Sunday, March 13, 2011

Are you sitting down? I’ve been working on adding track. That’s right, I’m finally getting around to that. Shocking, I know.

It had always been my goal to make another loop inside the initial one. But to do so, I needed 5 more turnouts. It took a while for me to save up enough to buy all those, but a Birthday present from my Granddad finally tipped the scaled. In addition, I dug through my box o’ junk (ever model railroader has one) and found TWO of the Peco Electrofrog switches from the layout I had started in high school. (It’s a pity I didn’t use all electrofrog switches on that layout, as I would have plenty of turnouts if I did).
(Side note: The “frog” of a turnout is the part where the route diverges. Most commercial turnouts have insulated frogs, which makes wiring easier. The Peco Electrofrogs are powered through the frogs, which makes stalling on a turnout a rare occurrence. This is important if you’re like me and run small-wheelbase locomotives.)

I’ve never been a very good track planner on paper, so I started by simply mocking up the track for real. Pretty soon I came up with a loop that 1) made me happy and 2) worked with the track that I had. I decided pretty early against doing a simple double track main, as I figured that would get a little boring. In addition, I knew I would need flextrack to do that, and my nearest source of flex track (nee ANY MR specific item) is 100 miles away.

After blocking out the track, I moved everything off the layout and then hauled the entire thing off to the living room. I thought it would be easier to work on the layout if I had access from all sides, and I wasn’t really looking forward to soldering all that track in the back of the layout, either.

With the layout in the living room floor, I blocked out the track again. My next task would be to cut out the foam shapes I would need for the cookie-cutter roadbed.

Let me say this: Lesson Learned: next layout, none of this cookie-cutter nonsense. I started out doing that because I thought (as told by the gods at Woodland Scenics) that it would be easier when it got to scenery. Well, that remains to be seen, and cutting foam is a PITA. Last time I pretty much bored a tiny hole in my skin from the handle of the kitchen knife I used to cut it.
This time, I was determined to get a proper cutting tool, so I went to Lowe’s and invested in a nasty-looking thing I’d seen recommend on the various MR forums: A wallboard saw. This tool is designed to cut sheet-rock and other wall materials. Both blade surfaces are serrated, and the tip of the knife comes to a sharp, broad point. It’s easy to puncture the foam and saw out what you need.

Anyway, I took a few sections of track at a time, laid them out on the foam (I still had enough left from my initial foam purchase), and cut out sections with the saw, using a cardboard table brace the foam against whilst I cut.

Creating is messy

After all the pieces were cut, I laid them out under the track and marked their placement on the layout with a sharpie. Then I removed all the track and got out one of my favorite tools: the caulk gun.

I don’t know what it is about this thing but it sure is fun to use. I still had two tubes of “Liquid Nails for Projects” left from the last time I did layout construction. I spread a liberal bead of the tan glue over the areas where the pink foam risers were going to go, then smoothed it out with a spare piece of scrap foam. After waiting a few seconds for the glue to get a bit tacky, I pressed the pink foam into place, then weighed each piece down with old Norton Anthologies. Who says college doesn’t pay?

Weighing down the foam

After waiting two days for the glue to fully dry, I removed the books and laid out the track once again. I used a sharpie to mark the location on the foam. The next step was installing Woodland Scenics’s trackbed. This is a roadbed product that is a substitute for the traditional cork. I used it on my last layout and loved the stuff, so I’ll probably continue to use it from now on. It’s very easy to shape the curves.

I bought a continuous roll, so I was able to lay the roadbed in one single piece. Made things very easy. I have a small 4.5” bridge on the inner loop, so I started laying the roadbed at that gap. I spread a thin film of Woodland Scenic’s foam tack glue on both the roadbed and pink foam, then let it sit for a few minutes to get tacky. I then carefully pressed the roadbed into place, adjusting it to fit the track. I pushed ordinary push-pins into the roadbed to hold it down while the glue dried (especially necessary on curves).


After waiting ANOTHER DAY (model railroading has a lot of “hurry up and wait”), I removed the push pins and laid out the track one final time. I spread another bead of foam tack glue on the roadbed, then pushed the track into place, again securing it with the push pins. After another 24-hour waiting period, I removed the pins, then pushed around a Swiss passenger car (the longest car I have) on the newly-laid rail to check for any obvious problems.


Next time: wiring.

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