Smart wiring for the gateman, from the January 2012 Classic Toy Trains

This week I received an advance copy of the January 2012 Classic Toy Trains. There, on page 42, is my first magazine article in more than a decade: Smart wiring for the gateman.

I’d like to make a couple of clarifications on the article, as space constraints kept me from elaborating quite as much as I did in the original manuscript–a problem I never have online, but almost always seem to have in print. The issue isn’t due on newsstands for another couple of weeks, but I’ll go ahead and post this now.

I find that wiring the gateman up so that you can control it with a doorbell is a hit with kids. It’s something on the layout that’s safe even for an 18-month-old to control, and I find they enjoy it, even in this age of electronic toys. Trains are fun for all ages; having things to control while the train does its thing make them even more fun for kids who aren’t yet old enough to run the train itself.

I state on page 43 that it’s a good idea to not let the gateman run on more than 12 volts when running it on DC, but space kept me from explaining any further. Solenoids run hotter on DC than they do on AC, though they run much more quietly. Limit it to 12 volts, and you’re less likely to cause any damage.

Unfortunately the 7812 in the circuit can only limit the voltage to 12 volts; if you feed it less than 12, it won’t raise it. A circuit to ensure that the gateman receives a certain voltage, regardless of the source, is beyond the scope of a two-page article but might be an interesting topic for me to explore at some point. I don’t know yet if it’s possible to do with Radio Shack parts. I wanted to limit this article to parts that you can buy at Radio Shack, since just about everyone has one of those stores nearby.

And solenoids are much quieter on DC. Run the Lionel gateman on AC, and you get a characteristic buzz. Run it on DC, and it sounds like the automatic door locks on a car. That’s not a coincidence–automatic car door locks are powered by a solenoid, running on DC.

Now, if you’ll indulge me for a minute, I think the January 2012 edition is a great issue. Peter Riddle has a two-page article a couple of pages before mine, which is an honor. I learned most of what I know by reading his books. He offers a simple but ingenious approach to creating custom grade crossings.

And page 46 contains an article on building structure kits by a fellow Missourian, Dennis Brennan. Dennis is an immensely talented modeler, photographer and writer.

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