My First Switch Machine

As I work toward starting layout construction, I have been looking at things I can do to build the skills needed for constructing my layout.  Back in June, I picked up a single Fast Tracks Bullfrog Switch Machine kit.  The hand-operated Bullfrog machines are one of my top candidates for operating switches, and I wanted to see if they went together as easily as Fast Tracks claimed, and then play around with installing and setting it up, before having to do so on the layout when I need the installation to work right.

IMG_5853Bullfrog Switch Machine Kit, laser cut wood along with the necessary screws and a micro switch for power routing. They say they go together in 15 minutes.

The kit is a nicely designed set of laser cut wood pieces.  They snap apart and with a quick rub with some sandpaper, the parts clean up and are ready to assemble using  regular white glue.  The kit can be assembled to face right of left depending on which way you want to run the control rod to throw it.  I assume this is primarily to provide flexibility beneath benchwork.  It may be something I need to pay more attention to when building machines for the layout, but for my little test, it wasn’t a critical consideration.

Assembled Bullfrog, showing both sides. It took me about 27 minutes.  Having done one, I’d say the 15 minutes advertised is reasonable once you know what you are doing.

For my switch test, I’m using some leftover bits of wood and some old bits of track.  Using an old Atlas Code 83 Number 4 switch, and some off cuts of flex track, I’ve built just enough track for a locomotive of freight car to traverse the switch and go either way through it.  I thought this would be a good way to see how it actually goes in, and if something that advertises itself as simple, really is.  For my small layout, I will only have 11 switches that actually are thrown (there are 2 more that would lead to falling off the side of the layout if they were operated!).  Given this, I don’t feel the need for introducing more wiring for me to learn to have powered machines (I already need to learn how to wire the layout for a DCC system).  I think having the switches thrown by hand will also help with making operators think while the run the layout.

My first Bullfrog mounted under the test board to see how it goes and learn how to install switch machines.

Based on what I could see from looking at the range of travel on the switch, a 1/4″ hole was needed to allow the throw bar from the Bullfrog to move the rails and ensure good hold on both sides when the switch is thrown.  As everything is still temporarily affixed, I’m not sure its fully working, but it seems to be.  The wood I had available is a bit thicker than what I will be using for the layout, though it’s not as thick as the combined 1/2″ Plywood and 1/2″ foam that the benchwork will be.

My short switch test track setup, made using a leftover bit of 1″x6″ and some 1″x”3 risers.  Instead of the control rod, my temporary throw is a bit of twisted wire.

Since today is the Civic Holiday Monday here in Ontario, all the hobby shops are closed, and since it turns out I don’t have (or at least couldn’t find) any cork roadbed in the house, I won’t finish off the test board this weekend.  I’ll run out to a store next weekend to get a piece of cork roadbed to glue down beneath the track so I can finish the install and play around with testing the switch.  I’d say, based on my experience at playing around with the Bullfrog so far, it’s very likely that I will use these on the layout.  They are cost-effective, and based on everything I’ve heard from others who have used them, they hold up well to use and operations.

4 thoughts on “My First Switch Machine

  1. So glad to see you’re testing ideas as you prepare to build the layout – and it was nice to see your new space over the weekend. Very exciting!
    One thing you’ll want to think about is the type of control you use on the fascia with these. I really like the Bullfrogs themselves – and use them on my own layout – but I hate the laser-cut wooden “knobs” that are supplied with the kits. (You’ve seen my layout – you know how I control them.) One alternative would be to create a 3D Printed knob – that would look a lot better (and you can certainly do that!)… and others may want to buy them from your Shapeways store.
    I also find that the control lines sticking out of the fascia tend to look haphazard. It could simply be that some thought needs to go into installation so that every knob is perpendicular to the fascia. I suspect this is because the fascia is too thin to support them properly. Perhaps the lines need to go through a thick block behind the fascia, drilled on a press to ensure the hole is perpendicular to the front face.
    If you’re going through all the effort to make the rest of the layout look nice, give the operators a better user interface.
    – Trevor | Port Rowan in 1:64

    • Thank you Trevor. It was great to have you visit on Sunday, and we’ll do it again hopefully in the near future for construction and eventually operating!!

      I love your switch stands on your layout. I hadn’t thought about doing something like them, but they would certainly be visually tempting when mounted to the fascia, and needing 11 isn’t that big an ask to buy and modify to work with the bullfrogs. I could maybe even try to bribe Chris to do another batch of modifications for me like he did for you!

      Since my plan is to use 1″x3″ as the base fascia below the plywood benchwork, I will have a nice thick mount for the control rods to go through and provide positive support for them. I will generally have very short throws between where the bullfrog would be mounted and the fascia, so the thick material should help with securing them. I agree that the Fast Tracks buttons aren’t that attractive. Don’t know if 3D printing would work given the need to ensure the material stays on the control rod, but there are lots of options out there for dealing with that. I actually meant to buy one of the Fast Tracks control rod kits just so I can play around with it too. As with everything else, exciting times as I build up my knowledge to construct the layout!


      • Hi Stephen:
        “I actually meant to buy one of the Fast Tracks control rod kits just so I can play around with it too.”
        You may want to look instead at an RC aircraft store. There’s one in the plaza just north of where Credit Valley RR Co used to be on Queen Street in Mississauga. The control lines are by a company called “Sullivan”. You’ll find links to the rods (and the clevises I use with them) on my layout blog, here:
        – Trevor | Port Rowan in 1:64

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