Welcome to O Scale Dead Rail

Welcome. There are more than a few excellent “dead-rail” sites around (the most notable is www.deadrailsociety.com), but I have dedicated this blog to the application of dead-rail to O scale. Yep, it’s a narrow topic that came about in my search for information and guidance when I started converting beautiful brass O scale steam locomotives to battery power and radio control.

I love O scale because it provides excellent detail (at least for my aging eyes!) at a reasonable size. I recently “got back into the hobby,” but I was daunted by two significant problems, the first of which is specific to O scale:

  1. 2-rail versus 3-rail: I hated that I would have to choose whether to be in the “2-rail” or “3-rail” camp. There are lots of beautiful locomotives available that operate in one or the other configuration. I wasn’t willing to choose between 2-rail and 3-rail just because of the way a locomotive receives power and communication, and either choice led to the second big problem: wiring.
  2. Wiring: I have visited some beautiful club layouts, and what struck me was the amount, complexity, and cost of installation for the delivery of power and control to locomotives. Since I had no investment in either 2-rail or 3-rail operation, I had the freedom to choose how to power and control locomotives.

The solution to both of these problems for me was dead-rail. It might not be for you, but the recent advances in batteries and radio control, greatly fostered by the market strength of related hobbies, was the “dream come true” for powering and controlling O scale locomotives.

But my choice to use dead-rail for O scale led to some challenges:

  1. Size: Believe it or not, my biggest hurdle adding dead-rail to O scale was finding and using space available for adding batteries, radio-control receivers, antennas, and DCC decoders (sound-only and general purpose). Many of the battery and radio-control receiver products were designed for Garden (G) scale since the G scale problems of outside use over long distances pretty naturally leads to a desire for battery power and radio control. G scale is fantastic for providing lots of space to add things like batteries, RC receivers, and antennas, but O scale offers considerably less volume and real estate than G scale for these dead-rail components.
  2. Existing features: At the least, O scale locomotives operate as either 2-rail or 3-rail, and both categories require slightly different dead-rail conversion strategies. Also, many of these locomotives have existing lighting, and smoke- and sound-generation features that need integration with dead-rail and radio control. Some O scale locomotives have DCC controllers, and fortunately, it’s not difficult to convert them to dead-rail operation.

I learn best by specific examples, and that’s what I will be offering on this blog: my personal experience. I am relatively new to the hobby, and some of my inexperience will probably show. No doubt you the reader will have plenty to say about the topics I cover. Folks have lots of valuable and solid experience, insight, and opinions on this topic. I hope I don’t step on any toes, but my¬†apologies ahead of time if I unintentionally do so. Thanks.

Update 09 Oct 2019: I have become aware of a Facebook group O Gauge Battery Trains that might be of interest to O scale dead-railers.

Author: Darrell Lamm

I earned my Doctorate in Physics from the Georgia Institute of Technology in 1982, and before retiring in 2019 I worked for 37 years at the Georgia Tech Research Institute. My last position was Chief Scientist of the Electro-Optical Systems Laboratory. Like many people, my love for model railroading began at an early age, and I rekindled that interest starting in 2017.

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