Chris Abbott’s Brilliant Backing Plate

Come one. Come all. I am about to share a tale of a most splendid variation on a well known application. A veritable cure for all that ails you. Hurry up. Hurry up. You’ll want a seat right at the very front of the audience and you’ll want to say you saw it here and without delay. What I am about to show you will make that nickel at the door seem like not enough admission once I show you what you are about to see. As plain as day and you will see it clearly with your own eyes. This folks is a really big deal.


“Fortunately, Chris came up with an elegant solution. He cut and fettled a thin strip of brass to solder to the bottom of each head rod. He then drilled a clearance hole for the piano wire, offset on the brass strip. Head rod and strip were tinned, soldered together, and the finished assembly was brush painted a black-grey.” – Trevor Marshall

The Chris that Trevor is referring to is Chris Abbott and the idea to solder a piece of brass sheet to the bottom of the throwbar is entirely his. I think Chris Abbott’s backing plate is brilliant. The focus of my work session last night was to install throwbars on my three turnouts and then attach their feeder wires. I have used one on each of the turnouts.


N scale tie represents the head rod. Soldered to a backing plate made from scrap PC board.

I’ve used N scale ties as my throwbars. Looking back at my work, I think I’m going to redo mine to use Z scale ties instead to produce an even slimmer-looking throwbar. Using the backing plate contributes some strength to these tiny ties quite elegantly. The advantages here go well beyond just cosmetic:

I use a length of steel “music wire” to connect the switch machine to the throwbar. Not having to drill through the tie you’re using to represent the head rod means that you’re not compromising its strength. Furthermore, if you are only using that tie, than the diameter of the wire you are using to connect the head rod to you switch machine is limited by that tie’s width. That smaller wire is just not as rigid and I find it doesn’t always exert enough force to actually move the point blades so there’s a need to then reinforce it with a heavier wire. There are a number of great tips to bond these two pieces of wire together but at the end of the day, it’s adding complication where there’s simply a better way. Using the plate, this problem goes away instantly. You can use any diameter wire you want so something like the one that comes with a Fast Tracks Bullfrog is just fine – just now with less screwin’ around.

Further, when the wire is mounted in the traditional head rod tie it projects above the tie and I find I’m locked in a balance between needing it to project above high enough so that it works but not so much that it interferes with every piece of rolling stock that moves over that turnout. When the rails are only 0.040″ or 0.055″ high, there isn’t much room to spare in this equation. Again…not a problem any more. The location of this is lower so we have, at a minimum, the additional thickness of the head bar (tie) to place with.


Say “Hello” to my little friend

In a previous post, I praised Ken Patterson’s suggestion to use a length of brass tubing as a drill and temporary conduit to aid passing feeder wires from the top of the layout, through a thick foam core, to the underside. Photographed above is my variation. I am in love with this simple tool.


“Look ma. No more tears.” meets “I don’t ever want this to end.”

I filed one end of the tubing to a sort of drill-like shape so I could use it to cut through the foam. With the tubing in place, I simply started the wire  and threaded it through until I was satisfied that it was below the foam. A quick reach under the layout retreives the tubing and the process repeats itself. I’ve used foam for a lot of layouts. Each time I’ve played that game with feeder wires of trying to get them to just run through the hole with getting caught along the way. Those days are gone now.

What’s next?

I already mentioned wanting to redo the throwbars with smaller ties. I have all the parts and it only takes a few minutes to accomplish so why not?

I think I am going to employ a mechanical linkage to move the points. I still really like the design that FREMO suggest, built around a SPDT toggle to lock the points in place and also route power to the frog and I will probably employ something a lot like this. Again, meets my needs and I have all the stuff here.

Once I have items one and two, above, completed I can start to think about sticking the turnouts down so I can finish sticking down the other plain track rails.

Onward mighty glacier. We have a railroad to build.

I’ve been using “throwbar” and “head rod” interchangeably and apologize for any confusion that results.40


  1. I’m so pleased that this technique is working for you. I too think it’s brilliant and having used it on my own layout for more than four years now, I’m sold. I’m going to use it on all future turnouts I build.
    – Trevor (Port Rowan in 1:64)

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