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Hand Laying N Scale

 code 40 Dual Gauge

    I'm setting out to try and give you an accurate description of how I lay track in hopes you will be encouraged to take the plunge like I did. The first part is basic track, tie making and laying, then turnouts with the throw linkage I use, dual gauge turnouts is forth and finally ballast. I will be writing these over the next few months as I build the layout so please don't get too impatient.


    I made the decision to give hand laying a try for one reason, cost. I run steam and most of my engines were older ( Minitrix, Aurora, Arnold ) and had poor contact with the rail. Most would stall out regularly in turnouts with plastic frogs. I have only considered building empires ( can't seem to confine myself to 4x8 or 6x10 layouts ) and when I would do a turnout count, the number would always come up in the 70's. After going to the hobby shop and pricing out all metal turnouts, then $20.00, now $30.00, to replace the older Atlas turnouts I had at the time, I couldn't afford the cost. So I asked the experts there at the store what alternatives I had. John Walter at Pacific Scale Rail suggested hand laying, he showed me Rail Craft code 40 and code 55 rail, dug out a picture of George Carrol's switching layout done in code 40 and even came up with an old article from Model Railroader ( not sure of the month and year) on how to do it called " Handlaying N gauge code 40 track- two different approaches " by Larry Kazoyan and Gordon Odegard. ( If you need more info about this article, contact me. ) Then he suggested I go talk to George about how he did it. There was hope for me yet.

Getting started:

    I bought 2 lengths of code 40 rail, read the article ( chose Larry Kazoyan's method ) and then went to see George to learn what I could and find out where to get the fixative mentioned in the article, Pliobond.  Pliobond is a heat activated ( vulcanizing ) contact cement available in most hardware stores. As the article explains, you apply a thin coating to the underside of the rail, place the rail in location and slowly slide a hot twenty-five watt soldering iron along the length of the rail to cement it in location. If you need to make adjustments simply heat the rail with the iron again and move the rail to the new location and allow to cool. I made up some ties, both pc board and wood ( I'll explain the process used in another installment ), built the 3 point gauge described in the article, and laid about 8 inches of straight track. Next I built a turnout as explained in the article and tested with a box car, both worked and I felt ready to start. I stepped off the edge....

    The next problem I encountered was that Digitrax and the lack of electrical blocks allowed me to run an engine forward until it fouled a turnout.  This creates a short in Digitrax and while your engines cannot move, the full power of 16 volts AC is still being fed to the track work. This situation can develop enough heat in the track work to release the Pliobond adhesive and suddenly your rail moves out of gauge (not good!). I also found that Pliobond cannot hold the very ends of the rail on a curve with a radius of less than 11 inches, and they slowly move out of gauge.  In order to fix this problem, I resorted to using rail spikes in areas where the gauge drifted. In my case, I was ballasting before rail because I thought it would look neater and I wouldn't be risking gluing my turnouts into a fixed position, but now I've learned how much the ballast cement helps hold the rail as well. This meant that I had to use RP-28 wheel sets on my rolling stock and turn down the deeper flanges on my older locomotives. (But I was planning to do that anyway).  In retrospect, Gordon Odegard's method of using PC ties, even on straight track seemed to be the better method. I still use Larry's style of turnout construction and like it's speed of building and overall looks.

    I laid about 30 feet of track and built a dozen turnouts using the three point gauge I built from Larry's article, then I found some problems. During the construction process I was testing the track with a couple of boxcars and a Bachmann 0-6-0 switcher engine ( the only engine I had with Digitrax installed ), everything worked fine. Then I bought a Kato Mikato as they where just new on the market at the time and rushed a decoder into it. It wouldn't go around curves or through turnouts, it either slowed right down or stalled completely. I was stumped. It seemed that my rails where too close together on curves, I checked my three point gauge, it was right as per Larry's drawing. Kato said their Mikato should negotiate a 9 inch radius. What had happened? Just before I blinded a driver on the Mikato I decided to read what the NMRA standards had to say about the subject and found an interesting point. In RP-8 the NMRA points out that track work is divided into classes.  The greater the class, the longer a locomotives rigid wheel base can be. In N scale, class 2 track work, with a minimum 10" radius requires a 3 point gauge with the 2 common points to have a width of 1.0325 inches. A class 1 railway, with a minimum radius of 12.5" requires a gauge of 1.26 inches.  Larry's 3 point gauge was not long enough for my Mikato's wheel base ( only .75" ).  Although I am building a class 3 (logging) railway with a minimum 10" radius curve, I still had to make a new 3 point gauge.  So, the one I built is to class 1 standards and it does provide me with the right rail to rail distance for bigger locomotives, even on 9" radius curves. Yes, I had to re-gauge all my rail and rebuild all of my turnouts! (There were several times when I thought I was not going to be able to keep my head above water).

What I learned:

    Because of a move into a new railway room, (with new house attached)  I ended up scrapping this railway and starting construction on my current layout. The old railway didn't weather the move too well, it got rained on. Also the doorway to the new train room was an inch narrower than the door in the old house and all the sections of the layout had to be tipped on edge to come through the new door and I found I didn't install enough bracing in the bench work so the section did some lateral twisting which was very hard on the track work and produced a fair amount of damage. I felt it was better to start over than to try to fix the damage plus the railway wouldn't fit well in the new room which it wasn't planned for. 

    Figure 8 shows the drop of CA being applied to the tie about 1.25" away from the end of the rail. I locate the first rail by eye and don't worry to much about whether or not the track lands perfectly across the length of the tie, I don't think the guys laying logging lines concerned themselves either. If you like that look you could use the N scale rule to pencil mark the location of the first rail and use a straight edge for keeping the rail ramrod straight on the straight-aways ( I enjoy watching my trains bob and weave down the track ).  I glue the rail in location and then pre-drill for the spikes ( Figure 9 ). Don't take the approach that you have to use a #77 drill bit because I say so, your looking for a hole that's tight enough to hold the spike but big enough to make it fairly easy to press the spike in as these spikes bend easily. Figure 10 shows pushing the spike in and figure 11 shows turning the head of the spike so it presses down on the flange of the rail. Push the spike as far down as possible to clear the flanges on your wheels but not to far or it can twist your rail. Before I start laying any rail I tin the PC ties which I locate one about every 7" of track and as I lay over them I dab a little solder paste on and solder the rail in place as I go by. Figure 12 shows the common rail laid to the end of track laid before, I work with a longer than needed length of rail, lay it into position and as I get close to the end I mark it with a pencil, flex it away from the ties and then nip it with the rail nippers. I also place a drop of CA against the rail centered between each spike set, the white glue applied to hold the ballast in place will complete the anchoring of the rail. If you do drill a sloppy hole that the spike sits loose in you can place a small drop of CA on the head of the spike so it doesn't work up while your running trains before the ballast gets installed.

What I now do:

     Let me first say that it takes no special skills to lay code 40 N scale. It's the same as hand laying in any other scale, just smaller. All the other modelers that I've talked to that have done hand laying agree that it is no more difficult that building a structure kit and that taking your time will produce a great model. I'm including a picture of Larry's 3 point gauge here because it doesn't require the use of a lathe to build like mine do. Keep in mind if you build his gauge to lengthen the overall dimension to NMRA standards if you have long fixed wheelbase locomotives on tight curves like I do. If you are running diesels, his gauge should work fine as is.

    The tools I use

are as follows: 

    I have my turnouts installed and the throws hooked up before I lay track through an area and tend to lay track from turnout to turnout. Figures 1, 2 and 3 show a turnout I've built where standard gauge goes straight and dual gauge passes through the diverging route, as you can see it is a stub turnout as are all my dual gauge turnouts. The up standing wire in the ground throw area is a trip linkage for a working semaphore which I build into all my turnouts. More on this when I explain my turnout construction and throw linkage methods. Figure 4 shows the other end of dual gauge track and I will be laying track from the turnout to this point. Figure 5 shows the bare ties before they receive the rail. Whenever your laying track on a curve ( like I am here ) you start with the outside rail first, this is because any heating process ( soldering to the PC ties ) cause the rail to contract. If you laid the inside rail first as the rail contracted when cooling it could close your gauge to the point wheel sets couldn't pass through it. Figure 6 shows the common rail of the turnout having been set in place, glued and spiked and now the next length of rail is being set in position. Figure 7 shows this end of the rail spiked in place.

    Figure 13 show the start of laying the narrow gauge rail, the process is the same as for the common rail with the addition of sliding your three point gauge along the rail letting it bend into location as you go, marking the spot on the tie with your pencil, moving the rail and then adding a spot of CA and setting the rail into the glue and checking the gauge. I use the two point side of my gauge for this so you can see. On the straight-away the two rails should be just touching either side of your gauge and on the curve there should be about .005" play, spike and repeat the process along the length of the rail ( figure 14 ). Figure 15 is the checking of gauge as the standard rail is laid. After completing the rail I go along the length of track and using my cut off disk with the right angle drive on my dremel, I slice the copper cladding on the PC ties for the electrical gaps. Figure 16 is a close-up of the completed section of track.  For a view of what I've laid here, look  in between the tools in the above photos of the tools I use.  When I hook up feeder wires for the rail I solder to the PC ties so as not to distort the rail. Hope you give this a try, it's not hard.

    Pics 1,2 and 3

    2 point and 3 point gauges suitable for the track your laying ( my gauges are shown on progress reports one, this site )

    A collection of weights heavy enough to hold the track on a curve till the glue sets

    A 25 watt soldering iron, solder paste and rosin core solder

    Cyanoacrylite "CA" and a plate of glass to drip it onto and a toothpick to apply the glue

    A soft leaded pencil

    A fine file, I use a Nickelson chainsaw sharpening file

    Micro Engineering micro spikes (30-108) and code 40 weathered rail (16-040)

    A blade knife with an old blade to push the spikes around

    Xuron Rail Nippers

    2 pair bent needle nose pliers from Sears, one set I ground the end to make more clearance when I'm in between close rails

    Dremel with right angle drive, cut off disk and a #77 (.018") drill bit

Laying Track
Larry’s gauge