n scale

Foam tape update


From left to right: Micro Engineering code 40 N scale flex track stuck to foam tape, length of handbuilt code 40 track just laying on the foam, length of track laying on tape (tape’s protective backing still in place)

Last week I bought a package of Scotch Foam Mounting tape. This double-sided foam tape is 1/16″ thick, 1/2″ wide, and white in colour. I bought mine at a local office supply store but it’s that kind of product you can probably buy just about anywhere in town. My own experiments with using the same clear doube-sided tape that I use to hold my turnouts to paper templates wasn’t working out but I’d read several convincing notes in model railway forums, written by David K. Smith, about using this other foam tape and I figured I’d have a go.

Where with traditional cork you would have two halves of roadbed. To install it, you’d draw a centreline for your track and simply lay each cork strip against that centreline. Since the tape I’m using is full-width I needed to instead mark the outer edges of the track. This was simple enough. As for aligning the tape, I adopted an approach not unlike the rule of the road: “As long as you’re between the lines, you’re good!”

My test is pretty simple. The foam is just plain old 1″ thick (R5) foam. No surface prep beyond cleaning to make sure there wasn’t any coffee or other garbage that might negatively affect the bond. The tape I’m using isn’t as wide as traditional cork roadbed but I actually think this is a plus in the tape’s favour. I like the shallower profile and the way the ties overhand the edge. I think this will afford me a little more control over the ballast profile at the edge. When I tried the clear tape my first problem was securing a good bond between the tape and the foam. I wanted to press the tape into the foam but doing so meant pressing my fingers into the glue I would later need to bond the track to the tape. This foam tape has a removeable protective layer and it did make a difference. Not only was it easier to place the tape in the first place, once I had the tape down I could just peel back the protective layer and then press my track in place.

The bond is instant. There is no time to move track around. Since my plain track options are either handbuilt or Micro Engineering flex this shouldn’t be a concern – the curves would be pre-formed anyway. I was curious if the bond would fade over time but the short length of track I pressed in as a test piece is as firmly bonded now as it was when I pressed it into place a couple of days ago. While I’m keen for this to last, I really only need it to last until I get the ballast in place and then I’ll have that additional glue to help keep things in place.

In all, I’m very pleased with this discovery and the way it responds to my scope for an alternative to cork and glue:

  • I don’t have a local hobby shop here and cork is a mail order only option like every other roadbed choice. The cost to ship is a factor in the price of this option.
  • I don’t care for the overall width of cork. I could resolve this by trimming the strips or just cutting my own from sheet goods.
  • While I’m on this rant, I don’t care for the height regular cork roadbed. I don’t need that full height but I do still want some distinction between the track and the surrounding scenery.
  • Comparing cost per foot between cork and this foam tape, they’re pretty close (the tape is still just. a bit more expensive.)
  • N scale ties are shallow. I find I don’t always get a thin enough layer of glue and worry that it will fill that gap between the ties. The foam tape leaves the complete depth of that recess between the ties open so even when ballasting I don’t need the ballast flush with the tops of the ties.
  • Controlling the glue around turnout parts, like throwbars, will be a great deal easier with any of the tape options since I can just cut the tape out completely or stick down some black paper over. I’ve accidentally glued enough turnouts into a single piece to appreciate this point.

I’m glad I tried this. I think this is a material I’ll continue to use. Thanks David. This is your idea and I appreciate that you shared it and spoke so strongly in its favour. I really appreciate it.

Ties and tape

I’ve started placing the ties on the layout. This afternoon I washed some colour on them and thought I’d share a couple of photos. Not a huge pile of innovation here but I did change the way I’ve stuck them in place. Previously, I’d glue them in but often found that it can be really easy to lay down too thick a bead of glue which fills the space between the ties making ballasting a little tricky. When I build track over a template, off the layout, I use lengths of double-sided tape to hold the model in place. Each time I’ve tried removing the finished model, I’ve been faced with how tricky it is to remove that tape. I would have never made the obvious connection between these two observations on my own. Then, while reading through a page on Henk Oversloot’s website on finescale track, I read his suggestion to actually use the same double-sided tape I was using already to actually hold track down on his layout. “Eureka!”

I figured it would work but was worried that when I stared flooding liquid onto the track when painting ties and ultimately during ballasting might cause the ties to lift from the tape. I tried a few experiments and so far things are still holding in place. So far, so good. What else have I learned so far? First, the tape I’m using isn’t terribly flexible so stretching it around curves isn’t exactly easy. I’m using a broad radius and can just use shorter lengths of tape. Speaking of laying down the tape I am learning that as tempting as it is to attempt long lengths, so far, I’ve had a few moments where it’s just me with tape tangled around several fingers at once.

So far, I’m very pleased with the idea of using tape to hold down these ties. I’ll keep using it and will update as I learn more about how well it’s working out.

Here’s a link to Henk Oversloot’s page:


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.

I made some ties


Armed with a fresh sheet of balsa and my trusty balsa stripper, I have just finished making up one heck of a pile of ties. The process couldn’t be simpler. I’m starting with balsa sheet. Instead of cutting individual ties to length, I find it easier to cut the sheet to length, matching the length of my ties. I can then rip these into individual ties using the balsa stripper. Since the tool manages the width of each tie, the only really careful work is dividing the sheet by length. In all, I find it relaxing work. I figure I cut about a thousand ties this evening and this brings me another step closer to getting some track in place.

Forest Hill 1975

SVR1975 yard

In 1975 the Sorry Valley was still a part of CP’s Ontario network. Like the Quebec Central or the Esquimailt and Nanaimo, the trains are CP but the track and the style of railroading are pure Sorry Valley. When this photo was taken the typical power on the railway was a pair of GP40’s. Trains were typically run on an “as needed” basis and typically four to six cars in length. Obviously cabooses were still present on every train, typically drawn from CP’s plywood sheathed, end cupola van fleet and not totally unlike the shell I have in my Shapeways store. One appears in the bottom corner of this photo, still in an older paint scheme and I suspect the multi-mark decorated one I know was on the property that year is out on the road.

We’re in Forest Hill yard. This has always been the SVR’s connection to the outside world and it was the originating station for all trains over the SVR. Eventually SVR territory would expand to cover services on two additional subdivisions but in 1975 trains were only running on the original route from Forest Hill to Maple Junction. I’m really lucky to have, in my paper collection, several SVR track maps that include industry names. It’s amazing how many of these companies remain household names including Quirk’s Quartz, Grimm Gravel, and Specialty Manufacturing. For me, these are as important to the industrial history of our nation as Dominion Bridge or even the mighty Canadian Pacific itself. Sometimes, in today’s world where everything feels like it’s part of a much bigger conglomerate, it’s easy to forget the relationship between the community, the local factory, and the railway; how many of these smaller companies grew up alongside the SVR and how everyone’s individual fortunes were functions of the success or failure of their neighbours. It’s a story I think any one of us could tell in our own home towns, time and again, from any part of our country.

The effect of literally growing up alongside the SVR has influenced so many of my attitudes toward the hobby itself. Trains on the SVR always ran with a purpose. The line was operated using car cards. Car movements were tracked and cars were switched by car numbers. When personal computers became more readily available, Dad wrote his own software to generate switch lists and schedule trains and this software would continue to evolve along with the platforms on which it ran. In the time since that photo was taken I’ve been lucky enough to chase a lot of trains through a lot of great places. I’ve been trying to expose more of my own history in terms of both real and model trains and the more I dig, the more I discover how I interpret so many railway things through the lense of my relationship with the SVR. There’s no doubt that the first time I wandered over to watch a trio of sw1200’s work Hamilton’s Kinnear yard it was all that much more special for how much it reminded me of time at Forest Hill. I think we all quietly pretend ourselves into our miniature worlds and we’re equally thrilled when we can get close to doing so by discovering something as familiar.

Most of the SVR collection now resides here in our home. With such ready access to it, it’s been a real joy to use it when marking acheivements on my own layouts. Those boxcars posed on my sector plate are all SVR and that CP car immiediately behind the engines is likely among those photographed forty years ago in Forest Hill.

As I quipped at the end of my previous post, I could easily see trains on my current layout led by CP GP’s. I already know that the train lengths I’ve been designing for are very SVR friendly. I don’t feel like I started with the intent of creating a tribute to the SVR but I’m discovering just how happy it makes me feel to find a bit of the line’s legacy in my work today. Maybe it’s just me but it fuels a feeling of moving in the right direction.
Twenty-one years later, the SVR made the cover of Model Railroading’s October 1996 issue. The full issue is availale to read online on the Trainlife.com website:

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.