Prince Street Layout

Turnout fixed. That’s good.

I remember how great it was to put together the first turnout for the layout. It wasn’t until I started working on the second that I really noticed the tie spacing on that first one. I figured I could fix it but managed to successfully find reasons to put doing so, off. This evening, it was time to finally get this done.


So, that’s what I started with. It works well and, excepting the tie spacing, I thought it looked really nice.

DSC01627Based on the tie spacing I had, I figured if I removed approximately every second tie, in its place I could fit in two. Starting from the frog end, everything worked pretty much to plan. This is probably the first time I’ve moved this many ties around and I know it’s the first time I’ve been okay with the occasional burnt one.

DSC01631It was an interesting project. By only moving a couple of ties at a time, I wasn’t so preoccupied with gauging rails and lining pieces up. In all, it did still take about as long to rebuild this one compared to what it probably would have taken if I’d just started over from scratch.

DSC01635With the ties replaced, I thought I’d trim the ties to their final length. While this evening’s focus was on the turnout itself, by completing this task I’m much closer to installing it on the layout. That, of course, brings me one heck of a lot closer to running a train again.

Storm day sector plate

Today’s project was the sector plate for the layout and I’ve managed to make some progress that I’d like to share.

The sector plate itself and its base are cut from some 1/2″ particle core that I had here. I’m still not sure if I made the right decision with regard to material but am equally tired of comparing options. I don’t think I’ll regret the choice of this material for the deck the plate will ride on. Where I remain concerned is how much the plate itself will warp over time. Given the size and shape of the sector plate I doubted that any of my reasonably-priced options would fare any better or worse in terms of dimensional stability, over time, and frankly if it gets too bad I’ll just make up a new bridge and try something else. So, on with the show.

The first task was to figure out where the pivot point was and get the pivot itself sorted. I sketched and daydreamed about a lot of neat bearing options but settled on a simple length of brass rod I had. This is the second design decision I expect to come back to in time since I’m still thinking I might want to make the plate removable so that the I could use it staging cassettes (pivoted like a sector plate). To make it easier to exchange cassettes I’ll need to make it both easy and reliable to locate this pin when exchanging cassettes full of stock. For now, this will do fine.

DSC01594Most of the ties on the sector plate are the same plain ties I’ll use on the layout. For a little more strength and since the plate itself will remain mostly hidden from view I thought I’d make up some wider ties for each end. Nice to use up some of that PC board scrap I’ve been hoarding in my “that’ll be useful someday” pile.

DSC01596I used CA to glue the ties to the sector plate. While that set up I carved out a piece of an apple coffee cake I’d made last night. Brewed a nice Americano for myself too.

DSC01605With me stuffed full of cake and coffee and the CA nicely set, it’s time to warm up my soldering iron and fit the rails in place. Not only was this a great project to use up some PC board scrap but also a great opportunity to use up some scrap rail salvaged from a layout I’d taken apart before. I hadn’t realised when I grabbed the second piece of rail that the bag I was keeping these pieces in was a mix of code 40 and 55 rail. It wasn’t until I soldered the full second piece in that I’d noticed it was code 55. Luckily I was able to pull that out and replace with code 40 without burning any ties along the way.

DSC01608The temptation to set up a train on the finished sector plate was almost too great. I still can’t decide if what I staged represents a short train of reefers from Charlottetown with some set-outs for here and the further east or if this represents a set of GP’s and some boxcars from Nanaimo with local setouts for Victoria Plywood. I’m leaning toward the latter.

All in all, it’s been great fun working on this project this afternoon. It’s still cold outside and this project was a nice break from shovelling the last of the latest storm’s snowfall. With the sector plate at this stage, I now have a means of determining the final location of the main line and the storage track (both are fed from the sector plate) so I can start placing ties and getting on with track on the main layout.

Even glacial progress is still progress right?

March 21, 2015

March 21, 2015

That’s how things look right now. All three turnouts are built and remain on their temporary backings. Yesterday morning I cut out the deck and bridge for the sector plate. With any luck, I’ll get that sector plate finished this weekend and with that complete, I’ll be able to proclaim the first track installed on the layout. Speaking of the sector plate, a test of it with a train in place shows it may be a bit too short to accommodate what I’ve been considering as the train length I’d like to use on the layout. I can extend it to reach that extra inch but still feel a little disappointed that I didn’t double-check things first.

Speaking of that third turnout, I thought I’d share a couple of photos of it to celebrate its completion. As with the other two, I still need to install a throwbar and trim the ties on the main side of the turnout. There were times I thought this one would never be completed and I’d never overcome some of the mistakes I was making during its construction. The first two frogs just wouldn’t go in at the correct angle, a detail I’d continue to fail to recognise until I was installing the stock rails. I managed to burn a few ties during its construction as well. Problems aside, it was all still great fun and time to reflect on a few points where I think I’ve evolved my approach or further reinforced some beliefs I’ve developed:

  • I used copper ties throughout. It took some practice to get used to planning my soldering patterns to make sure I didn’t box myself in, in terms of rails creeping out of gauge or alignment. I’m getting the hang of it and compared to a mix of copper and wood ties this just feels like a significantly stronger turnout.
  • Since all the ties came from the same stock I feel they’re more consistent in size and shape.
  • Ties on the branch track are stepped in length. I used to install ties by lining them up against the main track’s edge and trimmed these stepped ties. I could never, consistently, cut the ties to the correct length. This time I did the opposite, lining them up against the branch to plan the stepping correctly, then I’ll just snap a line along the main track and trim them all at once. Not sure why this didn’t occur to me before but it feels like a rare moment of brilliance at my workbench.
  • I used some scraps of PC board stock at the ends of each set of rails. These wider pieces are only temporary but serve to protect the rail ends until the turnout is installed on the layout. I was on a roll with great ideas here or so it felt!
  • I built these turnouts on scraps of thick card. The card stock’s surface was nice to work against and provided a soft, yet stable surface, to file rail on and write myself notes to plan construction steps.

Lake Verde October 1981

Lake Verde, PEI - October 1981

Lake Verde, PEI – October 1981

The above photo is another from a chase Steve Hunter was so lucky to be a part of following a very rare train on the western end of the Murray Harbour subdivision. Earlier, I posted a photo Steve took at Mount Albion and the above is of the train on it’s return to Lake Verde. The engines are sitting on the mainline. To their left is a short, stub-ended, public siding. The track curving away on the right of the picture is the mainline leading to Mount Stewart and ultimately, to Charlottetown. As with the Mount Albion shot, this photo illustrates so well the inspiration I’m fueling the current layout with.

Lake Verde 1974 - red square outlines Steve Hunter's photo and blue line highlights location of storage track. Note that the track is filled with cars waiting to be ordered for local destinations, like Mount Albion.

Lake Verde 1974 – red square outlines Steve Hunter’s photo and blue line highlights location of storage track. Note that the track is filled with cars waiting to be ordered for local destinations, like Mount Albion.

The above aerial photo should be helpful to orient Steve’s photo. I’ve outlined where his photo was taken in a red box. While I had the aerial open anyway, I added in a blue line to draw attention to a string of refrigerator cars that had been placed here at Lake Verde. They aren’t placed to load but are staged for nearby stations so once they are ordered, they can be moved into position more efficiently.DSC01434I’ve wanted a layout focused on Lake Verde for some time. I really want to develop the siding in the foreground of this photo, relying very heavily on what Steve recorded in his picture (for reference, the RS1 and RS11 in the above photo are on the main, the brown boxcar is on the Lake Verde public siding. The engines have just placed cars on the storage track for later distribution). I spent a lot of time frustrated by not having the room to really model, directly, something like the western end of the Murray Harbour subdivision or any of the other myriad of inspiring prototypes that have caught my attention. It’s not hard to see the many ways that what I’m doing is not at all like the way the prototype was laid out, but, many of those car movements that so fascinate me I can replicate very accurately here. The entire scene doesn’t feel busy in any way and I’ve spent enough time squinting down paper templates to know that in a pile of ways, these scenes remind me of the ones that inspired me in the first place. I didn’t start out intending to model this scene but it’s becoming harder and harder to ignore just how well it works if I did.

Pink as in Progress

They say a man can only push N scale trains around on a sheet of cardboard for so long. Right? Just in case they do, I figured I’d better prepare a response and this morning I’ve been fooling around with just that. The cardboard has been removed from the benchwork and in its place what feels like quite a lot of pink styrofoam.

My personal, emotional, scope for this project lists ditching and drainage as two things I’d like to represent on this layout. I’ve never really made much progress here on any previous layout but both are such an obvious feature on the prototype. To do this, I reasoned, I’d need a lot of freedom along each side of the track. Rather than lay everything down and then dig it all out later I thought I’d try something different, for me at least:

  • Use the foam as my roadbed material instead of a layer of cork
  • Carve the edges of the foam to follow the track and then build the scene up instead of down
  • Develop the roadbed and track interdependently of surrounding scenery instead of trying to force one to work within the limits of the other

The first point is out of the way now. I’ve laid down two complete layers of foam to provide a base on which to develop the scene. A third layer was carved to follow the edge of my track, based on the plan I drew. I’ll glue this layer down and then the plan to its top. I can then shape the edge to form the edge of the roadbed.

I’d like to treat the roadbed as an element separate from the surrounding scenery. Though I’m doing this with foam it doesn’t feel too different from a spline style of construction with parts built up from layers of plywood. Just as with that method, once I’m satisfied that the track is in place and working correctly I can fill in the void areas around it with blocks of foam to build up the scenic areas. To me, separating these two elements completely feels like I can focus design decisions regarding each on the needs of each activity and I think both will benefit from this approach.

Monday’s update

curved done wye started

Feeling pretty good about the first turnout I figured I’d start work on the second of the three I’ll need. I still have to fit the point blades but otherwise this is coming along quite nicely.

As mentioned, the ties on the curved turnout are spaced wider than they should be. I originally hoped I could tell myself it was okay and that I’d just leave well enough alone but seeing it compared to the wye I really must go back and fix it. I’ll keep pondering on exactly how I’ll complete this rebuild since I don’t want to risk moving the rails. I think I can replace the ties a few at a time and just work across the turnout tightening things up.

For now, I don’t have to do anything about it though beyond appreciating how much I enjoyed the work and how pleased I am with even this progress.


When in doubt, make a turnout.

It’s really been too long since I made a model of anything. After having run a few more mock operating sessions on my cardboard layout I figured I might be close enough to having the track plan nailed down to spend some time at the dining room table, sorry, work bench, to indulge in a little track building. After a couple hours work and accompanied by a lovely glass of Port, I have the part built turnout shown above.

This particular turnout is used to complete the runaround loop. It’s built along a curved road and uses a number eight frog. The rail is code 40 from Micro Engineering and the ties, copperclad, from Fast Tracks. As I’ve been doing lately, I’m using only copperclad ties under the turnouts. It makes a more durable turnout and I find it easier to work against. I’ve certainly not invented anything new here, just affirming what I’ve read and learned from those who’ve been doing this longer than I have.

I’m building the turnout itself over a template that I drew using Templot. This really is the first time I’ve ever really used one of these templates and I’m very impressed with how accurately drawn each element of the turnout is. I didn’t modify the tie spacing in Templot before proceeding with my plan and these ties are further apart than I’d normally place them. I don’t dislike them spaced this way and the spacing is actually pretty close to what Atlas and Peco use on their code 80 flextrack. However, the ties are noticeably further apart if compared to the Micro Engineering code 40 flex track I have and had intended to use on this layout.
DSC00702I’ve been mulling over the question of tie spacing a lot and have no answer, yet. I did remember taking some photos last summer at West Lebanon, New Hampshire, of the Claremont-Concord’s yard and a particular group I took of their track, looking down from the Main Street bridge. I took the photos to record the condition of the track and its appearance. Now they serve equally well helping me determine what will be “right” for this venture. The older track is original in the yard while the freshly ballasted is a new siding recently added as a result of increased traffic.

I’m pleased with this evening’s work and feel terrific for having invested some time in making something. I’ve pushed a truck through the frog and even without guardrails it rolls through beautifully. Yup, feeling quite proud of this work.