Friday, March 3, 2017

Choosing ground throws

I am among those who prefer that track switches be thrown as on the prototype, namely by hand in most cases. I am also among those who has installed switch machines in the past and then had to cope with maintenance and adjustment from time to time, along with occasional failure of the switch machine. The use of Caboose Industries ground throws is extremely common in HO scale (though they are awfully large, in fact out of scale even in S scale), and I have some too. But one has to recognize their virtue, that they are robust and dependable, and easy to operate.
     I have occasionally heard the comment, that the Caboose Industries ground throws are “not that oversize.” Here is a Jim Shaughnessy photo (courtesy Clark Bauer) of a brakeman throwing a prototype ground throw.Since his foot is on the head block, we get a good measure.

You can see that the throw bar is just about knee high, which matches my recollections. Now here is an HO scale man posed next to a Caboose Industries throw.

I will repeat my previous comment, these throws really are too large even for S scale. And my concern is not only the throwbar length, as you see in the photo above, but the sheer size of the mechanism, almost waist high on the man. That is why some of us are interested in alternatives.
     I have discussed before that I really like and am using the fine ground throws from Bitter Creek (see them at: ), and have been installing them wherever a new ground throw is needed, along with replacing some of the Caboose Industries throws already installed (see my post at: ). I use their model B-4001, Manual Ground Throw, and it is very much as easy to install as the Caboose Industries part. I continue to install these, and operators visiting on the layout seem to like them as much as I do.
     The turnout shown in the model photo above was a candidate for replacement. In the next photo, I’m holding a package of Bitter Creek throws (they come two to a package) next to the turnout, from which the Caboose Industries throw has been removed.

     The operating lever of the Bitter Creek throw is not greatly shorter than that of the Caboose Industries throw, as you see below, though it is more slender. This is the same turnout shown above, after Bitter Creek replacement.

More important to me, the mechanism of the Bitter Creek throw is far less intrusive, as you can seen with a thrown mechanism in the photo below.

     But there can be an issue. Any switch well away from the front or aisle edge of the layout can be a little less satisfactory for manipulating the Bitter Creek throws, while the oversize Caboose Industries throw is easier to use at a distance. Accordingly, I am rethinking my locations for ground throws, and have been removing Bitter Creek throws that have been installed at the back of the layout, and replacing a few of them with Caboose Industries throws (of which I have a surplus, having previously replaced many of them with Bitter Creeks). Meanwhile, I continue to pull up Caboose Industries throws near the front of the layout, in favor of installing Bitter Creek throws, as in the case of the turnout shown above.
     Are there alternatives other than hand throws like the Bitter Creek? Many would just go with switch machines, but that isn’t me. The other obvious alternative is some kind of long-range manual throw, whether with a long rod, a cable, or some kind of linkage. I have a couple of these on my layout, but not every location lends itself to them. So continuing to use Caboose Industries ground throws at the back of my layout, though obviously a compromise, is one I am all right with.
     Bottom line: any place operators have easy access to a ground throw, I’m installing Bitter Creek throws. The Caboose Industries throws are only used in places that are not as easy to reach. They are still a little easier to operate. But that’s the only reason they will survive on my layout.
Tony Thompson


  1. I took a look at what our British friends are doing in US prototype with their penchant for exact scale (except for track gauge) and found this idea. Use N scale caboose industries throws and sink them into the roadbed. See illustration here:
    Ken Adams

    1. Aplogies. It appears the RMWEB copied an old post of my UK layout.

      The picture I was trying to show is on this page:

  2. I recently purchased four of Bitter Creek's ground throws and I really like how they work and how they look. I'll be installing more on my layout.

    Some might like a set of contacts for remote LEDs to indicate switch me!

    Also, Ken Adam's link above is not to the appropriate photo

    George Corral

  3. Thanks, Ken, for the corrected link. It nicely includes a wide-ranging discussion of several ways to do ground throws. I do like the idea of putting the Caboose Industries throw down between the head blocks, making the huge mechanism rather less obtrusive. But you still have the operating bar that is around 7 scale feet long.
    Tony Thompson

  4. After using Caboose throws on a switching layout and watching them gradually bend and wear with age, I have been on the lookout for alternatives for some time now. The bending and failure of the ground throw may have more to do with my installation alongside hand-laid track than the throw itself - I may be stressing it beyond what it was intended to do.

    I agree that they are grossly out of scale for HO, but I don't think the Bitter Creek unit looks much better. You trade a smaller size for something that looks less like a turnout mechanism, apart from the actual arm/handle.

    And the 'bury it beneath the headblocks' approach has one flaw - if you need to replace the throw, you've got to remove the headblocks. However, that can be worked around and it sure does look closer to size. The headblocks also serve to prevent overthrow, stressing the turnout and the throw itself.

  5. Can you use the bitter creek on N scale?

  6. I don't know if Bitter Creek makes an N-scale mechanism. The HO scale one has a fair overpressure (good) in HO, but that might be too much in N.
    Tony Thompson

  7. I like using the Caboose Industries ground throws because they operate just like the prototype. They are much too large but I use the even bigger O scale version and mount them below the surface and at the front edge of the layout, linked to the switch with a rod and pivot. You can then use a dummy scale size switch stand on the layout. This eliminates reaching into the scene and the risk of damaging something. I use a flat head screw through a piece of tubing to mount the Caboose Industries stands. The length of the tubing is measured to position the screw head at the right height to keep the throw handle from being pushed below a horizontal position.

    If you have trouble with the handle popping out of position you can replace the plastic nubs with a longer piece of heavy wire drilled into the rotating drum.

  8. Hi, Mark, nice to hear from you. I agree that as soon as the operating mechanism moves away from the switch itself, size and shape considerations become much less important. To me, the biggest gain with the Bitter Creek throws is that they lie very flat and are not nearly as visually jarring as Caboose Industries throws; this is especially evident in photos. For years I composed photos carefully to try and keep the Caboose throws out of the photo. I find myself far less conscious of ground throws in my photos now.
    Tony Thompson

  9. Tony,

    Gave up waiting for Bitter Creek to produce more ground throws. I really like them, but wanted to get my switching layout operational. I actually spoke to the owner last April and he thought he would produce more by the end of last summer. Oh well.

    Having used Tortoise machines forever, I installed 12. Since I hand lay and prefer power routing my frogs, Tortoises are a good (and less expensive) solution.

    Lou Adler