It’s the stuff of Hollywood – a mess of tangled wires, sweat dripping from the hero’s brow as the clock counts down and finally a nervous clip of a wire and the clock stops. But enough of that, we’re talking about Model Railroads not bombs – even if some enthusiasts have threatened to blow their whole collection up after a furious weekend of seeking shorts or other sources of electrical problems.
The basics of model railroading electronics are pretty simple: you apply power to the tracks and locomotives use that power to move. Since the advent of DCC (digital command control) however things have gotten more complicated, and most if not all hobbyists also have lights, special effects and other ‘diorama’ electrics in place. This can lead to a lot of pulled-out hair for many hobbyists, but a few general rules of thumb can go a long way to help even the most clueless modeler understand the system.
- Know ohms law: Ohms law is the underlying rule of electricity and electronics and basically states that there is a direct correlation between the amount of resistance to current flow and Voltage. The result is ‘power’ … if you are driving more of a load then your transformer can handle problems are sure to occur.
- Make all of your connections sound: NASA has a rule that most quality electronics firms follow – all electrical connections should first have a sound mechanical connection and then be soldered in place. This ensures a poor solder joint or corrosion over time won’t affect current flow.
- Keep a ‘master plan’ of your wiring: Just as you label the switches in your fuse box at home to allow you to quickly identify which circuits go where you should keep a diagram of your wiring and fused connections, updating it as you make changes. You’d be surprised how often a quick glance at this sheet will prevent hours of fruitless work!
This and the manufacturers instructions are all you really need to get started, but even experts have to get help sometimes, so don’t hesitate to pull out those books or call for help if you run into a snag. Better an hour reading a book then a melted transformer or fried DCC system any day!