Laying track on The Roadshow

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I’ve written many posts on this blog about how I hand-lay track. But if a picture is worth a thousand words than a 38-minute video must be worth about 68,400,000 (at 30 frames per second).

On the latest episode of The Roadshow – which documents the construction of two Free-mo style modules for use with The S Scale Workshop – I demonstrate my track-laying techniques. These are the same techniques I used for my Port Rowan layout.

Click on the image, above, to watch the episode. You need to be a subscriber to TrainMasters TV to see it, but membership is quite reasonable.

Thanks as always to Barry Silverthorn at TrainMasters TV for letting me be a part of his show!

Ties at Division Street

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(“Why yes, my wife is out of town: How did you know?”)

I’m running out of time to get my two S Scale Workshop modules prepped for the group’s next exhibition at a Montréal-area train show in October. The fact that I’m also documenting the process with Barry Silverthorn at TrainMasters TV, while a most enjoyable experience, also complicates the process: Either I can’t work too far ahead between recording sessions, or I have to create demonstration materials to illustrate what I’ve been doing on the modules.

Laying ties will be a mix of these two options. I’ll have to show some of the initial steps in laying ties in the studio, then move to the modules – with ties already in place – to demonstrate later steps like distressing, staining and weathering.

Yesterday, I realized I needed to set up a complete multi-section module in order to properly sand the tops of the ties to ensure there are no jarring bumps. For this, I needed a space big enough for the modules, with a floor that’s more level than the one in my basement – and since my wife is currently travelling, the kitchen came to the rescue.

The main feature on this module set is a level crossing. At one time, an interurban line ran along the side of the road, but by the 1950s era of the Workshop’s modules, this has been abandoned. I’ll include a strip of extensively distressed ties in the overgrown former Right-of-Way to demonstrate a full range of tie-finishing techniques. (Meanwhile, I’ve done a test stain of the ties on the still-active route through this crossing. These will represent relatively new ties, laid when the crossing was removed. They’ll make a lovely contrast.)

While I had the module on its legs, I posed a short freight on it to get an idea of what a train will look like on the very broad radius curve through this scene. The back-lighting in the photo below emphasizes the shape of the train, rather than the details, and I really like how it’s looking:
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The ability to incorporate such broad radius curves – in this case, a radius between 33 and 34 feet – into modules is a huge advantage of Free-mo style standards. I’m very glad the S Scale Workshop adopted such a standard when they decided to build new modules.

With just over a month to go before the show, I’d better get more work one.

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:
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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.

Onward to Simcoe

Simcoe, Ontario is where the line from Hamilton splits into two branches to serve Port Rowan and Port Dover. It’s also the start of yard limits on the Port Rowan branch. So it’s as good a name as any to apply to the staging area on my layout.

For a number of weeks now, I’ve had all ties down but the end of rail has been the #10 switch by the depot in St. Williams. This week, I’ve started the last of the track work – the main north of St. Williams (all five or six feet of it) and the four tracks on the sector plate.

The work started with staining and distressing the mainline from St. Williams to sector plate:
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The mainline is the section in front of the radio on the benchwork, and it’s now ready for rail.

Also seen here is progress on the sector plate. All four tracks have received an initial stain of grey, and the two back tracks have now been overpainted with oils. I’ll finish the other two tracks, then let everything dry (oils take a bit of time to lose their stickiness) before starting to spike.

I’m still debating whether to add ballast on the sector plate. I might, because the ballast/glue combination does a great job of locking things together. On the other hand, I will have to be extremely careful to not glue the sector plate to the benchwork! Fortunately, the whole plate lifts off, so if I decide to ballast I can do this off the layout to prevent accidents.

My goal is to have all track spiked, wired, tested and running by the end of August. That gives me about five weeks…

The Edmund Fitzsander

The legend lives on...

So named because it evokes the look of a Great Lakes boat, I built the Edmund Fitzsander over the weekend.

Sanding ties is important when hand-laying track, to level the tops of the ties and prepare them for rail. Having done a lot of reading lately about woodworking, I realized that what we’re doing – sort of – is akin to flattening a board with a fore plane: we want to remove the high points on a length of ties without removing material from the valleys.

Fore planes do this by having a long sole that rides from peak to peak. But with a narrow point of contact with the work – the iron – planes only work on a solid surface like a panel or table top. A plane iron would rip ties right off the roadbed. For ties, we need to use a sanding block – but the same principles apply: Long is good… heavy is good… and control is good.

With just the sector plate still to do, it’s kind of late in the game for this layout but I decided to build the Edmund Fitzsander – a tie-sanding tool inspired by the fore plane.

I started with a 1″x4″ oak board I picked up from a local DIY store. Oak is nice and heavy and the surface of the board is nice and flat – important for this tool. I cut two 24″ lengths then used my bread maker to drill the top board to accept a knob and tote – replacement plane handles from Lee Valley Tools. I put the tote slightly off-centre so that when I hold it in my left (dominant) hand, my knuckles would not hang over the edge of the tool.

With the knob and tote installed, I glued and clamped the two boards. When dry, I added a slight chamfer to each top edge and the long bottom edges to make them “finger friendly”, then shaped a larger chamfer onto each end at the bottom so that the sandpaper won’t catch the edge of a tie and pull it off the roadbed.

The sandpaper is a 4″x36″ belt for a bench sander. To secure it, I marked and drilled four holes for #6 x 3/4″ wood screws and added finishing washers. To install the sandpaper, I cut the belt at the joint, trimmed it to length, screwed through it into the pre-drilled and tapped holes at one end, pulled it tight to the other end, and secured it there as well. The finishing washers grab the sanding belt by the face and press it to the body of the tool so it’s less likely to rip away from the screws during use.

Bring on the ties…

Progress on ties

I’ve made considerable progress on distressing and staining the ties on my layout.

Ties in Port Rowan.

I’m almost finished with the ties in Port Rowan. I must still do the ties on the elevated coal delivery track. (Plus, of course, the turntable lead – but that will wait until the rest of the track is finished so I don’t have to lean over the turntable to work.)

For inspiration, I turned to the book Detailing Track by Mike Cougill, from OST Publications*. It has given me plenty of information to get me started on distressing and staining my ties.

My tool kit is fairly simple. It consists of two knives, a bottle of Weather-It, a tube of burnt umber oil paint and thinner (in this case, a non-toxic/non-flammable variety) and a bottle of rubbing alcohol into which I’ve added 1.5 tsp of India Ink:

Tie tools and materials.

The knives deserve a closer look:

Knives for ties.

On the left, we have a home-made tool called a “Wood Wrecker”. I learned of this from Gerry Cornwell, who knows a fair bit about wood (as he should, since he owned Mt. Albert Scale Lumber*).

To make my Wood Wrecker, I saved up a half-dozen used X-acto blades and found a suitable piece of rectangular brass tube to fit them in. I then located, drilled and tapped a hole for a screw that runs through a slot already present in the blades to keep them in place. I added a drop of CA along the backs of the blades to glue them together.

The Wood Wrecker adds parallel grain lines to ties with a light pass. Just be careful with the thing – it is sharp and of course dull knifes are more dangerous than sharp ones. But sharp blades tend to cut the grain too fine and too deeply, I found.

The knife on the right is the Veritas carver’s knife from Lee Valley Tools*. Here’s the stock number: 05K73.01

This knife is a joy to use. It will hold standard X-acto blades as well as scalpel blades sold by Lee Valley, and has a magnetic holder in the handle so one can keep a selection of styles close by. The hooked blade shown here is particularly useful for adding splits to ties because one pulls this blade towards oneself.

Below I’ve included three detail photos of the ties in Port Rowan. In each photo, the tracks – from front to back – are the run-around, the main, and the team track:

Tie detail - Port Rowan (1)

Tie detail - Port Rowan (2)

Tie detail - Port Rowan (3)

I used a war-gamer’s dice-rolling app on my iPhone – there are several available – to generate random amounts of distress on each track, using percentile dice. I would roll, then, based on the result, add 1, 2 or 3 light tick marks (“I”, “II”, “III”) to the top of each tie with a pencil.

For the main, I rolled as follows: 1-19 = Newer (I); 20-79 = standard (II); 80-100 = older (III).

For the other two tracks, I rolled as follows: 1-9 = Newer (I); 10-69 = standard (II); 70-100 = older (III).

This would give me a greater percentage of distressed ties on the siding and spur.

These tick marks gave me a more random distribution of ties than I could have achieved otherwise, since humans tend to like patterns, and it’s easy to fall into them.

Type I ties were given a light pass with the Wood Wrecker, or not touched at all. They were then stained with the India Ink mixture. Some were later lightly brushed with burnt umber.

Type II ties were given a deeper pass with the Wood Wrecker. They were then stained with either Weather-It or India Ink, at random. When dry, they were all finished with burnt umber.

Type III ties were given a deeper pass with the Wood Wrecker, then worked over with the carver’s knife. Some were split, some had the ends carved away, some were worn away between the rails, etc. Sometimes, a second pass with the Wood Wrecker was needed to restore some grain. These were then stained with Weather-It, with no additional colouring applied.

While it’s tempting to rush ahead to rail, I highly recommend taking time to do the ties right. Yes, it does take time, but one can pick away at it when one has a spare 15 minutes and it’ll get done. And the results are worth it – at least, I think so.

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

All tied up

No, not like that.

Rather, I’ve laid all the ties for my S scale model railway:

Ties laid in Port Rowan.

Ties laid through the Lynn Valley.

Ties laid near Stone Church Road - west end of St. Williams.

Ties laid on the team track in St. Williams.

Ties laid past the station in St. Williams.

I used the lovely ties from Mt. Albert Scale Lumber* – two and a half bags of S scale cross ties and a bag of S scale switch ties. A special thanks to Gerry Cornwell and Don McMurrich of Mt. Albert for the speedy delivery – much appreciated!

A “Tie Rack” from Tim Warris at Fast Tracks* made it fast and easy to assemble strings of cross ties to lay in place. I actually used two of these – they can be connected together, like puzzle pieces – and glued them to a scrap board from my benchwork-building exercise, so I had a 40-inch tie strip jig.

For the turnouts, I glued Fast Tracks printable turnout templates directly to my cork roadbed. (You can download these, for free, from the Fast Tracks web site.) I have one #10, three #9 and four #7 turnouts to build. I used my Calibre Cutter – apparently no longer made, unfortunately – to trim switch ties to length.

I laid the ties for the turnouts in batches, working on each turnout size separately. So, for example, I laid all the ties for the three #9 turnouts at the same time. I would measure the length of tie I needed, note how many ties of that size were in a turnout, then multiply by the number of turnouts I was working on. I would then stack the ties in rows beside each turnout.

When I had cut all the ties I needed, I applied glue to the paper template and set the ties in place. Very quick and the standard light sanding of the ties will address the ever-so-slight height differenced caused by the paper template.

I started in at end of track in Port Rowan and worked north through the Lynn Valley, past the location of the Stone Church Road overpass, into the spur at St. Williams, then around to the St. Williams depot and on towards staging.

I have left gaps in the ties at the future locations of three bridges. These will be filled in after the bridges have been built and the roadbed cut to accommodate them. The bridges, of course, will be topped with larger bridge ties.

But first, I must grab my copy of Detailing Track by Mike Cougill – available from OST Publications*. This is an excellent book – I highly recommend it, regardless of the scale in which you model. I’ll be referring to the book regularly as I distress, gouge, weather and otherwise wreck those lovely Mt. Albert ties.

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