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.

Overhead Storage and Lighting

I feel that I’ve reached another minor milestone with my layout depicting North Tonawanda NY.  I’m ready to proceed with laying more track, but there’s a back-story that I want to tell.

Back on July 30th, I posted about my quandary over layout lighting.  Thanks to those of you who responded to that post with ideas and opinions, by the way.  It was one particular response from Tim Swaddling, via this blog’s link to my Facebook account, that prompted an important shift in my thinking.

Tim suggested that I consider using LED lighting on the underside of shelf built above the layout.  LED lighting sounds like a promising technology, but it was idea of a shelf above the layout that appealed to me immediately.  The existing and future parts of my layout consume valuable storage space, and this will be a point of contention if I choose to expand the layout beyond the scope of the first phase.  You can check out a conceptual drawing of my plan by reading my post from July 21 2014.  The idea of capitalizing on otherwise wasted space above the layout presented an excellent opportunity to prove that the layout can co-exist with other uses for the room.

I didn’t follow through with the LED lighting scheme that Tim suggested.  I don’t have enough experience with LED lighting, and I don’t have any on hand with which to conduct experiments.  In the interest of moving forward with the layout construction, I decided to go with a continuous strip of single lamp T8 flourescent fixtures.

I considered having cabinets built above the layout, but that was soon proven to be a prohibitively expensive and impractical extravagance.  Once the notion of cabinets was ruled out, I was back to Tim’s suggestion of a shelf.

For the front edge of the shelf to be generally above the layout facia, the shelf would have to be 16″ deep.  I didn’t want shelf brackets on the wall underneath because that would mess up the flat surface for my layout backdrop.  The combination of ductwork above the layout and the fact that I had already finished the wall for the backdrop meant that I would be looking for ways to hang the front edge of the shelf from the ceiling and somehow attaching the back edge of the shelf to the wall.

I decided that a solution involving hanging the wooden shelf with steel rods and angles would be worth trying.  I got a great deal on a sheet of blemished cabinet-grade plywood, and also bought some threaded rod, nuts, bolts washers, lag screws, slotted steel angle, and then set about experimenting.  Eventually, I settled on the approach shown below.


Here’s the basic skeleton. I used lag screws to fasten some slotted steel angle to the underside of the joists, directly above the most shallow edge of the benchwork. Then I used lag screws to fasten the some angle to the wall. I bolted the threaded rods into place along the angle that was fastened to the joists, and then hung a strip of slotted angle from the ends of the rods.


The angle that’s hanging in mid-air was leveled, then I cut the plywood into strips to fit. Here you see the first sheet resting in place before being fastened.


Both shelf strips are in place here. You can see that I had to do some work to allow the rod to pass through the wood. The wood is held down to the steel angles by gravity, and then numerous 3/4″ wood screws were used to fasten the wood to the angles. These screws are only necessary to fix the shelf horizontally. The steel angles and rods hold everything up.


I’m experimenting with different valance heights using foam core board. My aim is to keep the valance as small as possible while still hiding the entire underside of the shelf. This image was taken at my eye level. The space between the bottom of the temporary valance and the top of the benchwork is 17 inches. I might try making the valance another inch larger.


I’ve spent most of the summer framing walls, wiring up outlets and lights, building this shelf, and installing the layout lighting. The next step is to move that heat register from its current location above the shelf to about two feet out, so that it dumps air into the aisle instead of onto my shelf.  Eventually, I’ll off the shelf and the space below the layout with black fabric.  Having worked all summer on the room, I’d like to spend some time actually working on the layout.  I think I’ll get to work on building more switches.

Layout Lighting Quandary

I’d like to hear some opinions about my approach to room/layout lighting.

In my concept drawing, below, you’ll see that there will be an aisle with benchwork “shelves” on either side in this first phase of my layout.  It may be a very long time before the layout grows beyond this space.  Whatever I do for lighting in this part of the layout should be consistent with the way the future sections of the layout are illuminated.

layout schematic1 copyHere’s my quandary.  My layout is being built in an open basement room.  Regardless of how large it does or doesn’t become, it will always be in a space that is shared for other uses.  I think that the more conventional approach to layout lighting (lighting directly over the layout behind a valance) works well in a layout room, but I’m not sure it will work in a shared space.  Also, I like the clean look of a suspended ceiling with drop-in lighting.

Below is a photo that was taken along the newly framed wall looking into the narrow part of the room where I will start the layout.  As you can see, there are a number of utilities that complicate the ceiling a bit.  I plan to install a suspended ceiling at a height of about 7 feet in that narrow space, which allows for a few inches of clearance under that duct.  Out in the main room, the ceiling will be almost a foot higher, with a bulkhead providing a clean transition.

IMG_3061In the above photo, you can see the benchwork for the International Paper plant on the right.  Notice that the duct is directly over the benchwork on that side of the aisle, which forecloses on any opportunity to put drop-in lighting over International Paper.

My plan is to install a continuous row of drop-in florescent lighting directly over the aisle (the lighting you see in the photo will be removed).  I recognize that this flies in the face of conventional wisdom, vis-à-vis layout lighting.  Does anyone have experience-based wisdom to share?

Weathering Ties with Acrylics

I stopped using enamel paints on my models when I came back into the hobby.  I was introduced to acrylic model paints and I’ve never gone back.  In my hobby of landscape painting, I use acrylics exclusively as well.  I prefer their fast drying time and easy cleanup.  Most important to me, though, is the fact that acrylics are far less harmful to me, the other people, and pets in my home.

When it comes to creating rust and streak effects when weathering models, I haven’t tried to get acrylics to behave the same way as oils.  Similarly, I don’t imagine acrylics as a wood staining pigment.  When it came time to stain the ties on my layout, I instinctively reached for my oil paints.  The second-greatest deficiency of oils (toxicity being their greatest) is the length of time it takes for them to dry.  I have sections of ties that were done with oils which are now on their third day of drying, and I’ve become impatient.

I wasn’t sure if acrylics could yield the kind of effects that I see in photos of railway ties, but I figured the only way to find out is to try it. In one evening I finished a sizable length of ties.  Here’s a sample:

IMG_0230I’m happy with the results.

Trevor Marshall asked me to outline my process for weathering ties in my previous post, so here’s what I did with the acrylics.

First, when I glued down the ties, I made sure that the layer of glue was as thin as possible.  I ran a bead along the roadbed and then flattened the bead to the width of the ties using a scrap of cardboard as a trowel.  This is important because if if the glue gets onto the sides of the ties, they won’t take the paint properly.

To start the actual weathering process, I scrape and gouge the tops of the ties with a chisel-shaped X-acto blade, a #1 blade (#7 would be better but I don’t have one right now) and a dental pick instrument that my dentist gave me.   For the track in the photo above, I didn’t hack as many of the ties as in my previous post because this particular track represents one that would have had at least a modicum of maintenance within the past decade.

Once I’m finished destroying a few ties, I go over all of them with raw umber acrylic (the thick kind you buy at an art supply store for painting landscapes) straight from the tube.  I apply a partial coat, so that the ties are only partly covered in paint, and then use a water-soaked brush to spread it around sides and ends.  After this, I do a with a thin wash of black while the raw umber is just barely dry.  This generally darkens the umber colour.  While I’m doing this part, I pay attention to adding some variety.  Basically, this step creates a range of dark brown and black that should look slightly different from one tie to the next. This step also darkens the sides and ends.

Each layer dries quickly, so once the ties are dry again, I put a dollop of mixing white on my palate and a tiny spot of burnt umber somewhere else on the palate.  I mix a light beige colour by dragging some of the white and a tiny spot of umber together.  This colour is used to add highlights to the tops of the ties.  After I’ve done a short section of track and I’ve used up the beige that I mixed, I go back over the same section with a lighter beige, mixed by eye again.  This time I use less paint than the first time and highlight the parts of each tie I already in beige.  I apply slightly less paint this time around.

I typically go back a third time with a beige that’s almost white. This is just used as a very delicate frosting over the ties.  This colour can really lighten up the ties, so I don’t apply to each one, and I apply it in varying amounts in order to create some variation.  That’s the whole story.

In summary, I use…

  1. thin application of raw umber full strength from the tube
  2. brush on some water to spread the raw umber around
  3. add a thin wash of black, to achieve some random darkening; let everything dry
  4. light beige mixed by eye, applied very sparingly to the tops, making sure not to fill any gouges in the ties
  5. lighter beige, applied more sparingly than the previous beige
  6. a beige that’s almost white as a dry-brushed frosting of the highlights

I don’t know if the steps make any sense.  I improvise and adjust things if the colours aren’t doing what I want.