Tune-up, Tear-out

I spent part of Thanksgiving Day tuning up the turnouts that I spiked into place last weekend.  Those of you following along know that I’ve been building the skeletons of my turnouts on a Fast Tracks assembly jig and then spiking them into place on ties that I glued down in advance using Fast Tracks templates.

Six turnouts are now securely spiked in and working well.  One more is already working well with only the minimum spikes holding it in place, but the turnout leading into the coal track was giving me grief.  It was showing signs of having issues last week when I first put it place, but I was convinced that I could sort it out once I came back to it with more time.

After fussing with it for about an hour, I decided to cut my losses.  I pulled all the spikes and put the skeleton back into the assembly jig where I immediately saw the source of the problem.  Somehow, I soldered the turnout together with a very slight twist.  I unsoldered about half of the joints and carefully inspected the individual pieces.  One point rail needed a very slight correction to its curve, and I discovered a very slight bow in some of the ties.  I tossed the four ties that looked looked suspicious and made up replacements.

With the skeleton back in place on the ties, I was displeased with all of the spike holes, including all the extras that I drove in an attempt to fix the turnout while it was in place.  I decided to rip out the ties and build this turnout on Fast Tracks Twist Ties.

IMG_0872The glue is drying on the coal track switch, but it’s already clearly apparent to me that a Fast Tracks turnout built on Twist Ties is more attractive and precise than anything I can build free-hand.  That includes building the turnout on ties that I placed according to the  the Fast Tracks templates.  The turnouts at the paper plant are in place now, and they seem to be working well, but I think I’ll use turnouts built on Twist Ties for the rest of the layout.

More Spiking

I’ve been spiking rail on my layout, and I’m experimenting with Proto:87 spikes.  These things are tiny but hold the rail surprisingly well.

I was asked about the tools I use for spiking, so this post gives a quick outline.  Because the question asked specifically about spiking tools, we’ll take the obvious things like files and soldering iron as given.

IMG_0868The black handled tool in the above image is a simple but small pair of serrated needle nose pliers.  That one is a junky generic tool, but it has served me well for such light duty. The serrated pliers are good for those times when a (regular) spike is being stubborn.  I’ll hold the head of the spike in the serrations and press down in increments equal to the teeth of the serrations.

The other three tools are by Xuron, and if I could afford it, I’d buy every tool they make.  Good stuff, Xuron is.  The first Xuron tool is a vertical rail cutter.  Its use should be obvious.  Next is a flat nose pliers, which works well with the Proto spikes. I place about 1/3 of the spike into the the corner of the tip of the pliers, place the spike right up against the base of the rail, and drive it about halfway into the tie.  I adjust my purchase on the spike and then drive it home. When I’m finished, I place the pliers over the rail and seat both spikes at once, then give them a little squeeze to be sure they’re snug. and last is a spiking tool.

The tool on the far right is an archetypal spiking tool, essential for driving the likes of Micro Engineering and Walthers spikes.  No surprises there.

One last word about the Proto spikes.  Today I tried a method whereby I lined up the rail using an NMRA gauge and then pinned the rail with Walthers spikes between the ties.  Afterward, I went back and inserted the Proto spikes, again using a gauge as I worked down the rail.  I found I was having too much difficulty manipulating the tiny Proto spikes in the pliers while trying to hold the rail in place and gauge it.  I can do that with regular spikes, but not with Proto’s microscopic slivers. Here’s a photo showing the near rail already spiked with Proto spikes and the far rail pinned in place, ready for Proto spikes.

IMG_0869 Anyhow, I’ve spiked about 70% of the rail at the paper plant.  Can’t wait to hook up the bus wires and run something!


With all of the turnouts constructed and most of them installed, I’m on a mission to lay all of the track on the layout.  It’s not much track, but it’s enough for one person to tackle, an hour at a time in the evenings.

Back in the spring, I glued the ties down according to my track plan, and then spent a great deal of time experimenting with different approaches to weathering them.  I’m using code 55 in an attempt to replicate as accurately as possible the rail that I found at Tonawanda Island.

I wasn’t expecting to face some decisions around which spikes would be most appropriate for the layout, but it should have come as no surprise to me.  I’m always looking for ways to up my game and make my models more realistic.  To that end, I’ve tried three different brands of spikes, with a range of results that I’ll share in the following photos.


These two tracks will be inside of the warehouse at International Paper. The rail is code 55 and spikes are Micro Engineering’s smallest.


In this image, the pair of tracks in the background are spiked with Walthers Code 70 spikes.  The track in the foreground was spiked with Proto:87 Stores “Longer HO Scale” spikes. Look carefully at that track in the foreground. There are six spikes in the picture.

I think the Micro Engineering spikes are probably OK with larger rail, but I won’t be using them on any of the trackage that is readily visible on this part of my layout.  The Walthers Code 70 spikes are very consistent in size and shape.  I found the Micro Engineering spikes to be slightly more difficult to work with because the heads were not consistently sized. This mades it difficult for me to judge how far back from the base of the rail to start the spike.

Proto:87 Stores spikes are perfectly consistent because they’re photo etched.  They’re also really small. Almost absurdly small.  I’ve had tiny splinters of wood caught in my skin that were far larger.  In fact, there might be some bits of dirt and sawdust on my layout that is larger than the head of a Proto:87 Stores spike.  The next was taken an oblique angle, so it’s easier to spot the spike heads.


The track in the foreground of this image is in the process of being laid with Proto:87 Stores spikes, while the tracks in the background were done with Walthers Code 70 spikes.  Again, all of the rail in this shot is code 55.

I find that my progress is slower with the Proto:87 Stores spikes.  The short piece of track where I used these spikes looks real nice though.  Ultimately, I’ll need to decide whether I can go bear going slow enough to use the tiny spikes.  And they sure are easy to lose.  The following images compare the Walthers Code 70 with Proto:87 Stores spikes.


I’m not sure if I need to spike more ties with the Proto:87 spikes. I’m surprised at how well they hold the rail in place. This image shows them still on the fret, next to a small pile of Walthers Code 70 spikes that look massive in comparison.

IMG_0863At this point, I’m committed to spiking the rest of the the coal track with Proto:87 Stores spikes, but I haven’t yet decided if these will be used anywhere else on the layout.  If I did any more than this one track, I might be inclined to take out all of the Walthers spikes that I’ve already put in.   Ugh. What a hobby 😉

Fast Tracks and Blue Point

Two brands that have streamlined the construction of my layout are Fast Tracks and Blue Point.

Back in the summer, I bought a set of Fast Tracks turnout construction fixtures.  I built seven turnouts with code 55 rail over the course of about seven or eight evenings.  Anyone who has used the Fast Tracks fixtures won’t be surprised to hear that I’m thrilled with the way they streamline the construction of very precise and consistent turnouts.

My layout has eight turnouts, and you may recall that I had built two of them free-hand before deciding to buy the Fast Tracks fixtures.  After I built the remaining six turnouts in the Fast Tracks fixture, I decided that one of my freehand turnouts should be considered a “learning experience.”  It worked fine, but there were some proportional issues that I wasn’t completely pleased with.  Let’s just say it came out much faster than it went in.

My friend Steven Lyons came over last Sunday and we held a marathon work session.  He taught me how to build a simple and robust system of setting up Blue Point turnout controls.  First, he had me fashion some brass tube into a “L” shape of specific proportions, then I bent up some .025″ music wire to slide through the turnout throw rods to nest in the brass tube.  Speaking of throw rods, Steven made up some really nice throw rods that leave the points free.  Check it out.


Step 1: Drill out the hole in the arm and the pivot to accept a 1/16 brass tube.


Step 2: Make a bunch of “L” shaped thingies out of brass tube, 3″ on the long side and 1/4″ on the short side.


Step 3: Hook the brass tube into the Blue Point as shown and crimp the short side of the “L” so it doesn’t slide out. Then line them all up like soldiers for a photo.


Here’s a close-up of two of them, showing both sides.


Step 4: Solder feeders to the terminals. The green wire in the middle goes to the frog. The red and black wires go to the track bus.


Step 5: Bent some .025″ music wire into “L” shapes measuring 2 1/2″ by 1/4″

At this point, I had eight Blue Point turnout controls and the music wire all set up and ready to install.  Steven built a drilling jig out of an aluminum block, so I want around and drilled all 8 turnouts.  The holes line up perfectly with the four screws that will hold the Blue Point in place.  While I did this, Steven was building new throw rods out of bits of brass tubing soldered to special PC boards he made up.


Steven’s really nice throw rods consist of tiny hooks fashioned from brass tube and soldered to some PC boards he made up. There’s a barely visible hole in the middle to accept a piece of .025″ wire.

It all goes together nicely once all of this work is finished.  The Blue Point controls fit in perfectly and require minimal adjustment.


Three Blue Point turnout controls under the layout.

Steven put six turnout controls in place and modified my turnouts with his custom throw rod.  The last two turnouts weren’t ready to be set up on Sunday afternoon, so we left those for later.

We spent the whole afternoon working on these and got six turnouts set up.  I’ve been spiking the turnouts in place and I’ve started spiking rail to connected them together.  In one afternoon Steven helped me make huge progress.


Six of the turnouts are spiked in place. One had to be torn out and replaced, and another needs a custom linkage because I put it an awkward spot.