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I came real close to just throwing in the towel on this entire hobby yesterday.  Enough was just too much!

I had my layout running perfectly, with 5 power blocks, 8 switches, two of the sets of switches working in tandem on one controller each, and all lights bright and shiny.

All I had to do, I mean ALL I had to do, was to shove a little bit of road bed underneath each switch motor jutting out of the side of the switches, so that they looked more realistic.

So, I disconnected all of the direct voltage plugs, loosened the screws on every switch and adjacent track pieces, lifted up the switch motor side of the switch slightly, and shoved the trackbed underneath.   Then I tightened back down all of the screws, plugged all of the direct voltage plugs back in, and tightened up the control wire connectors. 

NOW, finally, after a year, all of the bed and track were permanently down, and my railroad was ready to roll!

Put my engine and train on the tracks, fired up the power, the engine took off, and everything looked good.   

But, it was downhill from there.    For some reason, the horn button and bell button on my new Z-1000 transformer wouldn't work!   The engine was running fast on full power, but the buttons were dead.   

Instantly, I suspected that the used Z-1000 that I had bought last month was going on the fritz.    After all, I was warned by comments that they were fragile and unreliable. 

So, I powered down the throttle to zero to try to check things out, but for some reason, my engine keep running at a very low crawl speed.  Darned that used Z-1000!  This was proof positive that I was sold a defective unit.   

Finally, the engine stalled to a growling stop, but was still humming.   And then, I started hearing a surge in the growl, every 3 seconds or so, as my defective transformer experienced some type of power surging and was sending it out to the tracks!

Quickly I turned to my bucket of concrete tools, and pulled out my 4 pound engineer's hammer.   (Yea, that's what it is called.)    I lifted it high, prepared to smash the Z-1000 to a pulp!   This monster must be destroyed!

But, at the last second, I decided I had better turn off the toggle switches to the power blocks first, so that no power was running to the tracks when I smashed the transformer.  The remaining current might hurt the engine on the tracks.

In seconds, I flipped all of those toggle switches down, killing the power to the tracks, and turned back to the transformer.

And then, . . . the locomotive took off . . .  AGAIN!     What?   Are the toggles down?  Are the power switches defective?   How is this possible?

I was totally mind-blown, stunned, mortified.   I dropped the hammer, unplugged the transformer and walked away in total disgust.  A whole year wasted!   A pile of junk nailed down on that huge table.  An utter disaster.

An hour and a Jack Daniels later, I went back down to the layout.   Knowing nothing useful about electricity, I did the only  thing I could think of.  I disconnected all of the switches, pulled out all of the direct voltage plugs, and started over.   I was determined to hooked up everything one at a time, until I reached a failure point.   At least then, I would have a clue as to what was wrong.

So, that's what I did.   I turned on each power block, one at a time, and the engine ran normally on it, with the transformer throttle working fine, as well as the horn and bell buttons.   After all 5 blocks were turned on, the train would run fine on the whole layout, but the switches didn't work because the control wires were disconnected.

So, I reconnected all control wires, one set at a time, and nothing bad happened, and the train continued to run fine.  But, the switches wouldn't operate, because I had still not reconnected the direct voltage plugs.

So, I started reconnecting the voltage plugs, one by one.  One by one, the switches started working, and the train continued to run fine,  UNTIL, I reached the next to the last switch on my layout.  Then, . . . everything went berserk again!

It was that one voltage plug connection that was causing the entire problem.  Why?  How?  I am not sure.  But, it appeared to me that somehow, when the plug was going in, it was connecting the direct voltage wire to the track itself, .  . . sending all or part of 14 constant volts of hot current to the tracks,  which prevented my engines from coming to a complete stop.  (Not sure why it disabled my horn/bell buttons.)

I fooled with this connection for 5 minutes, pulling the plug, reinserting it, at the straightest 90 angle degree possible, and finally it connected up and worked fine. I hooked up the power plug on the last remaining switch, and now, the entire layout runs fine, the transformer throttle works fine, and the  horn/bell buttons work fine.

Guys, I am not sure what to do now.

First, any ideas of how a plug connection could cause all of this turmoil?

Second, should I just leave this plug connection alone, and pray that I never have to unhook it again?   Should I pull up that switch, open up the motor unit, and see if I can find out what's wrong?   Should I pull the motor unit, throw it in the trash, and replace it with a new one?

At this point, I just want to add my scenery, and run the darned trains.  But maybe that is the wrong thing to do?

OK.  Thanks for reading all of this.

All advice and speculation arewelcome.


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First, I loved the story telling, quite fun to read.   However as I'm sure will be posted by others soon,..   what kind of switch, what kind of plug,..  and some photos of what you're talking about.

Now for a couple of my stories which may be related.   Had neighbor kid some years ago that was working on his old car.  Money was tight but he decided the starter was bad so he scrimped his saving and bought another starter motor.   When he put it in the car still wouldn't start,   yell,...    a bad starter from the parts store.    Takes it out, heads to Autozone,  gets it replaced, comes back, puts it in, and still nothing,...   At that last scream I walked over to see what was happening and he recounted the story.   I looked under the hood, pointed out the new starter, followed to cable to the starter relay, and showed him the cable was loose at that end.    Yes,   another scream,...

Second story,  another neighbor kid (new neighborhood) was working on his old Mazda Miata.   Good kid, basically rebuilt the entire engine in the drive way, and then it wouldn't start.    Seven days of cursing before I walked over to have a look.   He told me of his project, all the ways he tried to trick it into starting and it would start if primed, but only run for a moment.   The fuel injection system is something I had never worked on but, the basics are there.    Seems when he reinstalled the manifold the fuel inlet connection was confused with the fuel drain,...   Oops.

The insanity of the plug design is that they make them in the same shape as a traffic cone.   Once they are pushed in, the  tight spring pushing against the slanted sides has the immediate effect of trying to push them out again.

If the outside of the plugs were a straight sided cylinder, with just a little angle cut in the leading edge to let them push past the spring, there would be zero problems.


Just my $0.02, but here's what I'd do.

1. Make sure you have good "short" protection with fast blow fuses, TVS suppressors, etc.

2. Resolve the issue with the switch plugs.

3. Get it running again and take some voltage measurements around the track to make sure nothing funky is going on.

4. If it all checks out, I'd keep running it. Even the best designed and constructed layouts are going to experience issues down the line which have to be dealt with - it's the nature of the beast.

@Lionelski posted:

Can one remove the switch cover and hard wire this connection with a drop of solder?

Basically, but a bit more involved.  Since the plug breaks the connection to the track for switch power, you have to disable that "feature" as well.  Easiest way is to just bend the spring contact away from the center post that powers the switch from the track and then connect your aux power wire.

Thanks for all of this practical advice.

I think my course of action will be that I will leave it "as is" for a month or so, but run through Richie's checklist.

Then, when I have calmed down, I will have to remove the whole switch to get the motor cover off (since this is one of only two switches where I left the motor cover screwed down when I mounted the switch), and see what is inside.

If I can't really see anything, then I'm going to try using a barrel connector to go over the split-4 pin.   (I just saw one of these last week when I replaced a 6 volt tail light on my tractor, and the light came with one of these barrel connectors attached.)

If that doesn't work, then I'm going to permanently solder a 6 inch wire to it, and wrap it in electric tape to seal it up.

When I remove the  motor cover, if I see anything mechanically wrong, I will post a picture of it here, as a warning to others of what can happen.

My current "theory" is this:    I always had trouble with this particular split-pin, because the original plug it came with was too loose and it was giving me a spotty connection.  So, I very gently "spread" the four parts of the pin with a razor blade, to open the parts up just a bit, and put the plug back on.  This lasted for a few months, but then I started having some spotty current flow again.

So, I threw the original plug away, and replaced it with a new one.  The new plug seemed to have a noticeably smaller hole in the end, and fit much tighter.  This seemed to fix the electrical problem.

But, I had to pull that plug off, in order to fit the track bed under the motor housing.

I think that when I shoved it back on, the hole in the end of the plug was not totally lined up at a 90 degree angle with the four-split pin.  I think that the hole captured three of the pin prongs into the plug, but the plug housing got "underneath" one of the pin prongs, so that when I pushed the plug in, it peeled that pin prong up and away from the rest of the pin like a piece of banana peel.  That "one fourth" pin section then touched the metal housing or an end wire inside of the switch, and carried the constant voltage current straight into the track.

Just my theory.  I'll let you know when I open up the housing.

Thanks again,


From your last post, you have the right idea. Do not screw the switch motor covers to the switch. Just set them on top of the motor. You can leave the covers of if desired. this makes troubleshooting much easier. later, a very small dab of RTV can be used to hold the switch cover in place if needed. cover can then be easily removed if needed.

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