The online magazine on the history and operation of vintage scale model trains in American OO gauge

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Getting the Track in Shape


At New Years, driving back from Kansas, we saw far fewer trains than normal due to track work underway. Perhaps that was inspiration, but I had been meaning to rework a troublesome area of my layout.

Actually that area worked fine with diesels but with anything bigger than a 4-4-2 this area was a problem. There were two different issues to fix. One issue was the radius of the curve. It was supposed to be 28 inch but in reality it went down to 26 inch or so at two places. The second issue was a sag in the roadbed on the straight section just beyond the curve.

Why both of these issues occurred has to do with the age of the layout and my age when I laid the track. The second photo shows this same trackwork when it was being laid in August of 1981. I was a sophomore in college. There is an old joke along the lines of if I knew I would live so long I would have taken better care of myself. If I knew I will still be using this layout more than 30 years later I would have laid the track better.

The dimensions of the layout were enforced by the space available at my parent’s house. Essentially I expanded what was originally a 2 foot by 4 foot module out to 2’ 6” by 6 foot module and added modules with curves on both ends, making a "C" shaped layout with a bridge across the open side. This article shows the overall layout a few years ago. 

On the right end of the original module the added roadbed was a short piece of ¼ inch plywood. And also that curve was the very first curve I ever hand laid. I laid it out with a string on a center pivot but must have strayed from the lines when I put down the ties. So what I did this time was use pieces of Tru-Scale 26 and 28 inch radius roadbed as guides and relaid the inside rail of the curve as smoothly as possible (with no regard to how it looked on the ties in terms of centering – this is essentially hidden trackage) and carefully gauged the other rail to that rail. And as to the low spot, I shimmed the rail up with styrene strips and used a steel straight edge to be sure it was as flat as possible. This area is also relatively hidden on the layout as of now.

The reward of all this work is that basically all of my engines will run through this section smoothly. Some large steam locomotives still have intermittent shorts in two different turnouts, so there is more work to do, but certainly the curve is the best it has ever been at this point and hopefully is good for another 30 years. The diesels in particular are running especially well since the track work on the entire layout.

I still find it hard to believe that I have gotten more than 30 years of service out of this track! Sometimes I wish for a larger layout, but then I realize that this is still almost a perfect test track and having not had to rebuild the layout has saved me time to work on projects and on OO history. If I had more space I would probably build something similar with 36” radius curves, but the choices I made back in the early 80s on the whole have worked out well.

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