OK...I bought some Marklin HO catenary wires.....how are folks mounting them??

I bought a lot of the 14" catenary wires off ebay.  I have some ideas on how to mount them but I am sure others have worked out better methods. I am looking at putting them over my lower 2 track mainline. I am going to make the support poles unless there are better ways. Thanks!!


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I made my own out of dowel rod 1/4" and hung them on brass rods and soldered them up, you could use a 2:56 screw and nut to hold the pieces together at the bottom hole while hanging them from the top hole.  Here are  my pics.Catenary 1Catenary 2Catenary 3Catenary 4

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I made my system so it would look like something Lionel could have made in the 50s.   The base is 1 1/4 steel and the vertical pole is 1/4 inch keystock.  I made a jig to hold them correctly then I welded the base to the pole.  The cross arms are basswood made to wrap around the pole.  The system was put together with the fiberglass resin I used when fixing Corvettes.    This system has been up for about 12 years and is as strong today as it was when built.  I finished the top off with the caps you will find on the 153 Lionel block signal.   I stole this idea from Bob Lavezzi the best catenary master anywhere.  Being a toy train guy, I got the result I desired.  Not scale but it has worked 100 percent with not one issue.









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Dave, the height depends on the type of loco you run. A scale loco will need more height than say a Lionel semi-scale GG1. Some panagraphs are longer than others. I will try to find the article I wrote and send it to you. It will be a great help. Don


M. Mitchell Marmel posted:
Marty Fitzhenry posted:

I have seen many people do big time damage to pans by hitting bridges above or a tunnel.    

They also don't play well with gi-raffe telltales when raised.   


I was mulling over the use of Marklin overhead with Lionels and the fact that pantographs don't play well with giraffe/brakeman telltales...

And then a little lightbulb lit! 


For $2 a pop, you can buy all the overhead catenary supports your heart desires, add a bit of music wire or brass rod,  and hang Marklin catenary to your heart's content!   Single track, double track, triple track, even!  Just drill proper size holes in your roadbed and go to town!  For double and over track, just add another telltale pole on the other side of the tracks...  

Definitely a "now why didn't I think of this earlier" moment...    


It's crackers to give a rozzer the dropsy in snide!


Remember, SCROUNGE!

Here's the article. Thank you Don.


Running Under the Wire

Article, Photos, and Diagram by Don McCuaig

I model the Milwaukee Road as it looked in the early 1950s. It was an amazing Tom Swift type of electric railroad. In the future all railroads in America were going to be electrified, or so thought many planners of the day. Of course that turned out to be wishful thinking.

One problem in mod-
eling the Milwaukee Road
is creating an O gauge
overhead wire or catenary
system (Photo 1). It’s
always bothered me to see
model electric locomotives
running down the right-
of-way with their pan-
tographs reaching for a wire that isn’t there. I was determined this was not going to be the case on my layout. And you certainly don’t have to be modeling the Milwaukee Road to build a catenary sys- tem. There were hundreds of trolley, interurban, and mainline electric railroads that used similar systems.

Before getting started, you need to consider track curvatures. I model a minimum of O72. Like most model railroad projects, the larger the curve diameter, the easier the job. I can’t even imag- ine running overhead wire in anything under O31. There is cur- rently only one ready-made O gauge catenary system sold today,

but it is costly and designed after what was commonly used on east- ern roads. So my only real option was to build my own. With my fairly large layout, I figured I would need about 100 poles.

The Milwaukee Road’s catenary system had a simple design. Non-creosoted cedar poles were fitted with single cross arms. The poles and cross arms were going to be easy to build, but what to use for wire? There are valid reasons to not use real wire on a model system, including the tension problem. Brass wire will expand and




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contract with temperature changes, mak- ing for uneven operation. Also, all pan- tographs are not alike, and some will force the wire up harder than others.

I wanted a system that would be strong and reliable. Luckily, I happened to visit a friend who was installing a catenary system on his new Marklin HO layout. It worked, but I thought the Marklin wires looked too large for HO. Then I realized they would be perfect for O gauge. This older wire from Marklin is no longer produced, but you can find plenty of it on eBay or at local train meets. It’s available in three different lengths: 14-1/4 ̋, 10-3/4 ̋, and a short adjustable 7-3/4 ̋ (Photo 2). For most lay- outs, you will need all three.

For demonstration purposes, I con- structed a three-span catenary test track. The first step was to construct the poles as shown in the diagram. I used 1/4 ̋ dowels found at just about any hardware store and cut them 8-1/2 ̋ in length (Photo 3). If you don’t use roadbed on your layout, the length of the poles can be shortened. At this point, you might think the poles are too long, but the extra length will allow you to adjust them up or down to get the proper height from the top of the rails. Like the prototype Milwaukee Road poles, they should have two-sided points on top. I ground them down quickly with a pow- ered grinding wheel (Photo 4). Then I drilled two holes using a 1/16 ̋ drill bit about halfway through the dowels. The top hole will be 1/2 ̋ from the top of the pole. The second will be 1-1/4 ̋ from the top. Use a pencil to mark where the holes are to be drilled. I used my Dremel drill press to make the work go much faster (Photo 5).

Next, I needed some solid brass rods. Don’t use brass tubing as it tends to bend. I used 1/16 ̋ K&S stock #1626 for the cross arms and the arm supports. Cut the cross arms 3-1/2 ̋ long and the arm supports 2-1/4 ̋ long. The cross arms will most likely be longer than you need, but you can cut them down after you have the poles in place on your layout. This will give you some leeway on curves to adjust the Marklin wire over the center rail.

To attach the brass arms to the poles, I put a tiny drop of cyanoacrylate extra- thick glue on the brass arm ends and inserted them in the holes at a 90-degree angle to the pole. The shorter support arm goes in the top hole at an angle to meet with the longer cross arm. Push the support arm down to meet the cross arm

1/2 ̋ 1-1/4 ̋

Brass Support Arm

Brass Cross Arm

Optional 1-1/2 ̋ Telegraph Arm

5-1/2 ̋ On Average

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8-1/2 ̋

3-1/2 ̋


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2 ̋

Layout Level

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2-1/4 ̋

before the glue sets. Solder the end of the angled arm to the longer cross arm (Photo 6). Save any extra dowels that are too short for poles.

By 1915 the first phase of Milwaukee Road electrification was complete. The poles were intended to last about 30 years. By the mid-1940s, most were in need of replacement because the bottom of many poles had rotted. But the Milwaukee Road had another problem: they were bankrupt.

The solution was to stub the poles. They simply dug a hole next to a pole and placed a new creosoted fir short pole in the hole and then bolted it to the old pole. I wanted some stub poles also, so I just cut a piece of dowel 2 ̋ long and glued it to the side of the primary pole. The top of the stub should be cut at a 45-degree angle. The stub doesn’t have to be planted in the ground; you can attach it so it just sits on top of the layout after your primary poles are adjusted for height and secured in place.

If you want to add a telegraph arm to the poles, cut some small balsa wood cross arms 1-1/2 ̋ long and glue green bead insu- lators on each side. You can find suitable
















insulators at most craft stores. You can add the telegraph arms at a later time, but it’s easier to do before the poles are in place. I completed the 100 poles I needed in a week. I thought it was going to take much longer and be a very tedious and boring task, but it went much faster than I thought. First thing I did after sitting down at my workbench was to put on some good music and start cutting. I cut all the necessary materials before I assembled them. The poles were all cut and finished in two nights. Then I cut all the brass rods. Actual assembly took three

At this point, stain or paint the poles. I used Floquil #130007

Rail Brown spray to paint the poles. Do not paint the brass arms yet because you still need to solder the Marklin wire in place. Placement of poles is important. Long engines and passenger cars need to clear the poles around curves and through switches. As a general rule, the Milwaukee Road did not place poles on the inside of curves, but sometimes you might have to. I use my MTH scale Little Joe electric as a guide. It’s the longest engine I

have, so if it clears everything along the line, that’s good. There’s one more handy device you can make to help center your wire properly. You want the overhead wire to be directly over the center rail and also at the correct height above the rails, and this simple tool I devised will make your work much easier. I took an old freight car truck and screwed a dowel straight up from the center top of the truck. I glued a V made of brass to the top of the pole. This will not only hold the loose Marklin wire in place when soldering but also keeps it at the correct height and centers

the wire directly over the middle rail (Photo 7).
The height of your poles will vary depending on the type of

locomotives and track you use. I use ballasted GarGraves track with Ross switches and run MTH scale Milwaukee Road electrics. They have high-reaching scale pantographs, so I needed 6 ̋ from the top of the rails to the long cross arm. After the wire was hung, I had 5-1/2 ̋ from the top of the rail to the bottom of the wire. The bottom of the wire will be 1/2 ̋ lower than the arm. For example, if you are using semi-scale GG1s with no roadbed under the track, the height will be less. The height should be adjusted so the pantograph makes firm contact with the wire but not so low that it might make the pantograph snap down.

To set your first pole, start on a straight section of your line because that’s easiest to work with and will give you confidence. On a straight section, you can set the poles fairly close to the rails. I placed the center of my poles 1-1/4 ̋ from the outside rail. Drill a hole straight down using a 1/4 ̋ bit (Photo 8). That’s the same

size as the dowel. The pole should fit snugly, but it should be able to move up and down. If it is too snug, I use a small round file to make the hole slightly larger so I can raise or lower the pole to the correct height before gluing it in place. Ideally, the pole should be able to slide but still remain in place. If your grade is level, you can also use a string level hung from the bottom wire to adjust the second pole up or down (Photo 9).

To drill the hole for your second pole, measure the Marklin wire from end round hole to end round hole on the bottom part of the wire. For the long wire, it’s 14 ̋. The medium wire will be 10-1/2 ̋, and the short will be 7-1/2 ̋ or less depending on how it’s adjusted. Drill the second hole for the next pole and place a pole in position. Place your Marklin wire onto the brass V on the rail-wire holder, and the wire is automatically centered. Now you can solder the wire to your first pole, but do not solder it to the second pole until you install a third pole. I use a small clamp to not only hold the two wires tightly together but also to make sure the bottom of the wires match (Photo 10).

When you come to a curve, you will most likely need to start using the medium length wires. The center of this wire is 5-1/4 ̋ from the ends. At that center point, the wire should be directly over the center rail. The ends of the wire will be off center, but not out of reach of the pantograph. If it is, use the short wire. Do not, however, bend the wire to match the rail. The real railroads can’t do that, and it just looks silly on a layout. You may have to






use a few sections of the short adjustable Marklin wire in some cases. Because the wire isn’t bent and the rails are, there will gen- erally be some compromise involved in centering the wire. Use a test electric engine to make sure your pantograph makes good contact with the wire around all curves. This is where you may have to adjust a solder joint or two, but that’s just a matter of heat- ing and moving the wire in or out. On curves, place your poles a little farther from the rails to clear any overhang from engines. Always test using your largest and longest engine.

Switches are another place that you will likely have to solder short 7-3/4 ̋ overhead wire. You may have to cut the wire and sol- der directly to the other wire. If you plan in advance and are able to space your poles, it’s possible to end up with a pole right over the switch. This makes things much easier. Once the catenary is in place, you can glue your stubs to the poles.

Test your locomotives at different speeds to make sure every- thing works well. At higher speeds the locomotives will tend to sway out, so take that into consideration when testing. At some solder joints, you may have to file some solder off the bottom of the wire if the pantographs tend to snag.

All pantographs are not created equal. Some are not as wide as others, some don’t reach as high, and some have weaker tension springs (Photo 11). Since different locomotives may have differ- ent pantographs, use the narrowest for all testing. Make sure all your pantographs will reach the wire with good contact. For exam- ple, the imported brass pantographs don’t reach as far as those on Lionel models. I found both Williams and K-Line pantographs have somewhat weaker springs. They tend to sway back when running. On my first overhead system, I ran Williams EP5s and

had a real sway problem. I had to switch them out with Lionel pantographs to correct the sway.

After all testing is completed, trim down the cross arms that are too long and paint the wire black. This makes the wire look smaller and more like the prototype. I brushed on Floquil’s Grimy Black and then sanded the bottom of the wire with a sanding block. Even better, you might do this sanding with a battery-powered Dremel tool fitted with a grinding wheel attachment (Photo 12). This will assure that no paint is interfering between the wire and the pantograph—particularly important if you plan to power the wire. If you’re running your trains in conventional mode, there’s a real advantage in using powered overhead wire. You will be able to run two trains on the same track indpendently of each other, one getting rail power, the other getting power from the overhead.

If you’re a Milwaukee Road fan as I am, you know from old photographs that most of the overhead wire system was in poor condition by the 1950s. For this reason, I didn’t set my poles per- fectly straight. I set them in so there is a slight difference in angles from pole to pole. Of course, you can also weather the poles and add more detail.

This may appear to be a difficult system to build, but it’s really not. You don’t have to complete the entire layout at once. I didn’t electrify many of my sidings for months after I had finished the main line. When you’re done, your model railroad will be some- thing not many other railroaders have, and your big electric motors will be running the way they were meant to under over- head wire (Photo 13).



As far as wire height goes, I run a Lionel stubby GG1 and a scale Williams,  I am at least 5 1/4"  up to 5/1/2"  That leaves plenty of tension on both and it is kind of neat to see the pan go up and down under the different heights.  For the first and last pole you are going to want to have them higher so the pan doesn't snag the wire and is eased into it....sort of like a trolley wire was when it went under a overpass.


"Buy another round of track for the boys"

The height of my wire is 5 1/2 to 5 3/4 from the top of the rail. I use only MTH pans as they have strong springs, are very good looking and scale size. When I ran Williams electrics on my old layout, they tended to sway back as their spring were very weak. All my electrics are MTH scale. Don

Don, I always replace the springs with springs a bit stronger.   I have done a lot of work getting this right.  Rule of thumb with rigid cat is to look for a spark.  If you see one, you need more tension on the pan.   I run 1 1/8 to 1 1/4 inch over the railhead to the wire and have perfect contact.   Shown is a pan I just sprung.  I will pull the springs and put them in gun bluing overnight.

Care must be taken so you can still have the operating pans work.  You will have to experiment to get it right.  The MTH operating pans first showed up on the 5V GG-1.    I have converted all those boards but the pan motor/gearbox is a winner.  A well built and well designed system.








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