Monday, December 9, 2013

072 The Navajo Mining Railway - I Need to Get Wired!

Still no snow here in Utah, and the weather is nice.  I've spent a lot of time outdoors, and have only worked on the layout in the evenings.  Let's get wired!

Using a purple Sharpie (I have a whole set of wonderful colors!) I mark where I'm going to install "drops" or more properly called "feeder wires" on the track.  The drops bring power from the bus wire below to the rails themselves.  Notice the "V" shape on the left.  That indicates a power feed to the frog on the switch.  This wire will come from the Tortoise to power the frog.

Using a 5/64ths drill bit, I drill holes on the outside of the rail, at either side, for the drops.

My shop is really low on wire, so I'm going to have to go shopping.  Hopefully the Black Friday crowd is gone.  We'll use 12 AWG red and white solid copper wire for the power connection, and 18 AWG red, white and green for the drops.  You can use stranded wire, but there is always a chance of breaking it during installation.

The 12 AWG red and white came from Home Depot.  Guess I should have known I can't get everything I need at one store.

The red and white 18 AWG was changed to 20 AWG wire and I bought a spool of bell hook up wire (twisted pair) for a reasonable price.

The green 18 AWG wire came from Radio Shack.  This was all the wire they had in solid copper.  I will use the red and green at the workbench, though.  Always good to have wire handy.

Time to heat up the soldering station.  I turn the heat to 300 degrees

Using a push/pull topped dropper bottle I squeeze some water onto the dry sponge that is used to wipe off the soldering tip.

With my small cutters, I clip the wire at 12" intervals.

For this wiring zone I need 8 white, 8 red, and two green.  Here is the white and red, though still twisted together.

Here is the green...snip...snip....

My tool boxes are full (help, Santa!) so I keep most of my electronics tools in a specially marked box.

There are three tools that I can use for stripping wire; the cutters, a pulling type stripper, or a standard stripper.  I don't like to use the cutters, and the blue/yellow strippers only work well with really small wire.

Selecting the 20 AWG hole, I strip 1/4 of an inch off of ONE SIDE of each wire.

There!  Our wires are ready to go!

Next we'll need some paste flux and silver solder.  I only use silver solder on track connections because it is so strong and flows better.

I need to clean the tip, so I brushed it with a sanding pad, dipped it into the flux and added solder to the tip.  I did this step again, and wiped the tip clean on the sponge.

This is Max.  Max likes to hold stuff.  I handed him one of the drops and told him to be still.

I had dipped the wire into the flux before clamping it, and then I heat the wire with the soldering iron and touched the silver solder to it in order to "tin" the wire.  This makes is solder much more easily to the track.

Using flat tipped pliers we'll shape the drops.

 First, I bend a 90 degree bend into the wire.  Click on the photo to see it more clearly...

Then I bent the wire again another 90 degrees.  This allows the wire to snug up into the web of the rail for soldering.

The top part of the wire should only be about 1/8th of an inch long for HO and On30.  If it is longer, just clip it off.

One by one I tin and bend the wires.  They are ready to be installed!

Tune in next time when Little Billy falls into the well!


1.  Make your drops a bunch at a time.  Saves time heating up the soldering iron.  This a great job for tv watchers.
2.  Wire gauge can vary with scale and gauge.  Be sure to check before wiring and used recommended DCC practices.
3.  A variable heat soldering iron is the best for this kind of work if you can find one.


  1. That is literally exactly how I make my drops and I agree making them in a big batch is far more efficient.

    About the wire strippers, I had tried a number as well and it wasn't until I saw one of my friends using a Neiko that I realized I'd been missing out. This is the one I have:

    Here's a short video showing how it works:

    I've used it on everything from 28 to 14 gauge. Some of the reviews on Amazon complain about using it for 12 gauge but I haven't had any problems really.

  2. Wow! That is one scary looking tool! Thanks for the tip!


Thanks for your comment!