Spiking N scale track. Take 2.

Okay. So there isn’t going to be a Take 1 for this post. Truthfully Take 1 would have been at least three solid posts representing my first three great approaches to re-thinking how I want to lay the track on my next layout. Some time ago I posted about a great approach that Stephen Hatch, the man behind Railway Engineering, shared about making your own spikes. My post on the idea was written in March and is here. More importantly, Stephen’s description of the process is here. Essentially what we’re talking about here is taking a length of music wire and bending the spikes from that.

After having spent some time through the week thinking about the process and whether or not I thought it could be adapted to N scale I broke down and tried it myself.

The base is three plies of 3/16″ foam core. I cut the ties from 1/16″ balsa and the rail is Micro Engineering code 55. The spikes are made from 0.015″ steel music wire. As Stephen describes the process to make a spike is really simple. Take a length of wire, about a 1/4″ inch from the end make a bend in the wire to about ninety degrees. Then just past the bend, cut the wire leaving the angle on the 1/4″ off-cut. This tiny little piece of wire is your spike. Frankly the process couldn’t be simpler and I figure the spikes will cost about a third of a cent each. It’s not about the price though. Spikes made this way are just about exact copies, in size, to those cast into Atlas’s code 55 track and they look right. So good, I think, that they continue to serve how big even code 55 rail is in N (code 55 rail in N is the equivalent to code 100 rail in HO).

I tried some examples of trucks from my collection over this spiked rail and see that most of the recently made wheelsets I found had no trouble with the spikes. That said, a couple of thirty-plus year old Mehano/PMI trucks rode up on every single spike head. It looks like I will need to think about re-wheeling some stock in my collection. The three RS-3’s that I have in the mail to me right now will probably need to have their flanges seen to, and I wonder how that C-420 I just ordered will do. I think that Northwest Shortline sell direct replacement wheels for situations like this and I’ll probably just get some of those.

Next steps? The first thought I had was just how lousy foamcore is a roadbed for this kind of application – it just doesn’t grab the spikes and the balsa ties aren’t much better. I think my next experiment will use cork for the roadbed and I anticipate much better spike holding from the cork. I’ll stick with the balsa ties. I’ve got a huge pile of 1/16″ balsa sheet to use up and I’m happy with how well it’s working so far.

I’m excited to try more now! I think I’ll try a switch next. Maybe I’ll cheat and spike down one of the PC tie switches from earlier on.


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