Coffee Table #3 Construction


Note: The links on the left side of this page and the other Model CT-3 pages will take you to detailed information about the new coffee table's design and construction.

CTI Electronics Modules

The CTI modules, along with most of the remaining electronics, are mounted on two long 1/4-inch thick plywood strips. The plywood strips are located in the equipment box under the layout. These strips (front side and back side) are shown in the photos below.

I should note that wiring and testing of the first eight blocks of track did not go quite as planned. Call it Murphy's Law (anything that can go wrong will go wrong), or call it the simple truth that two wrongs don't make a right.

When I first ran the train, I noticed that eastbound trains were triggering the westbound sensors, and westbound trains were triggering the eastbound sensors. Obviously, something was miswired. Without putting much thought into the cause (and without reading the instructions), I tried reversing the polarity of the connections to the throttle. The result was that eastbound trains still triggered the westbound sensors, and westbound trains still triggered the eastbound sensors, AND forward was now reverse, and reverse was now forward. It seems that you can't fix bad wiring by adding more bad wiring. Two wrongs definitely do not make a right.

The solution, by the way, was to change the throttle wiring back to the way it was in the first place, and then rewire the block sensors in accordance with the instruction manual. (If all else fails, read the instructions.)

Power Supplies

The next photo shows four of the layout's nine power supplies. These four, which are standard plug-in adapters, provide power for the three throttles and the layout's turnouts.

The next photo shows the 12-volt power supply that provides power for most of the layout's electronics, and the 5-volt supply that provides power for the layout's scenery lights.

Four of the power supplies are protected by fuses; however, the three throttle supplies are protected by 12-volt lamps wired in series with the 13.5-VDC outputs of the supplies (photo below). In the event of a short circuit—e.g., a train derailment—the increased current flow will illuminate the appropriate lamp, thus limiting the current flow and protecting the throttle and its wiring. As soon as the lamp starts to glow, a photo diode will detect the light, and the software will then disconnect the throttle from the track. As soon as the throttle disconnects from the track, current drops to zero, and the lamp turns off.

Scenery Lights & Special Effects

The photo below shows the first test of the lights in the main town. Although the photo doesn't show it very well, the fire engine is equipped with flashing lights, and there is a police car on the road up the hill (left side of photo) with flashing lights. More information about these vehicles (including videos) is available on the Test Track Scenery page.

While I am on the subject of lights, I should mention that all scenery lights are LEDs. Many are 5 mm high-intensity LEDs, while some are smaller surface-mount technology LEDs. Building lights are custom built plug-in LED assemblies. Each assembly includes the necessary current limiting resistors to allow it to operate on 5 VDC at approximately 15 mA current.

Photos of two types of LED assemblies are shown below. The one on the left is a 2x3 mm surface-mount LED, while the one on the right is a standard 5 mm LED. Both are mounted on resistors that are encased in epoxy. The 2x3 surface-mount LED is more expensive and not quite as bright as the standard LED. However, the 2x3 is available in white or incandescent, which means that some buildings appear to be illuminated by fluorescent lamps, while others appear to be illuminated by incandescent lamps.

For other types of scenery lighting, surface-mount micro-LEDs are used.

Fire in fireplace

One really interesting special lighting project is a flickering fire in a fireplace (see photo below). The fire effect is provided by three orange LEDs mounted under the floor of the house, and an electronic module mounted under the layout. The electronic module illuminates the LEDs randomly, resulting in a very realistic looking fire.

Water wheel

Not everything is a great success when it comes to operating scenery. The water wheel (photo below) is a good example of something that didn't operate as well as anticipated. The plastic gearbox did a good job of turning the wheel; however, the gearbox noise was horrible.

Nonetheless, the concept was a success. The motor and gearbox assembly was hidden by a small removable hill, and the long shaft that drives the water wheel did not not actually touch the mill house. That was important! Otherwise, the mill house might rotate with the water wheel.

Eventually, I was able to locate a much better motor and gearbox assembly (shown below on the right). This device was very quiet and operated very smoothly. Note that the shaft on the new gearbox is made of parts that I found in my storage shed. It isn't pretty, but it works.

With the removable scenery in place, and the river at flood stage, the water wheel looked good!

Burning building

A burning building uses the same type of “fire effect” electronics that the fireplace uses. This is part of a very active fire scene involving a fire engine, fire chief's car, police car, and ambulance—all with flashing lights.

Emergency vehicles

The emergency vehicles in this scene use either custom-designed electronics or off-the-shelf electronics to operate their flashing lights. Two examples (police car and fire engine) were originally built for the test track, and then they were moved to the coffee table. Their designs are discussed on the test track scenery page.

New Lighting Projects

Most of the scenery lights and special effects, including street lights and most of the planned emergency vehicle flashing lights, were completed long ago. However, there is always room for new illuminated projects. The following all became operational during the summer and fall of 2014:

  • Madison Hardware Co. with rooftop animated signs

  • Illuminated trolley station

  • Campsite with illuminated camp lantern

  • One more emergency vehicle

  • Additional tunnel lighting

Madison Hardware Co. with rooftop animated signs

Madison Hardware Co. was the most famous Lionel train store in New York City during its time. My version of the store is a kit-bashed project involving a Woodland Scenics "Char's Soda Shoppe" building, two Miller Engineering animated roof signs, a custom-designed interior structure or building "core," an assortment of well-stocked store shelves, various people, and interior lighting. Madison Hardware Co. is the most complex structure in the layout.

The store's exterior shell (below, left) lifts off, leaving the core of the store and its roof as a separate assembly (below, right). If I decide that I don't care for the relatively dark gray color of the store, I can easily change it by removing the shell and repainting it.

The front side of the building core (below) is filled with shelving that's loaded with products for sale. There are even a couple of customers and someone to wait on them. Store lighting is provided by two high-intensity surface-mount LEDs protruding from the back wall upstairs and downstairs.

The back side of the building core contains the two Miller Electric controllers for the roof signs. The three 2-pin connectors will connect to LED and controller power connectors that are already installed in the layout.

A side view of the building core (below) shows the visible part of the store on the left side of the photo, and the equipment compartment and power connector wires on the right side of the photo.

At the bottom of the core, there is a small bar magnet (and another on the opposite side of the core). In the layout, there are two steel washers cemented to layout's plywood base. The washers line up with the magnets. When the building core is installed in the layout, it will be held in place magnetically. This is the same method that is used for most buildings in the layout.

Illuminated trolley station

This project involves adding a trolley station waiting area with lighting, people, and benches. I had to wait for the trolley station structure to arrive from Japan, but it finally showed up and the project is now complete.

Campsite with illuminated camp lantern

This project is an illuminated campsite in the mountains. The campsite is being used by archaeologists who are looking for dinosaur bones. (Unfortunately, the dinosaur bones are located elsewhere in the layout.) Illumination is provided by a lantern on the camp table. Of course, it's daytime (photo below), so the lantern is not illuminated. Still missing from the scene are various people, excavation equipment, and a family of black bears.

One more emergency vehicle

For years, there has been a tow truck missing from the layout. It was waiting for me to get around to intalling a microprocessor in it to operate a yellow flashing light. That project is now complete, and the tow truck has arrived at the scene of a serious automobile accident.

Additional tunnel lighting

This illuminated scenery project is hardly worth mentioning, but I will mention it anyway. Two additional ceiling lights have been added to the tunnel to make the TrainCam experience more interesting. It may turn out that the new lights only show off sections of the tunnel that are best left to the imagination of the viewer. Or it may allow viewers to catch a glimpse of aliens who are rumored to be living in the tunnel.

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