Sunday, January 24, 2016

Pine Street progress - Benchwork and Switch Machines

I've been working diligently on the railroad almost every day, sometimes for 15 minutes, often for hours.  The effort has paid off in that the benchwork sections are all mounted on the walls and the fascia has been installed.  I've also had a very successful trial installation of my manual switch machine method.

My office is roughly 11' x 14', and I was able to fit the original 12' long, scale length model of the mill trackage along one long wall.  The street trackage coming down Pine Street will be represented by a short stretch including tracks in the road and a hopefully noticeable grade replicating what I've experienced driving down the street myself.

There will be a lift-out section across the doorway, followed by the small yard and track feeding the spur from the  CN line along the Welland Canal.  Past the yard and across the other end wall will be a scale length representation of the railway bridge across Hwy 406, a chemical plant, and finally a connection to the mill trackage for when I just want to see trains run.

The fascia is made from black plastic, a method that I saw Trevor Marshall demonstrate on his modules on a series.  I cut roughly 8" wide strips from a 4'x8' sheet and glued them to the benchwork with No More Nails.  It went on easy, allowed for adjustment of level, and dried quickly.  There is an overhang along the top edge that will be trimmed to follow the terrain contours once the scenery has progressed.  I'm very pleased with how the fascia came out.

The switch machines are going to be a combination of Southco's ( small E3 compression latches driving Bill Brillinger's ( Simple Switch Machine.  I've always wanted something simple to install, mechanically rather than electrically driven, and slow-motion.  Because the latches move axially as the key is turned, that movement can throw the switch machine, with the rod connecting up through the benchwork to the throw bar having some flex to hold the points tight against the rails.

Here are some videos and photos illustrating the concept:

In the photo above one can see both winghead and keyed installations of the latches; I will be proceeding with the keyed version as I feel it better replicates what happens on the prototype.  The operator playing the role of brakeman/conductor will have the key and be responsible for throwing the switches and "locking" them after each move.

My next step is to order the remaining switch kits that I need from Proto87 stores, assemble and install them with the key-driven latch/switch machine combos.  Then I will build the liftout, lay all the connecting track, and hopefully start running trains!


  1. I'm delighted the Simple Switch Machines worked out for you Robin. Very cool installation!

  2. I never thought of using a key to turn a switch - what a great idea to bring some realism into it!

  3. Need some additonal product info on the cam latches being used. Could not locate them on the Southco site. Kindly respond directly back to me (Geoff Holman).

    1. Geoff, here is some guidance to help you find either the winghead or tubular key latches on

      There are two basic types of E3 compression latch, the standard size that provides 1/4" / 6.4 mm of travel, and the smaller size that provides 4 mm of travel. Because the Simple Switch Machine is direct acting, I only require 4 mm or less of motion. The spring that goes up into the throwbar provides some compliance and pressure against the stock rails if the actual distance travelled is less than 4 mm.

      The small E3s are available in either zinc or stainless steel. For simplicity, we can look at two head styles available in black zinc from Amazon:

      1. For the winghead, search for "Southco E3-57-15". Look around for the best price and availability by changing the 1 to any number between 1 and 8. This digit denotes the grip range with the included cam, but we won't need that part so it becomes irrelevant.

      2. For the tubular key, search for "Southco E3-55-X5", where X can be any number between 1 and 8. You'll also need the key, so search for "E3-26-819-15".

      You can go for a chrome finish by changing the last digit "5" to a "1", i.e. E3-57-11, or splurge and go with stainless by changing the last digit to a 2.

      Good luck!

      Robin Talukdar