Friday, December 28, 2012

Atlas Deluxe Under the Table Switch Machine # 66

I have completed Stage 1 of my HO Model Train Layout. (See my previous post on my Layout Design for more details.) Trains are running while I work out the kinks in my track work and the room in general. For the switch tracks in this stage I used the Atlas #66 Deluxe under the table switch machine here is my review.

Why? I used this item because I wanted something simple and cheap. You can't get simpler or cheaper for an under table switch machine. Since I also used the nicer custom Atlas switch tracks that have metal non powered frogs I would have needed their snap relay #200 along with their standard switch machine to power the frogs and/or signals when the track is switched from one position to the other. This Deluxe machine incorporates a double pole double throw relay like the #200.  Simple.

The instructions that come with the unit are a bit vague, but do have a few wiring diagrams that cover a few scenarios. So if you can read a diagram you are covered on how to wire it. However, It doesn't go over how to physically install the unit well enough. I found this troubling especially for anyone who was a first timer. I however, have done this a few times and went right at it.

Instillation. This is where the unit falls short. It doesn't work at all if you install it with the throw bar directly centered below the hole in the switch track. (as is the only advice in the instructions) The vertical section of the throw bar is a piece of stiff metal wire. As you can see in the picture above the horizontal arm of the throw bar is plastic. I have a 7/8" thick wood sub road bed then the standard 1/4" cork road bed below the track. That distance is within the units specs. However, the plastic horizontal arm bends under pressure (under the pressure of the air around it it seems) and never moves the points far enough. After some testing if the unit was directly below the track (no roadbed whatsoever- which is not a situation that would ever happen in real life this was just a test) it would work fine.

I did come up with a fix.

Atlas #66 Throw bar & unit off center
Instead of installing the unit with the throw bar directly centered under the connection in the points, I off centered it just a bit and cocked the unit to the side.  I stuck the vertical throw up through the hole in the points then moved the machine around (all the while flipping the switch by hand trying to find a spot where it did work) until i felt that plastic arm flex because of the nature of being off centered.  This created a fulcrum point between the track and the horizontal arm.  The plastic arm flexed or had a load on it. The vertical section of the throw bar actually rubs against the side of the hole in the sub road bed (fulcrum point). To the eye it looked weird but I found a sweet spot where thanks to my fulcrum it had enough power to move the points back and forth.  This was a ton of trial and error, but works perfectly.  Notice in the picture the black plastic horizontal throw bar flexed.  Again when you look at this thing honestly it doesn't look like it should work...but it does every time. Also of note the machine was not centered below the rails it was cocked off center. That's just where the sweet spot was move it an 1/16" either way and it doesn't work.
Atlas #66 plastic throw bar flexed

I repeated this procedure 5 more times and was done. The first one took a while the rest were quick. I will admit you almost needed 4 hands to do it cause once you found that sweet spot holding the unit in place while trying to get some small screws in the mounting holes without having it move on you was a challenge.

Once I figured out the fix, she works great.  My situation with 7/8" sub road bed is not unique.  What was Atlas thinking? Use this product only if you are willing to use my "secret" instillation technique.

*****************quick update**************
avoid using this product if at all possible (clearance issues) go with Circuitron's Tortoise switch machine they are so easy to install and only a few bucks more if you are a savy shopper and by them by the dozen.  They dont "snap" when switched but move quite fast enough)