Back to the Track

Photo by Rick Leach

Woodinville, WA (Photo by Rick Leach)

After publishing several blogs on a variety of subjects not directly related to constructing my layout.   I decided to go back to working on track and try to get something running before Thanksgiving.   It has been a very long time since did a serious trackwork.  There has been fear of getting going.   It has been easy to continue thinking about the track.   Finally,  I ran out of excuses and dragged out the rail, tie plates and spikes.

power feed

I started out by a trying a different approach to attaching power feeds to rail.  Nothing looks worse than a big hunk of wire soldered to the side of the rail and disappearing into the table top.   I decided to try using a .015″ by .060″ strip brass to feed track power.  I set it up such that the feed would be attached at a point between the ties.  My first attempt was to use solid copper.   It ended up snapping at the 90 degree bend.   I will probably go back to the copper wire and try it again.

track tools

I am sure you have heard about the old saw that talked about how the right tool makes the job go easier.   Laying track can be fun or very painful.  From left to right the tools are a standards gauge made by NCO Shops, a machined aluminum three-point also from NCO Shops,  a PSC cast three-point and a spiking plier from Micro Mark.   The NCO Shops gauges are available from Protocraft.  The spike plier is a super tool that really does a great job guiding the spike into the tie.  I have only bent one spike so far with this tool.

rail placement

I am going to install Right O’ Way Code 125 nickel silver.   The rail will rest on top of urethane tie plates from Wiseman Model Services and being held in-place with some vintage Kemtron X-195 spikes.  The Wiseman tie plates are very thin and snap in-place with the Code 125 rail.   Jim King of Smoky Mountain Model Works designed the plates using CAD and developed the masters with RP.

The rail is initially held in-place with some “T” pins and a PSC three-point.   I do this to sight the rail and make sure it is centered on the ties and that the curve is smooth.  Once that is done, I will slip tie plates under the rail in the center of the curve and at the ends.  Spike the outside of one rail first.  Spike the ends next but don’t drive the spike all the way home.  You will now start sliding plates under the rail and start spiking towards the end.   Once the outside rail in spiked, you can start on the inside rail.  Here is where the precision of the machined three-point gauge comes into play.

track spiking

From this point on, you will get to do a lot of repetitive steps to complete the track.   It is good to check the gauge using the flat steel gauge.  Keep in mind, you want some widening of the gauge to allow for longer wheelbase locos and passenger trucks.   I have been using a set of Protocraft Pullman Type-242 trucks to see how well the truck goes.


As you spike the curve, you will need to step back and look at the flow of the track to make sure there aren’t any kinks.


I have been installing turnout ties further up the track but that will wait to the next installment.  For now, I dug out a heavy box of dirt that Rick Leach sent to me a while back.   He filled up a USPS flat rate box with a shovel or two roadbed from the former Northern Pacific right of way in Woodinville.   This ends the need to try to match ballast 900 miles away from my home.   Thank you Rick.

ballast from Woodinville

The kitchen strainer works perfectly for extracting the “ballast” from the dirt.  I was surprised how quickly the process went.

woodinville vintage

So you end up with scaled down authentic Northern Pacific ballast.   I will “nuke” the stuff in the microwave before spreading it between the ties.   You never know what kind of things might be hidden in the dirt.   So the “vintage” Woodinville rock should look great once installed.


11 thoughts on “Back to the Track

    • Ben
      The joints are approximately quarter-inch on the flat bottom of the rail. All of my locos have low current motors so I am not too concerned about voltage drop in a three inch length of brass. It will be attached to the #12 solid buss.


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  2. The other way I have seen it is to solder the wire directly to the bottom of the rail. If you use solid core wire it works well and saves a step of connecting a wire to the brass rod. The way I have been wiring my layout has been using a large bus wire that circles the entire layout. Then I run the solid core wires from the track to the bus wires and use Scotch lock connectors to join them. Makes the process go much faster, less time smashed under the layout trying to solder. I run a power feeder about every 5 feet.

    You can also make insulated districts that allow for shorts to be detected in a particular area using a 11-56 automotive bulbs that light up when there area a short. I never did and have yet to burn out a decoder. They make a very distinct sound when they short out on DCC. Also if your track plan has a wye in it then you need to get a reverse circuit.

    And if you plan on powering your frogs then make sure to solder a wire to the frog now before installation. Tam Valley makes a cool frog juicer that only takes one wire.

    I would also run an accessory bus line as well for powering any other equipment that gets installed later on.

    Good luck and its all worth it when the first engine can make a complete loop around.

  3. Gene,
    That is really nice looking ballast. And I agree about the use of the Micro-Mark spiking tool. It is a great tool and really makes hand spiking track a lot easier.

    I used short heavy solid copper feeder connections to the rail on my previous layout, but not this time. They worked okay, but I vowed for the next layout to never darken the underside of a layout with a soldering iron again. Feeders all go to screw terminals this time.

    • Charlie
      The Micro Mark spiking tool sure makes it easy to drive the spikes in. I think Jim Zwernemann first alerted me to the tool. He bought one and found it useful.
      Terminating the feeders in a screw-type strip is a good idea. Not waving a hot iron around under the bench work is a good thing.


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