Retro Future Electrics

A page about retro electronics, from the introduction of electricity until 1970-something. We refit old gadgets with new tech, and wonder at the makers who came before us.

This is a sub article from my main Lionel raspberry pi controller project. The switches I have were originally purchased for my father in the 1950s. They have been carelessly stored in attics, a rain forest, and garages for the past ~70 years. As you can imagine they are in need of a little attention. There are a couple things that need to be done, I hated to do mortifications to these antiques, but they were in bad shape and aren’t particularly valuable.

Things to fix:

  1. Rewire switch to work on constant 16V-AC
  2. Fix broken wire tie downs to a modular connection
  3. General cleaning and oiling

Rewiring for constant voltage:

The newer Lionel switches have a connection to be hooked up to “accessory power” and therefore always operate at 14-16VAC, no matter what speed the train is running. My older switches were designed to be “track powered”. This means they switch ok when the train is at full speed, but if you try to switch when it’s going slow the solenoids will fail to throw the track. The fix is well published on the internet, the video that helped me the most is here:  “Wiring Lionel Switches for Fixed Voltage”. My older switch was a smidge different than the one in the video, but the connections were obvious.

The switch out of the (poorly kept) box.

Here is the switch with the cover removed.

The parts of the switch disassembled

I hooked “+” power up to the center of the Solenoid, and “-“ to the center post of the three post controller connection and I had full power switching! However this still led to some buzzing and lack of smooth switching do to the other wise poor condition of the switch. So I decided to drill out the two rivets holding no the bottom case and see what I could see…… Imagine my surprise when I saw that the switch wasn’t track powered at all, the three terminals were hooked directly the two sides and center of the solenoid.

The inside of a Lionel switch

After seeing this I cleaned and oiled the switch, and did the same with my second switch, put it back together and the switch operated perfectly. I also tightened up all the terminals and sprayed the bottom case with some conformal coating, as the terminals were only protected with the piece of masking tape you can see in the photo.

Back to the code! Main page for the lionel train project is here: Model Trains

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