The Ultimate Control Box

So there we were one Saturday night not too long ago, Pat, Paul, George, Bob and I. All “RRB’s” from way back. “Donker”, Pat says, “that control box stinks! It‘s hard to operate any one of these beautiful trains in this beautiful train room. You really ought to do something about that!”

Pat had not been in the train room for quite some time and was duly impressed with the progress made in the last year. Bob too decided that the control box that had served the E&H for the past eighteen years was a piece of junk and very difficult to “read”. Pretty soon the old Rail Road Buddies all chimed in and started to cut wires. “Gotta do it this way!” said George. “That way!” according to Paul. Thanks a lot fellas, now it is really messed up and the E&H is out of commission…

Not for long though – sometimes it just takes some drastic measures by good friends to make things happen!  Nash Sheet Metal Works of Shelburn, Indiana manufactured the basic box out of heavy steel and the rest was up to me.

Are you sure that this model railroading hobby is fun? Looks like unadulterated hard work if you ask me. In order to use the trusty MRC 501 power packs (Only 18 years old and working just fine thank you! Cheapskate I am, sometimes…) required some careful engineering as the first picture shows. I simply spliced extension wires between the original placement of the rheostat, the overload indicator light and the on/off switch.

A glob of instant hot glue keeps the wires from chafing on the edges of the original MRC case. While I was at it I replaced the simple on/off slider switch with an illuminated one. Looks really nice, if I say so myself!   Drilling the round holes to receive the switches was one thing, filing two of them into rectangles to receive the illuminated on/off switch was something else!

There are a total of 16 SPST on/off push button switches on the new control box. Eight on the left and eight on the right. They are used for accessories on either the left or the right side of the railroad room. The track plan is in the center and is so simple that even the “proverbial dummy” can figure out what the switches do. There are ten DPDT switches on the plan. Two in each “block” or “section”. The upper switch is mounted sideways and controls which controller controls the block.

When the switch position is to the right the right controller controls that block or section, when it’s to the left the left controller controls the section. The center position turns the block off. The lower switch is mounted up and down and denotes the direction of travel. A train in the block will move either forward or reverse depending on the position of the switch. The center position turns the block off. Five “dead-man “(momentary “on”) switches control access to the three track staging yard and the two sidings. “The KISS method, the KISS method!” said George…

The nicest thing about this control box is that it is all wired internally – all the wires of every circuit end on a terminal strip on the back of the box. All the connections are marked on the strip as to what they are and all I have to do now is take the control box to the railroad room and make the connections

The control board is almost finished – some of the switches had to be back ordered, so it will be a couple of weeks before I can take it to the train room and connect it to all those wires dangling underneath the lay out…

Ah, but the end result was worth it!  Thanks guys for prodding me along!


Here’s the inside of the box with some of the switches installed – note the modifications to the original MRC 501 power packs

The 501 rheostat in its new location


Thirty-two inches wide and twelve inches deep, this control box will last a lifetime! 🙂


To accommodate the two rectangular illuminated On/Off switches the round hole had to be made into a rectangle. The Dremel tool-grinding wheel removed most of the metal, but then it was careful hand filing…


Took “forever” as the control box is made out of heavy, heavy metal…. 12 gauge…The center won’t budge when one hits the horn switch, that is mounted in the center of the face panel!


The moment of truth: It WORKS! (You knew it would!)


Nifty that illuminated switch!


An hour and a half ago the left hole looked like this…this one only took forty minutes 🙂


 Almost all the connections have been made. It is truly amazing how such a large control box can fill up with “spaghetti” that fast!

So there it is. Fully operational! The few empty holes on the left (and one on the right) are waiting for switches that had to be back ordered. At this point in time there are six “superfluous” switches that have no function yet, but knowing the owners of the E&H RR. they will be used soon as the RR is “forever” in the process of expanding its power grid….

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