Thinner Throwbars in RMC

I have a story in the October, 2017 edition of Railroad Model Craftsman magazine about how I built the head rods (throwbars) for my turnouts.

RMC October 2017 cover

I hand-laid my track and built my turnouts using the assembly fixtures and other tools offered by Tim Warris at Fast Tracks. I love the reliability of using copper-clad printed circuit board (PCB) material for holding rail securely in a turnout – especially around the frog.

But the traditional way of making a head rod always bothered me, because the rod would end up being as wide as a tie – for the very good reason that one would simply use a PCB tie.

My approach results in a head rod that is much thinner in appearance – more like the metal bars used on a prototype turnout. The article provides step-by-step instructions to make your own.

In preparing this article, I took some photos of the switch points on a turnout, part of the ex-CNR – now Trillium Railway – industrial trackage in St. Catharines, Ontario. Here they are, for context:

Head rod and back rod
(Head rod and, further up the points, a back rod. Note the size of these rods, compared to the ties.)

Head rod and stock rail
(The head rod projects only a couple of inches beyond the stock rail.)

Head rod and switch stand
(A pipe connects the head rod to the switch stand)

Click on the RMC cover, above, to visit Railroad Model Craftsman online. You can order a copy of the magazine via the White River Productions online store.

Fresh perspectives and little details

This morning I needed a photo to illustrate something on my layout in an email, and while I was in the layout room I decided to try to find some fresh perspectives from which to shoot images. I was particularly pleased with the two images here – both taken near the station in St. Williams.

Turnut study - St Williams

Turnout study - St Williams

In both, it’s the little details that stand out for me: The red waybill box on the station wall. The door handle. The telegraph service sign. The rail braces on the stock rails of the turnout.

Often, I overlook these details when I’m running trains. But they show up in photos, so I’m glad I made the effort to include them.

I have many more details to add to the layout. Some will require a fair bit of time and effort to build. But it’s photos like these that remind me why I want to include them.

In-street turnouts for Regan

 photo InStreetTurnouts-Finished_zpslwh5oarr.jpg
(The finished turnouts, ready for Regan’s layout. Click on the image to read more)

In my last post, I mentioned that I’d been working on a project for a friend’s layout. The project was a pair of in-street turnouts for a layout I designed for Regan Johnson. They feature full-length guard rails and a single point.

Click on the image above to read more about the turnouts, and the layout design, on my Achievable Layouts blog. Enjoy if you visit!

Track: Then and Now (TMC-07)

I was delighted to be asked by Mike Cougill to contribute a feature about modelling branch line track to The Missing Conversation – Mike’s quarterly, digital publication that encourages a fine scale, craftsman approach to the hobby.

The issue – Volume 7 – is now available for download from Mike’s site. Click on the image below to read more about Track: Then and Now:
TMC-07-Cover photo TMC07-cvr_zpse2bf284f.jpg

As Mike notes, this is not a rehash of Detailing Track, the excellent book he produced (which is still available). Neither does my feature simply rehash the material I’ve presented on this blog: I took all new pictures, and wrote a fresh story with – I think – many ideas I haven’t covered here previously.

If you buy a copy, I hope you enjoy it. Mike’s philosophy – one which which I am in complete agreement – is that this hobby is worth doing well. It’s worth pushing one’s limits and trying new things. It’s worth being inspired by – and striving for – excellence, even if that means going back and redoing portions of one’s work that are no longer the best one can do.

I’m enjoying The Missing Conversation and look forward to each new issue.

A visit and sushi with Tim

Fast Tracks owner Tim Warris dropped in yesterday to see the layout and discuss a project with me.

It was Tim’s first visit to my layout and he said very nice things – which is gratifying in two ways. First, because Tim lives in Norfolk County and is quite familiar with the area I’m modelling – so when he looked at St. Williams and said, “I see this all the time around my home” I knew I was doing something right. And second, because Tim knows more about building reliable track than anybody else I’ve met – online or in person – and he really liked my track.

Tim was especially impressed by my use of garden scale switch stands linked to his Bullfrog manual switch machines to control the turnouts:
A lever and control rod photo SwitchStand-Installed-02.jpg
(click on the image to read more about my turnout controls)

He also liked how I used two small throwbars – a head rod and back rod – instead of what he described as a “log” to throw the points:
Head Rod and Back Rod photo 10Turnout-04.jpg
(click on the image to read more about these)

We also discussed spikes (I use the very tiny milled steel spikes from Proto:87 Stores and have written about my experience with them extensively on this blog)… the tobacco-growing industry in Norfolk County… and how I want to address the reliability problems I’m having with my CNR passenger cars.

Tim is intrigued by my problems with the passenger cars. He rolled a set of trucks over my track work and was appalled at how sloppy the axles are in the side frames. The good news is, he took a set of trucks and wheel sets home with him to play with – and he may be able to offer me a solution. Fingers are crossed.

Later, we met up with my wife for dinner at Akai Sushi. Anybody who knows Tim knows that sushi is a great choice. There are many, many sushi restaurants in our neighbourhood but this was the first time we had visited Akai – and we’ll definitely be going back, as it’s the best sushi we’ve had in our area. Very fresh and beautifully presented in a lovely room. I’m sure I can lure Tim back, too.

Great to see you, Tim! Next time, we’ll run an operating session, too…

P64 wheel sets and Fast Tracks switches

I really like the forum hosted by the S Scale SIG – the discussions tend to be high-quality and focus on providing real information for those trying to build a scale layout (as opposed to Hi-Rail / American Flyer) in 1:64.

A while ago there was a discussion about wheel sets, in which I offered the following contribution about my experiences with Northwest Short Line’s P64 wheels:

I use longer switches – #7, #8 and #10 – on my layout, scratch-built using Fast Tracks fixtures. I had to add styrene strips inside the frogs so the wheels would not drop into the long opening between heel and toe.

Another member of the forum – Matt – emailed me to say he’d looked through this blog and hadn’t found any pictures to illustrate what I described. (Sorry about that!) So, let’s rectify that now. This is the #9 switch at the west end of the run-around in St. Williams. The diverging route is to the left in this picture:
Frog and Styrene photo Frog-Styrene_zpse2111be6.jpg

As I noted on the forum, the problem is the length of the gap between the heel and toe of the frog – the space between the two yellow lines in this photo:
Frog and Styrene - Gap Marked photo Frog-Styrene-Gap_zps23b56c05.jpg

The P64 wheels have a narrower tread, which means they can drop into this space as they cross from the point of the frog to the closure rails (and vice-versa). To solve the problem, I test-fit various widths of .020″ styrene strip between the webs (the upright part) of the adjacent rails that form the wings and the point. I then cut two strips of this and laid them into the frog.

I started with the diverging route. I measured a piece long enough to span between the two PC Board ties in the frog (the last ties supporting the guard rails). I made sure the webs between wing rails and frog rails… and between the two closure rails – supported this piece. Then I glued it in place with gap-filling CA.

From an engineering standpoint, only one strip is needed. But I added a second strip to the main route to create a more realistic looking frog. This piece needed to be trimmed at an angle at one end, corresponding to the frog angle – in this case, 1-in-9. Again, it was tested for fit, then secured in place with gap-filling CA.

Here’s another look at the frog, with the two strips identified. The yellow line represents the first strip, through the diverging route. The orange line is the second strip, which is angled so it lies against the yellow strip.
Frog and Styrene - Labelled photo Frog-Styrene-Labelled_zps91c5bc36.jpg

Thanks for asking the question, Matt!

S is for Switch Stand

It’s also for “Sorry; Those are no longer available”.

Of all the products no longer available in this hobby, I bet the beautiful switch stands from Alder Models are the products missed most by Canadian model railway enthusiasts. These white metal kits were offered in S, HO, O and large scales, and could be made to operate. Alder even included a mechanism that sat under the head blocks to make this happen.

Throw the switch and the handle and target would rotate through 90 degrees. It was fiddly to get them working right – but when they did? Wow!

I know many Canadian model railway enthusiasts who are furious – and, at the same time, sad – that the company that purchased Alder failed to continue the line. I understand that several people have attempted to buy the moulds, but without success. (Alder also did some really nice resin structures in HO, including this lovely barn, shown on the layout of my friend Bill Meek.)

Fortunately, I have eight of the S scale Alder switch stands in my collection – one for each switch on the layout. This week, I installed them. Here’s an Alder switch stand near the apple orchard in Port Rowan:
Switch stand and orchard photo PtR-Orchard-01.jpg

The photo can’t show it working, of course – but it does.

Now that I have the stands installed and working, I can finish installing terrain and mount the fascia.

It’s really neat to throw a switch using the garden railway stands I’m using, and have the action mirrored, in miniature, on the layout.
Switch stands for turnout control photo SwitchStand-Installed-01.jpg

Head rod / Back rod

We modellers tend to call it a throw bar, and we tend to use only one. But as I learned while reading Detailing Track by my friend Mike Cougill (and available through OST Publications*), what we call a throw bar is actually a “head rod”, and points will have one or more additional bars called “back rods”.

I’m building turnouts using a solid point, as opposed to a hinged point. This means the point and closure rail are made from a single piece. At the place where the point would be hinged, the rail is soldered to a printed circuit board tie. The end of the point is then soldered to the head rod. The rail simply bends slightly when the switch is thrown. This system works and the points are guaranteed a good electrical connection since wires can be soldered to the closure rails.

Normally, a standard PCB tie is used for the head rod, but I thought an S scale tie would be too massive. So I ordered a selection of switch-length PCB ties from Tim Warris at Fast Tracks* and then my friend Chris Abbott and I did some experimenting.

We decided to use an HO scale narrow gauge tie for the head rod, and an N scale tie for a single back rod. Locations for each were marked with the turnout in place on the layout, to ensure that the rods would fall between the appropriate wooden ties.

While the HO narrow gauge tie looks much better as a head rod, it’s too thin to accept the piano wire throw from the Bullfrog mechanical switch machine I intend to use:

Drilling a hole large enough to clear the wire would seriously weaken the head rod.

Fortunately, Chris came up with an elegant solution. He cut and fettled a thin strip of brass to solder to the bottom of each head rod. He then drilled a clearance hole for the piano wire, offset on the brass strip. Head rod and strip were tinned, soldered together, and the finished assembly was brush painted a black-grey.

The head rod and back rod can be seen in this photo:

Head rod and back rod.

After the turnout is installed on the layout, I will detail the head rod with NBW castings and other goodies to make it look more prototypical. As a bonus, the brass strip moves the hole to the bottom of the head rod, instead of the top, so we should be able to cut off the switch machine wire below the level of the tops of the ties.

The turnout with head rod and back rod in place can be seen set in place in this photo:

Turnout on ties. Head rod and back rod installed.

Here is a photo of another turnout with head rod and back rod, plus grass growing between the ties. The rods can be seen, but don’t leap out and shout “Train Set!”

Turnout in the grass.

I’ll finish painting the head rod after I install the switch stand. I hope to use the much-missed Alder Models stands with operating targets, which will require soldering an actuating rod to the head rod.

I am very close to being ready to spike down some track!

(*Check the “Links” section on this blog’s home page for the most up-to-date links)

In the weeds

As this photo of Port Rowan shows, the railway didn’t really worry about grass growing between the ties:

Where's the track?

I want this effect on my S scale layout, but how to achieve it while still allowing the trains to run? I’ve been experimenting and I think I have my answer.

Plain track will be easier than switches with their moving parts, so I started with a switch. I decided that a thin layer of ballast was best for the area under the moving points, so I carefully applied black paint between the ties. I then carefully brushed dilute white glue between the ties and sprinkled ballast into it. (I’m using Woodland Scenics ballast – a 3:1 mix of fine black cinders and fine brown ballast.)

When dry, I blew/vacuumed away the excess. The two pictures show the result before adding rail, and with the track switch set in place. The points move smoothly. So far, so good:

Ballasting under the points before laying the rail.

Ballasting under the points before laying the rail.

While doing this, it occurred to me that adding grass before installing the track switches would ensure that I do not accidentally glue the points to a stock rail, so I brushed some slightly-thinned Weld Bond over the ballast wherever I wanted grass, and applied static grass using my Noch Grass Master. I bought mine a few years ago and it quickly became my favourite scenery tool. I was able to pick up a nozzle for precision application and it came in handy around the switch points.

Note that I did not apply the grass with the switch in place. After using the grass master I carefully introduced the business end of my shop vac to remove loose grass and help the planted static grass stand upright.

(I recently purchased a Festool vacu… er, dust extractor… and among its many benefits is an adjustable power setting, which allowed me to dial down the amount of suction so I could work over the freshly applied grass.)

I’m very pleased with the result. It looks overgrown, but in fact it’s quite wispy. It does not interfere with throwing the points, nor will it interfere with electrical pick-up:

Static grass applied between ties, before laying rail. Turnout is set in place.

I have tackled the rest of the track switches the same way, adding ballast and grass around the points. I’ll then detail and paint the rails before spiking down the turnouts. The rest of the ballast and grass – around non-moving bits of track work – can then be added using conventional methods.

The spurs in Port Rowan are particularly overgrown. It’ll be interesting to see how heavily I can apply the grass while still being able to run trains.

Work on track begins in earnest

Number 10 turnout.

Last night, my friends Chris Abbott and Mark Zagrodney came over for dinner and a work session. We decided to start building the turnouts I’ll need for the Port Rowan branch.

Mark has never used the Fast Tracks* system and it’s been a little while since Chris has used it. Me? I’ve been using parts of it to build turnouts for the HO scale Wabash layout taking shape in the basement of my friend Pierre Oliver, but Pierre is using laser-cut tie strips under his turnouts whereas I’m using individual ties with a few printed circuit board ties in the turnouts. It’s been a while since I built a PC board-equipped turnout.

That’s a long way of saying that we only managed to finish two-and-a-bit turnouts last night, as Chris and I jogged our memories and brought Mark up to speed. However, I was able to finish the third – and build a fourth – after lunch today.

What this means is I now have half of the required turnouts in hand. Four down, four to go: One of the joys of designing a relatively simple track plan.

Now that's a long turnout!

The most impressive turnout that we built was the Number 10 for next to the station at St. Williams (shown above). This is short by real railroad standards, but more generous than what’s commonly used on model railways. A Number 10 turnout is long – there’s no question about that. Just the area around the frog is about as long as a caboose. At 1 in 10, the frog angle is wonderfully shallow. Despite this, wheel sets glide through both routes of the frog with ease.

The frog in a Number 10 turnout.

I’m not yet ready to set the turnouts in place permanently, although I have test fit them and I’m pleased. They still need head rods and back rods, and those will take a little while since I realized today that I need more PC ties. The order has been placed with Fast Tracks. It’ll be a couple of weeks. Meantime, I have lots to do.

Dinner for our work session was a Hungarian beef stew from the November, 2008 issue of Cook’s Illustrated* magazine.

Loads of braised beef, sliced onions and carrots, and a roasted red pepper/sweet paprika paste made for a hearty one-pot dinner, served over egg noodles and with sour cream on the side.

Paired with a salad and blueberry pie, it was a fine way to feed the crew. And I have left-overs for tonight!

(*Check the “Links” section on this blog’s home page for the most up-to-date links)