Peco’s New Unifrog Turnouts

In this week’s post I’m going to share with you one of the new products made by Peco, not only because I think the new product is worth a mention but also because there’s been lots of debate as to whether this new product is an improvement on the existing range as Peco will be replacing the others with this one.

Over the years Peco have made very reliable track work and I know it’s used all over the world. For example I know a museum layout in California which uses hand laid track on the public side and Peco in the hidden yards, simply because it works so well.  On our modular club layout, ‘Solent Summit’, Peco is our standard.

Peco have offered turnouts or points in two varieties in most scales for a long time,   Electrofrog and Insulfrogs; I’ve written posts before which help explain what the difference is.  The first was on how I improve my Electrofrog points for DCC operation which you can find here.  And the other was how I improve Kato points and that can be found here.  But the basic difference is Insulfrogs have a plastic frog which is the area where the rails cross, and also provide power routing. The post about the Kato points explains what power routing is.  Electofrogs have an all metal frog which improves power pickup but needs to be isolated from the other rails to prevent shorting.  This is normally done with plastic rail joiners or cutting the track with a disc cutter.

This means that Peco has two versions of every point, which makes production twice as expensive, and takes up twice as much room in the shops.  However there’s a big divide between modelers with both types being prefered for different reasons. The primary issue, I believe, stems from the age of the design which was originally built around DC operation.  DC operators like them as they are, DCC operators want them to change.  However DCC is fastly becoming more common and as I mentioned above I feel it necessary to always improve the turnouts for DCC operations.

So to resolve this Peco have combined the two types and now produce the Unifrog turnout.

The Unifrog has a metal frog, as the with the Electrofrog, but it is isolated at both ends by plastic strips.  The wire wrapped around the point is the optional frog feed, I didn’t unwrap it as this turnout is new and only borrowed for the post.

Up close you can see the isolators.  The wire, when unwrapped, is connected to the V section of the frog as well as the two check rails; this prevents any shorting from wide tread wheels which may touch both.

On the reverse side you can see Peco have also bridged the stock rails with the blades.  This is the main improvement I made to my Electrofrog points.  There is also a bridging wire connecting the blades with the outgoing rails next to the frog.  This means that power runs through the turnout in both directions without passing through the blade/stock rail joint irrelevant to the which way it’s set.  Perfect for DCC.

So what advantages does this give me?

  • This turnout is ready to use for DCC or DC right out of the packet.
  • I no longer need to use plastic isolating rail joiners on the two rails next to the frog.
  • There is no danger of relying on power being transfer through the blade where they touch the stock rail.
  • Compared to Insulfrog there is a large metal frog so no dead power section which affect small locos. (providing the frog has been separately powered)

What disadvantages does this give me?

  • The turnout does not provide power routing compared to an Insulfrog point for DC operation.
  • The frog will always be dead unless powered separately.

But, and this is the clever part, in order to make this work in just the same way as an Insulfrog turnout all you need to do is remove the bridges circled in red below.  This can be done with a screwdriver by braking the solder joint or cutting with snips.

Although this is not a modification I need to make, being all DCC, I think it’s a lot easier than the soldering modification to add them in. Yes, anybody wanting power routing now has an extra job to do, but it really is 30 seconds as opposed to the work required before.  This means, in my opinion, despite the compromise for the DC operators wanting power routing, the new points are a good replacement for both.

The dead frog disadvantage, also in my opinion, isn’t really a problem.  This is because for DCC operation it’s recommended to power the frog from a switch or electric frog juicer anyway.  And DC operators now have the option to power the frog which you didn’t with the Insulfrog which has to be an improvement.

Personally I thing this move by Peco is a good one and I’ll be using their new Unifrog turnouts on all my upcoming projects.

Alco C-855 R-T-R Build – Part 4 – Chassis Assembly

This week’s post will be a continuation of my step-by-step build of an N Scale A-B-A Ready-To-Run set of Alco C-855 locomotives.  And this post will be concentrating on assembling the chassis.  You can find part one of the build here.

Now the chassis sections have been extended it’s time to reassemble all the parts.  And for this build I’m also going to upgrade all the motors to newer Kato drives.  In the picture below you can see all the original parts plus the new Kato motor in the top left-hand side.

For this post I’m going to assemble the second chassis which you may remember from last week is for the B unit but the process is exactly the same for all three locos.  To start with I add the black plastic isolators into the pockets on the underside of the lower chassis section followed by the metal truck fixing.  Both are held in place by a countersunk screw, the shortest ones, which only pass through the lower chassis section.

Next, and this in an important one not to miss, the first new 3D printed part needs to be added.  It’s the small square screw fixing which holds on the fuel tank.  In the original the lower chassis has a threaded hole to receive the screw but as this section has been replaced by the stainless steel chassis extender a new fixing is required.  Threading the hole would require more work and it’s much easier to drop in this plastic part.

The square part simply presses into the square hole.

It will stay in place by friction and once the motor is fitted it can’t fall out.

The motor sits in a plastic cradle; this is to isolate it from the metal chassis.

The cradle has a peg on the bottom which fits into the hole in the chassis to ensure it’s in the right way around.

Next comes the motor.  Although I’ll cover this here I’ve written about this procedure before in a bit more depth which you can find here.  The new Kato motor doesn’t come with any gears on the drive shafts so the original ones will need to be removed from the old motor.

This is actually fairly easy to do.  I use a pair of needle nose tweezers, simply grip the shaft behind the gear and push it off.  Just don’t do it too fast or the gear will ping off behind the work bench!

To fit the gears to the new motor simply press them on with your fingers.  They want to go on so far that the shaft pokes out the other side but make sure the gears are not tight to the motor body and the motor can spin freely.

The next 3D printed parts are the drive shaft extenders.  These are toothed parts which fit inside the existing cup gears making them longer.

I used to glue these in but as my fellow modeller Mike Musick pointed out, they work better when left free with a bit of movement.  You can read Mike’s views on this here.

Also, as you may remember from last week’s post, Con Cor have over the years made a few changes to their chassis and one of those changes was to this cup gear.  The very first design had a different number of teeth in the cup.  This means the extender won’t fit.  But don’t panic, firstly these early chassis are now getting rather rare but if you are using one for you C-855 build you can get drive shaft extenders which will fit here.

The motor is now ready to be added into the chassis.  But first it’s very important to make sure the new drive shafts spin freely without any rubbing on the chassis. Across all the Con Cor chassis I’ve converted I’ve noticed that the drive shaft length varies; I have no idea why.  I’ve supplied the drive shaft extender for the more common shorter lengths I’ve come across.  This does mean that if you have longer ones the drive shaft will now bind against the chassis extender.  To overcome this pop the drive shaft back out and file down the 3D printed part on the cup side.  Running the part up and down a file will do this.  But be sure to make the reduction even.  I would also recommend doing a bit at a time and test fitting as you go as you don’t want to make them too short.  If you do you can get more here.  Once everything is good this would be a good time to add a tiny amount of light oil to each bearing, just a drop.

There may also be one more issue to resolve if you’re using the latest Rail Barron version of the chassis.  Con Cor updated the motor casing and added the curved notches you can see in the picture below.  And therefore added some material into the motor cradle so it’s a nice tight fit.  But this means the Kato motor won’t fit!  It fits fine in all the others.

These extra plastic parts need to be removed to get the new Kato motor in and I find the best way to do it is with a with a small burr bit in a Dremmel style tool.

All four corners will need to be removed to allow the new motor to fit.

Also, and this apples to all the cradles, a shim needs to be added to the base of the cradle as the new Kato motor is slightly shorter than the Con Cor one.  Before you glue the shim in a test fit is required because if it’s too thick it will create uplift on the cup gears which will be noisy and wear out the motor.

The motor fits in to the cradle with the motor contacts at the end with the larger hole.

You’ll need to lift the drive shafts in order to fit the motor in.

Once fitted and you’re happy that everything spins freely, and the motor turns both drive shafts, it’s time to add the rest of the chassis.  There are two plastic separators which also hold down the drive shafts, these get fitted next.

Then the top section of the chassis can be fitted and the other screws fitted between the top section and the metal truck fixing. The longest screws with a plastic insulator are used on the right hand side.  The medium screws are used on the left without insulators.

With the trucks installed the extended chassis should look like this.

At this point, using wires from a DC controller, I do a basic test to make sure everything runs well.  If it’s noisy, won’t run, or sounds like it’s struggling, STOP,  there are a few things to check.

  • Can you easily turn the motor with your finger?
  • Are the drive shafts seated properly?
  • Check the drive shafts are not too long and binding on the chassis.
  • Check the gears on the motor have been pushed on far enough but not too far.
  • Is the shim under the motor too thick forcing the gears up into the cup gears?
  • Are the gear towers in the trucks jammed?

Hopefully everything runs okay with all the checks done and any issues corrected.

The next step is to wire up the chassis, I will be doing this for DCC but I’ll cover DC as well and it will all be in the next post on this project.

Alco C-855 R-T-R Build – Part 3 – Chassis Prep

This week’s post will be a continuation of my step by step build of an N Scale A-B-A Ready-To-Run set of Alco C-855 locomotives.  And this post will be concentrating on the chassis and preparation required to get them ready to be assembled.  You can find part one of the build here.

The chassis for the C-855 and C-855B is a Con Cor U50/Turbine chassis and I have three ready for the job.

The first check I always make is to see how they run.  These are all in their original state and setup for DC operation.  Each ran well in both directions, although they make the higher than normal amount of noise these chassis tend to make.  The good news is later on I will be swapping the motors to solve this.

The chassis have lots of parts and striping down each chassis completely will be required as the base metal sections are going to be cut.  Removing all the parts will prevent any metal filings getting into the gears and stop any heat which may be generated warping the plastic.  If you’re going to be doing this with more than one chassis at a time I would recommend keeping all the parts for each chassis in separate bags or boxes.  I use old foil trays left over from baking vegetables, washed up of course.

I would also recommend numbering each chassis.  All the parts should be the same in each chassis but over the years Con Cor did make a few changes.  Plus the amount of miles each model has done can also affect how the parts fit and run together. A worn part and a new part may not run well together.

The main sections are the top and bottom metal parts and as you can see below with 3D printed extension parts.  Note each extension part has an arrow pointing to the front of the locomotive, and the orientation does make a difference.

You should always start with the top section as this will correctly set out the spacing of the two ends once cut.

I have marked the area to be cut out with a Sharpie pen.

The important surface is the step in the frame marked by the red line.  The 3D printed extension needs to butt up to this in order to make the chassis the correct length.  The area to be removed needs to be 2mm (1/16″) or less from this step.  If it is longer the remaining metal will push the extender away and over lengthen the chassis.

As well as the center section there also needs to be some cutting done at the nose.  Note: the A units need to be cut differently to the B.

Because both the Con Cor U50 and the Turbine have wide areas under the cabs which extend right to the front of the locomotives the chassis is wider here.  But the C-855 does not so the ‘wings’ at either side need to be cut off. Also two notches need to be cut out as show by the marked area below.  The nose needs to be 8mm (5/16″) wide, or less, and cut back by 7mm (1/4″).  I tend to use the hole in the front left side as a guide, this makes the notches a bit bigger but that’s fine. (Too small and the shell won’t fit).

To cut the chassis I use a bandsaw but this can be done with a cutting disc in a Dremel style tool.

As you can see the 3D printed extension is much larger than the cut out part.

The nose section, for the A units, looks like this.

For the B unit the ‘wings’ need to be cut off only, not notching. You will see this later.

Test fitting the extension you can see the two areas which butt up and there is a small gap where the cut was made which is exactly what is needed.

The three sections can now be fixed together.  I use an industrial superglue and a spray actuator as it’s fast and strong but you can use any good strong adhesive as long as it’s not designed to be flexible.

Because there is a gap between the cut face and the metal extender this allows it to be filled with glue.

And that’s it for the top section.

You can see in the picture below chassis number 2 has been cut for the B unit as it doesn’t have the narrow nose.

The second part is the lower section of the chassis.  The 3D printed section holds the motor in place and because of the geometry of the part it makes it hard to get it in the right place.  But because the top section is already set at the right length we can use this as a guide.

When I marked up the chassis for the photos, as shown below, I actually made a mistake and marked the section too far.

The red lines, shown below, are where the cuts should be made.  Basically in line with the lower section.  So no dimensions, just follow the existing line.

Once cut the two remaining bottom sections can be bolted to the upper using the original bolts.  Don’t worry about fitting the plastic spaces as they will be coming apart again.  I would also recommend installing at least two bolts in each end to avoid any rotation.

The lower section will be a tight fit and will take a bit of forcing in but once in the friction grip of the original parts to the new section will hold it in place.  I then use a pair of pliers to align the bottom of all parts.  Once I’m happy with the position I also fixed it with superglue.

With the glue all set the two newly extended chassis halves can be separated.

The lower section of the B unit also needs an additional few cuts.  Most of the way around the lower section is a shelf which the shell sits on.  But at the front the shelf is not there as this is where the loco cab is.  As the B unit has no cab this shelf will need to be cut out.  I place the B unit top section in place and draw round it as shown below.

And just to make sure I fill in the bit which needs to be removed.

Because this is a step and not a through cut I can’t use the band saw for this so it’s back to the cutting disc in a Dremel style tool.  The first cut is made vertically down to the level of the step.

The second is horizontal.  The two cuts should just about meet and the part will break out.

Repeating this across the front will leave the desired shape.

I also cleaned the area up with a small grinding bit in the Dremel style tool.

And that’s it.  All six chassis parts area ready to be reassembled.

In next week’s post I will show you how to extend the drive shafts and fit new motors into the chassis.

Alco C-855 R-T-R Build – Part 2 – Grab Irons

This week I’ll be continuing my step-by-step build of an N Scale A-B-A Ready-To-Run set of Alco C-855 locomotives.  And this post will be about the first details to be applied to the shells; the grab irons.  You can find part one of the build here.

The grab irons or hand rails are small parts but form an important detail.  For these models I’ve made them from etched brass rather than a part of the 3D printed shell.  I could make them a part of the shell but they would be extremely fragile and probably couldn’t withstand being handled without breaking.  The other option’s to make them a solid piece of the shell but I find that makes them look too bulky.

The grab irons are located in the etched brass frets as shown below.  There are two sets for the A units and one for the B unit.

Each 3D printed shell already has the holes to locate all of the grab irons, and other parts.  Below you can see the cab of the A unit with the various holes.

And the rear also has holes for the four grab irons which create the ladder to the top of the locomotive.  Both ends of the B unit are the same as the rear of the A.

There are two types of grab iron.  Straight and folded down and in the A unit fret there are eight of each, although you only need 7 of the straight ones.

The straight ones have half etched sections where they are connected to the main fret to allow them to be easily cut out with a sharp knife.

One thing I strongly recommend is to test fit each grab iron.  If the hole is clogged or the grab iron is slightly bent the wrong way and you attempt to glue it right in, one leg will stick and the other will bend and you’ll be left with a wonky grab iron.  Each grab iron fits into a pair of holes which are either all the way through the shell or just the right length. So if you’ve cut them out too close to the fret and they are too long they may stick out too far.  This is another good reason to do a test fit.

The folded down version also has half etched sections on the rear just after the corner.   This allows the grab iron to easily be folded down in the right place.

I find by using a pair of wide tweezers I can hold both the legs and simply bend the fold down section into place with my finger.  When I tried it the other way round it was hard to get both legs in the right place.

I tend to get all the grab irons ready together, but I keep the two types separated.

To secure them in place I use superglue.  This is a great choice, not only because it sets very quickly but it is a type of acrylic and so are the 3D printed shells so there’s no danger of a chemical reaction damaging the shell.  I wouldn’t recommend trying to apply superglue directly to the shell; that normally ends in a sticky mess.  The best way is to pour some onto an old box lid or something similar, then gently dip the tips of the grab iron into the superglue just before you place it into the holes.  After you have test fitted it of course.

The straight grab irons fit in the A unit cab in six locations; I know there are only five shown below, I forgot one but it will appear shortly.  There are two in the roof above the number boards, two in the face of the cab above the outer windows, one in the side of the nose, above the step area, and finally, although not shown yet, one on the top of the nose.

The seventh fits in the top of the shell at the rear. The last one is simply a spare.

Three of the drop down grab irons fit into the side of the nose under the straight one.  These are the only three which don’t fit into two holes; the rear leg of each grab iron does but the front simply glues onto the front of the nose.  There is small sections of the 3D printed shell which stick out to locate the grab irons which sit on top of them. There is a fourth fold down grab iron under one of the windows.

When complete the fronts look like this. The B unit front is the same as the rear.

And the rears look like this.

The B unit fret has eight fold down grab irons and two straight ones.

So why have I only fixed the grab irons and not the rest of the etched brass parts?  Well these are the most delicate to do and also these need to blend in when the locomotives are painted. All the rest will be fixed after painting as they either fixed to several different parts or will make painting the shell harder to do if fitted first.

These shells will now go in for painting and while that’s happening I’ll turn my attention to the chassis which I’ll share with you next week.