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Custom-Built CTC Machines

Here are some of the great examples of some past custom-built CTC machines.
(Sorry, this service is unavailable at the present time.)

David Barrow's Fourth District Machine Bill Darnaby's Gastonia, Ohio Machine Illinois Railway Museum
Lenza Wilson's Utah Southern Machine Tommy Holt's Western Pacific Machine Keith Huebner's Milwaukee Road
Lee Nicholas's Utah Colorado Western Chris Wiley's James River Machine

- David Barrow's Fourth District Machine -

As described in my article in Model Railroader August 2009, in 1986 my friend Jay Miller told me that the Santa Fe was discarding several TCS cabinets from their office in Amarillo, Texas. Some friends and I went there and after bidding on the contents of the 8th floor where the machines were stored, I bought all the machines there. My idea was to bring one of the cabinets to Austin, but after taking into account the weight of the heavy steel cabinets loaded with relays we decided instead to strip several of them of their parts. I used these to build a 5' replica machine for my railroad at that time. Later on when I built other railroads modeling industrial areas in Lubbock, I gave the cabinet to Tommy Holt. Several years ago I was pleased to hear that the original Santa Fe Fourth District machine had been saved and in storage in Lubbock for the intervening years. It is now in a store front in Slaton.

In 2008, I began discussions with Mike Burgett that led to building a 5' new cabinet modeling that length of the 7 ½' machine that had been used by the Santa Fe for the Plains Division Fourth District controlling Slaton, Texas to Lubbock and west to the California main line. I drew the track plan and Jay helped me find a company in Dallas to etch the replica. The new machine cabinet is in place downstairs from my current railroad modeling the Fourth District with new front panels and track plan lights by Mike. At this writing In August, 2012 we are operating the layout signals by computer and we'll be wiring the front panels and track diagram this fall.

-David Barrow

- Bill Darnaby's Gastonia, Ohio machine -

- Illinois Railway Museum -

In December 2004 Control Train Components was contracted to restore and rebuild two original Union Switch and Signal control machines for the Illinois Railway Museum (IRM) in Union Illinois. The first of which was a small 30 inch machine used by the Union Pacific Railroad to control between Morgan and Ehco Utah, and between Riverdale and Strawberry Utah. This machine was restored to its factory appearance for display in IRM’s recently restored Spaulding Interlocking Tower.

The second machine which is comprised of a 60 inch and 30 inch section was completely reworked per IRM’s Signal Coordinator Miss Julie Johnson specifications. This machine operates IRM's 7 miles plus network of track. You can visit IRM’s web site at: www.irm.org

Overview of 60 inch section of a IRM’s custom control machine

Close-up of the 60 inch section’s track diagram in the area of the depot at East Union
Close-up of the 60 inch section’s track diagram Johnson Siding
The far left hand side of the 60 inch section showing Schmidt Siding

Overview of the restored Union Pacific Morgan to Ehco, and Riverdale to Strawberry Utah machine.

- Lenza Wilson's Utah Southern Machine -

I began designing a large prototype freelance layout, the Utah Southern, in the early 1990’s. Signaling, particularly CTC has always been one of the most enthralling aspects of model railroading for me and from the outset I determined that it would be utilized to dispatch my layout. I work as an industrial electrician and had few concerns about designing and wiring a Computer/Model Railroad Interface and the necessary signal logic. Figuring out how to build a realistic control machine proved to be a source of indigestion and many sleepless nights until I found Control Train Components.

Originally I attempted to build a reasonable facsimile of a Union Switch & Signal machine which didn’t look too bad until I compared it with prototype photos. The ghastly shortcomings of this attempt firmly convinced me that I needed to follow prototype practices rather than taking an artistic woodworking approach to the cabinet and liberal use of “close enough” design.

Later, I spent months looking unsuccessfully for prototype CTC machine components and quizzing my railroading contacts in a stubborn attempt to build this project myself. World War II era issues of Railway Age Magazine and several General Railway Signal textbooks in the University of Utah Library provided me with most of the information needed but I still had no idea how to build an accurate machine.

By the early summer of 2004, I had completed a building for the railroad and after ten years of planning, I knew exactly what the layout would look like. When I finally got up the ambition to call Rod Loder to see what CTC parts he had available, he told me that he had sold his business to Mike Burgett and referred me to his website. During my first call to Mike, I became instantly convinced that I should contract with him to build a complete CTC machine based largely on Southern Pacific practices.

After several preliminary discussions, we began to send drawings and files back and forth and made countless revisions to component layout, track models and the like. While the scope of the project was enormous, Mike was a font of information and handled the project beyond my expectations. He was able to either find or replicate all the parts needed to build a completely accurate pre WWII machine. The only compromise we made was to build the cabinets eight rather than sixteen inches deep because of a significant fabrication price difference and to save space in my dispatching office.

Because of the high cost of shipping such large cabinets and my curiosity to see Mike’s own machine and layout, I drove from Southern Utah to Michigan to pick up the cabinets in April, 2005. Mike was kind enough to arrange operating sessions on several magnificent layouts in the region and was an excellent host.

Mike Burgett and his company are the best resource for signaling and CTC components anywhere in the hobby. While the logistics to design, transport, and install this machine may likely be greater than any other single part of building my layout, it was entirely worth the effort.

-- Lenza Wilson, Escalante, Utah

- Tommy Holt's Western Pacific Machine -

There was never a doubt that I would build a CTC machine for my railroad, the First Subdivision of the Western Pacific as it was in and around Stockton, CA in September, 1966. Luckily I knew some generous and talented people who helped bring the project to life.

After two years of construction and research I thought I pretty well had it all figured out and although I had a machine with prototype specifications and prototype hardware, I wasn't certain I knew how to implement the signal logic....I thought I needed a little more help...

Enter Mike Burgett. Introduced by a mutual friend, we had a few conversations and I realized I needed lots more than a LITTLE help. He provided builders photos of my prototype machine from the US&S archives.

He sent complete string diagrams of the signal logic for this machine so that we could build and program the machine to perform exactly like the prototype. We discovered that the WP did things differently and this unique CTC machine was nothing like any I had ever seen or used. Mike pointed out quite a few differences in the lamp colors and their purpose which I would ever have been able to figure out without him.

How this Western Pacific CTC machine worked
(opens in new window)

Thanks to his continuing support, today our machine is a focal point of operations here on the First Sub. I call on Mike whenever I see an anomaly in the way a signal behaves and his clear, concise explanations make it simple to implement changes. Without Mike's help, my CTC would have been a poor representation of the Western Pacific machine......I guess I was just lucky to meet up with him when I did!

--Tommy Holt

Dispatcher David Barrow works 2nd trick on the First Subdivision in September of 1966. Tommy's First Subdivision CTC machine was built from David's old Cat Mountain and Santa Fe CTC cabinet!

- Keith Huebner's Milwaukee Road -

I am modeling the Milwaukee Road in HO scale set in a fictional 1990's setting. I have started building a portion of the main line between Chicago and Milwaukee. I wanted to implement a signal system on my layout with a Dispatcher controlled Centralized Traffic Control Machine.

Working in the Railroad industry as a Signalmen, I wanted to be sure all aspects of my signal system were as accurate as possible, this included custom made signals built to Milwaukee Road standards, realistic signal aspects and indications, and all safety features of a real signal system. But ultimately I was going to need a realistic CTC Machine.

I found out about Mike's company, Control Train Components. He offered real US&S type signal and switch levers and parts made of metal. The feel of metal would be right on with the prototype. He also offered prototypical track diagrams.

The artwork he has done for me was extremely accurate in comparison with prototype US&S track diagrams used on real CTC machines. I was pleased that Mike went to great detail to be sure the track layout was everything I wanted it to be and the finished product is as near 100% of the original look as one can get. The quality in these products was worth every cent!

--Keith Huebner

- Lee Nicholas's Utah Colorado Western -

I thought I would start with a little history on how my model railroad incorporated CTC operation and the evolution that brought Mike and I together.

CTC on operation on my Utah Colorado Western started back in the 1970’s with a home built board and whatever hardware I could scrape together. Although crude it was functional allowing for switch control, some basic detection and the signal aspects just followed the movement of the switch machine, but more importantly I was hooked on CTC operation.

I was introduced to Rod Loder, from Salem, Oregon, in the late 1980’s by some mutual friends, and we immediately struck up a friendship that is still going strong today. Rod has had a tremendous influence on the UCW, especially the CTC operations and it was during one of his frequent visits that he stated it was time to put a real CTC machine into operation. The year was 1989 and the Southern Pacific was closing it’s Eugene, Oregon dispatchers office, moving everything to Roseville, Calif. and he had made arrangements to purchase the CTC machine. Was I interested? Absolutely! When do we start?!!!

Rod Loder and Tommy Holt dispatching

Well if we had known what we were getting into I doubt that this thing would have ever gotten of the ground. But we were much younger then and the challenge was half the fun. The war stories of that first machine are several hours long and the outcome was successful but not without out numerous revisions to the UCW track plan, signals to install, detection resistors needed for each car, block detectors, rewiring the entire layout and installing miles of wire (this was before any thought of running it with a computer) to make the whole thing run and that was just on my end. Rod was re-building the board in Oregon and dealing with hours of work as well, not to mention the 8 plus trips to Utah in late 1989 and 1990. Why all the fuss and hurry to get this done? Well the Pro Rail group had selected Utah as the host team for April 1990 and we wanted to have this thing up and running. Nothing like a deadline and a visit by your peers to supply the needed motivation to get something done and we almost made it too! The only thing working were the detector lamps and the switch machines which didn’t stop Steve King from having a blast dispatching the railroad. Several more trips by Rod and Gary Waite (Gary is also from Salem and was Rod’s traveling partner on all these trips and also good friend) and we finally had the thing up and running.

Kelly Newton and Terry Wheeler dispatching at the first machine

This first machine was very much an experiment for all of us and we were pretty much flying by the seat of our pants. For instance, we weren’t sure if we could get a full height and width machine down my basement stairs, so we cut off the bottom of the machine and made a desk top model with a 30 inch front panel and two 14 inch wings. Original hardware, levers, plates, lamps etc., were used and everything was hardwired using home built logic circuits for the signals and Bruce Chubb’s detector circuits.

Well it seems we were hooked, especially Rod, who took the bull by the horns and formed Levers West, a small business dedicated to finding, refurbishing and building new machines for a small group of diehards who just love this stuff. About 10 years ago we were able to get our hands on a number of old Union Pacific machines from the Pocatello, Idaho dispatch center that had been removed from service a number of years ago. This supplied Rod with numerous parts and pieces for his future customers and was the basis for my new machine which we installed in Sept. of 2000:

I got a call from Rod in early 1999 with a question, “Do you want to sell the SP machine”? Seems somebody crazier than us had to have that specific piece of history. Well the price was right and a new machine started to take shape in Salem. The installation would coincide with our decision to change from a home built computer system, designed, built and installed in the mid 1990’s by Jon Robinson, good friend and UCW crew member. Jon’s system worked very well but was ready for some needed updates and after weighing out the options we decided to install Bruce Chubb’s CMRI hardware. A wise decision, the stuff works great, is a breeze to install and is easy to program (well as least for some people). Several requirements were a must for the new machine, it had to be full height, have an attached desk top and would be approximately the same size as the first one. The hardware is all original lamps, levers etc., but the plates were all new this time and new track diagrams were also made.

Jim French and dispatcher Andy Sperandeo

Henry Freeman dispatching during GBG 2004

Rod called one day and said you’ll never believe this. I just got a call from signal maintainer back east who asked if I could build a small control panel for the CN. They had called Union Switch and Signal to see if they could build the panel and said “We don’t build that old technology any more but we know of a small business in Oregon who builds stuff for the hobby” contact him. Well that person turned out to be our good friend and the man behind CTC Components, Mike Burgett and the rest is history.

Mike Burgett presenting during Symposium

From that meeting Rod and Mike struck up a friendship that has benefited all of us who are interested (obsessed is probably a better term) by this old hardware. Several years ago I hosted a CTC symposium, here in Utah, and invited Mike, Bruce Chubb and several others to attend and present a few clinics. We had over 30 participants and it was our first chance to meet this “Signal Maintainer from Hell” and listen to his fantastic presentation on CTC operation and the various line side details needed to make it all happen. If you haven’t seen or heard Mike’s presentation I encourage you to do so.

Two years ago we (Rod, myself and others) made a trip to Detroit to operate several great layouts in the area and meet Mike on his own turf. It was during that trip that Rod decided to hand over the keys, of Lever’s West, to Mike. Rod’s time of running his own business and trying to fulfill CTC customer orders was getting out of hand (not to mention he’s building a large SP model railroad) plus Mike’s enthusiasm and knowledge of CTC operation made for a good move and a great fit.

Since then I’ve had the pleasure of working with Mike picking his brain about various signal aspects and line side details that have been incorporated on the UCW and have certainly added a new dimension to our operation. He was instrumental in guiding me through the process of installing Train Defect signals on the UCW several months ago and is continuing to help with adding appropriate line side signal details. But our shining moment was during his last visit, when he completed an inspection of our circuits and equipment and presented the UCW with an official FRA Certification of Operation. He has certainly peaked my interest in learning more about prototype CTC operation and how I can incorporate those functions into the UCW. I’ve never met anyone which as much excitement and knowledge about this as Mike and look forward to his help in the future.

-- Lee Nicholas

Train Defect Signal

- Chris Wiley's James River Machine -

I just received my CTC Control machine from Control Train Components and I am ABSOLUTELY AMAZED at the CTC machine and the process to get to this point!

My goal from the onset with this railroad model was to prototypically as possible model parts of the C&O Railway’s James River Subdivision in N Scale, and as Steve King said, “provide a prototypical experience to people operating on my railroad”. And yes, signals and Centralized Traffic Control are all part of the prototype. However, had I not met Mike, I would not have been able to model this aspect of the prototype. I have been in model railroading for over 35 years, but I am not knowledgeable of railroad signal systems, much less how they are controlled by a CTC machine and to be perfectly honest had ignored this aspect of the prototype. Mike Burgett has been VERY patient with me and been a wonderful teacher to help me understand the system. Just like a pro, he took the information on my track arrangements and operation of the model railroad I am building and converted it from “hobbyist” to “professional”, in just a few short months. I now have an understanding of what an interlocking points are all about, traffic direction lights, what items are really needed on the track chart (versus what I thought aught to be on there) and a beautiful machine to execute these concepts..

The Control Machine that Mike fabricated looks like it belongs in a museum, but in reality it is a custom designed piece patterned after the tracks on MY railroad model that will be used to control traffic on my model Railroad. Thanks Mike and I would recommend his product and services to anyone!

-- Chris Wiley - Lynchburg, Virginia

Coming soon:
   Keith Gillette's Western Pacific

© 2016 - Mike Burgett
Control Train Components - www.ctcparts.com