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Building an Operating Overhead Catenary System for “O” Gauge Model Railroads                       ....Continued       

By Thomas P. Leyden                                      (Return to Beginning)


Installing the Overhead Wire

  1. “Blacken” the “shiny” machine screws and nuts with Brass Black product.  I poured the Brass Black in a drinking cup and put the hardware (nuts/screws) in the cup a let them soak overnight.  Then use a Dremel tool with cut-off wheel to widen the slot in the machine screw to accommodate tubing through which wire will be placed.  Solder a small length of tubing in the widened slot (slightly larger than round head of machine screw).  Cut the tubing at either side of machine screw at 45 degree angle to insure pantograph slides smoothly over tubing. This will result in what is referred to hereafter as a screw/tube “hanger.” See below:


2.  Drill holes (1/8”) in basswood to accommodate machine screw/tube “hanger” location over the middle of the track.  This location is particularly important on curves because the pantograph has its own arc around the curve … AND …each locomotive has its own arc … no two models are necessarily alike.  Much trial and error is involved here.  You can hand hold the catenary base and support to the tabletop and hand push the engine thru the curve to see where the pantograph will “wipe” the wire.

3.  Fasten machine screw/tube “hangers” as shown in photos with hex nut on top and bottom of basswood stick to insure tightness. (See the photos above)

4.  Pick “anchor points”…usually at the beginning and end of each straightaway…then thread wire through each screw/tube “hanger.”  Curves should have their own “run” with “anchor points” at each end of the curve. 

5.  At each “anchor point” erect an anchor pole.  For the most part I used ½” x ½” basswood cut to 7 ¼”, slightly shorter than catenary-bridge columns.    (Plastic “H” columns tend to bend over time from tension) Screw eyes are inserted into the pole approximately 1” from the top.  A screw eye is also attached to the tabletop 2 ½” from rear of pole.  These two screw eyes are joined by brass rods bent over at each end.  These supports will insure the poles can hold up under tension.

6.  Insert a “screw eye” in the pole on the opposite (track) side of the pole approximately 1 ½” from the top and attach a spring to it.  The catenary wire is attached at the other end of the spring by placing it through the spring end and wrapping the wire around itself as shown in the photos.   Be sure the wire is tight and the spring under tension before finally wrapping the wire around itself….remember sagging in heat and tightening in cold just like real life.  The following photos are intended to help the understanding of this important phase of construction. (See the five photos below)

“Anchor point/pole” at end of spur/siding track.  Brass rod used for reinforcement against spring tension.

“Anchor pole” used for two tracks.  Notice separation of wires and brass rod used to reinforce anchor pole against wire tension.

“Anchor point/pole” at beginning/end of curve.  Note the separate “hanger” for curved section

“Anchor poles” at crossovers.  Notice the separation of the wires/supports

Pulloff “anchor point/pole” at crossover using standard catenary bridge which has been reinforced with brass rod tied to tabletop.


Installing Catenary over switches

Switches are the toughest part of the job.  The subject is much too complicated for words so I have included photos at various switch locations so that you can see how I did it.  There was lots and lots of trial and error….very difficult….but worth the trouble. 

Note the complexity of the crossovers and the several “Anchor Points” used at crossover locations and the use of double screw/tube “hangers” to separate differently powered loops at crossovers

Please note that the terminal is very complex and I used my original method for this…but it shows the complexity of the “pulloffs” and “Anchor Points”

Note the use of the multiple screw/tube “hangers” to separate differently powered loops

Continues with Getting Power to the System

Second Decade.
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