MANCO Contact Information

Dale Manquen
1694 Calle Zocalo
Thousand Oaks, CA 91360

Please do not ship to MANCO with “signature required”.

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TMCC Controller Repairs

Introducing a new service – Component-level repair of TMCC Controllers

If any of your customer’s TMCC controllers fail, now you can offer your customer a solution! Lionel won’t fix or exchange out-of-warranty devices, and you certainly don’t want to troubleshoot down to the component level. Now you can recommend that your customer contact MANCO for repairs.

MANCO can repair many of the failures on the following devices:


TMCC Command Base


TPC 300 and TPC 400

SC-1 and SC-2



Modern ZW

ZW meter add-on

(Legacy items are still covered by Lionel under an extended warranty program.)

Repairs are limited to internal electronic components that are commonly available. Exclusions include broken plastic parts and Lionel-proprietary programmed logic chips. (MANCO has found that the pre-programmed microprocessor chips are not a common failure item. Usually the failure is in the circuitry around the microprocessor.)

Typical repairs are about $25 plus return shipping.

MANCO does not repair locomotives or the circuit boards internal to the locomotives.

Contact Dale Manquen at MANCO

1694 Calle Zocalo

Thousand Oaks, CA 91360

(805) 529-2496

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Improved horn/whistle circuit

If you have a Lionel diesel with a battery-operated horn that sounds like bleating sheep, here is a tip that will give you strong, clear horn honks. The current from the horn battery must pass through the hinge joint of the horn relay’s moving armature. This joint consists of a layer of copper sheet that has the relay contact at one end, the steel armature, and the steel frame of the relay. The connection between the copper sheet and the steel frame degrades over time due to galvanic action and dirt buildup, resulting in a voltage drop across the joint that is a significant portion of the 1.5 volts available from the battery. As a result, the horn is starved, yielding unreliable and weak operation. (By the way, I have found that the relay contacts are seldom a problem since they tend to scrub themselves clean with repeated closures.)


I add a bypass wire that connects the copper sheet carrying the relay contact directly to the battery terminal. I use a few inches of flexible #24 or #26 wire with one end soldered directly to the center of the copper sheet and the other end soldered to the positive battery terminal. This bypasses both the hinge joint and the sliding joint at the battery terminal. The only trick is to make sure that the wire does not interfere with the free operation of the relay armature.


I have modified all my F3’s and Alco’s with excellent results. The strong horn honk satisfies me without the complexity of digital sound.


Whistling tenders also have this problem, but to a lesser extent because the whistle voltage is the full rail voltage. I have begun to modify my tenders, too.

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MANCO Earth-Ground Breakout

Several documents here on the website have discussed the benefit of adding “earth-ground” wires to layout areas that have poor TMCC/Legacy signal reception. Although most users settle for connecting these wires to AC wall outlets or pipes, the best connection point is where the signal originates at the Command Base. Now MANCO is providing a convenient device for easily tapping this “earth ground” signal.

  • Direct connection to Pin 5 on the serial 9-pin connector
  • A six-foot wire to run to your central “earth-ground” distribution terminal strip
  • Pass-through of all 9 pins for undisturbed use of anything previously connected to the 9-pin connector
  • Secure locking hardware to assure a reliable connection
  • Suitable for both TMCC and Legacy Bases


The MANCO Earth-Ground Breakout is available for $25 plus $4 shipping and handling.  Payment by check preferred, but PayPal, Visa and MasterCard accepted with $1 processing fee.

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Using the MANCO Track Signal Measurement System to solve weak-signal problems

A Case Study in Improving TMCC/Legacy “Track” Signal 

The TrainMasters of Babylon Model Rail Road Club of Long Island, NY was having trouble with poor TMCC/Legacy signal pickup.  Their layout covers approximately 3000 square feet with multiple parallel tracks and some overhead crossings.  Pat Nardella contacted me regarding their problems in February (2015).  I suggested they buy one of my MANCO TMCC/Legacy Track Signal Measurement Devices so that they could make quantitative measurements that would allow them to see if any changes really resulted in measurable improvements.

I asked Pat to get back to me with their results so that I could learn from their experiences and pass along any beneficial information to others.  A few days ago I was very pleased to receive a 1 ½ page report from Pat detailing all the steps they went through and a summary of their results.  He even included a couple of photos of their layout!  I would like to share this report with you.  I have [added] a few of my own comments into his report.

Hi Dale;

I do not know if you remember me. I called you on 2/5/15 about problems my train club, TMB Model Train Club, was having with Legacy. We talked a while & you gave me all sorts of advice. I also purchased the signal strength meter from you. You asked me to get back to you with our results. I thought I would put them down on paper rather than telling you them on the phone. This way you will have a written record of what I did & the corresponding results. But first let me thank you for your help; without a doubt, things have improved.

Okay, here is a quick review of where we started. The club has a 3,000 square foot layout with 4 different levels.  We have 2 main lines, 2 branch lines which pass under the mainlines at different points, & a subway line which runs under the table. The outside mainline has 800’ of track, & the inside 700’ of track. The branch lines have 320; of track each, & the subway has 360’ of track.  Most areas have 3 parallel tracks, some areas have 4 parallel tracks & other areas have 5 parallel tracks. (See picture 1 which is a photo merge of what our layout looked like last November.) When we started building thelayout we ran earth ground wires between all tracks. We also ran earth ground wires under all areas where tracks crossed above other tracks.

The first time we used Legacy no engine, neither steam or diesel, would run on our outside mainline without stopping continually. We had to hold our hand over the engine to get them to run.

So this is what I did before calling you.

1. Because, on the inside mainline, one steam engine ran fine. I ran more earth ground wires on both the outside & inside of the outside line. So now every track is sandwiched between earth grounds.

A. RESULT – all diesels ran well on the outside line & some steam engines, but most steam engines did not run. All tested engines, steam or diesel, run fine on the inside line. This is when I called you for help.

 This is what I did after calling you.

1. Using your meter I tested the Legacy base. It is reading 2DCV without a load so I knew our base was working. Under load the reading was 1.38DCV. One of our problems is we bundled the earth ground wire with other wires common wires included. If you look at picture 2 you can see the green common wire is tied to the power cord wire.

(Picture wouldn’t print here) 

In picture 3 this has been corrected.

 (Again, no picture)

A. RESULT – the under load reading increased from the 1.38 starting point to 1.59.

 2. Before I changed anything I used your meter to test 3 different areas on the layout. [The readings were made with the meter probes connected to the outside rail and a nearby earth-ground wire.]  One location where we did not have any problems had a reading of .54 DCV. One problem area had a reading of .19DCV.

            A. RESULT –After separating the common & earth ground the .19 reading went to .33.

3. Then I began to separate the earth ground wires from all other wires around the layout, plus I connected all earth grounds to one earth ground location. When I completed this task I took more readings.

A. RESULT – The readings at the base remained the same but the readings at the different locations around the layout were astonishing.

                                                a. Location A went from .33 to 2.29.

                                                b. Location B went from .19 to 2.51.

                                                c. Location C went from .54 to 2.97.

 At this point I thought we were ready to really test everything so on 3/20/15 we had a Legacy only test run night. We started out with various results. Some steam engines ran well, some were stopping at various locations. So I than connected the earth ground wire to pin 5 on the base.

            A. RESULT – After cleaning some dirty track areas, all test engines, diesel & steam ran without problems!!! I know that dirty tracks can have a big effect on Legacy running.

We even ran a diesel on one of our branch lines & it ran without problems. Two weeks ago this would not have occurred.

 So, at this time, I think we have solved most of our Legacy problems but I realize that we will have some problems with different engines.  On behave of myself, & TMB train Club, I want to, again thank you for all your help & expertise. There is no way we could have gotten to this point without your help.

 I understand that you sometimes attend the TCA York meet. I hope you see you there so I can introduce myself & thank you in person. Also, if for any reason you happen to be on Long Island, feel free to call me so I can bring you down to our club.


Pat Nardella

 Thanks, Pat!


The very low readings at the 3 test points around the layout would make me very suspicious about the earth-ground wires to which the meter was connected.  Later testing and reconnecting of the earth-ground wires to a central point that is tied directly to Pin 5 shows that some of the things that we think are good earth-ground points are inadequate.  The best point is Pin 5, which is a direct connection to the earth-ground’s signal source inside the Base.

 Pat’s steps show the utility of having a meter to quantitatively assess what happens when you make changes.

 I would appreciate receiving other case histories like this one so that we can all learn what does and doesn’t work.


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High-Current Load Bank for testing transformers

How do you test a transformer or power controller to see that it works properly over the full range of currents and voltages?  You need something that will cover the range of 0-20 volts and 0-10 amps, or even higher currents for testing overcurrent protection circuits or high-current devices such as TPCs.  Furthermore, the load should be capable of sustained operation so that you can check for long term overheating in the device being tested, even though the load bank may be dissipating around 200 watts.

This is not a trivial problem.  There is no readily-available inexpensive giant 10-ohm rheostat that can dissipate 200 watts when set to only 10% of its maximum value.  (Rheostats are rated for wattage and current.  The wattage rating assumes that the entire arc of the rheostat is evenly dissipating heat.  As you reduce the resistance, the heat is concentrated in only a portion of the arc, reducing the maximum usable power.  At 10% of full value, the maximum power may drop to 15 or 20% of the rated power value.  For our case, a steady 200 watts at 10% would require a rating of at least 1000 watts!  Also, the current must not exceed the rated maximum value, which may be determined by the wiper arm and sliding contact interface.)

A common solution is to use a bank of power resistors that can be switched to various series and parallel connections to achieve the desired range of resistances.  Here are a few of the problems along the way:

First, you would need a reasonably accurate AC meter.  Many handheld meters do not have a range that goes up to 10 amps for AC.

Second, you need a bank of resistors that will allow different resistances from about 20 ohms to less than 1.5 ohms.  When talking about resistances like 1.5 ohms, you need to consider the resistance of the wiring, switches, attachment clips (large alligator clips maybe?).  You also need to use large wire that will carry 15 amps without any problems. #10 gauge wire is 1 milliohm/foot.

Third, since you will be generating 180 watts of heat, you need a way to cool the resistors.  You would like to keep the temperature reasonable so that the resistances don’t increase too much due to temperature.  The “quickie” way is to dunk the power resistors in a container of water.  (I used this method for many years!)  A better way is a heatsink with forced air cooling.

My Solution

I now use a bank of 25-watt power resistors mounted to a large aluminum heatsink.  I have switches for arranging serial and parallel connections.  The heatsink is mounted on a shoebox that has an internal AC-powered cooling fan blowing air across the heatsink.  (The fan is sucking air into the box and expelling it upward over the heatsink fins through a cutout under the heatsink.)

Resistor box top

Resistor box back

I don’t know of a simple solution to this problem, but I am certainly willing to listen to your ideas!!

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New Product–TMCC/Legacy Track Signal Measurement Device

As part of my work with Lyle Dumont in Iowa to solve his TMCC signal problems, I developed an easy technique to measure the strength of the TMCC/Legacy signal going to the track (

Recently Lyle made some measurements on his 2 layouts using my newly-developed measurement kit that were very interesting.  First, he measured the Legacy base on his big layout (50’x90′) without anything except the metering circuit connected to the Track stud and Pin 5 of the 9-pin serial port.  He got about 1 volt, which is only half of what he should get for a good Base.  (Interestingly, when I visited Lyle over a year ago with my oscilloscope, I found his Legacy Base was defective, clipping off half of the sinewave Track signal.  He sent it to Lionel for repair, but now I doubt that it was ever really repaired since his voltage reading agrees with a half-clipped sinewave output.)

Lyle then connected the Track wire to the stud, and the signal dropped to about .3V.  We expect to see a lot of capacitive loading with a large layout and we don’t have any numbers that determine go/no go for the Track signal.

Next, Lyle brought the Legacy Base from his smaller layout onto the big layout.  The unloaded reading was the full 2 volts that is expected, and the loading dropped things to about .63 volts, twice what the other Base was outputting.  He was able to run his balky steam engines without problems using the good Base.

Lyle was also able to make signal measurements on the smaller layout to confirm that he was getting a stronger Track signal, which was to be expected with the reduced capacitance of the smaller layout.

Using the meter, Lyle was then able to determine that some coax cable feeders that he had added a while back were actually degrading the output signal.  When he removed the coax, the Track signal increased more than 25%.

The moral of this story is that you can’t beat having something that quantitatively measures the actual Track signal.  As a result, I am going back into the “TMCC/Legacy accessories” business by offering a complete metering unit.

The kit includes a rectifier unit that conditions the Track signal, a digital volt/ohm meter for reading the signal strength, and the proper wiring and connectors (feed-through 9-pin and forked lug) for attaching to a TMCC or Legacy Base.  The package includes a 5-page operating manual with troubleshooting suggestions for several types of signal problems.  The digital meter can also be used to measure resistances and AC voltages during troubleshooting/testing.

The feedthrough 9-pin allows the metering system to remain connected during normal layout operation.  This connector also has a 6’ breakout wire connected to Pin 5, the “earth ground” point on the Command Base that can be used as the starting point for earth ground signal enhancement wires.

NOTE:  This device does not measure the airborne signal strength at an arbitrary point.

The price is $60 plus $7 Priority Mail shipping.  California residents add $4.50 (7.5%) sales tax.  Payment via check (preferred); PayPal, Visa or MasterCard add $2 processing fee.  Contact me at or (805) 529-2496 for more details or to place an order.

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TMCC Video Switcher

I wanted to have a way of remotely switching between the multiple video cameras that I have on my layout using the TMCC/Legacy remotes.  I decided to try using an Accessory/Switch Controller as the switching device.  I figured that the video bandwidth would pass through the ASC’s relays without much degradation.

I purchased an 8-connector “RCA” style connector array at Radio Shack for a couple of dollars to use as the inputs.  I had to add one more RCA jack for the output.  I mounted these connectors to the back of the ASC’s case with enough room to access the screw terminals on the ASC.

I used short jumper wires from the 8 input RCAs to the screw terminals.  The 4 ASC output terminals are tied together and to the output connector with a formed piece of solid 22ga bus wire.


It works!  It isn’t very convenient that you must turn OFF a camera in use before switching to the next camera, but that is tolerable.

Just when I was finishing up this project, I realized that some of the cameras include an audio output.  If I decide to include audio, I can split this ASC into 4 video feeds (1-4) and 4 audio feeds (5-8) by simply adding another output connector and using two shorter looping bus wires.  If I ever got really serious, I could add a second identically-modified ASC for the audio switching and program both ASCs to the same address range so that audio and video would switch together.

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Dale Manquen’s Train Layout Tour – October 2012 Part 2

We also visited Dr. Jack Fisher in Nashville – after we made a stop at the Nashville train store. Dr. Jack has a large layout in the basement that runs through a couple of rooms, breaking the layout into isolated scenes.



Dr. Jack also has a modest garden railroad, but the falling leaves were covering much of the layout.

It was time for me to thank Larry and his wife Sue Ann and move on. I left Clarksville, headed for Memphis and a visit to Graceland. I didn’t have a lot of time to spend at Graceland, but I was too close to pass up the opportunity.

After leaving Graceland, I headed for Mountain Home AR to visit Alan and LaKeeta Arnold. That was a hard piece of two-lane highway driving since I was in a hurry to get there at a reasonable hour. I was in for several surprises when I arrived.

Alan’s house is a converted A-frame church. They added a loft for a bedroom, but they still had a large open area at one end of the A-frame. Alan added on a large extension that houses a media room, his train layout and a garage. When Alan took me into the layout room, I suddenly realized that Alan was the skyscraper guy!! He has some beautiful high-rise buildings on his layout. His room has an extra-high ceiling to make tall buildings possible. (Alan has an architecture background.)





And that was just the start. We went next door to Alan’s neighbor who runs an 0 scale 2-rail layout. The layout is around the wall with a peninsula.


We had dinner at a local steak eatery, where we were joined by Charlene & Craig Chesbro. I wouldn’t get to see their train layouts until the following day.

When we got back to Alan’s house, I found that my bedroom in the loft also had a train layout. This was a compact military layout featuring all kinds of Lionel rocket launchers and other weapons.

The next morning we drove over to the Chesbro’s house. Charlene has an On3 layout that she is building in the garage.


During the summer months they also run a garden railroad that has extensive landscaping. Most of the buildings were already stowed away for the winter, but there were still a few things to see.


That was the end of the train layouts. I high-tailed it from Arkansas to Amarillo for a night’s sleep, then on to Albuquerque for lunch at my favorite Mexican restaurant, then overnight at Flagstaff.

I visited the Lowell Observatory in the morning. This had special significance for me. The planet Pluto was discovered at the Lowell Observatory by Clyde Tombaugh. When I was in Cub Scouts in Las Cruces, one night we went over to a guys back yard to look through his telescope at the planets. It was a fairly big telescope. Turns out the “guy” was Clyde Tombaugh! We didn’t realize the significance at the time, but now that I think back on that rare opportunity I cherish the moment. The Lowell Observatory visit was like a pilgrimage to honor Clyde. After the Observatory I hopped into my trusty Malibu and headed for a dinner date with a lady friend of Larry Levin in Phoenix. We had a pleasant evening, and then I decided to drive the 400 miles to home that night. I got in very late, but I was glad to be home.

The photos here are just a mere sampling of the hundreds of photos from the trip. I wish I could include more, but space just doesn’t allow.

I want to express my heartfelt thanks to everyone who contributed to this wonderful trip. The hospitality was outstanding and the sharing of trains was unconditional. I made a lot of new friends. I am blessed to be able to embark on such an adventure. Thank you, one and all. I do intend to go back to see Dr. Jack’s new passenger terminal peninsula and Johnny Dawson’s scenery. Also, Larry promises me that we will go to Cincinnati and other exciting places…..

Your OGR Forum Roving Ambassador

Dale Manquen

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Dale Manquen’s Train Layout Tour – October 2012 Part 1


The following chronology of my trip is quite long because it spans 17 days and 5000 miles.

The goals of the trip were to help Lyle Dumont with his TMCC problems in Iowa and to visit several OGR Forum members along the way. A detailed review of the Dumont visit is in the R&D Projects file on my site .

The trip began on Saturday, October 6 with my trusty Chevy Malibu headed east to Denver via Las Vegas and Grand Junction. The first day was just driving (835 miles), arriving at Grand Junction in the evening for a night in a motel.

Next morning I headed through Glenwood Canyon, stopping to take a few pictures along the river. My goal was to get to Denver early enough to meet Chuck Sartor in the afternoon. When I arrived on the west side of Denver, I called Chuck and he offered to meet me at a nearby restaurant for coffee (actually, beer.) We rendezvoused and chatted for a while, sharing our train repair experiences.

I then headed for downtown Denver to hook up with the local train club (Rocky Mountain Division of the TCA) meeting on Sunday evening. When I arrived, I was greeted by Jerry Foss. The first order of business was for me to give Jerry a TPC that I had repaired for him, then on to the club meeting. I won a bulkhead car as a door prize, and I purchased a 2343 unpowered A that is in poor condition and missing the power pickup.  Susan Deats invited me to visit her layout on Monday. 

After the meeting I joined the group for more visiting at the local coffee shop. Jerry invited me over to his house to see his layout afterwards. Jerry’s layout is a work in progress, but he has an excellent setup for working on his trains and layout.

After visiting Jerry’s layout I headed south to Parker to my sister’s house. It was late when I got there, but it had been a very nice day.

On Monday my sister and I visited Susan’s layout.  What fun!  Thanks, Susan.  My (non-train) sister really enjoyed meeting you.  My sister and I both loved the Mel’s Diner on her layout, and we recalled out teenage memories at the local drive-in restaurant in Las Cruces, NM where we grew up.


Susan’s layout is a long, narrow layout with multiple levels along the walls. She has a huge helix of track so that she can run any train everywhere on the layout. She explained that this was HER layout, and her husband and his machine shop are her backup when she needs help.

We then went to Caboose Hobbies, to meet Xavier, the repair tech who sends me TMCC controllers for repair. I had been to Caboose Hobbies several times in the past, but just as an interested visitor. Xavier and I had talked several times, but it was nice to add a face to the voice. Xavier gave me some dead electronics cards and I bought (for a very nominal sum) a Kline trolley in need of repair.

After spending some time with my sister and her family, I departed the Denver area through Nebraska to Sigourney in the south central part of Iowa – about 800 miles. Sig’ ourney (not Sigour’ney like the actress) is a small town with two motels because it is near a popular recreation area, Lake Belva Deer .

After breakfast I headed out to Lyle Dumont’s place on the highway just south of town. The Dumont Museum is a multifaceted collection of tractors, O gauge trains, Roy Rogers memorabilia and more. First we had a quick tour of the four major areas of the museum. The entry lobby has a train layout that is about 25’ x 30’.


The next room is a 60’ x 100’ steel building that is all one big train layout except to a row of old buggies and a hearse wagon along one side wall. The third room is the tractor collection.


Lyle collects and displays (all in running condition) a vast collection of green Oliver tractors. They are all fully restored and look beautiful. He has very big tractors, medium size tractors, lawn tractors, kiddie tractors and toy tractors arrayed in a 60’ x 260’ building that is stuffed to the rafters. And you thought trains take up space??…. (The Dumonts also sell decals for folks restoring tractors.)

The fourth room is a variety of memorabilia. Lyle was a friend of Roy Rogers, and Lyle had a lot of Roy Rogers goodies. For example, he had pristine comic books, not only for Roy Rogers, but also Dale Evans, Trigger and even their dog Bullet! Lyle has sold some of the Roy Rogers items in the years since Dale passed away, but he still has a bunch left.

I will skip the technical discussion of our work on his layout here since it is covered at .

During my visit I told Lyle about my visit with my sister to Susan Deat’s layout. When I was leaving, Lyle pulled out a box containing a Mel’s Diner and gave it to me as a token of gratitude for my visit. I was thrilled! I love my Diner, and every visitor to my layout finds it to be the highlight of their visit. Thanks again Lyle!

Back on the road again, I headed for St. Louis, driving into rainy weather. I had been invited to visit the St. Louis Lionel Train Club, with Albert Werder as my host. (Albert passed away Jan. 3.) The Train Club has several rooms with different types of layouts in the various rooms. The facilities are excellent and the layouts are all very interesting. I was honored with a gift of a flat car with a Navy semi trailer – a fond remembrance of Albert.

We headed out to dinner, and were joined by a couple of club member for chow – Mary Ellen & John Blasé. After dinner we visited their train layout and ran a few trains.

The next day I visited the St. Louis Museum of Transportation. I was very impressed with the extent of the train and car collections. I gave the old GG-1 a loving pat. (I have a scale Weaver brass GG-1 that I have upgraded with TMCC – one of my favorite engines.)

I stopped by for a quick visit with a friend who is involved with audio and tape recorders, and then I headed across the river to meet David Gummersheimer. He was busy packing for his trip to TCA in York, PA. His camper trailer is a caboose replica that is scaled down to fit on a boat trailer chassis. What a kick! He has a flat screen TV, DVD player and surround sound! Needless to say, the trailer caused quite a stir at York. David didn’t get much of a chance to cruise the halls because everyone wanted to look at his trailer!

I drove out of the St. Louis area and found a motel for the night. Next morning I made a quick stop in Metropolis, IL to buy a refrigerator magnet, and then headed to Clarksville, TN.

My host in Clarksville was Leapin’ Larry Levin, a top-notch salesman at the local Honda dealer. Larry took a couple days off work to tour around the area, showing me train layouts. You just gotta love this guy!!

On the way to Larry’s house we stopped off to visit Jerry Hill’s layout. Jerry’s garage layout has nice scenery and a pleasant “feel”. Jerry also shared some of his other collections inside the house.



Larry’s basement layout is a very nice multilevel design with an embedded helix to make operating interesting. He also has a nice turntable with parking for several of his fine locomotives.

Leapin' Larry Levin's layout 034

Leapin' Larry Levin's layout 002

Now the intense part of the trip began! Larry had scheduled visits to several layouts in an area that ranged all the way to Madisonville KY, Evanston IN and Nashville TN. We had a “tour group” of several of the layout owners traveling around together to see each others layouts. We had a VERY good time!

All the layouts were different. We had layouts in the rafters of a garage, multiple rooms in the basement and everything in between. The thing that kept coming back to me is that there is no right or wrong when you are building YOUR layout. All of these layouts were completely different, but each represented the fantasy world of the layout’s creator. Some folks like to run trains, and their emphasis is on storage yards and track loops. Others are interested in fine detailing of scenery, buildings and trains. Sometimes the layout is shaped by the available space (and the other person who shares that space.) The variety was most refreshing.

It also made me realize that our magazines do the hobby a disservice by always featuring the exotic layouts. Most of us are not in that league, but that doesn’t make us wrong. Why not feature a layout that runs on the rafters in the garage or shoehorned into a tight spot? It may not have full scenery, but it can trigger ideas of how the folks who don’t have large train rooms can make a layout fit their constraints.

Now, climbing down off my soapbox….

We took a trip up north, stopping first at Madisonville KY to see a well established layout where Rick Hane and Wally Watts park and run a lot of postwar Lionel. I favor the postwar equipment myself, and I enjoyed seeing the variety. The main lines extend around the wall so that a train can be pulled out of the large yard and then run around the perimeter a few times before re-parking in the yard.



Next we headed to Evansville IN to see a couple of layouts. When you arrive at Jim Bengert’s house, the first thing you notice is a full-size grade crossing signal next to the entry to his layout. You enter into an area with a town and mine on either side, but then you proceed to the main area with a lot more going on. Jim has a nice variety of landscaping and scenery. clip_image022


Entry Area


I also enjoyed admiring Jim’s Honda Gold Wing motorcycle. Thirty years ago I had my Honda 750…..

Next stop in Evansville was Larry Fieber’s garage overhead layout. (Well, we did squeeze in lunch at a great barbeque place into the schedule at lunch time.) This shows how there is always a way to make room for a layout. (Actually, I thought Larry should be running the trains upside down overhead….)



Next stop was Johnny Dawson’s house in the countryside near Owensboro KY. Johnny has a huge basement that he is filling with a new layout. He has most of the track laid so that he can run trains around, but there isn’t any scenery yet.


As a side note, I was dragging my oscilloscope along on the trip, measuring the TMCC/Legacy track signal on various layouts. When I checked Johnny’s Command Base, I found that the signal was clipped on the lower loop. We substituted another Base that had a proper symmetric signal. I had also found a bad Base at Lyle’s museum. It might not be that rare!

There we were, driving down the highway, crossing over some train tracks when all at once we saw this!!


There was a screeching of tires as we halted to take a closer look at the Fallen Flags paint job. The locomotive was just sitting there, waiting for us to arrive and take photos. What a thrill to see this in real life!! (Did I mention that I had a NYC F3 when I was a kid? And that I was born in Buffalo, NY?)

Our trip back to Clarksville brought us into a heavy rainstorm as we got back into Tennessee. It was a dark and windy night…..

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Troubleshooting at the Dumont Museum near Sigourney, IA Oct. 2012


The Dumont Museum has two large train layouts and an extensive Oliver tractor display housed in a steel building.  The smaller layout is about 15’ x 20’ with fairly simple loops of track on the flat and in a mountain.  This layout operates properly.

The larger layout is located in an adjacent room that is 60’ x 100’.  This layout is composed of two sections with interconnecting bridges that cover about 45’ x 90’.  This layout has problems with Legacy operation due to weak track signals.


Lyle Dumont and I have spoken about the problems on a number of occasions, but have been unable to resolve the issues.  I volunteered to visit so that we could tackle the problem first-hand.


The visit:

Day One – Thursday, Oct. 11, 2012

The first step was to hook up and oscilloscope to the Track output of the Legacy Base.  I used an isolation transformer on the oscilloscope to permit me to establish an arbitrary ground reference.  (The Legacy/TMCC track signal is referenced to ground through the wallwart.  I thought I might need to reference to other points.)

A quick examination showed that the 455 KHz track signal was being cleanly chopped off on the lower half cycle.  The wire to the track was removed to unload the output, but the output was still cleanly chopped off.

I have seen this distorted output before, including my own Legacy Base that I acquired because it needed repair.  The output amplifier components include several capacitors and a driver transistor.

Conclusion #1 – The Base was probably damaged by a nearby lightning strike that caused damage to several electronic devices in the adjacent Dumont home and the air conditioning thermostat in the museum.

Action #1 – We borrowed the Base from the smaller layout, and it had a proper unclipped signal of 5 volts peak-to-peak without any load.


Next, we moved on to examine the troublesome areas on the layout.  The older east section was operating fairly well, but the newer west section was very poor.  This newer area had been constructed with aluminum foil duct tape laid under all of the track roadbed, on top of the tables.  (Foil tape had also been added to the east section, but well after construction.  This foil is under the table, in some cases wrapping over support beams and other construction obstacles.)


Initially, the foil was tied together, but not connected to earth ground.  We soon tried tying the foil to ground, but this caused a serious drop in track signal level and bad waveform distortion on the negative half cycle.  We experimented with several configuration of foil grounding, but could not clean up the waveform.

Conclusion #2 – You can actually have too much foil!  In this case we had somewhere between 300 and 500 feet of track with foil very close to the track.  Most of the track in this area is Gargraves-like track with non-conductive ties, but there is also some tubular S-gauge track.  The equivalent area of 500’ of 2-inch-wide tape is about 80 square feet of aluminum foil!  This foil is located in close proximity to the other half of the command signal, which is on three rails of the track, forming a very significant equivalent capacitor.  The amplitude drop and distortion on the lower half of the track signal are typical for the output stage when it is overloaded with capacitance.  I didn’t have a capacitance meter, nor did I have an assortment of capacitors that I might have used to try to simulate the observed waveform with lumped values.  This will need to wait until I return home.


With the massive amounts of foil acting as an enemy, we moved on to Plan B.  Lyle had installed some discrete wires next to the track.  Some of these wires were exposed, but he had covered some of the wires with glued gravel ballast.

Some of the wires worked well, but some produced the heavy loading we saw with the grounded foil.  We finally noticed that some of the staples holding the wire next to the track were stapled into the foil, and some of these staples pinched the wires enough to cut through the insulation to connect the wire to the foil.  The bare wires were fairly easy to troubleshoot, but the ballasted areas were a big problem.  In some cases we chose to abandon the buried wires and temporarily add new wires on top of the ballast.

The wire grid of earth grounds was considerably less capacitance than the foil, giving us less signal drop, but still about a 30% drop and some negative-loop distortion.


Our test engines were a Legacy Santa Fe 3751 4-8-4 and a Milwaukee 261 4-8-4.  Lyle had found that the steamers were more troublesome than the plastic-shell diesels.  (Does anyone have information to share on the command signal performance of these locomotives?)


Even with the wires running between tracks, we still had some areas where the steamers would flash their headlights or even stop.

Conclusion #3 – I am going to build a combination track signal booster and signal strength meter that can be used to measure drops in signal level due to loading by capacitance.  The booster will feature a symmetric amplifier with some voltage gain but primarily enough output current capability to avoid distorting one half of the track signal.


When we finished after two days, things were better, but not yet perfect.  Lyle will do the beta testing of the MANCO Track Signal Booster/Meter.


Lyle and his wife Helen were wonderful hosts.  I thoroughly enjoyed my visit and their great hospitality.  Lyle and I worked long and hard, but we had a great time.  (And then there was that terrific grilled pork sirloin sandwich….)  I feel that I am very lucky to be able to visit and help wonderful people like the Dumonts!


UPDATE 5/8/13

I have built a booster amplifier based upon the vacuum tube design of Jim Lefevre, adding a few embellishments of my own.  I hope to test the amp on some large layouts in the near future.

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AG 440 output distortion due to VU meter

The output distortion is improved by dropping the closed-loop gain by 10 dB, thereby lowering the output source impedance. The feedback shunt resistor is raised from 510 ohms to 1500 ohms, and 470 uF capacitor was added across the 390 ohm resistor. (I believe the AG440C has this gain reduction on its repro cards.)
One should use an amplitude sweep as shown here to evaluate a VU meter’s effect.

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