Saturday, April 9, 2011

When DCC Re-Wiring Goes Way Wrong

My efforts to upgrade the wiring on my Dunes Junction layout for Digital Command Control (DCC) went way wrong--but the end result will be better track. Plus I've become a little smarter about DCC and the current array of HO track offerings.

Backside of the old Dunes Junction
DC control panel. Oy, what a mess!
With re-ballasting more or less behind me, I began the effort to make Dunes Junction's track and wiring compatible with DCC.  My old DC block wiring scheme was a series of compromises, and an unreliable mess. DC control was also keeping me from enjoying  some of the latest advances in sound and lighting that I would like incorporate into Dunes Junction.

The layout is small and relatively light, so I detached it and put it up on sawhorses--indeed, this is one of the joys of a small model railroad--so I could begin the work of removing the old wiring and adding in more feeder wires. I even screwed in some cheap 1x2 furring strip on the top of the layout as bumpers to protect the track from damage when I flipped the whole layout upside down.
That 1x2 protects the track when I
flip the layout over for wiring.

I soldered in new feeders all over the layout. (Remember, it's only 1 1/2' x 5' so that means three new pairs of feeders!) I had forgotten how much I enjoy soldering . . .

Problems arose when I began circuit testing. Turns out my Peco Code 75 turnouts are the 'Electrofrog' variety. Unfortunately, they were also inducing shorts across the whole (tiny) railroad.

A bit of internet research turned up a solution--specifically, Allan Gartner's Wiring for DCC site, which has a helpful page on Peco Insul- and Electrofrog turnouts. All I needed to do was snip a couple of jumper wires on the back of my four Peco Code 75 turnouts.

This is the point in the story where things go way wrong.  My turnouts have been spiked and ballasted on to the layout already, so getting to the back of them was going to be a trick.

My approach was to carefully drill up through the bottom of the plywood subroadbed and  snip the Peco-installed jumper wires.  Because I could flip the layout face-down, I could easily and precisely drill through the plywood and the roadbed with my trusty AccuDrill Precision Drill guide.

Drilling went well--cutting jumper wires was a different story.  Clipping Peco's wires, which I believe are made of a miraculous superstrong space-age nanotechnology that will someday be used to make space elevators and killer androids, turned out to be impossible, at least with my assortment wire cutters, knives, and dental instruments. It didn't help that all my cuttin' and snippin' was taking place through a single, and then a series, of  3/8" holes.

Peco turnout destroyed by my overzealous jumper snippin'
Long story short: I thoroughly destroyed the first turnout I attempted to modify for DCC operations.

The result: all the Peco Code 75 track is coming out and will be replaced with US prototype Peco Code 83 track.  I like the American overall appearance of the Code 83 track and turnouts, even though the rail is a smidge taller than what I would prefer.  And I'm using the Insulfrog style turnouts for their simple compatibility with DCC wiring. The track and turnouts have already been acquired; the process of pulling up the old track is underway. Stay tuned for more progress!