To paraphrase Vane Jones, "Knowledge is of little value until shared with others."

Monday, March 24, 2014

Trolley Pole Primer - Part 3 The Care and Feeding of a Trolley Pole

The title is "tongue in cheek". A trolley pole is feed electricity! The "care" is up to the trolley modeler.

Two manufacturers of trolley poles not mentioned in prior posts are MTS and The Car Works. Both provided trolley poles with their brass models. Some of the poles were good while others left a little to be desired. Any trolley poles which came with my MTS or Car Works brass models were replaced. The individual modeler has to decide what to do with his or her models.

Trivia Questions -
1. What prototype trolley car used 2 different trolley bases?
2. What prototype trolley car used 3 different trolley bases?
The answers will appear in the next post.

Over the years manufacturers of O scale trolley poles have made the trolley bases from either machined brass or lost wax brass castings. This is brought to your attention because the machined brass has less resistivity than the brass castings. With a higher resistivity the brass castings tend to become hot when a higher wattage (voltage and amperage) is passed through the metal.

The higher wattage occurs during a short circuit (trolley pole to ground) or when the motor in the power truck draws an excess amount of current. During this time 2 things can happen to a trolley pole - the small springs can be damaged or the brass castings deform!
This is a 4-spring vertical trolley base after a short circuit. The springs have been removed. The high amount of electrical energy caused the chemical blackening to come off the brass casting and the casting started to melt.

Deformed brass castings were covered in a prior post published October 17, 2012 "Model Not Running & the Electrical Short Circuit". The problem and repair of a deformed brass casting used in the trolley base is covered.

From what I am aware the manufacturers of trolley poles stand behind their products and will repair and/or replace them if damaged. I am not too sure what PSC will do as I've never tried to return a damaged item to them.

Besides the deformation of brass castings, trolley poles do get bent, and springs get lost or stretched out. All of this can be fixed on your own.

Before going further the reader has to realize a trolley pole operates in an x, y, and z set of axis. This means a pole works in 3 dimensions at the same time. Much like an airplane which goes forward, side to side, and up and down. It is important the trolley pole is square in relation to itself, the model, and the trolley wire for best operation.

If you want to see how this is applied in the prototype, The Chicago & West Towns Railway line car #15 operated its final years with a unique "S" shaped bend in one of its trolley poles.

From what George Kanary and I can imagine, one day the 15 was rolling into the barn at 22nd and Harlem at too high of a speed. The back wall of the barn was made from brick. Before the car came to a stop, the trolley pole which stuck out over the front of the car rolled down the wall toward the floor. The resultant bend left the pole straight when seen from above but, of course, bent down when viewed from the side.

All the shop crew had to do is to bent the pole up at the same degree as it was bent down, but straight when looked at from above. The shop crew did an excellent job as the "fixed" trolley pole went on to work for a few more years. This is a photo of my #15 with the same type of "S" bend in the trolley pole.
When viewed from above the front trolley pole looks absolutely straight as though the "S" bend was not there.

Another aspect of the operation of a trolley pole is the need to have the shoe or wheel at the end of the pole to be absolutely level in relationship to the overhead (wire, frogs, hangers, pull-offs) of the layout.

This drawing shows the shoe or wheel level. The trolley wire is in what I call the "trolley valley". The 2 points or mountains on either side of the valley must be level and at the same height. If they are not the shoe or wheel will not go through trolley frogs properly. Some hangers or pull-offs may be problems.
More comments are at the end of this post regarding this drawing.

For the repair and checking of trolley poles, I made a repair jig. It's made out of 3/8" wide x 1/8" thick x 6-1/2" long brass with a 2-56 screw soldered squarely in place towards one end.
In the lower photo a small gouge in the brass can be seen to the left of center. The gouge is mentioned again later in this post.

Trolley Base Square
The replacement or repair of trolley springs is the easiest. But before this, the trolley pole is screwed onto the repair jig. Check to see if the trolley base itself is square from side to side as well as fore and aft with the repair jig.
This is an example of a hole not square from side to side or the narrow part of the trolley base. The drawing is over exaggerated.

The trolley base would be tipped to one side or the other if the hole was not squarely drilled. If the trolley base is not square from side to side, it should be returned to the manufacturer for replacement.

If the trolley base is not square fore and aft - for example tipped to the front or back of the base, you'll have to decide what to do. The pole can be used but it may look odd.
This trolley pole has problems. 1. The trolley pole is bent up as it comes out of the base. 2. The trolley base is tipped towards the end of the car. The tipping fore and aft along with the bend in the pole have to be evaluated as to their combined effect on the shoe or wheel meeting the trolley wire.
This is what a trolley pole mounted on the roof should look like.

To realize what is wrong with a tipped trolley base, you'll have to visualize what happens to the contact point of the trolley wire and the trolley's wheel or slider as the base is rotated on the 2-56 screw or the insert rod or screw. The surface between the trolley wire and the "trolley valley" in the wheel or slider becomes skewed.   

Trolley Pole Spring Holders (Wires)
Next check to see if the pieces of wire to hold the springs are square with the trolley base and the repair jig. The pieces of wire, normally 0.040" or 0.060" phosphorus-bronze wire, should be bent back ever so slightly to keep the springs on them.

If the wires are not square with the trolley base and repair jig, 2 pairs of pliers with wide, flat smooth jaws to gently bend the wire(s) flat and square are used. Use 1 pair of pliers to hold where the wire is soldered to the trolley base and another pair of pliers to bend or flatten the wire.
This shows 2 pair of pliers with smooth jaws.
If the wire to hold the springs comes loose from the base it will have to be re-soldered back on. Clean-up the site to be soldered 1st. File away any excess solder and/or jaw (teeth) marks. An adequate, hot soldering iron is required to prevent any cold solder joints.
Forceps are the best to hold wire to be soldered. The serrated jaws (teeth) hold the wire securely. They can either straight or curved.  They can be obtained from medical supply sources, typically bookstores at medical colleges, as well as hobby meets, and fine or hobby tool dealers.

When soldering on the wires, I've used weights to hold the repair jig while various other objects are used to hold the forceps. Sometimes the forceps must be at a 90 degree angle to the trolley base.

I try my best to not hold the repair jig or forceps in my hands during soldering. I concentrate on the soldering! Unfortunately no photos are available of this process.

Trolley Pole Springs
First check the springs to be sure they are all the same length and tension (strength). If not sure, use all new springs from the same package. Uneven springs can cause problems.

Use a magnifying lens and good pointed tweezers to hold the springs when placed on the wires. Time and patience is required! After all the springs are installed apply an extremely small drop of ACC on the ends of the springs with a toothpick or wire probe. Allow to cure before using the trolley pole.

The upward pressure on the trolley wire can be increased by replacing the springs. Contact the trolley pole manufacturers to see if you can obtain springs with more pull (strength).

I do not want to get into altering the pressure on the trolley wire by moving the wire holding the springs. This is something for another day's topic. Furthermore, it can be complicated to get the same results with 2 different trolley poles for the same model.

Trolley Pole Straight
Next check the wire used for the trolley pole. Is it square with the trolley base? In other words, does the wire come out straight and square from the neck of the trolley base? It does NOT go to one side or the other and it does not go down or up. Sometimes the wire gets bent and must be straightened. Two pair of pliers are required - 1 for the neck of the trolley base and the other for the wire.

If the neck of the trolley base is cracked, it can be repaired by using a non-metallic, all enclosing clamp like a wooden clothes pin. Wooden clothes pins make ideal clamps. The wood is easy to alter for your individual needs. The neck can be either soldered or repaired with ACC.

If the trolley pole has been bent in any direction between the trolley base and the slider or wheel, it has to be straightened. If you have ever tried to straighten wire you know this can be difficult. One or 2 pairs of large pliers with smooth jaws are needed.

Since the wire used is usually 0.090" in diameter, the straightening technique used to straighten a piece of brass strip can be used. Use the pliers to squeeze the wire from different angles while rotating the wire through the pliers' jaws. If this does not work the piece of wire has to be replaced usually by the manufacturer.

Trolley Wheel or Slider Square
The trolley wheel or slider is next. There are 2 different square-ness test to be done.

First, check to see if the wheel or slider are on square to the trolley pole. The wheel or slider should not be tilted up or down or side to side. The small loop for the trolley rope should be on the bottom. Watch out for the springs horizontal backward base (Ohio Brass Form I) as the trolley pole may look backward!

The tipped trolley wheel casting in the drawing above can be the result of the hole in the casting not being drilled square or being too large. The other cause may be a bend at the end of the trolley pole.

If you decide to change the wheel or slider, when using either an old or new one, inspect to see if it is clean of any old solder, sprue, and casting material from a sloppy fitted mold. The hole may need to be drilled out further for the trolley pole. If the hole is drilled out, you will find it helpful if all the holes in your wheels and sliders are the same depth. Use a new drill a couple of thousandths of an inch larger than the trolley pole diameter - never larger. Hand drill the hole to guarantee the quality of the drilling.

The 2nd test for square-ness is the ability of the wheel or slider to rotate 360 degrees on the wire used for the trolley pole. In the repair jig described above, a cut-off wheel in a Dremel Tool was used to gouge out a depression where the trolley rope loop fits. This helps with checking newly attached trolley wheels or sliders for square-ness.

Think of the wheel or slider as the tail of an airplane with the horizontal and vertical stabilizers forming an upside-down letter "T".

When the plane is flying level to the horizon, the horizontal stabilizers are level to the horizon. While the vertical stabilizer is 90 degrees to the horizon. The wheel or slider has to be level and square to the balance of the trolley pole to be level and square to the overhead.

It's this later part about the slider or wheel being level with the overhead which will cause problems with dewirements having apparently no reason for happening.

Preparation for Operation
Before you operate a new trolley pole, using a small fine file, open-up the throat of the shoe or wheel. This will help in guiding the trolley wire along with any small wire obstacle through the "trolley valley" of the shoe or wheel.
This view is looking down on the wheel or shoe.

A certain amount of solder MUST be present to hold the wire to its hanger. Try to file the blobs as best you can. BUT do not remove all of the solder!
Filing out the "trolley valley" part of the shoe of wheel will increase the contact between the pole and the wire making operation of your trolley better.
"Painting" a Trolley Pole Black
NEVER paint a trolley pole with black paint! The black paint will flake off the springs. Plus the balance of the pole will look like it was painted.
If you need to refinish the look of a trolley pole, remove the springs and dip the complete trolley pole in chemical blackener. Allow the trolley pole to dry, usually over night. Replace the springs.
The springs should not be treated with the chemical blackener. They will start to rust which is impossible to stop! The springs will have to be replaced.
After the springs have been placed back on the trolley pole, dip the trolley pole 1/2 at a time in Neolube and allow to dry. The isopropyl alcohol will quickly evaporate. Then treat the other half of the trolley pole in the same way.
When dry, the now black trolley pole can be placed on the model. It will operate better than original and retain the matte black finish for a long time! Neolube conducts electricity.
More comments in the next post.

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