The Scheme, The Team, The Dream

Out of the Box

The first thing to be done when a new model arrives at McKinley is to take it out of the box, reaffix any detailed parts that may have fallen off and make sure it looks correct in terms of historical accuracy. All locomotives are put on a DC analogue test track to check that they perform as expected. Smooth motor sound is important at this point; beware grinding or squeaking sounds!

All the pickups

Where there is electrical activity on board it is standard that all wheels should have pickups. If this is not the case, extra pickups will be added. Any wheel surface which makes contact with the rail will be given a good clean, as will the inside faces of the wheels which make contact with the pickups. At the same time the wheel back-to-backs will also be checked. A normal tolerance range is between 14.4 and 14.7mm.

Resistor Wheels


 If there is no electrical activity on board, a small (10K) resistor will be bridged across at least one of the bogie axles. This draws minimal current from the track but enough to be recognised by the Digitrax BDL168 block detection boards which are used to monitor the entire layout. The resistors are only usually added to the freight wagons as passenger coaches are electrically-equipped with pickups to supply lighting.

Oil Or Lack Of It

As oil can potentially drip off a locomotive and onto the track it is usually creates more problems (in subsequent track cleaning) than it solves. So using lubricating oil is kept to an absolute minimum unless the model squeaks when running.

A Weighty Issue

The majority of modern models are too light! Increased weight on the locomotive will improve adhesion to the rails and thus give much-improved electrical conductivity. Increased weight on hauled stock prevents them bouncing off the track when going at higher speeds, especially through sets of points at station throats and junctions.

The space inside a locomotive’s shell often becomes full with decoders and speakers as well as its motor, so weight has to be added where it can without it being obvious. An average weight of 300-400g is aimed for. Coaching stock rarely needs extra weight because of internal detail such as seating units. Freight wagons originally used the NMRA weighting standard (RP-20.1) of 1oz + 1/2oz for each inch of model measured over the headstocks. This was discovered to be too heavy for British stock so the standard of 1g for every 1mm of model measured over the headstocks was successfully adopted.

A Balanced Run

If the tender drawbar is above the line of the main driving axles there will be a tendency for the loco to try and lift its nose whilst running. If the drawbar is below the driving axles, the loco will try and lift its rear end. Establishing this configuration shows where the ideal place is to add extra weight to the locomotive.

Balancing the locomotive during weighting means that the chances of damaging the motor are reduced.

The final test of weighting and balancing is to attach a loco to a secured point and increase the throttle to a third. If the loco doesn't have wheel slip this indicates that too much weight has been added and there is thus a danger the motor could burn out.




 To avoid stock uncoupling whilst in areas with restricted access, a strict coupling standard was developed. After some testing it was established that Kadee couplers were the best option. They have good functionality, are reliable, and when compared with other coupling methods are actually quite elegant.

The majority of modern British outline rolling stock comes with NEM coupling pockets pre-installed. This helps with standardisation, and if there is no NEM pocket, one is installed. The Kadee length required is also evaluated and is determined by the placing of the rear face of the hook being level with the buffer heads.

Silver Tape

There are a significant number of infra-red sensors on the McKinley Railway. All are crucial to the smooth and reliable operation of the layout under Train Controller. All stock passing over the track-level IR sensors must reflect the generated infra-red beams and thus activate the sensors – first time, every time. In the past the type of plastics used in the manufacture of models would often not reflect infra-red. So to remedy this, silver tape is stuck to the bottom of all models; this increases reflectivity and reliability. Through time, the plastics used in models are manufactured with changes. It can't always be certain that newer materials will reflect infra-red so the tape is always used without regard to the age of the model in question.

Light it up



All passenger coaches have a lighting set-up which runs off the pickups on all bogies. Additionally, an LED is adapted and painted to look like a tail lamp. These 'lamps' are installed on vehicles at each end of coach sets and are also fed from the bogie pickups. Lighting is only installed on locomotives if the manufacturer has made provision for it.

More information about the coach lighting set-up can be found here

Miscellaneous Details

One final thing to be done to stock is the addition of miscellaneous details not included under any of the other Reliability Standards. This typically includes loads for freight wagons but on occasion other details may need to be added.