Diamond Ho!

This weekend I kept up the momentum created by getting the first turnout servo installed and started in on the only bit of Comstock Road’s trackwork that requires hand made frogs, the diamond crossing. Through the miracle of Templot, the diamond is asymmetrical with one leg being on a transition curve. Not something you are going to get off the shelf but a feature that let me squeeze things in the way I wanted. Now I just have to build it.

I started by re-reading the relevant sections of Trackwork Handbook for Model Railroaders by Paul Mallery since I have never built a diamond and haven’t built a turnout frog a very long time and not many of them then. Including the diamond in the trackplan was a deliberate creation of an opportunity to do something a bit challenging.

I printed off a copy of the crossing template, found a suitable bit of pine 1×4 and my file and dove in. Much bending, filing and fitting later, I was ready to apply some solder.firstfrog.jpg

Once I figured out that my piddling little 80W digital iron wasn’t going to cut it, I broke out the big 120W Weller and things started flowing. I soldered things into a blob and then spent more time than I like cleaning it up. Nevertheless, a result was achieved that compared well with the paper version.templatevsreality.jpg

The second frog aka V-crossing went considerably faster as I applied my learning from the first one. It was necessary to redraw the reference lines before I started since the wood block got a little singed.secondfrog.jpg

At the end of the evening, I have both V-crossings built and am looking forward to doing the K-crossings. I have not applied any detailing to the frogs and may not do so prior to installation. I will probably regret this decision. Here are both pieces posed in situ on the layout.vcrossings.jpg


Weekend Reading: Trackwork Handbook for Model Railroaders by Paul Mallery


This the book I was re-reading this weekend to brush up before starting in on the diamond crossing for Comstock Road. I have had this book for many years and actually did a search of my previous postings because it seemed strange that I had not already done a post on this book.

This classic is THE book for those intending to hand lay model railroad track in the North American tradition. It covers all kinds of details of the prototype and then gets down to practical advice for the modeller. Written long before DCC or the advent of the Fast Tracks CNC made jig empire, the methods described are what you need to build any kind of track using flat bottomed rail, spikes and a few simple tools. I needed to re-read parts of it because I haven’t built a turnout frog from scratch in more years than I care to count but the asymmetrical diamond on Comstock Road is just the sort of situation where these methods shine.

Even if you do everything with commercial jigs or castings, I highly recommend this book as a reference for prototype practice and other practical trackwork matters. Published by Carstens, it is currently out of print and not listed on the White River Productions site although several other Carstens books are. It looks like the book stand at train shows is your best bet if you want a copy although you might turn up a reasonably priced copy online. (unlike the unreasonably priced ones I found when I checked while writing this post.)

Turnout Control Conclusion

If you have been following along, you know that I have been attempting to devise a way to throw Comstock Road’s turnout points using a servo and a rotary motion mimicking a manual switch stand. The initial attempt using the mounting scheme appropriate to the typical back and forth scheme was not a success. After much scheming, I became resigned to having to mount the servo face towards the baseboard bottom and with shaft in line with the vertical throw shaft.

Happily, I came across a similar scheme used and well documented by the Delmarva Model Railroad Club that I could adapt to meet my goal. Rather than use a couple of blocks of wood, I used a couple of pieces of aquarium bubbler hose and 1 1/2″ #6 wood screws.

Before I tipped the center section up to get at the servo location, I taped down the points, throw bar and all. This kept things centered as well as prevented the pins holding the throw bar from falling out. Family lore includes the time we tilted a sofa bed while lugging it up the stairs and it went sproing. All subsequent movements start with tying those suckers shut! Note that digital photography has not stopped me from exercising my talent for getting a finger into the shot…boughtthatfarm

Things secured and disconnected, I tipped up the section, clamped it in place and re-bent the vertical wire to the new spec. The horizontal leg has to match the distance between the servo shaft center and the last hole on the servo horn.turnoutwiremk2

I plotted out the mounting holes to put the servo horn perpendicular to axis of the servo mount at center. This turned out to work but only just. The servo shaft is not centered in the housing so the near mounting screw interferes much sooner than the far one. The interference issue is only relevant when you invert the servo like this. Future installation will offset the center point to split the difference in the available travel.servobracketmk2

I tried to capture the situation when the turnout is thrown to that side. The servo horn is right up against the tubing but the turnout is thrown so we will call that a win.servohardover

Finally, I am awaiting the arrival of appropriate bits and bobs to wire the servos, controllers and driver board permanently. I can still operate one turnout at a time at close range via temporary measures. Also note that I forgot to install the frog polarity relay while I was “under’ the layout. One more for the checklist.verytemporary

I did a run of the test train to prove things worked so I can now claim to have an operating layout. I can now perform an Inglenook scheme via this turnout, the back track and manually pushing the traverser. Or at least I could if I had enough cars converted to P:48. I will need to do an inventory and get that under way.

Getting one turnout is not a huge deal but getting a working method sorted out to my satisfaction is a mental obstacle overcome. Onward!

Turnout Control Progress

I have mentioned previously that getting hand laid points connected up and suitably under control has been a stumbling block in past efforts. The achievable scope of Comstock Road (4 or 5 turnouts total) makes the mental size of the task easier to contemplate. I have begun the new year as I mean to go on, by tackling the mentally hard things and have made further progress.

First up is the connecting rod from switch stand location to throw bar. Increasingly prototypical possibilities have occupied my imagination but when I found myself contemplating scratchbuilding scale clevis’, I realized that I was making things harder than they should be, certainly for a first attempt. I resolved to make something out of the piano wire on hand.

I needed an eye or loop in the wire to connect to the vertical shaft comping up from beneath the layout. (I am going for a rotational motion like a switch stand rather than the model railroady back and forth in a big hole. I fashioned a simple jig consisting of a piece of scrap plywood with a nail driven in and cut off, and adjacent to a piano wire sized hole. A right angle bend near the end of the wire goes into the hole and the wire is wrapped around the nail to form the eye. I got the idea for this jig from the Animated Scale Models Handbook.

Here is the jig.bentwirejig

And here is the result trimmed up.eyeinwire

I have got the vertical brass tube and wire combo installed and connected to the throwbar. (We pause while I dash downstairs to take a photo of the installation which I apparently forgot to do. Lack of photos is usually a good sign since it indicates that I have got a head of steam up.) Here is a shot of the connecting rod installation. Bending the crank in the end of the vertical wire was a challenge and I will consider better alternatives such as soldering on a separate piece of brass bar. It does work and will be concealed by the switch stand. The other reason for a separate bar would be to allow the vertical wire to continue up through the stand so the target can rotate.connectingrod.jpg

Finally, we get to installing the servo, Tam Valley Octopus servo driver and associated electrical bits. I have got as far as fashioning a bracket for the servo using a section of 1/2″ aluminum channel from the big box store. I picked this idea up somewhere in the model railway reaches of the internet and it works a treat. The servo is just a friction fit in the channel after a slight pinch with a pair of pliers.bracketmk1

Finally, A Throwbar

As I may have previously mentioned, actually hooking up turnout points is one of the mental hurdles in my path to layoutdom (layoutness?). Today’s project was getting started on hooking up the points for high track with a throwbar. The method of pinning the two together was the challenge. Learning took place.

I had a plan that involved using very small hex bolts 1/8″ 00-90 that did not survive contact with reality. The clearance hole for the bolts is a drill number in the 60’s that turned out to be too big a hole to reliably drill in the tabs of the American Switch & Signal (now sold by Right O’Way) points. I managed one and then the next tore out. Break time!

For the second attempt, I went with an idea I vaguely recall from somewhere, cut down straight pins. The standard steel sewing pins almost fit through holes as-is so they work much better. They are easy to make which is fortunate since they also fly very far if your grip with the tweezers slips.

After assorted bits of filing, drilling and fiddling, the test fit was completed. I expect the installation of the rest of the throwbars to go much smoother.


Micromark Spiking Pliers

After a very stressful couple of weeks, it was good to get home and do a bit of work on the layout. I finished correcting the various gauge tightness issues on the high track turnout (rail braces can only push in, not pull out so you had better start wide) and have got the guard rails and rail braces installed. I will still need to fit the gauge plates and throw rods but the test car runs through each leg if I spike the points over. I am pleased that I have got things all working without messing up the flowing lines in the original Templot template.hightrackturnout

In doing this bit of trackwork, I have been trying out another one of my purchases from the GTA Train Show: a pair of Micromark spike insertion pliers. I had been meaning to get a pair whenever but a vendor at the show had a large array of Micromark items available including the pliers so I jumped at the chance to get them right now.

The plier are similar in feel to rail nippers but have flat jaws with a T-shaped groove in the ends to hold a spike. My dodgy photo show the T but the Micromark site has a much better version.


These pliers are kind of pricey and I was not certain they would work with the Proto87 Stores etched spikes but it turns out they do! The fit isn’t tight but it works well enough and considerably better than the ol’ needle nose.

I estimate that using these pliers doubles the speed at which I can get a spike in while also reducing the number of bent spike failures. Bent spikes are an expense in modeler composure if nothing else. 10 seconds vs about 20 doesn’t sound like a big deal and in the single case it isn’t. If I calculate the total savings in time then the purchase is a no brainer.

roughly 36 feet of track x 22 ties per foot x 4 spikes per tie x 10 seconds = 3160 seconds ~ 9 hours

~$30 / 9 hours is 3.33 / hour.  Anyone’s time is definitely worth more than that. The reduced aggravation from more precise spike placement and fewer (almost none) bent spikes also significantly increases my enjoyment of track laying. Another on my list of should have done it a long time ago things.

Charging the Hill

I managed to put a good couple of hours in on tracklaying today. I decided that I wanted to be able to run up the ramp to the elevated siding. Getting that done will finish off the trackwork that needs to be done from the rear of the layout. That, in turn, will allow me to rough in the scenery and put up the backdrop without needing to take it on and off frequently. (Famous last words…)

With that goal in mind, I installed the frog and diverging stock rail for the turnout leading to the hill and carried on up the hill. By the time the game was called on account of darkness I had rail all the way to the end with the end pieces in the process of being spiked down. I also got the closure rails cut and feeders installed (feedered?) so I can spike those down as well without having to break out the soldering iron. I even remembered to install the joint reinforcing brass screws before I spiked rail over the joint. There is a first time for everything. 🙂


I am reasonably certain my Atlas SW-8 will have no problem negotiating the stiff but short grade with a car or two. I am for sure certain that a derail and some sort of positive braking mechanism will be required since the grade can impart quite a bit of speed to a car rolling from the top.

I discovered that there is a downside to roller gauges. I had to deploy a t-pin to keep a gauge where I needed it. This may indicate an insufficiently tight tolerance in my gauge design.gradebrake