Morpeth Control Panel

I had a couple of friends over last week and told both of them to “bring something to run”. I had about 5 days before they arrived and was working on re-wiring a section my portable layout Morpeth. “5 days will be plenty of time to get this done,” I thought. I don’t have to look up the meaning of the words “falling short” because I know. A week later I reckon I’m almost where I needed to be for their visit but I still don’t have trains running round the layout so perhaps I do need to get the dictionary out πŸ™‚

The one truly wonderful thing above all others about having Morpeth incorporated into the larger, permanent layout is that I can still tip it on its back and work on the wiring for big jobs like this one. No crawling about under the layout!!! πŸ™‚

In a fit of exuberance I agreed to open the layout up for the SE Qld NMRA Convention in September, deliver three talks (one at the some convention on a day the layout isn’t open) and take Morpeth to a convention in Armidale, about 7 hours drive up onto the New England plateau from my home in the next few months. As Morpeth has only ever made one brief day long public appearance in 2014 I decided to agree to the layout appearing at the New England convention in November but before this happened I had resolved that the layout needed a control panel to control the turnouts. Hence the wiring job.

Now deciding you want to install a control panel and actually doing so are two separate processes and when my friends arrived to run trains last week it turned out that the second was a lot more work than the first and I was at least 7 days short of getting it done. I’d managed to get Morpeth into the condition you can see in the above photo when they arrived but I hadn’t even completed the re-wiring of the layout, let alone the construction of the control panel which was a completely new item. Up to this point I’d relied on the “temporary” solution of throwing the turnouts by entering their DCC address into the throttles. This worked fine but it was not terribly visitor friendly and so I felt a control panel was required. People just “get” switches whereas entering DCC addresses into the system can be a little overhwhelming. I would need to get an NCE Button Board to let me hook up my Switch 8 to some physical DPDT switches. Operators could still throw the turnouts via the throttles but a control panel would be “safe”. Then I discovered I had a Switch 8 Mk I I had under the layout and that Button Boards require a MK Switch 8! 😦 In addition to this I also needed to rewire the section of layout where the control panel was to be located because this is a portable layout and portable layouts have wiring requirements that permanent ones don’t. One such requirement is having to get the wires along the layout via plugs and sockets rather than just running the wires from one place to another.

There are probably many different ways to get your wiring to cross baseboard joints but I settled on using 8 pin DIN plugs and sockets many years ago and I’m still using them. I have a standard way of wiring up both the sockets and short jumper cables I use (there are about 8 or 9 such jumpers on the layout now) so all I need to do when I have to add some more jumpers is get my notes out and repeat the way I’ve wired them before. Here you can see three sockets on the left (two of which are new additions) and the single socket on the right. I only needed one socket before but getting the wires to the control panel which is located adjacent to the layout segment on the left means that two more connections are needed. I added the two extra sockets on the right after this photo was taken. The hole on the board next to the bottom socket is for later expansion if ever needed.

After I arrived back from my cross country jaunt to Canberra and all points frigid the NMRA open house and Armidale layout appearance were only a couple of months away rather than half a year away. I had most of the components I needed for the construction of the control panel so I grasped the nettle and got stuck in. The main design challenge for the panel was that it was on a portable section of a permanent layout. When in portable mode it would be in a spot that wasn’t really suitable for use in permanent mode. It needed to be easily detachable and relocatable and out of the aisle on the home layout. It was going to hang off the front of the layout and the aisle where it needed to be wasn’t really wide enough to allow passage of operators when it was in place. In an exhibition environment there are no such constraints but I did need to be able to remove it for transport. I’d considered making a separate stand for it but felt this was overkill for small a 300mmX220mm panel (12″X9″) so decided to hang if from the layout through the use of a French Cleat.

A French Cleat is no more than a length of timber that has been champhered along one long edge with a 45 degree cut. This piece of 12mm ply has the 45 degree cut on its inner side and is permanently attached to the layouts fascia. This small section of ply will fit into the layout trailer with no modification to the rack the layout sits on for transport. There’s a corresponding cleat on the back of the small, wooden control panel.

In this photo the panel is set in place. It’s a little difficult to photograph the inner cleat but the strip of timber you can see on the upper side of the rear of the panel housing has a corresponding 45 degree cut to the one attached to the layout. The panel simply lifts off when it needs to be removed. I can assure you that the panel itself is extremely secure attached like this. There are no screws of fasteners needed, it simply slots in place and stays there till I need to remove it. The electrical connection to the layout is made via more DIN plugs and sockets, the wiring for the two needed you can see in the photo. Why is it called a French Cleat? Don’t ask me, I’m just a railway modeller πŸ™‚

I’ve made a good deal of progress on the panels top and the wiring for the connections but I think I’ll leave that for another time.



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