The Track Work

by Bruce Petty
saeco@snowcrest.net

Track laying is the slowest part of layout construction project.

Here is the Packing Shed mockup and a gondola on a spur track where the Scrap Metal Yard will be located. Masonite (1/8 inch thick), has been cut and ready for contact cement.

Model railroaders who are experienced in track laying, know that good track work takes time and effort. Good track work will eliminate mechanical problem type derailments, and I should say the the only derailments will be of my own doing while operating.
So. . . Here are some thoughts about my track laying methods.

I use Walthers, Code 83 turnouts and Micro Engineering's, Code 83 and 70, flex track. I really like the prototype looking spikes on the M.E. flex track. The code 83, ties are a little thinner on the Walthers switches than the M.E. track so the rails making the M.E. Code 83, track sit a little higher. I had to sand about two inches of length of the M.E. ties down towards the end .010. to match the Walthers turnouts and also rough up the underside of all track work with sandpaper for the contact cement to bond onto. The M.E. Code 70 track has no problem matching up to the Walthers Code 83, turnouts. I also drilled holes the size of a sewing pin in the center of the ties, doing this to hold the track work in place while fitting all the the pieces together. Three holes for each switch, one at each end and every 6 inches for flex.

I set the turnouts in place over the pre-drawn felt pin track plan lines on the layout surface. The turnouts are pined in place first and the flex track is then cut to the correct lengths and pined down to match the curve of the turnout. A smooth transition between the turnout and flex track is really important here, the rail height should be the same, no kinks in the curve of the switch or straight portions of the track work. I don't use rail joiners but later will solder a small piece of .020 brass strip that sits in the outside web of the rail after the track is glued in place. If it is an insolated joint, I leave a gap.

A few of the structures have been placed on the layout to get an idea of how the cityscape will look. Eucalyptus trees will be used extensively along the backdrop to break up the edge.

I have a set steel drafting curve templets, each made at different degree of curvature. They were patented in 1898, and used by the Southern Pacific Engineering Department for drawing track work. Each of these curves are 18 inches long and have helped considerably while positioning the flex. A 24 inch long steel ruler is used as a straight edge for the flex track too.

As a guide for where the Weldwood (water based), contact cement will be brushed on, I outline the track work in place with a felt pin. I glue the flex track section first then the turnouts. Be careful not to get any cement under the moving bar points of the switch, I mark this area between the ties of the turnout with a red ink pin. The pins holes in the layout help relocate the track work, do a little at a time, as the Weldwood contact cement is fast drying. I also have small ingot weights to lay on the track while the cement is setting.

As a guide for where the Weldwood (water based), contact cement will be brushed on, I outline the track work in place with a felt pin. I glue the flex track section first then the turnouts. Be careful not to get any cement under the moving bar points of the switch, I mark this area between the ties of the turnout with a red ink pin. The pins holes in the layout help relocate the track work, do a little at a time, as the Weldwood contact cement is fast drying. I also have small ingot weights to lay on the track while the cement is setting.

Between the module sections I've added spikes made from half inch long sewing pins. I use a Dremel Tool's, cutting disk to shape the pin head to look like a spike, then pre drill a hole in a tie next to each rail going into the wooden end blocks planned for this extra support. This method helps keep any rail damage occurring while moving the modules. The cast plastic tie spike heads work fine holding rail in place on the layout, but will break off easily, if the rail at the end of the module is bumped.

Testing the track work is done with freight cars being pushed and pulled around, as if switching. This is the time to make any track adjustment, before the ballast is glued down.

With the track work down, its time to solder the electrical wiring coming up through holes in the layout drilled on the outside of the rail. The .020 brass strips 1/4 inch long are soldered for electrical connections and hold the rail in line. I file the track joints smooth that have been filled with solder and knock off the sharp corners off rail gaps with a small file. I like use paste flux when I solder to get the best electrical connection, I can remove the flux residue after the work is finished by using rubbing alcohol and a small stiff brush. This cleans up the track work nicely.

My track inspector is pointing to one of the rail solder joints.

Now it's time for testing the track work, by pushing and pulling a string of freight cars through the switches and rail joints. Once satisfied that my track work passed this test, its time to paint the rail and ties, do the scenery dirt and ballast. Also under each module will be an electrical terminal strip. For now, the wiring will be done without blocks in the track plan. I'll have to build a small panel to create the electrical blocks later. I can run one engine for now.


Part 1, Building the Layout Extension

Part 2, Painting the Backdrop Sky

Part 3, Painting the Mountains

Part 5, Plywood & Cellotex Layout Surface

Part 7, The Fascia Board

Part 8, The Finished Burbank Branch