Turnouts and Fitting Ground Throws
On A Scale Model Railroad Layout

By Kevin C. © Copyright https://www.modelbuildings.org All rights reserved.

In the old days when two wagons encountered each other on a narrow track one had to turn out to allow the other to pass. In railroad engineering an appliance is necessary to allow one vehicle to move from one track to another. In America this appliance became known as a turnout. In England the term used was points because of the two pieces of pointed moving track to direct the wheels to the second track thus moving off the main track on to a siding or passing track.

Some of these were operated manually from a central control box or Signal box and the controller knew which track to switch the train to by having a control board in front of him that showed the approaching trains on which track and which tracks were clear of traffic. He would have a row of manual switches that the controller needed to move with both hands on the lever that operated through an array of quadrants and rods and could operate the turnouts at the junction or some distance away.

In smaller yards they had ground throw switches that operated the turnouts mounted beside the track and as a train approached the turnout the controller would have to bike along to the turnout and throw the switch before the train got there, or in other cases the driver would bring the train to a halt and the fireman dismount from the engine and throw the switch and then climb back into the slow moving engine to continue on their way, the later being used in switching yards. In some larger yards a consist organizer or shunter is employed to couple and disconnect the wagons etc to make up a train and he usually also worked the ground throws, he would travel on the foot plate at either end of the engine and would correspond to the driver with an elaborate set of hand signals, some times running between the wagons as they moved slowly down the track and all the driver would see was the hand signals sticking out between the wagons.

If you are like me and have Peco turnouts and you want to add ground throws to make your scene more realistic then this article could be for you. Here are two that are currently available. The two are pictured.

The ground throws shown here work by moving the top lever from one side to the other, they also have four mounting holes in the base and by using very small brad nails the mount securely to the base board. But they do not connect directly to the turnout moving arm and needs to be connected with a solid wire joiner. The ones that I made up the wire is about an inch long with a loop at each end a small one to fit the peg on the ground throw and a slightly larger one of the turnout moving arm and for best results every thing needs to be in a straight line. I also cut a small groove in the base board to allow the peg to move in the groove as it protrudes below the mounting base of the ground throw. Now if they are set up correctly they will work with under table Peco turnout motors, so you can have a yardman standing next to the ground throw to make it look more realistic.

The high level switch is from an earlier period and these work well also the advantage with these is that you have a direction signal attached which will show the direction the turnout is set to. These work with a twisting motion on the handle but also need a connecting wire to connect to the turn out but with a loop at one end and a right angle bend at the other to fit in the hole on the moving bar and these are mounted with two brads onto the base board. However care must be taken when nailing them down and I suggest a light hammer and a small nail punch on both of these ground throws, track spikes would also be a good choice. They will also work with a under based board switch machine and any slow motion motor drive unit.

If you want to operate a turnout further away with the use of quadrants and rods then I suggest that the rods are replaced with a strong wire operating within a brass tube to stop it bending. Using this method I have successfully operated a turnout one meter away, but the wire and tube needs to be lubricated with a thin type oil. I used automatic transmission fluid just a drop or two is all that is needed for a smooth operation, providing the wire is not kinked. A stainless wire like used in model aircraft from your hobby shop is ideal and they will usually stock the brass tube a swell. The quadrants and these can be cut to shape from 2mm brass plate. Take care that the holes for the wire are an exact fit as too much slop and the ground throws will run out of movement with having to take up the excess slop. On an actual railroad the rods are usually housed within a wooden box that runs from one quadrant to the next. In some cases multiple rods are housed in the same box, not that you can put multiple wires in the same tube. You can also get a square tube that can be painted to look like a wooden box. Keep tubes and wire as straight as possible and remove burrs from the end of the tubes after cutting to reduce friction.