Tuesday, August 10, 2021

Electrical wars, Part 18

This is another one of those posts with a series number, clearly showing that it relates to an ongoing experience. In this series, it refers to electrical problems on the layout. I don’t mean to imply that these are of such severity that the term “wars” is really appropriate, though sometimes it does seem that way. Maintenance is just what comes with advancing age of layouts, especially if they are “exercised” fairly regularly (by which I mean “used for operating sessions”). 

(Incidentally, if you would like to seek out prior posts in this series, the simplest way is to use “electrical wars” as the search term in the search box at right.)

The problems I describe today are examples of those intensely annoying ones, that are intermittent. It is, of course, much easier to track down consistent problems. The first of these was a track that sometimes lost power, in ways that did not seem at all obvious, let alone consistent. I am still not certain of all the reasons that may have contributed, but perhaps the solution will be interesting to readers, because I had to do three separate things.

First, I notice that one of the necessary electrical gaps did not seem to be very open. I have talked about this kind of problem before (see my post at this link: https://modelingthesp.blogspot.com/2018/10/electrical-wars-part-16.html ). That post, and my current work, involved making sure there was a gap all the way through the rail (sometimes a cut-off disk doesn’t quite cut the rail foot entirely).

The solution, of course, is to make sure it’s fully open, and then put a little slab of styrene in it, usually glued in place with canopy glue (though CA works fine too). You can see that below. The uppermost rail in the photo has its white styrene gap filler a little to the left of the photo center, and the rail below it in this view has its gap about two ties to the left of that. These will of course be painted so their white color doesn’t stand out.

But that was only insurance for a doubtful gap. I also had to check all the feeders to the track that had intermittent power, and found a wire loose and partly broken at a terminal strip under the layout. That was an easy fix, of course; re-strip the wire end and re-attach to the terminal strip. 

But that fix only helped part of the problem. I eventually realized that I was also experiencing intermittent operation of a Frog Juicer, not powering the Peco switch whose frog you see above, but for the turnout just to the right of the switch in the photo above.

Let me hasten to say that the Frog Juicer, made by Tam Valley Depot, is a superb product, and has for some years now, performed flawlessly for me on a number of switches on my layout. To date, I have only used the Mono Frog Juicer models, that is, a device to operate single switches (see a description of their product line, and considerable informative material, at their web site: https://www.tamvalleydepot.com/products/dccfrogjuicers.html .) 

But this particular Juicer, after years of service, did need to be repaired. The folks at Tam Valley Depot did the repair. With the above maintenance actions, and the repaired Juicer, all the track in that area worked perfectly. 

As an illustration, below you see the switcher that’s stationed at Shumala, spotting a flat car at the East Shumala team track (the crates were described in a previous post; see it at: https://modelingthesp.blogspot.com/2021/06/open-car-loads-crates-part-4.html ). The locomotive has just traversed the former problem area.

Meanwhile, the other problem was over at the switch in Shumala leading off the main line into the (railroad) east end of the siding. There I encountered another case of erratic operation of a Frog Juicer. But in this case it was due to two (presumably) independent problems. 

One problem was a separated bond wire from a stock rail to a point rail, easily re-soldered. The other was some kind of electrical leakage that had developed in the gaps at the frog. See below. This was discovered using a multi-meter.

You can see above that I did a poor job rebuilding this Shinohara switch for the Frog Juicer, because the cuts in the point rails, where they are  hinged with rail joiners to the frog rails, are awfully close to the electrical gaps in those frog rails (just to the right in the photo above — the upper one has white styrene freshly replaced in it). 

I avoided this mistake in subsequent rebuilds of other switches. But once I had cleaned and verified the two gaps shown above, and soldered that bond rail, all was well. The Frog Juicer worked perfectly, as it always had previously. Both these problems are in trackage that has been in use for years, and has been part of dozens of operating sessions, without problems. Now they develop. Sigh.

I am once again reminded of Jim Providenza’s advice on layout maintenance: “Trust nothing. Check everything.” Excellent advice, as always. And by applying that advice, I fixed both the problems described above. Back to operating!

Tony Thompson


  1. The worst kind of war is one that you are ready to surrender, but the other side won't let you :)

    1. Ah, yes, quite true. Heck, the other side won't even let me open talks.
      Tony Thompson