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Magnetically Steered Vehicle

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Published on Sep 27, 2008

On the Grand Teton Railroad, I enjoy having all the possible action, simulate prototypical practice. For example, the trains are run by a Digital Command Control Bit Switch system through 5 blocks allowing up to 4 trains at a time to be run. They can be controlled automatically using latching relays. Block signals are fully functional and display the correct aspect as trains approach and clear the blocks. Crossing lights and gates protect roadway as the trains go by.

It is on the roadways that I have added the most difficult and, to my knowledge, unique, operating feature on an outdoor railroad. In 2001, I began to look at ways to actually put running cars on the layout. My parameters included:

•Magnetically steered
•No slot track
•Must cross railroad track
•Must stop at crossing automatically

The 1957 Chevrolet that you see in the movie is the culmination of that 7 year development. It is running on a concrete roadway on my layout without slot, rails or radio control. It uses a principal that an engineer friend and I pioneered after several years of experiments. The road is poured concrete with a buried steel cable. The car is a 1:24 scale die cast model with a wagon-style, center-pivot front axle added for steering. A forward-facing tongue is attached to the axle center pivot and has a magnet attached which follows the buried wire. The real final magic bullet secret for consistent, smooth steering turned out to be a small piece of slippery plastic from a furniture-moving slider which was added to the bottom of the magnet to slide along the concrete.

Power for the car is a small 3 volt motor and a 3.6 volt rechargeable battery pack from a cell phone. It is geared down through a Tamiya 3-speed Gearbox. Model 70093-500. The actual drive is a single wheel in the center of the rear axle which eliminates the need for a differential.

The other major development has been the automatic stop at the crossing gate. Actually, the first challenge was to build the car, the road and the crossings so that the car could consistently go across the tracks. Once that problem was solved, stopping the car when the train approached was the next challenge.

A normal closed reed switch in the motor circuit was added to the bottom of the car and vertical air cylinders, topped with magnets and covered with plastic plugs disguised as manhole covers, were added in the roadway. As the train approaches, the crossing gates and the air cylinders are activated, the cylinder and magnet rise to surface level and open the reed switch in the car, stopping the motor. As the train passes, the air cylinder is lowered, the reed switch closes and the car again navigates the roadway.

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