Attach Marx lighted accessories and hide wiring in one step

A frequent question I read is how to attach tin accessories, such as Marx light posts and light towers, to a layout in a semi-permanent but reversible manner. I have found a way to do this, and as a bonus, it also makes it easy to hide the wires that are feeding the lights and makes the wiring simpler.

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The common post on the Lionel 1025 transformer

Lionel produced several 35- and 45-watt transformers through the years, including the 1010, 1025, 1015, and 1016. Lionel MPC produced a similar 4045 transformer in the 1970s. They’re small, but cheap when you can find them, and can be useful when you string them together with other transformers. The problem is the markings don’t tell you what you need to know in order to do that.

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Repair a Marx 1209 transformer

Want to repair a Marx 1209 transformer? There are two schools of thought. One is that small, sub-75 watt transformers aren’t worth fixing because they are so cheap. The other is that since they are so cheap, you have nothing to lose by trying.

Marx didn’t design its transformers to be fixed, but the design is extremely simple. The hardest part really is getting the case apart and then getting it back together. If Marx had designed them to be serviced, like its competitors did, they would have cost more, so we wouldn’t have as many Marx trains to enjoy today. So it’s easy enough to forgive Marx for this.

Let’s dive in.

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Get more transformer outputs by using a grounding bus bar

Train transformers have one pair of screws for each output, which is generally enough for a simple layout, but once you have more than one accessory or building with lights in it, you’ll find it’s difficult to attach all of the wires to the transformer posts.

You can get more on the cheap by repurposing ground bus bars, intended for circuit breaker panels, available at hardware stores and home improvement stores. Read more

Using PC ATX power supplies on a train layout

PC power supplies are exceptionally cheap and plentiful these days. If you’ve noticed and wondered whether you can use PC ATX power supplies on a train layout, wonder no more. You can.

Thanks to the miracle of mass production, even the cheapest, nastiest PC power supply gives far more power output per dollar than any train transformer. So if the lights and accessories on your electric train layout can run on 12 volts DC, which is a fairly good bet, you can get a lot of wattage for very little money by repurposing an inexpensive ATX power supply, whether new or secondhand. And on a wattage-per-dollar basis, they’re about twice as cost-effective as outdoor lighting transformers, which are another popular option for hobbyists.

All it takes to use these cost-effective ATX power supplies is a bit of rewiring.

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Make your own null modem cable

One of my coworkers needed to make a null modem cable last week, and most of the sites he found made it far, far too difficult. Here’s how to make your own null modem cable.

Most of the time, you only need three pins. In fact, I never needed more than three pins, no matter what I was connecting. Usually, a 3-wire null modem cable is more than sufficient.

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Does a POTS phone use the same wiring as U-Verse VOIP?

A friend asked me a good question: Does a POTS phone use the same wiring as U-Verse VOIP? The answer is, it depends. Outside your house, no it doesn’t. But that’s not your problem. Outside, that’s AT&T’s problem.

Inside is where it matters to you. And inside the house, a POTS phone–the old-fashioned landline phone we’ve been using for well over a century–uses the same wiring as U-Verse VOIP. I’ve probably answered your question but I can elaborate if you’d like.

The residential gateway does the job of translating the signal between old-school POTS phones and the VOIP system. When I got U-Verse, my installer simply spliced a new cable from the gateway into my existing wiring so all of my jacks continued working.

So even though U-Verse is VOIP, there’s no need for VOIP phones. The same common and inexpensive phones that work with traditional home landline service work with U-Verse too. The only caveat is that if you have any rotary phones left over from the 1950s, 60s or 70s–I have a couple because they’re indestructible–they won’t be able to dial out.

How to replace a Lionel transformer power cord

When using vintage Lionel transformers, it’s important to make sure the power cord isn’t broken or frayed to avoid the risk of electric shock or starting a fire. If yours is, here’s how to replace a Lionel transformer power cord.

Replacing a power cord safely is a lot easier than most people make it sound. It’s possible to do the job safely with simple tools and a few dollars’ worth of parts from the nearest hardware store.

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