Starting Catenary

edited May 11 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 11

    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 15

    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 17

    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 2

    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

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