Trev Makes a Robot?

In that cinema classic Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey there’s a scene where this big hairy individual goes on a journey in the back of a van with Bill and Ted with Death along for the ride in the passenger seat. The big, hairy guy (I think his name is Station) has to build two replicas of Bill and Ted and after a flurry of wires, electronic components and tools up pop two robot heroes to save the day. Take a look at the YouTube clip, it makes slightly more sense than describing it. Slightly…

This scene from possibly the dumbest movie I’ve ever seen came back to me today as I worked under and over the layout on the control panel for the storage yards on Morpeth. I wish I could say that it only took an hour of riding around in the back of a van with a big, hairy monster to have the wiring done but it wasn’t that simple. However after spending what seems like and age waiting for components to arrive in the mail and in making the various parts I needed to make a start it was good to finally wire up the panel.

I’d already made the panel top and its housing prior to getting to work on installing the wiring. The box was made from 12mm plywood and the panel from 3mm MDF. I find that the angle on the slope of the panel is perfect at 8 degrees.

As all the points in the storage yard’s throat are Peco and these had solenoid switch machines installed I was able to use two NCE QSnap stationary decoders to allow these to be hooked up to my DCC system. As these are then part of the system you can dial up the particular points address number and throw it by using a throttle however I’ve found that even with labeling and instructions I and my visitors find this a bit confusing. The QSnaps come with screw terminals that allow the installation of push buttons so it seemed a natural choice to install a control panel in this part of the layout to aid in operator utility. You can still throw the points using the hands controllers however having a control panel is a good alternative for the visual learners.

This photo is a bit misleading as all it shows is the front of the control panel but nothing is wired into the layout yet. I’ll eventually put some printed decals on this to allow for visual cues for what is what.

In spite of the fact that I feel all layouts of any size benefit from control panels even if these are only located in the “complicated” areas like yards and storage sidings, I’ve learnt from long experience that a visual cue in the form of route lighting is a must. So I bit the bullet and used some 3mm LEDS let into the panel to show which direction the points are thrown to the operator. I was going to use green LEDs however when I visited my local Jaycar they only had red ones in a cheap bulk pack. I decided I didn’t want to wait any longer so I bought the red ones and went with it. I consulted John Parker on a design for route lighting on control panels that doen’t require a separate accessory switch and he sent me a diagram for something similar to what I had in mind. I wanted to use one LED per route and have this light up when the point was thrown in that direction. There are probably all sorts of fancy iterations where you can have green for the selected route and red for the non-selected using bi-coloured LEDs but these are expensive and I could get 50 red LEDs for $13 so I was going to keep it nice and simple: route selected, LED comes on while route not selected’s LED goes off.

This photo shows the back of the control panel. The panel has been partially wired up ready for installation into its box and connection to the rest of the layout. The way I’ve wired up the LEDs means that the two long legs of the LEDs are wired in common with a wire running back to the point’s frog with the other two wires connected to one rail each. The beauty of this is that the LEDs only need one long lead back to the location of the point, the other two poles can be group connected to the track through single terminal points inside the control panel.

I spent today wiring up the buttons and debugging these connections and I’m ready to move onto the LEDs next. I decided at the start that I needed to sort out my labeling on this project so I’ve developed a coding system that breaks the layout into four zones and provides the basis for me to label the approximately 40 points that it will contain. The layout is way too big to just randomly allocate DCC addresses to things and play it by ear. I know where everything is and what it’s allocation is now but I’m not too sure that will work in 5 years time when I’m trying to track a fault.

You can see the labels I’ve applied to both the screw terminals and the button/LED clusters. The numbers correspond to labels that are under the layout on the point motors and the number I’ve allocated to each point in the DCC system. STO = Storage, 1-8 = the number of points in the storage zone and the numbers 30-37 is the decoder address number allocated to that point in the DCC programming. So the second cluster along the plastic terminal blocks is STO2 – 31 which translates as point number tw0 in the storage yard with the decoder address number 31. The labels are just pieces of typing paper out of my computer printer I typed up in Word and stuck to the wood with a glue stick.

Generally speaking I think the labeling and the step by step way I’ve approached this task has really helped me to keep the fault finding and re-wiring I’ve had to undertake to a minimum. However there will be no robot Bills and Teds appearing out of this exercise and that may be a great blessing 🙂

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