Thursday, November 12, 2015

All Sorts of Badness: Control Panels, LEDs, and Wasps

I looked forward to a recent evening alone to wire up my control panel, but things went very bad very fast . . .

Fist of all, the good news: the control panel came out beautifully . . .

Here it is just-about-completed, with holes drilled for all the toggles and LED indicator lights (and even some of the LED bulbs installed). It's a masonite board attached with a piano hinge to a 1x3 frame and plywood base. It even has cabinet magnets! Pretty jazzy, if I don't say so myself.  Someday maybe I'll go into how I built it in a future post, but for now enjoy the pic above. Because I'm afraid I'm going to have to tear it apart.

Here's the problem: I figured the 1x8" masonite I had on-hand would be too flimsy & flexy for the 12.25" x 30.5" size panel I needed. So I got "clever" and got myself a 2' x 4' piece of 1/4" masonite.

MUCH more sturdy.

Veterans may see where this is going . . .

I got my first inkling something was wrong when the LEDs wouldn't quite snap into the cool LED bulb clips I'd bought. "No problem" I thought, stuipidly. "They'll just be a nice press fit."

But then, I had an awful thought - maybe the masonite was actually too thick(!) I quickly grabbed a spare toggle switch and test fit it into one of the 38 holes I'd drilled . . .

You can just barely see the threads poking through. And, no, that isn't enough for the locknut to even get a bite. Thanks for asking.

Here's what it's SUPPOSED to look like . . .

You guessed it - that's a piece of 1/8" masonite, just as the Control Panel Gods (must have) intended.

So, my question (though I'm afraid I might know the answer already): Do I really just have to suck it up and redo the panel using 1/8" masonite or is there some way I can salvage what I have? Please - if you've ever put off leaving a comment or contacting me and you have some helpful advice to share, please get in touch!

Next, I figured it best to step away from the abyss control panel for the time being and try a test wiring of my LEDs and turnout motors.

Yeah, I'm stupid that way.

You may recall that I'm using the MicroMark Switch Tender motors and really like them. But I think I may have uncovered a critical shortcoming.

I decided to use this video as a guide . . .

to wire these LEDs . ..

to the toggles and MicroMark machines. My plan was to have the LEDs indicate on the control panel which way the turnout is thrown. The video makes it look pretty easy and straightforward, but he seems to be using different LEDs and - perhaps most critically - he's using a Tortoise switch machine rather than the MicroMark.

So, I wired up a spare toggle and LEDs per the video's instruction, and - sure enough - the two LEDs would light alternately depending one which way the toggle was thrown.

But when I connected everything to the MicroMark machine, the machine would work (yay!), but the LEDs would no longer work (booo!). And I'm at a total loss as to why(?!)

And if all this wasn't enough, when I went downstairs to test all this, I noticed a strong mildew-y smell. I looked all over the floor - no water - and there's been none down there for years now (thankfully) and I didn't notice the smell before. Then I heard a buzzing . . . Flying overhead was a wasp. And I'm highly allergic to wasps.

So I hightailed it back upstairs and called it quits, figuring this was the 3rd of three strikes against model railroading for the year month week day at least.

ANY help/tips/suggestions/guidance you can offer about the control panel or the LED/switch motor wiring would be MUCHMUCHMUCH appreciated.

As for the wasp, I'll call my exterminator. Heh - maybe he's actually a mud dauber. That might explain the mildew smell. Otherwise, like the rest of the evening's work, I'm at a loss.


  1. Chris, I do have an idea that may work. If you have a drill press you could use a spade bit of a large enough diameter and drill out the back side centered on each toggle switch hole. Set the drill press stop so that it will drill a 1/8" recess. Test on a scrap piece of 1/4" masonite. Good luck.


  2. A large diameter forstner bit might be better than a spade bit. I think the bottom of the drilled out area will be flatter if you use a forstner bit.

  3. Two great ideas above! If you can remove the top from the Masonite, i would mark the locations of all the holes needed, remove the Masonite, and then through drill the locations with the size bit needed to accomplish mounting your parts.

  4. Very good suggestions for sure - thanks SO much for taking the time to weigh in! I don't have a drill press or forstner bits, but I do have a drill and spade bits. So I may try to freehand routing out the back. Worse case scenario, I'm no worse off - I can always just redo the board if I make a mess of the one I've got. Now that I've had a night's sleep on it, it wouldn't actually be TOO much work to redo the board - and the current board would act as a good drilling template!

  5. Don't try to do it with spade bits!!! A Forstner bit is designed to make a flat-bottomed hole and you can get one at your local big box store. No need to mess up that nice panel!

  6. RadioShack sells LEDs with a long tail that screws in from the rear with a nut. This would accommodate your 1/4 " hardboard. Just search Radioshack's website.

    1. Thanks for the tip! I'll definitely remember that for next time. Unfortunately, Radio Shacks are getting harder and harder to find - in fact, ours here in town just recently closed. But you're right - I can get them online if needed (now that I know they exist, thanks to you!)

  7. A Tortoise circuit I use uses the motor itself as a voltage regulator. Being 3 volts even though it takes 9 to 12 volts to run them. You don't need a resistor (which may be your problem with that circuit) for the LEDs. Simple DPDT micro switch wired as a reversing switch. The two center poles go the to pins 1 and 8 of the Tortoise. The two center poles is where the polarity changes. The LEDs are wired Anode to Cathode to make two loop like bridges. One center pole goes directly to a Tortoise pin. I use pin one. The other pole gets a wire soldered to one side of the LED bridge. Then other wire goes from the other LED bridge out to Pin 8. IT changes color when the switch toggle is thrown. I also use the edge connectors made to plug onto the bottom of the Tortoise. So all you do is unplug it and turn it around if the points throw the wrong way. If the LEDs are wrong then switch the wire positions to the center pole and pin 8 wire. Just switch wire connection points at the LEDs. THis is a diffrent computer and I don't have you email on this one. Send it to me and I can send you a sketch. Bill