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Getting Started In Z

Reprinted from January/February, 1999, Volume 5, #1 issue of Ztrack Magazine, Copyright 1999, Ztrack, all rights reserved.

by Robert Kluz

Opening up your first starter set is always an exciting event. With Z scale, the set up is very quick, but there are some tips that can help to make the process a effortless event.

The basis of this article will be a typical Märklin starter set. These sets are wonderful. They include all you need to get trains running in no time at all.

If this is your first attempt at model railroading, start with the recommended track plan. Do not jump in with lots of extra track and accessories at first. Start with the basics and learn about your trains.

Lay out all the pieces in your starter set. You will find your track, transformer, wires and illustrated set up guides. Some sets have electric turnouts, plugs, distribution strip, and a box for controlling the turnouts. Use the guides for reference in conjunction to this article.

Establish were you want your trains. The first time I ran my trains, they were sitting on a coffee table! This works fine just fine. The first piece of track you will be concerned about is the the piece where the wires attach. Let me say, attaching these wires will be the trickiest part of this whole event!

On the track are two metal 'clamps'. Push the clamp down (a small screw driver helps). This will expose a small hole. Set the exposed end of the wire into the hole. Let go of the clamp and the wire is held in place. Repeat for the second side. This can be tricky due to the fact that if the wire is not held in place firmly, it can slide out easily.

Now that your wires are in place on the lead track, add the remainder of the track. Märklin's track just snaps in place. If you look closely, you will find rail joiners guide the track in place. Small snap type locks on the ties hold the track together.

It is imperative that your track goes together smoothly. It might look okay, but the rail could be riding up over the joiner. After attaching the track, run your finger over the connection. If the rails are smooth to the touch, you are fine, but if you feel an edge of a rail sticking up, realign the rail.

Finish your oval at this point. If you have turnouts, Place these into the oval but do not worry about the wiring yet.

Now that your oval is together and the track is smooth and in place, wire it to the transformer. Take the brown wire and run it to your transformer. The new Märklin transformer is a joy to set up. Push in the brown nob exposing a hole. Run the exposed end of the wire into the hole and let go. Repeat for the red wire.

Now run your first train! Do not even bother with the the cars right now. Start with the locomotive. Place the loco on the track. Make sure all the wheels are sitting on the track evenly. The railing ramp comes in handy here. Once the loco is in place, give it some power. Is it running? If so, watch it run. If there are irregularities, for instance, if it bounces or derails, check the track in that spot, if not, good work!

If the loco does not run, check your connections. If the lights come on the loco, but it does not move, this could indicate a problem with the loco. Return to your dealer and have them take a look at it. (This does happen, but very rarely).

If your set does have turnouts, run your trains for a while. Operate the turnouts, manually. This can be done by moving the small 'slider' on the black box attached to the turnout.

When you are ready for automated operations, the wiring is fairly simple. Each turnout has two blue wires and one yellow wire attached to it.

Start with the yellow wire. Add the yellow plug to the wire. A small screwdriver is necessary (I recommend purchasing a set of small screwdrivers). Unscrew the screw in the plug, slide in the wire and tighten the screw until the wire is secure. Run the yellow wire to the distribution strip and plug it in. Add a female plug to the individual yellow wire supplied and run this wire from the control strip to the transformer.

Add the red and green plugs to the two blue wires. Run these to the control box.

Run the grey wire from the control box to the transformer. Your turnouts are ready for operation. Try them out. You should hear a 'buzz' sound when they operate. By switching the wires in the control box, this will switch the function of the button, (ie: green button closes the turnout out, switch the wires, green now opens the turnout).

So what's next? Run trains! You will want to add track and trains, go ahead and have fun! There is one final step though which is often overlooked.

Over time, the performance of your loco will decrease. It might stop all together. This is usually caused by dirty track and dirty wheels on the loco. Clean that track!

Use household rubbing alcohol. Soak a small cloth with the alcohol and run along the rails. You will see black lines appear on the cloth as the dirt is picked up. I recommend doing this on a weekly or bi-weekly schedule depending on your running time. Securing the track in place will help decrease the residue buildup on the track. At this point, have fun!