Over the last few weeks, track laying has been taking place. I am using the new Walthers Code 83 track and turnouts. This is nice looking track (at least to me, coming from the land of N-scale) and appears to be sufficiently robust without compromising too much on the fine detail. I think Walthers did a good job here making a good, manufacturable track product that is reasonably priced.
I started with the four turnouts leading to the transload and IML plastics at the south end of Le Mars. These were assembled as one unit on the workbench which made it easy to solder the wires and the rail joints between the pieces. While I don’t plan to solder most other rail joints on the layout (each piece of track will have its own feeders) I did it here because of the close proximity of all the turnouts, logically making it a single unit.
To install it, the unit was first positioned on the layout in the correct position. Then the location of all the feeder wires and turnout throw rods were marked using a marker.
The holes for the turnout throw rods were drilled using a piece of Grain Belt Models 36″ culvert pipe. I never had good luck drilling a hole in the foam using a traditional twist bit – it kept catching on the foam and dancing around in a circle making the hole much larger than intended. However, this thin plastic tube worked beautifully to drill the holes.
The pipe does wear out after a few holes since the heat generated melts the PLA plastic, but conveniently I have an easy source for more… Even so, it creates a super clean hole.
The holes for the wires are drilled in a very similar manner, only this time using small coffee stirrers/straws as the “bit”:
When done drilling the holes, short lengths of coffee stirrers were then inserted into the holes – you can’t use the ones that drilled the holes since they are now plugged with foam – and the wires inserted. The coffee stirrers help guide the wires through the foam without catching. Thank you to James McNab for that helpful tip!
With all the wires inserted, it’s now time to flip over the turnout assembly and check that everything lines up once again.
Once confirmed, the track was lifted slightly and glue applied. I made a small mistake here, though, by applying a bead of glue and not smoothing it out first. That led to some glue leakage up the ties that had to be cleaned up later.
In subsequent track laying, I always smooth the glue with a finger first, then press the track down into the glue, which works much better.
Once glued, the track is held down and in alignment using T-pins. Lots of T-pins.
The first piece of rolling stock to grace the layout…
After laying some more flextrack, I did run into one small issue. The foam had a bump in its surface that wasn’t noticed until after track had been laid. What I first noticed was what looked like a wobble in track that should have been straight. It turns out the track WAS straight, but when viewed at an angle, the vertical bump caused by the foam caused an optical illusion making it look like the track wasn’t straight.
After some debate – do I fix it, or do I live with it – I ended up deciding to fix it. The deciding factor was the coupler misalignment when going over the bump. Although it would likely be OK given my operating speeds and such, I didn’t like starting out this way.
So, up came that piece of track. Turns out, it was really easy. A few squirts of water from a misting bottle, 5 minutes later, and the track came right up. After a few wipes with a paper towel to remove the glue residue, it was like the track had never been there before. I sanded the bump with a random-orbit sander and some fine sandpaper. This made quick work of it, but I ended up sanding it down a bit too far into a valley now.
Looking back, this was probably a good thing since it allowed me to fill it with drywall compound and then sand it back to perfectly level.
After that, the rest of the track laying went smoothly.
Feeders for the track were installed on every piece so that electrical connections do not rely on the rail joiners. This was done by removing the webbing under the rail, applying a dab of solder flux (Superior No. 30 SuperSafe Soldering Flux works great), and soldering the wire to the underside of the rail.
You do need to be careful and think ahead a little since, if you’re curving the track, that solder blob may try to move on the moveable rail side and bump against the tie, either distorting the position of the tie, or preventing the track from curving. For the current track that has been laid, this wasn’t a huge issue (I did have to rework one feeder on a curved segment coming off a turnout) but it may be a bigger issue when I get to the broad curve around the peninsula.
Finally, the last tie on each piece was cut from the webbing and carefully slipped off the rails. This is necessary to provide room for the rail joiner to slip onto the rail. Walthers even mentions this in their instructions for the track. Each tie was saved and the tie plates carefully scraped off. Although the rail joiners are thin, this was still necessary to provide the vertical clearance to slip the tie underneath the rail once installed. This slight bit of white scuff marks where the plastic was cut will eventually be hidden once the track and ties are painted.
The Finished Product
OK, so I’m nowhere near finished, but the track for the transload section is done at least! Below is an overview of that end of the layout. Forgive the grain bins – those are a custom project for a customer and have found a temporary home on the layout while the others are being printed. Maybe Le Mars needs a grain elevator, though…