Vollmer N-Scale Catenary

Several of the model railroad product lines discussed on these web pages include models of electric locomotives, units which take their propulsion energy from overhead electric wires called catenary.  These model locomotives also have a small switch which allows the model railroader to operated one of their electric locomotive models from scale models of catenary.  For a general discussion about model electric locomotives, please see here.

This page covers Vollmer’s N-Scale catenary, one of several brands of model railroad overhead catenary.  In use, the Vollmer system is reliable, but North American model railroaders may find it frustrating on two counts.  First, it is difficult to consistently obtain the Vollmer catenary items. Second, the instructions for this system are printed in the German language only and, even then, they are remarkably vague. Perhaps this page will help with the instruction issues.

There are seventeen individual components to the Vollmer N-Scale catenary system.  Many of these individual components are contained in the two catenary sets which Vollmer manufactures.

Vollmer N-Scale Catenary Items

The individual components:

  • 8000 - Individual catenary mast with short arm.
  • 8001 - Individual catenary mast with long arm.
  • 8002 - Individual catenary mast base.
  • 8003 - Individual catenary mast with electrical feeder wire.
  • 8004 - Catenary wire tensioner.
  • 8005 - Catenary tower mast.
  • 8008 - Catenary wire, 90 mm length (for 192 - 195 mm curve).
  • 8009 - Catenary wire, 105 mm length (for 222 - 228 mm curve).
  • 8010 - Catenary wire, 135 mm length (for 400 mm curve).
  • 8011 - Catenary wire, 145 mm length (for 430 mm curve).
  • 8013 - Catenary wire, 200 mm length.
  • 8015 - Catenary wire, adjustable length.
  • 8017 - Insulator for catenary wire.
  • 8021 - Catenary span wire.
  • 8030 - Catenary wire for Vollmer engine house No. 7605.
  • 8032 - Catenary wire for Vollmer bridge No. 7801.
  • 8034 - Catenary wire for Vollmer engine house No. 7609.

Catenary Sets:

  • 8040 - Catenary Set

Contents of 8040:

  • 1 x 8000 - Individual catenary mast with short arm.
  • 16 x 8001 - Individual catenary mast with long arm.
  • 1 x 8003 - Individual catenary mast with electrical feeder wire.
  • 14 x 8008 - Catenary wire, 90 mm length (for 192 - 195 mm curve).
  • 4 x 8013 - Catenary wire, 200 mm length.


  • 8041 - Station Catenary Set

Contents of 8041:

  • 4 x 8004 - Catenary wire tensioner.
  • 8 x 8005 - Catenary tower mast.
  • 12 x 8013 - Catenary wire, 200 mm length.
  • 4 x 8021 - Catenary span wire.

Installation of Vollmer N-Scale Catenary:

Vollmer includes a small pamphlet with their catenary sets.  Using the graphics from this brochure, here are some comments about the installation process.

The single-arm masts are attached to the layout support board with screws.  There may be the temptation to use small nails, but you run the risk of hammering the plastic catenary mast rather than the nail head. The foot of the mast is placed adjacent to the track cross ties. 

It seems easiest to start at a track switch, place the catenary wires for the switch, then proceed in one direction, placing the individual masts and attaching the catenary wire.

On straight tracks, the catenary wires are supposed to zigzag across the centerline of the track. This replicates prototype practice, which is done to ensure more even wear on the locomotive pantographs. Note that the individual masts alternate between short arm and long arm types. There is one odd complication, since Vollmer’s 8040 catenary starter set only includes one 8000 short armed mast and the 8003 terminal mast, with the other 16 masts being long armed.  One possible solution is to place the long armed masts across the track from each other in an alternating fashion.

On curves, the 8000 mast is placed on the outside of the curvature and the 8001 mast is placed on the inside of the curve.

 Note that the individual catenary wires are not bent, but are simply a series of short straight segments between each mast.  In the item descriptions, Vollmer notes that individual pieces are meant for certain track radii.  For example, piece No. 8009 is 105 mm long (roughly 4” long); it can be used on tangent tracks or used on a curve of 222 mm - 228 mm radius (8 1/2” - 9”). The radii referred to by Vollmer are common European track radii, but not so much for the North American market.  In that situation, you may have to resort to some judicious catenary wire bending to meet your specific radius. This process would be helped by making a wire forming jig, a curved piece of wood that you could use to bend the catenary wires to the desired radius.  Doing so would result in smooth curved pieces that would not distract the eye of the viewer.

When installing the individual wires, note that there is a distinct top and bottom to the wire.  The contact wire is closest to the track, while the catenary support wire is above the contact wire.

At each end of the catenary wire piece is a small loop in the contact wire:

Once the first mast has been placed, take an individual catenary wire and attach it to the mast by feeding the straight portion of the wire into the loop at the top of the mast arm and then slip the catenary wire loop over the post on the lower part of the mast arm.

At turnouts, place the straight segments first, then add the curved segment:

For crossings, take two catenary wire pieces and fit them together, then attach the pieces to single masts. For double slip switches, add pieces for each of the curved elements:

European modelers tend toward controlling trains with signals; please see here.  In these situations, the typical approach is to use the ground return rail to control both a locomotive operating from the overhead wire and a locomotive operating from both rails. It is also possible to control trains by creating an insulated segment of overhead wire by using the 8017 insulating section:

Here, an example using two 8017’s, an 8003 terminal mast and a semaphore signal:

A defined segment of catenary is created by using two 8017’s.  Power is fed to this segment via the 8003 terminal mast.  The semaphore would likely have internal contact points so that when the signal is red, the power is turned off in the defined segment; when the signal is green, the power is turned on. When a catenary powered locomotive approaches a red signal, it stops. When the signal turns green it proceeds.

Span Wires & Towers

For track areas such as heavy main lines, stations and switching yards, tower masts and cross span wires are used to support the individual catenary wires.

With the Vollmer N-Scale catenary system, the 8005 tower mast is used with the 8021 span wire.  The 8021 can span up to 6 tracks. The 8021 is cut to the appropriate length and then fitted into two tower masts:

Individual catenary plastic wire hangers are fitted to the 8021, each over an individual track.  Note that there are different sized plastic hangers.  The shortest should be placed toward the center of the cross span, with each additional plastic hanger being progressively taller to create the look of a cross span.  It may be helpful to glue these in place, depending upon the circumstances.

The catenary wires are then fitted into the plastic hangers. Once these are complete, string is threaded through the top of each plastic hanger piece, then extended to the top of both tower masts.  Once assembled, you can flow a small amount of super glue onto the string pieces to keep them from sagging with age.  This will also take away any string fuzz. A small cap piece is pressed into the top of each mast, holding the thread in place. It should look like this:

Note also that the plastic caps for the tower masts include representations of tower flood lights. Brawa makes a substitute lamp that can be fitted to the Vollmer catenary tower and illuminated.

The tower masts can be shortened if necessary. Likewise, castings representing tensioners can be added both to the tower masts and to individual catenary masts. These should be painted to improve realism.

 Here, a view of a catenary installation for a three track yard:

Note that the catenary towers to the right of the above illustration cover only one track; this is necessary because the rest of the yard installation requires the support of those tower masts.

Finally, the individual masts can be attached to bridges and ramps.  Vollmer makes special pieces, as do other bridge and ramp manufacturers for their products.

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