So I made the mistake of bragging before how well my 2 rail engines ran around my layout. Originally I had all Atlas #5 switches and things went well. Nothing had ballast and I ran good for a few years.

 Now I have larger Atlas #7.5 switches and all track is ballasted. I'm noticing varying problems of mainly steam engines stalling or bucking. I can see the headlights flickering when they run over my main line crossovers with the larger Atlas switches. My steam engines don't run well at all over these areas. So I guess it's time to power up the frogs

(I'd rather go all diesel but the family would complain).

 I figure I should buy the tortoise switch machines that were widely used in HO scale? Before I purchase them, I have the Atlas switch machines right now.

Does everyone here use the tortoise?


Is there something to add to what I have now?

" on Sour mash and cheap wine " ??

Why go back to DCC when I have DCS!

Original Post

Hi Joe.

Clem is right on point. We use tortoises and actually use the closure rails to add power on a large #8 curved turnout. Prior to putting in the power routing with the Tortoise, we'd get stalling on shorter locomotives, especially at low speeds. MTH 3/2 steam locomotives would sometimes stall because they have insulated wheels.

Since you're "missing a rail", you can power your points and closure rails and use the Tortoise to route the appropriate polarity to the frog. Just make sure there's a gap on all sides of the frog. I'm planning on doing a 2-rail/3-rail hybrid switching layout so I'll be playing with the frogs and the closure rails since I'll be using #4 and #6 ScaleTrax turnouts and slow speeds.

Matt Jackson
"The best service you can provide for the hobby is to pass on what you have learned."

 Angels Gate Hi-Railers San Pedro, California

"Celebrating over 20 years of moving freight and passengers from Point A to Point A!"

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You can use any kind of switch machine that has SPDT contacts (Single pole, double throw) to power the frogs.    The old twin coils work just fine, that is all I use because I have a large stock of them and see no point throwing them away to buy tortoises or something else.    If you have nothing in house, then  you can consider the features of what is on the market.    NJCB made twin coil machines along with PSC, Kemtron, and Tenshodo.    For motors, I think Micromark also sells their brand of stall motors.   The Twin coil machines have a main set of contacts for the frog.    Most of the twin coil machines had auxiliary contacts that were also a DPDT switch that changed with the throw.    This allows you control signals or other things in addition to the polarity of the frog

For a manual switch you can find small SPDT spring loaded toggle switches that you can locate behind a Caboose Industries ground throw to change the polarity.   You simply put the spring arm against the back of the throw bar.    Those spring loaded toggle were very available at the old radio shacks.  

I use old Roco 2 rail switches on my main because that was all that was available when I started to build and I find they work fine.    On these, the points are connected to the running rails so they are powered with making rail head contact when the switch is thrown.   

Ballasting causes a lot of problems because glue gets on the rails and in the switches.    You might check for that.    Also you wheels may be getting dirty.    Command Control systems seem to require cleaner wheels and track than straight DC.   


I will check the wheels now as I did happen to notice that a trailing coil car has dirty wheels. I had to take it off the rails as the KD knuckle spring had fallen out. I have been running for a few years without any track maintenance issues. I even tried to clean the rails before and got nothing.

 Now I'm starting to see dirty track in some areas. I hate to say it that I'm regretting the ballast! Hopefully it won't be a big reoccurring problem?


" on Sour mash and cheap wine " ??

Why go back to DCC when I have DCS!

The hinge point for the point rails probably a dose of paint or ballast cement in it.  I had the same issue.  It can cause the power not to be transmitted to the point rails as the weight of the engine goes over it.  Found it easiest to solder a light wire across the hinge joint 

Hi Joe,
fwiw, dirty wheels were almost always the culprit for causing intermittent flickering lights and bucking for my locos too on turnout points, frogs and dirty sections of track. I completely eliminated the issue though by using a keep alive circuit in each loco, which gives about 30 seconds of run time in the event of intermittent power loss for flicker/stall free operation. I’ve migrated to Tsunami2 decoders over the years so I use SoundTraxx’s keep alive module with them, but other decoder manufacturers offer very good ones as well. Additionally there is a number of decent simple circuit designs on the www for DIY'ers, which I've used in the past for lighting and motor control for my NCE and other brand decoders prior to the Tsunami’s.

I also have all Tortoise switch machines and make use of their dual integrated SPDT switches, not only to juice frogs but often for turnout indication on control panels. Additionally I solder feeder wires to the bottom of each segment of rail whenever I build a turnout, even to the points, just forward of the pivot point. It's a little bit of extra work on the front end but I've found if I do it right once and never have to deal with again.


I hand build all my turnouts and no longer recall if it's possible to solder wires to the bottom of Atlas turnouts segments, but like ASTARR stated soldering small gauge feeder wires will work good too, and I've seen others post here where they've soldered feeder wires to the sides of rails which looks very discrete. 

Good luck,



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I use the Hankscraft stall motors and have had no problems.  I use a common ground and the DPDT switch powers the switch motor and also switches the polarity of the frog.  The Hankscraft motor has enough power to hold the point against the stock rail very firmly so contact and current flow is not a problem.


AGHRMatt posted:

Hi Joe. ...snip...Since you're "missing a rail" ...snip...

"missing a rail"; I laughed at that, i really like it!

Later Gator,



Here comes a Yankee with a blackened soul,
Heading to Gatow with a load of coal.
......Anonymous U. S. pilot during the Berlin Airlift

I also use the Hankscraft stall-motor devices (also sold as "Switchmaster" brand). To control them and to power the frog and LED indicator lights on the panel, I use 4-pole double-throw toggle switches, which some people will call over-kill, but which in my experience are absolutely dependable in operation. I also power the points by soldering small flexible wires to them that connect to the feed for the adjacent rail under the table. I've never had a failure of a switch machine or loss of power at a frog.

Another little trick is adding a small compression spring and collar with set screw (available for remote control airplane mechanisms) to the rod that projects through the roadbed to control the tie bar for the points. The collar holds the spring against the bottom of the subroadbed, thus holding the operating rod (crank) down against the tie bar. This way, the operating rod can be pulled upward against the spring maybe 1/8" and disengaged  from the hole in the tie rod if you want to remove and repair the points, without having to remove and replace the whole crank mechanism (which has some right-angle bends in it, because it acts as a crank that is turned by the rotary stall motor device).

Hi Joe,

These are low stall current motors - these switch motors are designed have power applied to them continuously to keep constant pressure on the points - you can use a simple 12 volt "wall wart" (wall transformer) and power a bunch of them.  They draw so little current (with the help of a 1K ohm resistor in series with one of the motor leads - as shown on the web page you listed above) that when they reach the full extent of the turnout throw and they just stall due to the points being tight against stock rail but they don't overheat even when the motor is kept from spinning.  You can adjust the value of the series resistor if you wish to adjust how much pressure you want applied to the points.  I believe they provide a 1K ohm resistor standard with each of their motors.  You generally use a double-pole double-throw DPDT [NO CENTER OFF] toggle switch to just change the polarity of current going to the two motor leads (typical crisscross pattern on the outer toggle switch leads) to make the motor spin one way or the other. 

This YouTube video describes the wiring of a Tortoise machine, but the same applies to these Hankscraft motors.

They draw about as much current as an LED when stalled, again, much like a Tortoise machine, and they are quite "torquey" due to the low gearing.  Their primary application was that they were meant to be used as a display motor.  If you have ever gone into a supermarket, say around Halloween, and seen a bunch of items stacked up in a main isle with some cardboard display pieces next to them promoting some seasonal sale and they might have a little fake bat flying in circles above the Halloween display attached to a piece of wire coming out of the display.  Well.. the motor that would power the "flying  bat" might be one of these Hankscraft gearhead display motors.  Once the sale/season is over, the generally just toss the whole display and flying bat mechanism in the trash.  Now... one other thing to note is that these Hankscraft brand display motors do come in various RPM ratings but the ones that Builders in Scale sells have the optimum RPM value for a nice slow-motion model railroad turnout actuator, just like the prototype.  I think they are rated at like 2 RPM at 12 volts.  

Another optional mounting method is to use these Rix Rax under the layout brackets designed specifically for these Hankscraft motors (see link below) and one nice feature about these brackets is that they provide a convenient way to add several microswitches for powering the frog and/or panel-mount LEDs.  However, I know the old ones made of ABS plastic would basically disintegrate over time or the plastic paddles would crack at the shaft due to the high torque of the motor.  This link below says that these new ones are made with new stronger plastic so your "mileage may vary" if you choose to go this route.


I did not see anywhere if you guys are running DC or DCC.  If you run DCC, the absolute simplest solution is a Frog Juicer.  3 wires to connect and forget it.  To my knowledge there is no such device for DC which has to rely on analog switching.  Although I run DCC and use Frog Juicers on remote turnouts,  I have made a simple device for all my in reach ones.  Here’s a short video about how I do it.  These will work fine on DC.



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Joe Congemi
OGR Publishing, Inc., 1310 Eastside Centre Ct, Suite 6, Mountain Home, AR 72653