10. Power and Control


Everything on the layout operates on battery power. I standardized nearly all of the lighting and animation devices to run on 4.5 volts, with one exception—the smoke generator. Thus the layout's power supply consists of three battery packs: a 6-AA set for the two throttles, a 3-D set for animation and effects, and a 10-AAA set just for the smoke generator. All of the battery packs are tucked into little cubbies at the rear left corner of the layout. The sound units all have their own dedicated power supplies (9V batteries with 5V regulators).


This will be one of my DC (Decent Cheap) throttles, which are made from LED dimmers. Since there will be only one functional train, all of the track is wired as a single block.


With the exception of the Bearcamp runaround at the back of the layout, all turnouts are operated manually with push-pull rods. The runaround is powered by a Tortoise.

Control Panel

Without question, control of animation and special effects is daunting. Over fifty sub-mini switches, pushbuttons and jacks had to be crammed along the front edge of the layout. My original plan was to make nine individual control panel segments, thinking it would be easier to assemble that way. But when I found a 2-by-4-foot sheet of ⅛-inch thick black styrene, I decided to attempt making the whole thing as a single part, which would certainly be the cleanest approach.

Work got under way on 2 October 2020. First, I cut a strip of styrene to the maximum height of the panel (above left). Next, I drilled all of the switch/jack holes. After test-fitting it on the layout (below), I traced the layout contour onto the panel, then cut it to shape using a saber saw fitted with a hollow-ground blade (above right).

After installing all of the controls on the panel (3 October 2020), I fired up CorelDraw to render artwork identifying the switch and button functions. I printed the art on self-adhesive label stock and covered it with a clear laminating film for durability (4 October 2020). The following day, I decided the labels looked too jumbled, so I redesigned them.

Installing the panel will require getting a great many ducks in line first—like about fifty of them. Every wire has to be in place and identified before they can be connected to the controls, and there are a few items aren't even finished yet, so this will take a fair bit of time to complete.


The sounds are all generated by cheap (only four bucks) MP3 players, which are housed within a separate enclosure that plugs into the layout through audio jacks in the control panel; the sound files are stored on micro-SD cards. I couldn't come up with a way to install the players within the layout while at the same time maintaining the necessary accessibility to them. All of the units are controlled and wired separately so I can pick and choose which sounds I want at any given time.

The controls include a master power switch, and individual power switches for each player, plus a pilot light/pushbutton that controls volume. When the units are turned on, the volume is maxed out by default, so pressing the button lowers the volume. When powered on, the units automatically start playing, so there was no need for a start/stop button; also, the units are in repeat mode by default, so I needed no control for that, either. As I learned the hard way, the units are very sensitive to excess voltage, so the 6 volt battery power supply is wired to a 5 volt regulator (lower right corner, above).

The sound unit was completed on 11 October 2020, and the sound files edited, installed and tested the following day. See animation and special effects for the sounds featured on the layout.

Channel Seven?

I have a seventh MP3 player, courtesy of the first jazz bar player: it was a standalone unit. In thinking about the fireworks effect, assuming it works, then I may use that extra player for the fireworks, integrating it directly into whatever mechanism I use to program the display so it kicks on and off on its own. That would leave the sixth channel in the new sound unit free for a new sound effect. Some contenders for this channel include:

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