Sunday, 27 September 2015

He is Sceptical about Electrical ...

... and Wiring is Tiring!
A youthful fbb's first model railway ran on track like the above. It was Tri-ang, a recent arrival in the toy train market. His layout was little more than an "oval" of track, a passing loop and a single siding. It also came with a transformer and controller. With two basic trains it cost his parents £10 (£225 at today's prices). It was pathetic (ungrateful child) but it was a start.

Triang upgraded to "Series 3" track like this ...
... and nobody knew what happen to "Series 2"! Several things then happened quickly (and fbb can't remember the order of events).

Triang produced Super 4 track ...
... Hornby Dublo annouced its two-rail range and Peco started making its now world famous Streamline flexible track. Your blogger-to-be had to decided what to do. So he bought Hornby points and fixed curves etc. for the tricky bits and one-yard lengths of Streamline for the easy bits. Exactly the same general principles apply today! But Hornby points presented a particular problem.
They had three mysterious terminals next to a flat brown box; and they weren't for electrical operation of the points. They were for coping with some of the problems of 2-rail electrics. It became obvious to beginners that "proper" two rail wiring might be a bit more complicated than they thought.

Suffice it to say, without going into tedious detail, things can get very tricky. fbb-to-be had no truck with such complications and managed with a simple two wire connection to the track (one red and one black) and a few plastic rail joiners.
You still have the same problem with points, you can have complicated or simple wiring and the plastic rail joiners are still available at the shop at Peco's Beer HQ and from all good stockists!
But a revolution in model railway control has happened. In the early 1980s Hornby announced its "Zero 1" system which the company had developed at vast expense. This was the first example of Digital Command Control, although the "DCC" tag had not yet been invented.

Yer what?

Basically the idea is simple. (Oh yeah?). You send electricity (12v DC uncontrolled) to the whole of your track. Each loco has a decoder chip installed. (With it so far?). Then the controller ends a signal of pulses ...
... through the track which, via the internal chip, tells the loco to start, stop, speed up and slow down. By keying in an appropriate code, your controller can "drive" any number of locos and crash them into one another causing hundreds of pounds-worth of damage.

Although that's not the best idea!

Here's a diagram showing the principle.
The diagram above shows other uses for chips; altering points ("switch" in the US) and working sound and lights in your little engine.

So "simple" was the idea that early sales blurb spoke of "just two wires to run the whole if your layout". (Ha, jolly ha!)

Decoder chips are priced at between £20 and £30 depending (click on the digram below to enlarge) ...
... on whether you want chips and system to do lots of stuff. Now you can have the same train control system, plus signals, sound and lights in buildings, extra transformers and power boosters, and detectors to tell you where your trains are. Two wires, eh?
Which brings fbb to last Tuesday. There was a gathering of model club members and others at Buffers shop near Axminster to see a presentation by Richard Johnson, the big cheese of "DCC Concepts", an Australian company that specialises in all this technical flummery.

Very impressive. He showed us firstly ...
... a kit which enabled the modeller, very simply (grunt of derision?), to build their own digital push button control panel to run points and signals on their layout, but connected by only two wires. (Plus ├ža change.)

Item 2 was a more shiny pre-boxed version of the same. This would cost "in the region of £100".
Richard ebulliently (aren't all Ozzies ebullient?) extolled its technical prowess whilst fbb silently gibbered behind a pillar. The third item was a smaller box ...
... referred to by the slick salesman as "the Swiss Army Knife of train control" which, as far as fbb could gather, was a thingamuffin control box to control all the other control boxes. This was still "under development" but would retail at "about £125".

Going back to the big diagram, fbb notes a "feedback bus" and a "cab bus" and wonders whether, if he was operating Faller electronic road vehicles, he might need a "bus bus"?

Where will it all end. On the Railway Modeller Christmas 2014 DVD we were entertained by a group of old codgers whose huge layout was totally controlled by computers. All they had to do was to set it all going and it would run itself while the modellers went to the pub.

It's called "defeating the object".

And a final thought.

Technical developments which are expected to mature during the next five years or so include the use of plastic for rolling stock bodies and the use of new electronic apparatus for reducing the complexity and cost of control systems, particularly for traction equipment.

These words are from the closing paragraph of the 1959 review of the 1955 British Railways Modernisation Report.

Still waiting on the real railway!

And on fbb's back yard layout?
One red wire and one black wire, just like 55 years ago!

 Next bus blog : Monday 28th September 


  1. The 'mysterious terminals' on the Hornby Dublo point were crucial for connecting powered semaphore signals or colour light signals to work in conjunction with the point. But I've no recollection as to whether the signals required a separately-wired power source, or whether it came via the point.

  2. The grey track you illustrate at the start of the blog is series 2. There was a previous version called universal that had odd connnectors and no fish plates and was soon replaced. will illustrate it for you.