 70 Shinohara.  Because the main lines of the PC&N layout will be Code 83 and the yards will be Code 70, all equipment tested will have been tested on Code 70 track.

PC&N Mini Layout Structures

When I designed this layout, I figured I’d be limited to face structures that could rest on the small 1×2″ moulding at the top of my car siding knee walls.  Of course more of these structures (including docks) would protrude more than 1 1/2 inches from the drywall.  This in turn creates a bit of a problem when the shelf is rotated into vertical position as the portion of the shelf against the wall actually rotates up 1/4 to 1/2 inch.

Then I saw a post in another forum inciting that many modelers do not fix their structures in place on top of the benchwork surface.  They float them so they can pick them up if they need or want to.  Seams are covered with clutter, weeds, ballast, etc.That would solve my problem as long as I had a place to put them when removed from the layout.  A shelf directly above would fill that need.

So I’m going to experiment with removable structures.   Aside with dealing with the issues with face structures, this approach would also allow me to put some structures on the layout surface itself.

PC&N Mini Benchwork Construction

Construction of the benchwork for the PC&N Mini layout has begun.  This post will outline the steps in its construction.

  1. Cut two 10′ long 1×2 boards.  You can see these two boards at the top and bottom of the following image.  Both boards are laying loosely on the floor in this photo.
  2. Cut four 9′ 10 1/2″ 1×4 boards.  The bottom two are laying loose on the floor.  The top two are screwed in place.  These boards are cut 1 1/2″ shorter to allow two 1x2s to be used to form the sides of the shelves.
  3. Cut five 7″ 1×4 boards for the 16″ deep section of the benchwork.  The five boards are connected to the horizontal 1x4s in the top portion of the image.
  4. Cut five 4 1/4″ 1×4 boards for the 12″ deep section of the benchwork.  These boards are laying loose in the bottom of the image.benchwork1
  5. Drill Kreg pocket joinery holes.  Two were drilled in each end of the vertical pieces.  One was drilled in the side of the end vertical pieces.  Nine were drilled in two of the long 1x4s to allow attachment of the 1x2s.   If you look closely at the following images you can see the holes.Benchwork3
  6. Use Kreg 1 1/4″ pocket screws to join the horizontal and vertical pieces for the 16″ deep section of the shelf.  The following is a closeup of the right hand side of the joined 16″ deep benchwork.Benchwork2
  7. Cut one of the two 12″ shelf 1x4s down to 4’6″.  Assemble the 12″ shelf with the left 4’6″ 12″ deep and the right 5’6″ 8 1/2″ deep.
    12 Shelf1
  8. Screw 3 1x4x10 inch cleats to the underside of the shelf to hold fiddle shelves.  Note that in this image one fiddle shelf is resting under the three cleats.  When the shelf is inverted it will rest on the top of the cleats.  There is a stack of three additional fiddle shelves at the top of the image.12 Shelf2
  9. Recess 1/4″ by 2″ carriage bolts in the top of each fiddle shelf.  The bolts will drop into holes in the cleats and be secured with wing nuts.  When it is time to retire a train from the layout, the wing nuts will be unscrewed and the shelf lifted out of the layout and placed in a specialized set of shelf brackets designed to hold multiple fiddle shelves.  This step is pending a trip to the hardware store to pick up the carriage bolts.DSC_0888
  10. Screw homasote onto top of pine frame.  In this shot the homasote is installed.DSC_0889
  11. Atttach 1×2″ pine trim boards to ends and portion of shelf facing into the hallway.  These two shots are a closeup of the homasote installation the top on the 16″ deep shelf and the bottom on the 12″ deep shelf section where the fiddle yard will be attached.  The trim pieces have been attached to the 16″ deep shelf.DSC_0891
  12. Attach cleats and folding shelf brackets to wall.  These brackets will support the 16″ deep shelf.DSC_089212.  Install shelf on bracket.  This image shows the 16″ deep shelf installed, positioned in horizontal position.DSC_0893This image shows the 16″ deep shelf folded into vertical position.  The trim pieces protect the outward edge of the shelf.DSC_0894This shot shows the 12″ shelf installed with the supports for the fiddle yard in place.DSC_0895
  13. Construct a fiddle yard from a 5 1/2′ 1×4 pine.  Countersink 1/4″ x 2″ carriage bolts.  This shot shows the board and carriage bolts bolted to the supports.DSC_0896
  14. Screw homasote onto the 1×4″ board and trim with 1×2″ trim.  This shot shows the completed fiddle yard bolted to the supports.  The gaps in this photo will be filled in with ballasting.DSC_0897
    This shows the 12″ portion of the layout folded vertical.  There are a few gaps I will need to deal with but after all, it is a test track and we’re talking about a plug in fiddle yard.  Note that the fiddle yards will come off the layout (remove three wing nuts) and rest on a purpose built shelf right above the fiddle yard area.

With three brackets, while the benchwork is structurally strong in the middle, the ends tend to flop a bit.  This creates a problem in joining tracks spanning the left and right side of the layout.  I ordered four additional end brackets should solve this problem.  Adding them to the ends stabilized the shelves.  I’m not claiming I could sit on them, but they are capable of carrying a fair amount of weight without distorting.

The fiddle shelf shown in the above photo is one of four that fits into a purpose built shelf unit.  Here’s a photo of the shelf unit with four fiddle shelves ‘plugged in.’

This extends the functionality of an operating session as multiple trains can enter the layout, one at a time.

When the large PC&N layout is built, there will be places to plug in the same fiddle shelves.  So as I envision things long term, I will:

  • Build a consist on a fiddle shelf.
  • Test it on the PC&N Mini layout.
  • Store the tested consist on the fiddle shelf.
  • Plug it into the large layout when I want to bring it into operation.


PC&N Mini Layout Track Plan 2

In this track plan, room for a turntable is created by increasing the width of both shelves by 3″.  This is the track plan for the left side of the layout.

Test Track Plan1

And this is the track plan for the right side.

Test Track Plan2

This plan adds 1 right hand switch for a total of 6 right and 4 left, plus a Peco 12″ turntable.  The plan also adds an industry siding.

I’m not troubled by the additional 3″ of shelf protrusion into the hallway as these shelves will take no more space in the hallway than track plan option 1 when rotated into vertical position.  Increase in weight will be negligable as the expansion is mostly Homasote with an additional 3″ on lateral pine support members.

My strong tendency toward this design was implemented by ordering a Peco ON30 turntable today for around $100 shipped.  Research is complete on how to bash this into a more realistic looking gallows style turntable.


PC&N Mini Layout Folding Shelf Brackets

I found pairs of folding shelf brackets on Amazon for $9 a pair plus shipping.  Three pairs are on order, or in other words three folding backers for each 10 foot section of shelf.  Note that once these folding brackets were installed I placed an order for 4 additional brackets allowing me to support each 10 foot section of the layout with 5 brackets.


The following image shows the wall on which the shelves will be mounted.  Note that the wall bumps out 3 inches about half way down the wall.  That’s where the depth of the benchwork shrinks from 12″ to 9″.


As can be seen from the photo, this is a nearly finished wall that is only missing a bit of trim,  The benchwork will be mounted near the top of the wainscoting.  The following image is a close up of the trim at the top of the wainscoting.


To secure a bracket, a vertical 1″x4″ will be screwed into the wainscoting butting up against the lower portion of the trim.  The brackets will be screwed into this 1″ x 4″ cleat using 1 1/2″ screws.  Brackets will be mounted 3/4″ below the top trim piece so when the shelf layout is rotated into horizontal position, the Homasote will be level with the top trim piece.  To facilitate this, the back shelf edge piece will be mounted horizontally rather than vertically.  That means the sandwich where the shelf mounts to the wall will be 1 1/2″ thick, 3/4″ of pine or fir and 3/4″ of Homasote.  The top portion of the shelf bracket will be screwed into a cross member extending from the rear to the front of the shelf as shown in the earlier drawings.

Because the shelf will be fairly light (mostly Homasote plus a little pine or fir) three brackets should be sufficient to support a 10′ shelf.  If the shelf is not totally solid, diagonal elements can be run from the cleats to the front edge of the shelf to provide further stability and support.

PC&N Mini Layout Wiring


Dead Rail Commitment

Because I will be bringing up my garden railroad this summer as a radio control battery power railroad, I am going to attempt to do the same indoors.  I will use the Mini Layout to test whether I can manage a satisfactory battery control operation.  Most of the engines in the ON30 locomotive roster are DCC engines.  I had planned to use DCC with conventional track wiring so I am somewhat committed to using a battery powered approach to DCC.  What follows is a brief description of what i am going to attempt to do.

DCC, & Control Panel

DCC will be provided by a NCE PowerCab purchased as a starter set.  One of the primary reasons the PowerCab was chosen is that it can be used as a second cab unit in controlling the large layout.  I expect the large layout to be powered at least partially by a NCE ProCab.

NCE PowerCab

The heart of the PowerCab is the PCP (power control panel).  Note that the power to the track is provided by a terminal in the lower right corner of this image.


As the following diagram shows, the NCE PCP interconnects the cab, the track wiring, the power supply, and additional cabs or UTP (Universal Telco Panel) units.

PCP Wiring

The following is a UTP.  I plan to place one on the right side of the layout so a second operator can participate in switching fun.  In that case a second cab would be necessary,


With battery power, the terminals on the PCP are hooked to a transmitter that sends the DCC commands out via radio waves rather than over the track.  I have a Tam Valley Depot TRS1 MarkIII on order.  The two terminals on the transmitter are hooked to the two terminals on the PCP.  In a larger layout setting like the PC&N multiple transmitters wired in parallel may be needed.

The Tam Valley Depot receiver is small enough to fit in most of my engines.  It communicates with the DCC board already installed in the engines.

DRS1MkII Receiver

Some of the engines in the PC&N roster are not DCC engines.  Rather than convert them to DCC, I plan to support a second radio system.  It is likely I will use this system on my garden railroad as none of those engines are DCC engines.

The DelTang systems uses a hand held speed control and transmitter to send signals directly to a receiver in the engine.  The DelTang transmitter I’ll use will address up to 12 locomotives.


The DelTank receiver and control unit is very small and controls only a few basic functions.  I can fit this unit in engines as small as the critters I will be running.



Assuming this experiment goes well, I will not need to  wire any track.  There may be a few stationary decoders to control hard to reach switches and other devices.  As this experiment evolves, links to appropriate posts will appear just below.


PC&N Mini Layout Track Plan 1

This is the first draft of the track plan for the PC&N Mini Layout.  The left half of the plan is the above image and the right half, the image just below.



The numbers along the bottom edge are the distance from the left end in feet.  This plan allows consists as long as five feet, the length of the fiddle yard.  The letters to the left and right side of the track  identify the segment as the Main Line (ML1), the Passing Siding (PS1), yard tracks (YT1, YT2, & YT3), the Engine service Facility (ES1), and industry sidings (I1, I2, & I3)

As opposed to the Armstrong plan published earlier used as a basis, this plan has less industry sidings but has an engine service siding.  Like the Armstrong layout, it has three yard tracks.  The lower number of industry sidings is probably appropriate given the length of the consists.  This is a smaller operation.  There is potential for an additional industry siding at the top between 7 and 10.

There is no turntable, forcing engines to back their consists onto the Fiddle Yard at ML1, 5 when exiting the layout.  However this is probably good as the engine goes onto the fiddle yard on the same side of the consist and pinting in the same direction as when it was unloaded.

Resources needed include:

  • 4 left-hand turnouts (4 on order)
  • 5 right hand turnouts (4 on order)
  • 60′ of Micro Engineering Code 83 ON30 flex track (72′ on order)
  • 9 Caboose Hobbies HO 220S manual turnout controls (10 on order)
  • The electrical plan (to be developed) and the electrical components.