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Did you even place a photographers loupe directly onto a turnout?  Boy, even in n-scale debris and  improper track  alignment becomes highly visable... you might want to try it!      AF

Large voltage drops stopped or slowed my engine on the O27 sectional track creating a solid
electrical connection through the entire section of track.  Because of the many pieces I did the outside rails too.  Voila!! No more voltage drops and that section of track is very solid and secure.  This REALLY works well where track dips or  rises.  Best yet, I can easily take apart the track without unsoldering track to add accessories, make changes or work on scenery.  While doing this I also discovered that straightening a curved track was a snap.  With the wire inside the rails, I straighten the curve in a four inch bench vise.  By partially straightening each rail in the same area, you can make a straight track in about four passes.   Although I don't know why you would want to do this, the rail is not damaged or kinked, and now I have a method
to make any kind of curvature greater than the standard curve.  Relocate the ties where ever you want and cut the uneven ends to match to regular track.  The layout possibilities suddenly increase dramatically.      "Tashink"

I find that the best way to stick ballast to the track is to mix some Elmer's glue and some water together in a Dixi Cup.  Then put it in a spraybottle.  Place your ballast on your track and dribble a few drops on to the ballast.  Spread  the drops over
the ballast with your finger until you have an even layer.  Then apply another thin layer of ballast on the glue.  Last run a truck over the track until it doesn't pick up any ballast.  Then wait for the glue to dry.  I'd really like to hear your input.


BORDER reminds us to not nail down our track until we are sure it is where we want it. In our rush to get trains running we all to often ignore this seemingly simple device. It's better to make mistakes on paper than rip them out from the layout.

J K writes:

I have just bought a new house, and have a basement that is 45' by 30'. I am planning on using more then half of it for my model railroad setup. I had a fairly extensive setup when I was younger, but in the last few places I have lived, have not had the space to setup a expansive layout. In the past I have always bought books on layouts for designing my system, but then I've added to the setup after the layout was done. What I am looking for is some type of templates, or layouts that track pieces can be pulled from so I can do my own track design. Any thoughts on where I might find such an item, or somewhere with extensive track layouts?

Try the Walthers catalog- there are drafting templates available for track plans. Atlas has some inexpensive paper ones (150-361) and Custom Railway Supply a more durable metal one (212-1059) We recommend using a computer program for this. If you are planning to use commercial track, the Atlas "Right Track" (150-370) is a good one. We prefer Cadrail (see advice on this web page) but this is probably best for hand laid track. It's more difficult to learn but then more versatile. Sandia Software information is available on their web page: available on the web. I know Walthers now sells this, but I don't have a part number. The software solutions are more expensive than the traditional templates but are much quicker and infinitely more versatile.

DMJ writes

I'm currently planning on fold down portions of the ends of each wing of a water wing design as a compromise to other demands on the basement space I will be utilizing for my layout. Can you offer any tips on proper construction so that these fold down areas do not become operational sore thumbs? Current planning is for open grid construction with code 83 track but I could easily change to code 100, in these areas if this is advisable.

Here are some various ideas we've either tried personally or learned from others (*) that appear to work or make sense. Above all, build the tables securely and have as few tracks (never any switches) across the joints.

Chamfer the inside edge of the rail heads and both edges of the rail web (base) to allow easier insertion and removal of rail joiners- these are almost required to help align the rails when the track is mated. Along this same idea, leave the last few inches of track on both ends without spikes to keep things a little more flexible. Even if you handlay track, use flex track near the joints. We don't think rail size makes much difference, but the larger the rail, the more dependable it will be.

Make certain that the places where the tracks cross the table joints are very accessible- you will be sliding these rail joiners back and forth all the time.

Don't count on the rail joiners to carry current- use wiring with plugs and jacks to carry current from section to section.

* Use heavy duty hinges such as piano hinges to avoid warping.

* Build the wood tables in the humid summer season. Contraction in the dry season doesn't affect alignment much, but if the wood swells too much if the benchwork is built in winter, the tables may not close.

* Track laid perpendicular to the table joint is the least prone to cause derailments.

Hate cleaning glue and stuff from the rails after the work is done? A quick spray and some (glue) and you realize you forgot to cover the rails. Go to the hardware or medical supply and buy MANY feet of 1/8" O.D. 1/16" I.D. silicone or plastic tubing. It can't be really hard plastic, (like air conditioner tubing), or really soft, (like surgical). To make a tubing cutter take a brand new X-acto blade and using CA sandwich it between two 1/16" thick pieces of wood with the tip protruding out about 1/16" and at an angle so that the sharp edge is down. Now sandwich this assembly between two more pieces of wood so that the edges of the outside pieces are 1/8" above the edges of the inside two. You should now have a slot with a cutter in the middle. Now take the tubing and run it through the cutter putting your finger over the spot where the blade is, if you angled the blade right this will be real easy, if it isn't, make a new cutter, it is important to have a good clean cut. Push one end of the tubing onto a rail and then run a finger over it "spreading" it onto the rail as you go. After finishing pull tubes off carefully bending the tube upward as little as possible as this will spread the tubing and push material away from the rail. In places where styrofoam is used right up to the rails, wet the glue next to the tubing with water on a Q-tip and cut tubing away with an X-acto knife. After removing tubing, run a finger over the rail to break away any material that is semi loose or too high and vacuum the excess. I put these "M&Mz' Railguards on the rails once the track is laid and remove them only when the scenery work in that area is done. Even with N gauge I have been able to cover whole sections, pull off the tubes and run the trains without a hitch- no glue, NO CLEANING! The ability to get material right up to the rail without touching and leaving room for the edges of the wheels of the train it is invaluable. Making it look like the ties are completely buried is very easy. The sides of the tubing can be shaved down to get even closer.

Playing cards make perfect railguards for places the tubes won't go (re-railer, power and switch tracks). Two playing cards fit snugly between the rail and any plastic parts connected to the side of the track. Glue another card facing that with the rail in between and the rail is covered. Two playing cards, (N gauge), or three, (HO. gauge), leave just enough room for the edge of the wheels on the trains. Playing cards must be removed before scenic glue hardens! I let the glue dry about half way. While the glue is still setting I (dribble) some water against the card to soften the glue right up against the card and lift it. I then repair the area pushing gently with my finger. (covered with a finger from a latex glove and dipped in wet water) -MZ

A free Bright Boy replacement can be made by gluing the wheels of an old freight car truck so they don't roll. Rubbing the rail with these rigid wheels cleans the track as well as the commercial products. Since it fits the rail so well, it causes less damage to delicate wayside detail-BD, Pomfret, CT

I have found that you don't need a bender to curve Aristocraft 5' track. Cut the plastic between the ties on the outside if the curve and bend the track around your body to make any radius curve. After bending the curve cut the inside rail so the end will mate to a straight piece of track. The longer track cuts down on the number of rail joints, resulting in better electrical contact and more dependable operation.- DH

We form switch templates by making a crayon "rubbing" of flex track. The very flexible Atlas flex track works best for this. Lay the track to the main route and pin in place with thumb tacks through the center nail holes. Pin a large paper over the track and make a rubbing of the rails using an old crayon with the paper removed and held flat against the railhead. Lift the paper pattern (being careful to leave enough pins so it doesn't shift) and rebend the flex track to the diverging route. Make a second rubbing and this will result in a smooth switch template that conforms precisely to the location. Real railroads build turnouts to fit the location, so should you.

The computer is also useful for making a neat drawing of your electrical wiring. While few modelers are foolhardy enough to build a layout without a wiring diagram, by the time something breaks you won't, if you're at all like me, be able to decipher your hand drawn diagrams and notes.

Spray paint your Kadee coupler height gauges a bright yellow or orange.  It makes them easier to use and you can find the short circuit faster if you happen to leave one on the layout! -JH

It's all too easy to forget to solder a rail joint when laying new track. The chances are the rail joiner will conduct electricity for a time but eventually fail, making for a tricky troubleshooting problem. It's also a nuisance to fire up the soldering iron each time you connect a rail. To easily mark the location of the rail joints, and to remind me to solder them, I push a brightly colored push pin into the roadbed at the location of each joint.

Prototype railroads name (or number) everything. Be sure to do the same on your model railroad. It's the only way operators can be clear about the location being discussed.

Prepainting rail before hand laying the track helps prevent paint splotches on the ties. We use Polly-Scale Grimy Black followed by a wash of Rust after the rail has been laid.

Dipping the tips of spikes into white glue before driving insures that they will not pull out, even in soft materials like cork roadbed. Gluing the rail in place with Goo or Pliobond further strengthens the track structure.

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