Track installation basics, part 1

the staging yard

As I began installing track on the Baltimore & Ohio Wheeling Freight Terminal model railroad project, I developed a set of processes to prepare track sections for installation. While working through this project, I felt these processes and tips should be posted so readers can benefit from my experiences. I will be running steam locomotives so extra care and attention needs to be taken when installing track for smooth operation.

Rail Prep

Rail joints are common places where derailment problems can occur. I carefully prepare each rail joint. I have seen too many modelers rush through this important step and make a sloppy rail joint. Diesels are forgiving of some sloppy track, but not many steam locos.

Any rails that will be connected more track will need to have the rail ends prepared using a jewelers file and a mill file. If the rail needs to be cut with a motor tool or rail nippers, then the freshly cut rail ends need to be squared up. The image below illustrates what the rail looks like after being cut with rail nippers.  A few passes with a mill file will smooth out a rail end. Click on either of the following images for a much larger size.

cut rail without prep

File the rail bottom lightly to remove any rough edges, then use a jewelers file to add slight tapers to the base of the rail at the end. These tapers ease the installation of a rail joiner. The tapers are the shiny parts at the base of the rail in the image below. This is a completed track section prepped and ready to install.

prepped rail

I also run the file lightly over the top end of the rail and along each side to remove any burrs left from cutting or filing. Once the end is prepped, it can be connected to another rail. I do this with whatever rails have been cut as well as rail on new track right from the box. A little extra care at this stage will ensure better operation later. Keep a brass wire brush handy to clean excess metal out the files when you are done.

If you solder your rail joints, use a wire brush in a motor tool to clean off any oxidation or dirt. A clean surface will solder easier and you’ll be surprised when you don’t melt any ties!

I welcome your comments here. All comments are reviewed and approved before they appear here.

1920s Era Freight Car Model Guide

After a few months of discussions with several model railroad friends, I began developing a list of available plastic HO scale freight car models that are suitable for use on a model railroad set in the 1920s. I had several of the models on hand and took pictures to illustrate this freight car guide. I’ve posted the info as a separate page of this blog, so the link will always be in the list at the top of the column to the right.

While all of these models represent prototype freight car designs in-use or introduced in the 1920s, not all of these can be used for the full decade. I am focused on November 1926, which limits my use of a freight car prototype introduced in 1927 or later. I’ve also noticed that some freight car hardware was introduced just after my modeling period. Prototypes equipped with Dreadnaught steel ends or Youngstown corrugated steel doors are often crossed off of my wish list. Some may say I am too picky, but I actually enjoy fine-tuning my purchasing so the freight car fleet “looks right” to my eye.

Again, the link is to the right, or just click here and review a guide to 1920s era HO scale plastic freight cars. Drop a note below if you are so moved. Please follow the directions of the anti-spam program when you leave your comment. All comments are reviewed and approved before they appear here.

Four Months of Progress

team track yard
A view of the four tracks of the Wheeling, WV team yard. A B&O E-24 class 2-8-0 is spotting cars on track four. This location is in the upper right corner of the plan posted below.

I just wrapped up the installation of some feeder wires on a layout section and I wondered exactly when I began this project. A quick review of the time stamps on the photos I’ve taken reveals an August 31st start date for the first two benchwork sections. My wife and I moved to El Paso on July 3rd, and I posted about surveying the new hobby space on August 3rd. A few weeks of design contemplation and the sawdust began to fly August 31st.

And here we are with about 85% of the track installed, buss wires installed on all layout sections, and feeder wires installed on four of the eight sections. In the plan below, all that remains to install are a few tracks at the freight house on the left leg of the layout. Click on the image to review a larger version.

A scale drawing of the B&O freight terminal layout design.

I had a goal to operate by January 1st. A digital command control system is still a few weeks away from installation, so a real session will have to wait. Until then, a nine volt battery provides the power to move a locomotive and a string of cars. I’ve already worked out a few methods to switch seven or eight freight cars in the team track yard and it’s been lots of fun watching the trains glide smoothly along the trackwork. Am I cheating? I’ll leave that up to you, but remember I am pulling and spotting freight cars with a locomotive. The fun I have with a simple nine volt battery encourages more layout progress.

Your comments are encouraged. All comments are reviewed and approved before they appear here.

Happy New Year to all!

November Update

Two tracks installed, from left.

It has been a busy month of work and family visits. One of my step-sons visited at Thanksgiving and enjoyed his El Paso experience. I also began a new job in early November, so a combination of elements has slowed the hobby progress. It is time to offer an update here on the blog, if only to document the forward movement. The lead image offers a view of the first installed trackage on the B&O Wheeling Terminal layout. Click on any image here for a larger view.

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Boomer Operator #4 – A West Virginia visit

FMs on high bridge

I recently visited the Mon Valley Railroad Historical Society in Morgantown, WV and participated in an operating session. This was a homecoming of sorts for me as I have been a member of this group since the start in 1988. I had not seen the layout since I moved away three years ago. I was surprised with scenery progress in several places as well as additional lighting. I took photos along the way with my iPhone. While the quality is not pristine, they documented my fun on that day. Click on any image for a larger view.

Continue reading “Boomer Operator #4 – A West Virginia visit”