Friday, August 21, 2009

First installed: The Blue Point controller

Finished installation (click on image for full-sized photo) with the hot-glued Blue Point controller, nylon clevis, threaded .072" rod through the fascia, and cheap, painted wooden knob on the front of the layout.

The Bull Frog turnout
mechanisms I'd ordered from Fast Tracks hadn't arrived from Canada yet, but I did pick up a dozen or so Blue Point controllers from my local hobby shop. I've installed ten of them, and am generally pleased with the installation process and how they function.

List price on the New Rail Models website is $12.95 each, with five-packs and ten-packs available with quantity pricing (a 10-pack MSRP is $99.95). New Rail also offers a host of accessories, from drilling templates ($4.95) to the "flex-link" line of items to connect your Blue Point with the facia of the layout. But you can get all that stuff for much cheaper from your local RC Aircraft shop.

What's Inside?
The cheapsake in me mused: I don't plan to power up my frogs, so why do I need a Blue Frog with a power routing function? Why don't they offer a cheaper version without it? Remove a couple of screws and look inside, though, and you'll find that the Blue Frog is just a couple of pieces of plastic surrounding an off-the-shelf DPDT electrical switch. It's really just a fancier way of executing the bare-bones use of a cheap Radio Shack switch to hold point tension that others have done for years.

Simplicity itself: An electrical switch surrounded by plastic. . .

I made a boo-boo when I installed the points on the Narrabri section of the layout, in only drilling a 1/4" hole under the throw bar for the tension wire to travel. So, first order of business was to drill out the hole to 3/8" diameter to provide adequate throw range. This wasn't as tricky with the 1/2" overlay of ceiling tile between the baseboard and track as it would've been with plywood alone; I was able to carve out the needed clearance through the ceiling tile with a hobby knife, rather than risk driving the drill through the track (something I've done before, damn it, and didn't want to repeat).
New Rail Models suggests using the drilling/mounting template and securing the controllers with wood screws in the slots provided. However, being a lazy sort, i used hot glue for a couple of reasons. First, it's easier, and easier is better. Most importantly, compared to a Tortoise electric motor, the Blue Point controller has no "center" position you can set the tension wire at to line up the device's installation--the throw bar is either left or right. After threading the tension wire up through the small hole in the throw bar of the points (no easy task in itself), I wrapped a small piece of tape around the excess wire protruding up through the hole to hold the assembly in place so I didn't have to reposition the tension wire through the hole each time. Then, reaching under the layout, I moved the Blue Point into a position where it would throw the points fully in each direction. Finally, I drew a pencil outline of two sides of the controller so I could re-position it after I applied the hot glue.

Close-up of the installed blue-point. Lazy me: I don't power up my frogs, but if I did, the handy DPDT switch installed in the unit would make power routing a snap.

I let the glue cool and harden, and made sure the Blue Point was doing its job. There is a fulcrum that slides up and down the Blue Point controller just like one on the Tortoise to shorten or lengthen the throwing range of the device; this must be adjusted, too. If you're not satisfied with the positioning of the controller, simply knock the Blue Point off the baseboard with a couple light taps of a mallet, clean off the old hot glue, and repeat until satisfied with the results. I then snipped off the excess length of tension wire above the point throw bar.

The Blue Point can be connected to the fascia of the layout using either a solid push rod (for installations nearly-parallel to the front of the layout), or a tube-in-tube or rod-in-tube method (for more acute angles). All the hardware for this step should be available at a good RC aircraft shop, for prices far less than that charged by New Rail Models as part of their "kwik-link" line of products. I used products produced by Du-Bro and Great Planes, and bought 'em at Roys Hobby Shop, a local RC dealer near my house that offers discount pricing. Roy's sells a 12"push rod with nylon clevis for under a buck, Du-Bro No. 184. Additional nylon kwik-link clevis were 2/$0.95, Du-Bro No. 228. You can make your own push rods by using lengths of .072 diameter metal rod and soldering on a threaded coupler to the ends, mating this with the nylon clevises, saving yourself even more money.

I bought some tube-in-tube to use, but have yet to encounter an installation where these are necessary. . I'm sure I will, though, when I install point controls in the Narrabri West section of the layout.

A chrome yellow switch control knob. . .

Red knobs control main-track points. . .
Knob Job
The knobs on the layout fascia are cheap ($1.47 for 8) wooden drawer knobs sold at a local craft store, painted cinnamon red (for mainline switches) or chrome yellow (for points not connecting to a main track) with spray Krylon enamel. They're secured to the push rods using 5-minute epoxy (Araldite).
One Stop Train Shop (link includes installation tips) offers a 10-pack of Blue Points for $74.69, with shipping, around $8.20 each delivered to me. The linkages and knob will add another $1.50 or so, tops, so the Blue Points come in at around $10.00 each, installed. Still cheaper than a Tortoise, and ordering in bulk and buying the linkage parts from RC dealers only lowers the price that much more. . The Bull Frogs, Fast Tracks has informed me, are on their way across the border, so maybe by next week i'll be able to have a few of those installed and offer a head-to-head comparison.

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