The electrics: A gamble that worked but I’m behind schedule.
As mentioned, in the last article on the project, I’d got the track but not the controller and other electrics for my £35 model railway project.
I had hoped to find an old Hornby controller on eBay for under £10, my budget, but nothing I hadn’t seen one and time was ticking. This was becoming a stumbling block if I was to hit my Dec/Jan deadline.
Instead, I decided to try a DIY solution.
A quick look on eBay revealed a 12V PWM multi-speed controller with a directional switch for £4.99 and with free postage!
This seemed too good to be true, but it was advertised as being for control of small DC electric motors and as that’s essentially what’s inside a Hornby loco I took a gamble that it would work as the controller for the layout and ordered one.
To this, I hooked up an old 12v transformer I had lying around. I think it powered a table lamp previously. Then it was just a matter of cutting and stripping the wires from the transformer and fitting them into input terminals on the controller circuit board.
For connection to the track, I ran wires from the remaining two terminals on the controller and connected these to shorter feeder wires that I’d soldered to multiple points on both sidings and going into the points.
(The wires were bought as a job lot from a second-hand stall at a recent model railway show. Traders at shows often have boxes of sold-as-seen bits under their display stand and I grabbed a handful of wires and switches in exchange for a plastic fiver).
A quick test with a spare loco showed it worked as hoped.
The train very gratifyingly running backwards and forwards smoothly and reliably. More rewardingly, it not only worked but my DIY controller had a light on that indicated when power was on glowed in increasing intensity as the dial was turned up. The forward and reversing switch also worked well. Flicking the slider switch allowed the direction to be changed quickly and easily.
My gamble paid off and the money hadn’t been wasted!
Note: This is a relatively low-power controller that works fine for this model railway as it’ll only have one or perhaps two small locos on it at once. If you intend to run lots of larger locomotives areas you’re probably considering more meaty controllers.
If you’ve been following this series, you’ll also know that the layout has two tracks. One at the front, that I’d just wired, and another towards the rear.
The nature of DC control means that if I just wired up the controller to both tracks there would be no way to operate just one train. Trains on both tracks would start, go and stop in unison.
Ideally, I’d have used two controllers or DCC — one for each track — but my tight budget prevented this.
A simple solution
Instead, I wired up the rear track section but created a fork in the positive supply between the controller and the two track sections using a three-way switch found in the electrical junk I’d acquired earlier. (The feed from the controller goes to the middle terminal of the switch, the wire from the left terminal goes to the drop wires on the front track run and the third terminal connects to the drop wires soldered to the rear track run).
This is a primitive solution and bodge that while not ideal allows me to switch which track the controller operates or cut power entirely. In this way, I can operate a loco on track, park it, flick the switch and then drive a loco on the other.
I now have a controller for the layout and am able to operate trains on either track and all for my electrical budget of £10.
Admittedly, the DIY nature of this controller and switches means they’re lying around naked — circuit boards exposed — which isn’t ideal.
Longer term, I’ll improve this by mounting them in a container on the outside of the layout box to provide a basic control panel. All that will be visible will be the track selection switch, forward / reverse and speed knob along with an LED for on, off and power level.
- Track: Budget £5, Spent £5.
- Materials (box): Budget £10, Spent £9.98
- Electrics: Budget £10, Spent £9.99
- Total: Budgeted for items purchased so far, £25. Spent £24.97.
- DONE: Choosing gauge, layout size, theme and track plan. End of August.
- DONE (two weeks behind schedule): Aquire basic materials: wood, track, electrics. End of September.
- DONE (one week behind shedule): Lay and ballast track and electrics. End of October.
- Get rolling stock and make scenery and/or buildings. End of November.
- Add finishing details. 2nd Week of January (allowing for Christmas holidays).
The delay in getting the controller means I’m behind schedule but if I can catch up if I get the ballasting and lay the track before the end of the month. It’s going to be tight! Watch for updates soon!
See a model railway for £35 for the previous development of this project.
> A final, personal, note: I spend a huge amount of time testing, photographing, writing and researching techniques for these articles and pay for all the running costs of MRE out of my own pocket. If you found this article useful you can support me by making a donation on my fund-raising page. Thanks and happy modelling, Andy. Affiliate notice: If you plan to buy the products on this page or similiar, please use the links here. These will take you to carefully selected businesses, including Hornby, Rapid Online, Amazon, eBay, Scale Model Scenery and Element Games, through which you can buy products mentioned. These links are made under their affiliate schemes which means that although the price to you does not change I receive a small commission on the orders you place which helps me maintain this site and allows me to create more articles like this. Please see my disclaimer for more information. Thank you for your support, Andy.