Starting Catenary

edited May 2019 in HO-Scale Corner

I ordered some catenary parts yesterday to get my layout started. I will be working on a 7' section with three tracks and 24" and 22" radius curves.

I'm using individual masts on the three curves and then out of the curve I'll be using suspended box girder masts for three tracks. I could only afford two of those large masts at this time, so I will still have several feet to complete in front of Oberrittersgrün and down to the next tunnel entrance.

I will be hanging wire in this section and I bought a Viessmann height gauge and a mast placement jig.

All of the parts are Viessmann.



  • This is the section that will receive the first catenary:

  • edited May 2019

    Michael, it looks like to made some good progress, in the tunnels you can just run a wire no need to place masts in the tunnels no one will see them.

  • el Gato Gordoel Gato Gordo Colorado Spring
    edited May 2019

    Looking forward to seeing your progress with the catenary, Michael. Vießmann is pretty easy to install. As you may remember, I like putting spring tensioners inside my tunnels. These are adjustable so I can have just enough tension to run trains with pantos raised, but not so much tension to put excessive pressure on the masts. The Vießmann tensioning masts are marginally functional, but do help.



  • Could you post a picture of that setup? I might try and copy it for the inside of miy tunnels. I have no intentions of trying to string catenary through a tunnel.

    I finished up the grassy areas and finished ballasting and afixing the ballast on all three tracks yesterday.

  • el Gato Gordoel Gato Gordo Colorado Spring
    edited May 2019

    Sure, Michael! Glad to do it.

    For N scale I used springs like what you would find in a click-type ball point pen. I selected sheet metal screws that fit inside the springs firmly. I used thin plywood to bridge the tracks (in these photos I didn't need to bridge the tracks due to the track curve) and drill a hole well above pantograph level and big enough that the screw fits loosely without the threads engaging.

    I screwed the spring onto the screw and glued it. Then screwed the spring onto the catenary (counterclockwise tightens).

    One must be careful not to tighten too much at one end, or it pulls the mast arms out of whack. So, at each end of a stretch of cat I have these tensioners. There is one at the other end of this stretch of track.

    This is on my upper level, on the back side of my layout. On the main deck I have a double track main line, and my Hauptbahnhof with three tracks which include the branch line going up to the upper deck. They all have catenary where I can run with pans raised, even on the cross-overs and turnouts. The cat wires all go into tunnels where I have concealed the adjusting rigs better than these two. But they all can be adjusted.

    On the upper deck I have Vießmann catenary and masts, on the main level I have Sommerfeldt. Where there are crossovers or curves I use the manufacturers' tensioning masts to help steady the wires.

    As the trains approach the tunnel exits, the cat wires gradually lower to proper height to engage the pantographs. It takes a little experimentation to get the height of the adjusting spring and the location of the screw relative to the centerline of the track perfected. Better to have the spring a little too high, because a panto caught in a spring is an ugly situation.

    On the bright side, I run my trains at train shows without the pans getting entangled. If I can do it in N scale, then HO should be a snap.....

  • Hey thanks a lot! A picture is worth a thousand words as they say.

  • Gordon that is a great idea, thank you for sharing!!

  • This is not nearly as difficult to install as I believed it would be.

    The three wires going into the tunnels are secured to the portal opening with a very tacky gaffer's tape which will not be permanent, but allowed me to space out the first three masts to get the installation moving along. Fortunately, the track is descending here and the tunnel portal with the wire attached is higher than the pans in the full upright position so when the pan makes contact with the wire it is gradually brought down to operating height on the rest of the following catenary as the locomotive is coming up the grade. The same thing happens when a locomotive is traveling down the grade and the wire stops.

    One of the masts on the inside track had to be located on the inside of the curve because the spot needed by the mast was already taken by a block signal. The center track has all of the masts on the inside of the curve because of spacing issues between the outside and middle tracks. Passenger carriages would wipe out any masts placed between these two tracks as there is a minimal amount of clearance between coaches as the trains meet on the curves.

    I have a few more masts to place on the outside track and then where the track straightens the two box girder masts will be installed. I'll need three more to get down to the next tunnel portal.

    The pan on the cat is fairly loud. Louder than I imagined. I don't know if I will want to listen to that noise from three locomotives at once. Think O scale on tubular rail and you'll get a quieter version of a pan on the wire. At least I know it works on this short stretch without malfunctioning.

    First three installed:

  • michaelrose55michaelrose55 Orange City, FL

    Looking good!

  • el Gato Gordoel Gato Gordo Colorado Spring

    As for the noise, the Vießmann cat wires are not as polished as the Sommerfeldt. You can gently rub some 600 grit sand paper over the bottom of the wires to smooth them out. Obviously best done before installation, but still doable now.

    I guess my pans have worn the cat wires smooth after 4 years of use. I don't hear the noise any more.

    "What's that, honey? Could you speak up?"



    Rheinland Bayern Bahn

  • It is not so noticable with the other trains running with their sound on. It sort of took me by surprise when I was making test runs with the Br.111 and thought it was pretty loud. It's not so bad.

  • edited June 2019

    Box girder masts for three tracks are being installed now. I only have the two, and I'm expecting to buy three to four more using the 240-270mm catenary wires. I have found that longer wires don't tension as well as the shorter wires.
    It has been suggested by others on another forum to just place the masts instead of going to the trouble of also installing the wire. I can tell you it just wouldn't be the same without the wire. This really brings to life a German railroad.

  • el Gato Gordoel Gato Gordo Colorado Spring

    I agree! Having the cat wires in place really makes the scene. And then the pièce de résistance: running trains with the pans up!

  • Very nice work, Viessmann has a nice easy to use catenary system, the best feature you don't have to solder

  • BR42BR42 Auburn

    I agree. Catenary is what makes a mainline look "German/Swiss/Austrian). Get a Swiss loco though, and install the catenary to accommodate its narrowness. Avoids surprises later.


  • el Gato Gordoel Gato Gordo Colorado Spring

    Excellent advice about getting a Swiss eLok.

  • BR42BR42 Auburn

    Used my BLS ae 4/4 when I installed catenary. Even the BLS Ae 6/8 ran through it without trouble although it is much longer.


  • RailwriterRailwriter Durham, NC

    The normal practice is to try to place pantographs as close to the truck pivot points as possible. The keeps the pantographs centered over the track even when the locomotive is going around curves. (Center cab switching locomotives are an exception -- but they typically have a short wheelbase.

    Older locomotives with single-arm pantographs would have either "inside" or "outside" pantographs --- meaning the pantographs were mounted either inside or outside the pivot points. However the pantographs were oriented in such a way as to have the actual wiper part of the pantograph over the pivot points.

    Newer locos with both inside and outside pantographs -- locos with four pantographs for use in different countries -- will still have the wipers positioned as close to the truck pivot points as possible.

    -- Ernest

  • RailwriterRailwriter Durham, NC

    If the above isn't clear: Look at which way the "elbow" of a single-arm pantograph is pointing. If it is pointing to the end of the locomotive, it is an outside pantograph. If it is pointed to the middle of the loco, it's an inside pantograph.

    EMU equipment (including ICE versions) sometimes only has two single arm pantographs located together over one truck. In that case, one is an inside and one an outside pantograph.

    -- Ernest

  • Guys bad new Viessmann went nuts and raised all their catenary prices, the nearly tripled the prices. We might have to start importing Sommerfeldt instead.

  • el Gato Gordoel Gato Gordo Colorado Spring

    Sommerfeldt is good stuff! I, for one, would be very pleased if you carried their catenary and masts.

    Sommerfeldt also has Dutch and Swiss profile masts which I'll be needing in about a year.

    I'd also like to try the N scale couplings by N-Tram. FineScale-Kupplingen.

  • BR42BR42 Auburn

    Oh, that hurts. Are they trying to get out of business? One of my retirement projects was replacing (perhaps) my old catenary with Viessmann. I guess I will go Sommerfeldt if the Secretary of Finance approves.

  • RailwriterRailwriter Durham, NC

    I have only done some test assembly of Sommerfeldt components, but have not had any problems. But, I have done a lot of research on them, particularly their Austria-specific items.

    In HO, Sommerfeldt actually has two lines of catenary -- the wiring itself, not the masts. The basic line has slightly thicker wire (0.7mm), requires somewhat more assembly. Their pro line has slightly thinner wire (().5mm), and has more pre-assembled components, such as cross-spans. The basic line is slightly less expensive than the pro line.

    Sommerfeldt produces only catenary and pantographs (Some pantographs used by other model railroad manufacturers are actually made by Sommerfeldt.), so it, it has a lot of experience in this area.

    Their one product that impressed me the most, however, was their catenary book! It is actually more than twice as thick as their full-line catalog. That book in German and English, provides a lot of information on prototype catenary practices -- and how to translate them in the model environment. Though I had a reasonable understanding of prototype catenary, I did learn some new things from that book. The drawings and photos are large and well done -- well above average for model railroad documentation.

    About the only thing that Sommerfeldt does not have is a pre-assembled piece of catenary for double-slip switches. (This is one area where, due to much sharper radii on model track, you need to deviate somewhat from prototype practice.) You can make your own, with some soldering. However, Maekrlin item 70131 works just fine with the 0.7mm Sommerfeldt wire. (This is one the test projects that I did.)

    By the way, current Austrian practice is to get away from cross-spans wherever possible -- as reported a number of times in the prototype sections of the Austrian magazine, Modellbahnwelt. The thinking is that, with cross-spans, any damage to the wiring over one track is likely to also damage the wiring over adjacent tracks. So, in stations, there are more places with masts with outriggers in both directions -- typically with extra-long outriggers -- and masts with outriggers in one direction that span two or three tracks.

    So, I hope Sommerfeldt with produce Austrian-style long outriggers in the near future. (I do plan on some cross-spans in my main station.)

    -- Ernest

  • Hello
    First, all these comments have been really helpful.
    I recently started building out a new lay out with catenary. Being visually impaired, I am finding that Viessmann's producs are the easiest to work with. Since I can not see the photos that well, I have a few questions.
    What are the anchor masts used for? They have varying heights.
    And what is the triple curve pull off used for?
    I find it easier to use masts with twin arms in the center of my mainline. I see people find it easier to use standard masts with individual arms for going around curves. Is this correct?

  • RailwriterRailwriter Durham, NC
    edited May 29


    Catenary in general: The construction of prototype catenary involves a large variety of necessary technical details. While many can be modeled with components from the major model catenary manufacturers, most of us choose -- for various reasons -- to leave at least some of them out from our model railroads. The model versions will operate just fine without most of those details -- and most viewers will not even notice their absence.

    But, it does help to understand how and why prototype catenary is built, and why various features are needed for reliable operation by the prototype. This is one of the reasons I strongly recommend investing in one or more books on catenary. As far as I know, all of the major model catenary manufacturers offer at least one book (in addition to their main catalog of catenary components) on model catenary construction. These books look at both prototype practices -- including differences by era and country -- and how various features of prototype catenary can be represented with that manufacturer's components. And, of course, these books look at features needed for reliable model catenary operation that are different from the prototype.

    There are also some third party books looking at catenary in general and comparing the model catenary products of several manufacturers, but, as far as I am aware, these are all in German. The Sommerfeldt book that I have is primarily in German , but has most key sections and image captions also translated into English.

    Anchor masts: While prototype catenary would appear to be a long continuous string of overhead wire, in reality, prototype catenary actually consists of a series of overlapping sections of wire. The length of these sections on the prototype is determined by a variety of factors, including the speeds at which trains operate.

    These sections have to run from somewhere to somewhere -- and the ends of these sections are the anchor masts. Anchor masts are heavier than the standard masts because they are used to maintain the physical tension of the overhead wire -- to keep it from sagging, particularly as temperatures change.

    All of this is easier to illustrate with diagrams -- which you will find in some of the books mentioned. But, basically, each section of overhead begins at one anchor mast, where the wires are solidly attached (with appropriate insulators, of course), and ends at another anchor mast where there is some type of tensioning device. Today, in central Europe, this device generally includes some precast concrete weights.

    For the transition between these sections, you also need masts with two outriggers -- or appropriate provisions on cross-spans. These handle the overlap between sections, but are also needed at turnouts, as the diverging track has its own section of catenary. The basic pattern is this: A new section of catenary starts at an anchor mast, which also has an outrigger holding the existing section of catenary. The new section then heads toward the center of the track at a mast with the double outrigger. There, the new section continues along the center of the track to the next mast, which is an anchor mast. The anchor mast's outrigger holds the new section of catenary over the track while the old section now terminates at the anchor mast -- either with a fixed connection or with a tensioning assembly.

    On model catenary, the tensioning assemblies are, of course, simply for show, and they do not actually provide any tensioning of the wires.

    Pull-offs: These devices help keep the catenary over the track center on curves at locations where it would not make sense to have closely-spaced masts with individual outriggers. This may also include situations where it would be difficult to place a mast at the appropriate track-side location.

    Center masts between double tracks: These are generally used only in station areas or areas with relatively low-speed operations, such as on tram lines that operate on their own rights of way. There is a long list of reasons, that includes being able to keep one track operational while catenary maintenance is being done on the other track.

    I hope that helps at least a little, but it will probably raise lots of other questions. Again, a book on catenary would answer most of those for you.

    -- Ernest

  • Ernest
    Since I can not see the diagrams, this is actually very useful. I will need to get some anchor masts and double track equipment. Also try to find a good book that gives good descriptions. Any other pointers would be useful. And thank you.

  • edited May 31

    Good luck with your catenary installation.

    I have a section of a little over three feet of HO catenary installed over three tracks. It was not difficult to install, but care must be taken for proper placement and alignment of the wire. I still have much to finish on these tracks.

    I recently became interested in the Swiss Rhätische Bahn railroad in HOm and have purchased 19 Sommerfeldt RhB masts to get this catenary started on the mountain spur. The RhB is a specialty of Sommerfeldt and they supply all of the correct bits and pieces for an authentic installation.

    As a side note, on the RhB really tight radii curves, the pull-off's used actually have the catenary wire parallel to the track, laying on it's side! Amazing.

  • Cool. I am just starting to play with this and understand it. I got interested in German railways and the idea of electric catenary operation after seeing it.

  • Does anyone know if Viessmann 4179, feet for standard mast will work with part 4112, two track mast? Thanks.

  • BR42BR42 Auburn


    I would say yes, since the 44112 is just a regular mast with catenary holders on each side.


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