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Using Insulated Track and Other Tricks

Instructions, tips and tricks

The Marx accessories were designed many years ago.  Many designs come from the 1930s.  Very few, if any, were designed as late as 1970.  Equally important is the fact that Louis Marx was so insistent on keeping prices down that many products lacked the refinement of Lionel or American Flyer.  He was insistent about making sturdy products that would endure the trials of time and use.  You can see it in almost everything the Louis Marx Company produced.   The goods were durable and attractive; the designs were simple and practical.  Even something as simple as a track lockon illustrates the difference.  Lionel produced one that clipped on, with re-usable terminals.  Marx made a simple piece with two risers that were shoved into the center of  the underside of the rails.  Lionel spared no expense in designing its enduring operating knuckle coupler.  Marx saved money by producing its one-piece-with-a-spring tilt coupler.  

Thirty-some-odd-years after the last accessory was designed, we have other resources available.  We are not limited to whatever the Louis Marx Company produced some three + decades ago.  Using new technology and new equipment from other O Gauge makers, we can spice up our Marx accessories for better performance.

The Insulated Rail

Lionel and K-Line still make tubular rail.  It has three rails connected by three metal cross ties.  The center rail is insulated with fiber, card or plastic.  One pole of current passes through the center rail, the other courses through both outside rails.

Both companies make a rail in which one of the outside rails is also insulated.  Were we to connect an accessory to a normal piece of track,  it would get power from the center and outside rails.  If the outside rail to which it was connected was insulated off, there would be no circuit and thus the accessory would be unpowered.  For it to work, the insulated rail would have to somehow get electricity.

Electricity courses through the axles of every car.  The cars do not cause a short circuit because they are only touching the outside rails, and so are contacting only one pole of electricity.  There is no circuit as would be caused by both poles in contact, and so there can be no short circuit.  

 When wheels hit an insulated track section, they conduct the outside rail polarity to the insulated rail.  An accessory connected to the center rail, on receiving power this way, completes the circuit and thus goes into operation.  It remains in operation so long as wheels connect the powered outer rail with the insulated outer rail.

 Louis Marx used a cheap way to do the same thing.  His train used a metal shoe, or clip, that fit atop the rail.  The clip had a wire soldered to it, and this wire was connected to a terminal of the accessory.  In the 1930s, it was cheaper and easier than making insulated track.

Lionel used a different approach.  They had various "track activation devices." Some were clips that held the center and outer rail, such as the 154C used for crossing flashers.  The clip of the 154C works like Marx's rail clip.  The 153C had a spring inside.  Track was fitted atop it, the tie resting in a sprung tray. The weight of a train depressed the spring enough to make electrical contact, thus powering an accessory.  Though the 153C is still made, many are opting for the insulated track.

Several Marx accessories benefit from using insulated track.  The semaphore, target signals, crossing gates and automatic watchman's shanty operate smoothly with it.  One piece of this track and a lockon are all it takes.  

To make a longer insulated rail, you can join several insulated track pieces.  The ones on either end must be fitted with a fibre pin; those in between should be connected by steel pins.  This allows longer track activation for some signals.  

In using several insulated rails as one section, you only need insulated ./ fiber pins at the ends of the section, indicated in blue.

The 154C and 153C Contactor

Several parts vendors carry these.  They can be used with the crossing flashers, and are much easier to manage.  In fact, they're a lot easier to use than trying to repair or make a new rail clip.

The 153C can be used with most Marx track side accessories in place of the rail clip.  The pressure-triggered track activation device is easily wired to various signals, semaphores, watchman's shanties, operating switch towers and crossing gates.

Replacement Control Buttons

K-Line's simple accessory control button can be used in place of the Marx controller for simpler accessories like the barrel loader.  For switches, the Atlas switch controller has the same wiring design.  It will enable you to wire each switch separately, rather than in pairs as with the Marx switch controller.  You cannot use a Lionel or K-Line switch controller, as Marx switches require the controller be powered by the transformer directly, rather than by track power.

Combined Trains?

In the old days, folks bought a brand of trains and stuck with it.  Toy trains were not universally compatible.  Today, there is a greater compatibility within O Gauge.  You can make use of products from other makers, combining them with original Marx trains.. There are very few "purists" out there who buy only one brand.  Though original Marx trains have some incompatibilities, they are still more compatible with the rest of O Gauge than not.  The biggest obstacles are the Marx couplers, which won't mate with other brands, and the "fat wheel" on older Marx locomotives.  Older Marx locomotives cannot pass through modern switches, some modern crossovers or through operating tracks.  Even newer Marx trains may have trouble with operating / remote tracks.  Likewise, trains with pickup rollers can get snagged on older metal Marx switches. There are ways to mitigate these problems (see link below for more information on operating Marx trains).  You can enjoy your original Marx trains with others.and get the benefits of improved products developed since the last original Marx train came off the drawing board..

Click here to return to Marx Accessory Index

Click here for more information on operating Marx Trains

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