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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
OK, this revolves around table-top material and turnouts for an N scale layout.

I've been playing with layouts using Anyrail, and have become accustomed to the program. So now, I'm trying to decide between various track manufacturers. First, I started designing with Kato Unitrack. However, that stuff is pricey, so I then went to Peco, which was great until I started to realize that all Peco turnouts are manual, but they have motors you can attach to remotely operate. And Now, I'm considering Atlas track, as they make a decent variety of turnouts that already are remote controlled.

The issue I have is this: Instead of buying new sheets of plywood, I have access to dozens of wooden desks and and credenzas that have tops of various sizes.
All the surfaces either 30"x66" or 24"x66" that sit on top of metal legs on casters. So I can combine a desk and a credenza to make one 54"x66" table, which is OK for being able to reach to the center. A few of these 54"x66" tables could then be daisy-chained together to make a fairly large U-shaped layout.

All of this is great, BUT... The table tops are thick, probably 1.5" thick. While I'm OK drilling through these to run wires, I'm not sure if the "under table" turnout motors can be used with this much wood beneath an additional layer of foam board.

So, are the pre-wired remote turnouts made by Atlas OK to use, or would I be better off with Peco, and then trying to figure out how to bore through the table top?

Good thing I have a few months yet before I actually start building anything!
 

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If.....IF....you are hell-bent, absolutely set, on having switch machines, and you want them mounted under the table of a thickness, you'll need at the very least to purchase piano wire in the 30-thou thickness range and cut it to suit your reach needs. The thicker wire will be less inclined to bend over the 2" reach that you may need it to reach. Or, use side-mounted/flush-mounted switch motors that are going to be obvious next to the throw-bars.

Is there any particular reason you want to go to all this trouble and expense. I mean, it's not an HO or O scale monster basement layout with wide benches and severe or impossible reaches where you have to switch distant turnouts from a panel 15 feet away. You'll be on a narrow table-top, with easy reaches ostensibly, and many of us would simply use a kabob skewer to flick the throw-bar as we plan and line a route. Simple, quick, undt cheep, like borscht.
 

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Jeff, you are correct in that Atlas sells a decent variety of turnouts... but they are not necessarily of decent quality! Installing under the table switch machines isn't very difficult, and it's definitely worth it to be able to use better-quality turnouts. If you use servo-based switch machines from Tam Valley Depot (or their clone: the Layout Control System from Walthers), it's about as close to plug and play as you'll find in this hobby (they even come with pre-installed music wire long enough for a 3" foam base. You should already know where the turnouts are going to go; just bore a hole through the tabletop directly under the throwbar with a 3/8" drill bit. You can buy 6 or 9" long bits if needed. The hole will not show after the track is laid.

To Shay's point, there is nothing wrong with trackside machines if you don't mind the unrealistic appearance (I do). They do, however, use a twin coil solenoid that is prone to burning out if power is applied for too long.
 

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OK, this revolves around table-top material and turnouts for an N scale layout.

I've been playing with layouts using Anyrail, and have become accustomed to the program. So now, I'm trying to decide between various track manufacturers. First, I started designing with Kato Unitrack. However, that stuff is pricey, so I then went to Peco, which was great until I started to realize that all Peco turnouts are manual, but they have motors you can attach to remotely operate. And Now, I'm considering Atlas track, as they make a decent variety of turnouts that already are remote controlled.

The issue I have is this: Instead of buying new sheets of plywood, I have access to dozens of wooden desks and and credenzas that have tops of various sizes.
All the surfaces either 30"x66" or 24"x66" that sit on top of metal legs on casters. So I can combine a desk and a credenza to make one 54"x66" table, which is OK for being able to reach to the center. A few of these 54"x66" tables could then be daisy-chained together to make a fairly large U-shaped layout.

All of this is great, BUT... The table tops are thick, probably 1.5" thick. While I'm OK drilling through these to run wires, I'm not sure if the "under table" turnout motors can be used with this much wood beneath an additional layer of foam board.

So, are the pre-wired remote turnouts made by Atlas OK to use, or would I be better off with Peco, and then trying to figure out how to bore through the table top?

Good thing I have a few months yet before I actually start building anything!
JeffHurl;

You have a lot of issues in your post, and I will take them one at a time. First I want to ask the scale you are using, since Atlas "Custom Line" turnouts are available in HO-scale, but not in N-scale. Custom Line is Atlas's better turnout (than the snap switch) They come without switch machines.

1) Those Atlas turnouts with the switch machine attached to the side are called "Atlas Snap Switches" and they not good turnouts. In fact before the Bachmann EZ-Track turnout slipped by Atlas in the race for the bottom of the quality barrel, the Atlas Snap Switch held the dubious distinction of being the worst turnout on the market. 😕
Several of the many things wrong with them are related to fact that the built-in switch machine itself, is a poor excuse for a switch machine. Besides being ugly, the Atlas switch machine is also quite weak. It does not produce the same amount of force to move the points as many other switch machines do. To compensate for this weakness, Atlas Snap Switches have very loose points, with rivets at either end, in order to let the weak switch machine move them. While it is possible to modify Atlas snap switches to eliminate some of their many problems, even modified, they will not be as reliable as Peco, Micro-Engineering, or the new Walthers, turnouts.

2) Peco makes an above-the-table switch machine, in addition to their below-the-table type. The topside version just snaps onto the side of the turnout. The "below" version snaps directly to the bottom of the turnout, so if you cut a hole big enough to hold it, you could use the "below" type too. It only needs to be below the turnout, not necessarily below the table. In fact even with a plywood table, most of the Peco machine is submerged into a hole in the plywood, rather than actually under the plywood, as Tortoise, or Switchmaster machines usually are.

3) You don't actually need an electric switch machine at all. As mesenteria points out, you could just reach over and operate them manually. It is also quite possible to operate turnouts from a distance manually. The files below about my " $5 switch machine" show one way of doing this that is both easy & cheap. There are many others too. The "$5 switch machine" also has a variation that can reach up through a thick table and foam. This same simple linkage can also be used with some commercial machines, with a bit of modification.

4) See the files below for more information on turnouts.

5) Your layout made of thick particle board desktops will be very heavy. I understand the economy of not buying today's overpriced lumber, but I hope you don't have to move your layout much. 😄

Good Luck & Have Fun;

Traction Fan 🙂
 

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Discussion Starter · #6 ·
Thanks for the feedback, everybody! I meant to say this will be N Gauge. Imagine the layout being sort of shaped like a US football goal post... With the leg being 54"x66". The cross member being 30"x72", and each upright being 54"x66"..

The table tops are solid wood with wood laminate surface, so much better than pressboard. They are sturdy, on metal legs with casters. I also have a dozen brackets to be able to connect them together.

I need to do more research on how switch machines are installed. Perhaps I misunderstand how they work. I thought they had to be mounted on the underside of the table.

I'll post an image of my latest layout ideas. But I need to mark it up so you get the overall idea.
 

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To Shay's point, there is nothing wrong with trackside machines if you don't mind the unrealistic appearance (I do). They do, however, use a twin coil solenoid that is prone to burning out if power is applied for too long.
I have a capacitive discharge unit. It holds enough juice to throw the turnout and that's it. I burned out a switch motor accidentally laying a hammer on it before I got one. A friend built it. Eight years later it still works like a champ.
560617
 

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Discussion Starter · #10 · (Edited)
Question for al you who are experienced with Peco turnout switches (Pl10): If I use foam board on top of my wooded tables, how deep into the foam will the hole need to be in order to use the "under track" version of their switch machines? I don't mind drilling a hole through the table for the wires, but if possible, I would like to just have the thickness of the foam board be enough to bury the electronic switch. I can't find anything online that gives guidance on the depth needed to house one of their switches beneath the track but above the wood part of the table.
 

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Discussion Starter · #11 · (Edited)
Does anyone have a PL10 who would be willing to give me overall dimensions?

I sent an email to Peco in the U K. Haven't heard anything back.

I even went to all the local hobby stores, and none of them stock anything from Peco.
 

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Discussion Starter · #12 ·
Peco replied to my question. In case anyone else needs to know, they suggest a minimum depth of 1.25 inches in order for thePL10 switch machine to function properly. So, I guess a 1" layer of foam board is not going to be enough for the base layer.
 

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Does anyone have a PL10 who would be willing to give me overall dimensions?

I sent an email to Peco in the U K. Haven't heard anything back.

I even went to all the local hobby stores, and none of them stock anything from Peco.
JeffHurl;
I'm glad you got an answer from Peco. I haven't used a Peco switch machine in many years, but I would have guessed about an inch and a half. As for the wires, you can run them between the desktop and the bottom of the foam, and/or cut a grove for them in the foam. That way, you won't need to drill through the desk at all.
Foam comes in 1-1/2" and 2" thicknesses so either would give you the clearance you need. Also, the cork roadbed adds a little height, about 1/8" for the N-scale, and 1/4" for the HO-scale version. If you already have a lot of 1" foam, you can add another sheet on top of the first, or use two layers of roadbed

Traction Fan
 

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Discussion Starter · #14 ·
I searched all over the web for information about depth requirements, and found nothing. But they did reply to me question via email. What's kind of cool about their PL10 is that it works with either N gauge or HO. You just fold down the middle tabs if attaching to HO, or 2 end tabs if attaching to N track.

Peco suggests a minimum depth of 1.25 inches, so I'll either use 1.5" or 2" foam boards. I was hoping to save a little cost by using 1" foam boards. I like your idea about running wires between the foam and wood.
 

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Don't forget to count the thickness of your roadbed when you add it up. You could also mount you switch machine on a square of lauan plywood to add some depth. It is not necessary to make the entire layout surface that thick.
 
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Well I have some PL10s around here that I couldn't find last night.
Glad you got an answer.
I have mounted PL10s in foam and I would suggest at least 1 1/2".
You need some extra room for the wiring.

Pretty quick response from Peco. (y)

Magic
 

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You'll be sorry if you go with Atlas snap switches!
Since it's N scale, why do you need those heavy desktops with the problem of getting them all level and even? You don't need the golden gate bridge to support an N gauge layout, Just a sheet of 2" EPS foam board the blue or pink stuff, NOT the white, supported by a simple framework of 1x4 boards or strips ripped from 3/4" plywood with a 1 x3 crossmember every 3' or so is all you need, no plywood or desktops.
The other issue, actually two, I see with the desks is:
1. The height above the floor of a desk is 30", you really want the top of the layout at 40- 48" above the floor so you (and other observers) can look at it from the vantage point of the roof of a nearby couple story building, where you can see your buildings, scenery and trains from a more realistic perspective rather than a view out the window of an airplane, where all you see is the roofs and tops of everything. Not very interesting to look at for long. and a waste of any scenery effort. You are building a large layout, so you and others are going to be standing and walking around not sitting down.
2. All the obstructions under the layout will make wiring and underside maintenance a nightmare, coupled with the low height will mean crawling around on your hands and knees and working laying on your back, soldering and stringing wires over your face. Build your layout right the first time and if you want the storage of the desks put them on casters so they can be rolled in and out when you need to work. At the height suggested, you can work underneath in comfort sitting up on a low roll around stool. Believe me when I say you will spend nearly as much time under the layout as on top.
 

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Discussion Starter · #18 ·
Because the desks are free :)

I built a 4x8 table last winter, and after playing with various layouts, I have come to the conclusion that I don't want a simple square or rectangle. My layout will end up being a total footprint of roughly 14'x14', and will float in the middle of an area in the basement. But I need to be able to reach the center, so the layout will be more of a plus sign or H shaped. I plan to use a furniture dolly when doing the wiring. I have one that sits up off the ground about 12 inches, and also have some old foam mattress toppers for a cushion. So I should be able to use it like a mechanic's creeper under the table. The tables were connected with brackets to make desks with returns, so I have everything I need to make the table, other than the foam boards.

I'll use 1.5" foam for the base layer, and then use thicker and thinner sheets to cut up to form the hills. I also plan to use Woodland Scenic incline starters and risers for the sections of track with 2% grades.

I also plan to use Peco track, but have not yet decided between Code 55 and Code 80.
 

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Free often times turns out to be the most expensive choice, especially with all the disadvantages and compromises that come along with it but your mind appears to be made up, so best of luck with it.
 

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Because the desks are free :)

I built a 4x8 table last winter, and after playing with various layouts, I have come to the conclusion that I don't want a simple square or rectangle. My layout will end up being a total footprint of roughly 14'x14', and will float in the middle of an area in the basement. But I need to be able to reach the center, so the layout will be more of a plus sign or H shaped. I plan to use a furniture dolly when doing the wiring. I have one that sits up off the ground about 12 inches, and also have some old foam mattress toppers for a cushion. So I should be able to use it like a mechanic's creeper under the table. The tables were connected with brackets to make desks with returns, so I have everything I need to make the table, other than the foam boards.

I'll use 1.5" foam for the base layer, and then use thicker and thinner sheets to cut up to form the hills. I also plan to use Woodland Scenic incline starters and risers for the sections of track with 2% grades.

I also plan to use Peco track, but have not yet decided between Code 55 and Code 80.
JeffHurl;

Peco track and turnouts are very high quality, and you should get good performance from them for years to come.
I suggest using the code 55 track & turnouts. The code 80 rail would scale up to rail a foot high in N-scale, which is bigger than any rail ever used by a real railroad, a lot bigger.
Mechanically though, rail of either height will work fine, it's simply a matter of appearance.

Peco's "code 55" turnouts, (and I assume track) come with a peculiar type of rail that actually measures about code 78, but with much of the rail buried in the plastic tie strip. The rail also has two flared bases. One at the normal, bottom, position, and another up where actual code 55 track, from another manufacturer, could be attached. For reasons surpassing all logic, Peco did not include a slot for a rail joiner to fit onto this upper "base," which renders the upper base quite useless. o_O
This should not be a problem if you use all Peco track & Peco turnouts. However if you need to join another brand of code 55 track to this Peco track, a good deal of cutting and soldering will be required. The Peco "code 55" track will mate normally to any brand of code 80 track, using the lower base of the Peco rail, and conventional rail joiners. Perhaps this will influence your " code 55 or code 80" decision.

If you're using DCC, the amount of under-the-desks wiring should be minimal. If you leave the turnouts "floating," ( ie. not glued down), then by sliding the two rail joiners at the point end back, you could lift the entire turnout, and attached PL-10 machine, up out of the foam, if you ever needed to. Just leave some slack in the wires to the PL-10 for this purpose. Since, using this method, you will be able to access your turnouts, switch machines, linkages, and possibly optional contacts all from above, you should not need to spend much time under the desks. Wires, once installed properly, don't need any maintenance.
You can improve your viewing angle of your desk-mounted layout and your personal comfort, by simply sitting down.

Good Luck & Have Fun;

Traction Fan :)
 
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