Cubicle Header

by Allan "Need Another Locomotive" Gartner, AE2V

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Are you dreaming of an office with a train around the ceiling?

Unless you are an attorney or on the fast track to becoming a VP, you probably have a better shot at winning the lottery than getting a real office. So why not put a train around your cubicle? Your coworkers will love it! It makes a great landmark in a sea of cubicles. A cubicle train easily installs in minutes and does not permanently mount to the cubicle. So if you get a bigger cubicle (aren't you lucky!), you can easily move it - or move it just because companies seem to like to rearrange people in cubicles all the time.

Cubicle train on bridge close-up

G Cubicle Train

The train runs back and forth along your cubicle walls. It stops briefly at both ends of the track, and then runs backwards in the opposite direction. You can build my control circuit for about $10-15 or you can buy a controller from LGB or Aristocraft (They will work with your HO trains, too.) Control is simple and does not require any wires running along your cubicle walls.

Cubicle train HO on curve

HO Cubicle Train

I have installed cubicle trains in HO and in G. So read about them both and pick the one that’s right for you. Both of them can use the same controller. That is described below. Then visit the HO or the G page to learn how you can install your own cubicle train!

Before you start, be sure you ask permission of your neighbors. I have never had anyone refuse my request. Usually they just want to be reassured that it will be quiet. Your neighbors will probably love it. My G-scale cubicle train now spans ten cubicles!

In both HO and G installations, I took a minimalist approach. I haven’t added little towns on top of my filing cabinets, but you certainly could. These things can get in the way of cleaning the track. I also built ultra simple bridges to carry the track around the curves. I have avoided building big, elaborate, curved bridges for two reasons. One, because I didn’t want to have anything that was delicate and expensive. Two, a bridge carrying a sharp radius ends up being almost as wide as it is long. It would look odd.

Cubicle train on cabinet


Here is a comparison of the HO and G scale cubicle trains.

Cost
$150-$300
$300-$650
# of cars without being too noisy
4
2
Frequency of track cleaning
2-3 weeks
Weekly
Other Easily falls to floor when someone bumps cubicle wall if you run the train on your front wall. Happens about twice a year. Will need to replace the locomotive about once a year due to falls or don’t run train on your front wall. Generally louder. Use less cars and run very leisurely. Larger flanges keeps it on track as people lean on your cubicle walls.If you don’t trust your coworkers, it will take up a lot of room in your cabinets when you store it at night.

Installing a cubicle train is easy!

1. Just read the information below that can be used either for the HO or G scale train.

2. Read the appropriate web page for the scale that you want to install and the how to information for that scale. Click here to go to the HO cubicle webpage or here to go to the G cubicle webpage.

Installing a train in your office:

There are several things you need to worry about when installing a train in your office that you don't have to worry about in your home.

First, your company probably has policies on safety. Most corporations do. So if you choose to cut rail in your office, be sure you are wearing safety glasses. If you are using an abrasive cutting disk and it injuries your eyes, your company will be very unhappy with you. They will probably have to report this as a on-the-job injury - even though this is not technically a job related function. So expect them to be very unhappy with you - perhaps to the point of firing you. It is best to do your rail cutting at home.

Second, your company's safety program no doubt includes chemicals. Make sure you company has a MSDS sheet for your favorite track cleaner like Goo-Gone and make sure you are complying with your company's safety regulations regarding the use of chemicals. You will need to make rail gaps. You may use epoxy to do this. Do this little project at home.

Third, if your company has a union labor, you may not be allowed to pick up a tool much beyond a screwdriver. This is another reason to do your track cutting at home. Don't risk upsetting the union doing a non-work related manual task. In the end, you will be the one that is upset!

Finally, your company may have a requirement that everything plugged in be UL listed. Most power packs and LGB's transformer are. Don't forget your extension cord must be UL listed as well.

How the train is controlled.
Your train runs around your track and just before it reaches the end of the track, it stops. After some time elapses, it backs up and then runs around your cubicle. When it reaches the other side of your cubicle, it stops again. After some more time elapses, it resumes the cycle and runs forward.

How is this done? It couldn’t be simpler! All you need is a couple of diodes and a timer! At each end of your track, create a block. When your locomotive crosses the gap, it stops. At the end of the track where your locomotive is running forward, your block is short – just long enough for the locomotive. When it runs backwards, your block is longer to hold your entire train.

The trick is to bridge the gap for each block with a diode. The diode is installed “reverse biased.” The reverse biased diodes blocks power from each end block. When you reverse the power to the track, the diode becomes forward biased and allows power to your train so that it can move in the opposite direction. For less than a dollar’s worth of parts, it couldn’t be simpler.

Now all you need is a timer to periodically reverse your track power. I put the power pack and the timer circuit in one of my enclosed cabinets. Most cabinets are open in the back you can run wires to power your train without drilling any holes.

Low cost, do-it-yourself timer.

You can build my timer for about $15. If building electronics isn’t your thing, you can buy a controller from LGB for about $150 or one from Aristocraft for $80. Why are theirs so expensive? Beats me! My controller has an adjustment so that you can set how long the train stops at each end of the track. I also include forward and reverse override buttons. This allows you to force the train to come back to your desk so that you can put it away without having to wait for the timing cycle to bring it to you. Dallee Electronics has back-and-forth timers that you can use starting at $40.

The circuit is simple and can run from your AC terminals on your HO power pack. If you are using an LGB starter set, you can run the circuit from the output of their transformer. If you buy the LGB or Aristocraft controller, you will need to follow their directions. The directions in this website pertain to using my circuit.


The reversing timer consists of your basic 555 timer circuit powered by a basic power supply and voltage regulator circuit. The 555 is capable of driving a "highly sensitive" relay.

Part
Description
Radio Shack P/N
Z1 1A, 50V bridge rectifier
276-1152
U1 NE 555 timer*
C1 1000uF, 25 WVDC electrolytic capacitor
272-1047
C2, C4, C5 .01uF, 50 WVDC ceramic capacitor
272-131
C3 220uF, 35 WVDC electrolytic capacitor
272-1029
D1 1N4001, 1A 50V diode
276-1101
K1 12V, 60mA coil "highly sensitive" DPDT relay
275-249
S1, S2 SPST momentary contact switch
275-1556
Ra 1k-ohm, 1/4W resistor
271-1118
Rb1 47k-ohm, 1/4W resistor
271-1130
Rb2 470k-ohm, 1/4W resistor
271-1133
Rb3 1M-ohm, linear potentiometer
271-211
U2 7812 12V, 1A voltage regulator (no heatsink needed)
276-1771
box Most any box will do.
270-1806
circuit board  
276-170
knob Pick one out at Radio Shack.  
Terminals PC mount terminals for making your connections to the track, throttle and AC in.
276-1388

* Radio Shack does not carry the NE555. They do carry the LM556. You can use that. Only the pin numbers are different. The Radio Shack p/n for the NE556 is 276-1728. The pin outs are as follows:

NE555
LM556
1
7
2
6
3
5
4
4
5
3
6
2
7
1
8
14

Radio Shack also carries the TLC555. This is not 100% directly compatible with the NE555. I will redesign the circuit to use the TLC555 if there is enough interest.

You can make all sorts of changes to Ra, Rb, and C1 to get different ranges of time. But rather burden you with equations, I have picked values that should provide an adequate range of times for everyone. I suggest you leave Ra as is. The lower value ensures a nearly 50/50 duty cycle. Rb1 can be lowered if the minimum time is still too much. Rb2 can be lowered to give you less total time. Rb3 was selected because that it what Radio Shack sold. Radio Shack's next smaller potentiometer is 100k-ohm. That is too small.

The forward and reverse buttons are not required. They are there for convenience. Pushing either button will interrupt the timer and force your train to come toward you so that you can put it away at the end of the day. If the train does not move forward when you press the forward button, reverse the wires going to the track.

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