Avoid damage to the wires and masts by eschewing a track rubber in favour of mobile cleaning vehicles to keep the rails in good order.
The supplied instructions are comprehensive, so I’ve illustrated the basic processes involved here as a means for readers to appreciate how the system works. However, I’d heartily recommend sitting down with the Peco guidebook and a cup of tea before making a start, as there’s a lot to take in at once. As work progressed, I began deviating from the recommended assembly sequence, most notably when fitting the wires. The booklet suggests threading through all of the wire sections, bending over the ends to keep them in place before soldering them in place. This proved a real challenge, as the wires tended to flex about excessively, and they were far more prone to damage while hanging from the masts unsecured. I also found that bending over the ends of too many sections at once created unwanted tension in some lengths, which moved the mast arms slightly out of position. Therefore, I stuck to working on two overlapping sections of wire at a time, dealing with the furthest track first, before repeating the process along the nearer line, so I wouldn’t be reaching over completed catenary. Solder bonds were made using a 50W iron, a no-clean flux and 60/40 grade solder. Dccconcepts Sapphire solder and flux were employed, the extra silver content in the solder helping it to flow freely into the joints. Adding the registration arms proved a little fiddly, securing the wire to the arm before it, in turn, was soldered to the lower tie. The catenary wire is
Check for any rogue blobs of solder on the underside of the catenary contact wire, to prevent pantographs from snagging and getting damaged.
delicate and easily deformed, so it must be handled with care. While the masts are able to hold the wires taught against a sprung pantograph, the system cannot be tensioned in order to straighten out any ‘creases’ in the wire. However, as long as the wire sections are hung and soldered correctly, the resulting ‘cat’s cradle’ is fairly resilient to the odd knock.
In terms of looks, the masts and wires are convincing, with only minor prototypical discrepancies. The lack of choice in terms of mast style is an obvious limiting factor, especially when dealing with stations and junctions, so some recourse to scratch building or modifying will be necessary, but the Peco system certainly offers a convenient starting point. The assembly procedure took a little time to master, but once a couple of sections were installed, progress became less laborious. Performancewise, models fitted with Sommerfeldt pantographs have worked faultlessly, especially my modified Lima ‘87s’ and Hornby ‘86s’. However, a few less-refined factory-fitted pantographs (mostly Hornby) have been less co-operative. Surprisingly, my Bachmann Class 85 also struggled, seeming to require a little extra headroom between the roof and the contact wire, but a little adjustment of the pantograph’s spring wire has cured that problem. A possible remedy for errant pantographs is to limit their height to sit a millimetre or two under the wires. It will be hard to discern that they’re not actually in contact. Either modify the spring wires or add blobs of cyano glue to the pivot points. Although the system can be described as about 90% ‘ready-toplant’, there is the unavoidable need for soldering the registration arms and wires. This may put some modellers off, which seems a real shame. For the sake of a decent iron (about £40) and a little practice, there should be no need to miss out on the possibilities that the Peco catenary can offer. Having built a 4ft-long diorama on which to test the system, a good deal was learnt about how the parts fit together. Although it cost over £100 to wire up the twin tracks and siding, I still think the system offers good value, given the quality of the components.
Expert Tip Bridge baseboard joints on portable layouts by installing removable sections of catenary wire.
Inevitably, were I to employ the catenary system again (which I’m tempted to do), I’d do a few things differently and, hopefully, better. And I’d recommend undertaking a similar exploratory exercise before embarking on the electrification of a full layout, if your budget can accommodate it. At the very least, you’ll quickly appreciate how awkward it is to clean your track afterwards!
The catenary starter pack includes 12 masts and registration arms, plus a pair of installation jigs and an instructional handbook. Wires must be purchased separately.