Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Tuesday Tip - Nut Knobs (and yet another switch machine)

All of the turnouts on the Shore Line main are operated by a nifty control board representing the tower at Saybrook Junction. But by contrast, the turnouts on the branchlines are all manually operated - mostly with the simple center-over springs that attach to the points on Micro-Engineering turnouts. There are a couple of exceptions where I used a different type of manual control (click here for details), and I recently decided to change the control for the turnout at the north leg of the wye in Saybrook. Again.

Yes, I've already had two other ways to operate this turnout - first was with a MicroMark switch machine, then a Tortoise. Then - realizing that the prototype switch was operated manually - I removed the powered machine and installed a Caboose Industries ground throw (as here) for manual control (sorry - that's actually 3 ways...)

The CI throw - while reliable - just didn't look that great, especially once I got some scenery in the area. So I decided to "backfill" yet another switch machine: not back to a tortoise, but to a "manual tortoise" - a Bluepoint switch machine.

So yeah - this is my 4th attempt at controlling the north wye switch - but I think I've finally found my Holy Grail for this location. . .

The hole underneath the throwbar was already there from when I had the powered switch machines there. You can see the actuator wire from the Bluepoint coming up through the throwbar. I just needed to figure out where to place the control rods (the rods that would move the machine which, in turn, would move the points). You can barely see where "X marks the spot" on the fascia - located by intersecting the distance from the throwbar (white ruler) and the height/depth of the control on the machine (tape measure on the side).

Once I drilled the holes, it was a matter of threading lengths of coat hanger wire through the holes and bending the ends to hook into the holes on the machine. See below:

One of the most attractive features of the Bluepoint machine is that it comes with control rod attachments on both sides of the machine. That was absolutely ideal at this location, since I wanted to be able to control the turnout from either side of the layout.

But wait! There's More! And here's where we get to the "tip" of this Tuesday Tip Day. . .

The coat hanger wire sticking out was just begging to grab the clothing of any passerby, and I didn't want to use a cork again as a knob since I didn't want to protrude that far into the aisle. I considered a wooden ball, drilled to accept the wire and glued. But I didn't have any on-hand. I also considered a run-of-the-mill drawer knob, but that would require a trip to the hardware store - and I didn't know how I'd attach it to the wire.

Soooo.... I kept looking around my workshop and saw a bunch of wire nuts!

These ended up being ideal. They're made to screw securely onto wire, and they come in a variety of colors - including high-visibility yellow. I just set the points furthest away from the aisle, made a mark on the wire of where to cut (see above) and cut the wire to length.

As you can see, a pretty elegant - almost perfect (for me, at least) - solution!

And here's the other side of the layout, done the same way.

Anybody else use wire nuts as turnout control knobs? Or have I stumbled on an innovation?


  1. I like the wire nuts, awesome idea, although we'll have to see how durable they are. The springs sometimes have a tendency to pull out but you could add some glue in addition to just screwing them on.

    You might like this approach. In the second photo he points out that Kip uses 35mm film canisters to recess his knobs.


    1. I saw that recess idea - clever, but more work than I wanted to do. And if the wire nut fails for some reason (so far so good) well, I just go grab another one. No problem :)

  2. A simple and elegant solution Chris. Do you power your frogs? Does the Bluepoint provide any contacts for frog power, or do you use something like a frog juicer?

    1. Um, just now getting back to you(??!!) I *used* to power my frogs (search "frog juicer wiring" for my post on them), but since I have Keep Alives in my engines now, I don't need the juicers. That said, the Bluepoints *do* provide electrical contacts for powering the frog.