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Contents below on this page:

1. Overview Of These Controls [below]
2. Advantages/Disadvantages Of These Electro-Mechanical Controls
[below]
3. The Three Systems On This Website [below]
4. Examples Of Layouts Using These Systems [below]
5. How These Controls Work [below]
6. History of Automated Displays [below]
7. Comments About Reliability - Indoor Operation [below]
8. Comments About Reliability - Outdoor Operation [below]
9. Suggestions for Getting Started [below]

 

Comments About Updating This Website
I periodically update parts of this website, as time permits.
I did the bulk of the actual experimenting-with and writing-about these controls from 1986 to 1996.
From 1992 to 1997 I marketed drawings, laminated templates, videotapes, and some assembled units.

The marketing effort ceased back in 1997, so please ignore all references to items for purchase. Any questions, feel free to telephone me using the contact link at the bottom of the page.

Comments About LGB Going Out Of Business
Finding the LGB parts to build these LGB systems can be difficult,
as a result LGB ceasing production in mid 2007.

 

Add the enchantment of an automatic yard to your display layout

Website operator James Ingram demonstrates 4-track automatic yard "to go"

1. Overview Of These Controls

Subject Of This Website
This subject of this website is the operation of G-Scale, automatic model railroad controls.

The function of these controls is to automatically control multiple trains on the same track.

This website contains photos and Quicktime web video, that show these controls operate. It includes plans that you can use to build these control units.

Purpose of These Controls
The three Automatic Train Control Systems described in this bulletin give you the capability to operate multiple G-scale trains on the same track. These controls are fully automatic -- they control slowing-down, stopping & starting the trains, plus they control switches and signals -- you just sit back and enjoy. No modifications to locomotives are required except adding a magnet to the bottom. They use simple off-the-shelf LGB switch motors and LGB snap-in relays.

To the best of my knowledge, these Ingram Autocontrols systems are unique in that they control not only trains but also signals and switches, use no electronics, and use simple-enough technology such that you can build them yourself. They are powered by LGB switch motors, and controlled by LGB track contacts which are activated by magnets mounted on the bottom of the locomotives.

They are most suitable for indoor display layouts but can be used on indoor permanent layout, and also outdoor layouts (see discussion below about outdoor reliability).

 

2. Advantages/Disadvantages Of These Electro-Mechanical Controls

Advantages (vs electronic controls)

Simplicity
People often laugh in my face, when I claim these controls are "simple". after they have looked at the wiring diagrams. But they are simple compared to electronics. If you can visually water flowing through a garden hose, in the same manner you can visualize current flowing through a wire between the LGB reed switches and the LGB switch motors.

Parts Availability

Since the parts are from LGB (except rheostat & toggle switches), you don't have to worry about some electronic manufacturer going out of business, and leaving you with an electronic board that nobody can fix.

Repairing At Shows

You can repair any problems with these units, if you can replace an LGB switch motor or a reed switch. At a train show, this is useful to be able to fix the unit yourself if something malfunctions, versus having a malfunctioning electronics box that nobody at the show can fix.

Initial Conditions

Since all "states" of the controls are indicated by the "arms" of the LGB switch motors, you can both see and set initial conditions by observing and moving the "arms".

DC or DCC

These controls work for standard DC engines. They should also work for DCC engines, by adding a 2nd rheostat to allow separate control of the voltage in the "startup block". (I have not yet used Largescale DCC engines with these controls, but I hope test them soon. Tests running decoder-equipped S-gauge engines through a rheostat-controlled block, indicate that the controls will work with decoder-equipped engines.

Disadvantages (vs electronic controls)

Cost -- The LGB parts are generally much more expensive, compared to buying generic electronic components.

High Cycle Reliability -- On a permanent indoor layout where the controls are operating continuously -- a restaurant for example -- the electrolmechanical parts may not last as long as solid state electronics.

 

3. The Three Systems On This Website

This bulletin describes three systems for controlling multiple trains on the same track:

System 1 -- Single-Track Experimenter's Block
This system can operate up to two trains per track.

System 1 -- Single Track Automatic Block

 

System 2 -- Double-Track Automatic Switching Block
This system can operate up to three trains.

System 2 -- Double Track Automatic Switching Block

 

System 3 -- Four-Track Zellner Yard
Zellner Yard is an expansion of the 2-track system. Zellner Yard can operate up to five trains by itself. Assisted by a single-track block, it can operate 6 trains. The plans show you how build it in stages of 1 track, then 2 tracks, then 4 tracks.

Zellner Yard uses the same control unit as the 2-track sytem, plus a 'helper control unit' to control the additional two tracks.


System 3 -- Four-Track Zellner Yard

 

4. Examples of Layouts Using These Systems

Drawings for these layouts are included in the track plans section.

Track Plan #8

Track Plan #8, 1989 -- This 12' x 12' display operates 6 trains on a single mainline -- using 2 automatic blocks and an automated passing siding.

 

Track Plan #50

Track Plan #50, 1993 -- Ed & Linda Zellner and Jim Ingram built this minidisplay with mega-action at the 1993 National Garden Railway Convention in Santa Clara CA, using 2 automatic switching blocks to run 7 trains in a space of only 12' x 20'.

 

Track Plan #53

Track Plan #53, Nov 1993 -- Here's a job you probably wouldn't want to tackle with command control -- 3 of Ed Zellner's automatic switching blocks control 12 trains (4 per loop), 12 hours per day, on one of his 70-foot long Christmas megadisplays.

 

5. How These Controls Work

How The Logic Works
All three of the systems described on this website use the simple concept of stopping trains in a yard area (one, two, or four tracks) until a train on the mainline travels about 2/3 of the way around the loop; then they "release" a train from the yard.

The Logic Diagrams page explains how several variations of these controls operate.

How The Hardware Works
You can build and modify these systems yourself from available plans. The plans include a laminated, colored, full-size "template" upon which you build the control. The template shows all parts locations and wiring paths in color for easy assembly and complete documentation.

These controls use multiples of simple on/off circuits with no electronics. Magnets on the bottom of the engines activate reed switchs which control relays. The relays turn on and off the DC current flowing to insulated "blocks" in the track.

Too Many Wires? The biggest criticism you hear about these block-type control systems is that they use too many wires. You might compare them to a Christmas tree light system -- admittedly a few wires, but each one has a simple, easily-traceable function.

The locomotives require no receivers or decoders -- only a magnet on the bottom. No electronics are involved -- these systems are low-tech electromechanical -- consisting of off-the-shelf LGB and Radio Shack components. They require no special skills to construct, maintain, or operate.

 

6. History of Automated Displays

A Semi-Accurate History of Automated Controls
For years, model railroaders have been constructing their own track, locomotives, cars, power packs, buildings, bridges, etc. However the concept of constructing automatic controls to operate multiple trains on the same track, though fascinating, seems to be a relatively unexplored area. The small number of people interested in simplified automatic controls is probably best evidenced by the relative lack of coverage you find in the mainstream model railroad press on this subject.
Automated Display Layouts
Model railroad display layouts have generally operated only one train per track, with the exception of a few sophisticated museum-type layouts:
  • CA, Sacramento the Underground Railway in HO
  • FL, Orlando the Orlando Toy Train Museum in G
  • IL, Chicago the Museum of Industry and Science in 2 rail O
  • MD, Baltimore the Baltimore and Ohio Museum in HO
  • PA, Pittsburgh the Buell Planetarium in 3 rail O
  • PA, Strasburg the Choo Choo Barn in 3 rail O.
Enter Ingram AutoControls 1988
In 1986, James Ingram developed a simplified modular automatic block using off-the-shelf LGB and Radio Shack components, with a very elementary wiring circuit, which provided another way to control multiple Largescale trains on the same track. He started distributing these publications, using the name "Ingram AutoControls".

These portable modular control units have been refined by using them on public displays, where the whole layout -- automatic controls and all -- has to be transformed from bare concrete floor to operating railroad in a matter of hours.

In 1988 the first of many publications (P8811) was written. In 1992 the first of many U_BLD_M Drawings were drawn.

A two month around-the-clock effort in 1992 produced the one-of-a-kind Ingram Autocontrols videotapes, which extensively demonstrate these simple, but little-used techniques of multi-train control. In 1996 the newly-constructed 4-Track Zellner Yard operated 5 trains on one track at the 12th National Garden Railway convention in Orlando.

Exit Ingram AutoControls 1997
From 1992 to 1996 about 20 or so control units were assembled and shipped. However, advertising expenses were many time more than the small profit that could be generated by building labor-intensive control units on a "one-by-one" basis. Thus this sputtering "manufacturing effort" more or less ground to a halt in 1997. However, this website makes possible the distribution of the plans.

 

7. Comments About Reliability-Indoor Operation

Possible Malfunctions That Adversly Affect Reliability
You may encounter some of the following problems that can cause these automatic block systems to malfunction:
  • Engine stalls or slows down, upsetting the timing
  • Rolling stock uncouples or derails
  • AC Control Voltage is too low (see AC Control Voltage comments in Section 4.4 More Details About Building The Single Track Block)
  • A track contact sticks in the closed position.
  • A relay motor on the control unit or a track switch fails to completely throw

The first two problems are pretty much self explanatory. The last two are described in more detail in Section ___ Troubleshooting in the Single Track Block's operating section.

My Own Experience On Indoor Displays
My own experience consists mainly of operating the controls on indoor displays. On a good day, we can run a typical 3 loop display for twelve hours, operating about four trains on each loop, and have only five or six crashes due to malfunction controls. On a bad day, we will have a track contact start to stick, and we will start having a crash every ten minutes until we shut the loop down, and replace the track contact.

 

8. Comments About Reliability-Outdoor Operation

In my opinion, the most trouble-prone spot on outdoor systems, is the diverging switch where trains enter the yard, since this switch is exposed to the weather and tends to eventually gum up due to outdoor dirt.

The LGB, Radio Shack, Clarostat (rheostat), and Shiloh Signals components are all reasonably tolerant of damp conditions. All 3 of the control units are designed to be modular -- that is, you can mount them directly on the track unit under a weatherproof building. Or you can mount the control unit remote from the track unit next to the transformers, and connect it to the track by using a multi-wire cable.

 

9. Suggestions for Getting Started

If you wish to further pursue this concept of running multiple trains on the same track, I offer the following suggestions:

  1. Study the Logic Diagrams, and view the videos.

  2. Construct a simple single-track Automatic Block. Plans for this are included on this web aite.
    The plans will walk you through constructing a simple "starter version" of the block with just an on/off block. Later you can add the rheostat to create the slowdown block as a 2nd step, then signal lights as a 4th step.
    All the parts you use can be "recycled" to other uses, or used for more advanced controls projects.

  3. Operate this experimenter's block indoors on a simple, temporary loop of track. Experiment by duplicating some of the demonstrations on the videos.

  4. After you get comfortable with the Single-Track Experimenter's Block, you may then want to build the 2-Track Automatic Switching Block, and eventually expand it to the 4-Track Zellner Yard.


This page originated 1997, modified 9/3/2009 by (bottom include)
JamesRobertIngram.com , Williamsport Pa, Voice Mail 570-322-7597