Called and cancelled

I was called to relieve a train destined Toronto this morning, but on my way to work, my call was cancelled.  So, I’ve some time to lay ties down for the main track passing by Santiago Yard.IMG_1096

Piano-key tie spacing jig being filled with ties.

I use a piano-key tie spacing jig to set my ties the correct distance apart, following CN practice.  I’ve made three wood jigs, each with a different tie spacing per 33′ rail length.  The main track of the CN Campbellford Sub. I determined years ago to use 18 ties to a 33′ rail length.  This jig is made of 1″ thick lumber and has wood strips glued to it act as stops for each tie.  When all ties are in the jig, I put a strip of drafting or masking tape across the ties, and lift the spaced ties out of the jig.

Ties used are mostly Micro-Engineering scale 16′ long switch ties cut in half to 8′ length on a North-West Short Line Chopper.  These are a close approximation of CN 8′ long by 6″ thick by 8″ wide ties, and as a bonus, are a bit rough.  A few ties are made of debarked oak/pine/maple twigs found in my side yard.

I smooth some carpenters’ glue on the roadbed.  The ties’ ends are placed against a a string or pencil reference line that is a scale four feet from the track centreline.  This results in the scale eight-foot-long ties being centred on the track centreline.  Let this work dry for at least an hour before removing the tape.


Tape strip being removed from ties.  The ballast is an experiment, the results of which I feel are indecisive. I blew some track ballast on the wet glue as it dried, but I’m not very pleased with the result.  Note the string reference line next to the ties.  It’s–dental floss.  We had on hand a package of it that my wife and I did not like, so I found a “peacetime” use for it.


Carving down the thickness of my homemade twig “rough” ties using a 3/4″ chisel sliding on adjacent ties. These homemade ties simulate hewn or rough ties.  They’re a bit harder than regular pine ties, but I’m not going to spike into these anyway.


While carving ties, be sure to wear safety glasses unless you enjoy having bits of wood fly in your eyes.  These are 2 1/2 diopter “safety cheaters” from work.

Now the adventure will continue with finishing levelling the rough twig ties, and ballasting.



It’s been a while…

IMG_0864This is where we left off…

Onto some roadbed I’d laid out turnouts that I’d built for the west end of Lindsay’s Santiago Yard.  They looked great, and I built a dozen CN No 7 turnouts as I’d perfected a method to build them quickly.



A productive couple of weeks produced a dozen turnouts.  Look good, don’t they?

But then I ran into a little snag.  I should have kept the Code 83 rail separately from the Code 70 rail.  Some of the above turnouts were built using both sizes!  This was followed by identifying the rail height in each turnout and replacing Code 83 rail with Code 70.  A little setback, but nothing insurmountable.

With enough turnouts now in hand for both ends of Santiago Yard.  I laid out a centreline for the main track of the Campbellford Sub. down the north side of the roadbed through Santiago.

With a centreline established, I was able to locate the switch points of both the east and west switches of Santiago Yard.  I drew a second line parallel to the centreline a scale four feet to the north of the track centreline.  I use HO scale eight-foot long ties, so this second line is the north reference line for the tie ends. I drilled slots under the roadbed for a Tortoise or Fast Tracks’ Bullfrog switch machine’s wire through the roadbed to the throwbar under the switch points.

I laid an HO scale CN no 7 turnout plan down on the workbench, then placed a strip of drafting tape across the plan.  Mt Albert Scale Lumber turnout ties were cut to scale lengths called out on the CN drawing and laid out on the plan, sticking them to the the tape.


I spread carpenters’ glue on the roadbed at the turnout location, making sure that the tie-end lines were visible.  I removed the scale 16′ long “headblock” ties where the switchstand will sit on the east and west turnouts for Santiago before I laid the ties in the glue.  The ties were placed on the roadbed, and the glue allowed to dry.

With the switch ties in place, I drilled 1 1/8″ diameter holes using a hole saw next to the location of the switch points of the east and west turnouts of Santiago Yard.  These holes are for Rapido’s Rail Crew switch machines–more on that later. These two turnouts also received slots cut into the roadbed for free movement of the wire “rod” connecting the Rapido machines with the switch throwbar.


Ready-built turnout in place.  Still needs to be spiked down. The missing rail is the sprung wing rail of the spring frog, still to be installed.

I dropped a ready-built turnout in place, and spiked its rails down to the ties.  Looks good!

More to come….





Test fitting turnouts to what will be the west end of Santiago Yard.  Turnout nearest you is the main track turnout fitted with a spring frog, to be installed when this yard is laid in place for good.  All are CN No. 7 built using the aluminum template that I’d described earlier.  They still need throw rods.  See below….

Slowly, I’ve been building up a stock of CN No. 7 turnouts for the layout.  Santiago Yard needs seven–one left and right with spring frogs for the main track turnouts to the yard, and two each left and right for the turnouts to No. 1/2/3 Siding.  The seventh is off the main track between the turnouts to the yard, and is the switch to downtown Lindsay east of the river.  This turnout is shown in my photos from 1983 below.  All other tracks in Santiago Yard were removed in the fall of 1964.–

Looking east and west at the switch to downtown Lindsay, 1983.  The flat vacant area to the south where Santiago’s yard tracks were until 1964 was still visible.   


Spring frog follows CN practice for 100-pound rail, modelled here in Code 70 rail in HO scale. I’ve developed a method for making these work, which I’ll explain later.

I’m experimenting with thin throw rods, following CN practice.  These are close to scale width, using Fast Tracks’ Z scale PC board ties.  I read an article on Trevor Marshall’s blog showing how he built these, expanded on in the October Railroad Model Craftsman.  My technique is almost identical to Trevor’s.


Shown here in a Code 55 CN no. 7 turnout, two Fast Tracks Z scale PC board ties are used for the throw rods.  The throw rod in between the headblock ties is reinforced by a piece of Code 100 rail filed down; with the amount of work required to make this, I’ll follow Trevor’s lead and just use a piece of 1/8″ wide stock in future.  A hole is drilled in that reinforcing piece for the vertical switch rod from the switch machine or hand throw.

I’m still building turnouts.  I’ve a stock of no. 7 and no. 6 frogs, etc. that I’d prepared almost two decades ago that are now being built into turnouts.  Ill probably stop when I’ve built them all up so that I’ve a stock of turnouts ready to install.

It’s amazing what I can get done if I stay off the internet!

Switches for Santiago Yard


                              Looking east along the site of Santiago Yard, 1983.

Having built the roadbed and benchwork for Santiago, it’s time to build some turnouts.   


CN no. 7 turnout diagram0001

                                                        CN number 7 turnout plan

When building this new version of the Midland Railway, I decided to use NMRA no. 6 turnouts for yards, and CN no. 7 turnouts wherever  passenger equipment and/or large steam locomotives such as Mikadoes would traverse the diverging route.  The odd industrial spur might use a number 5, but I’m limiting my use of those to where short cars and small steam loco’s might use them.   A CN no. 7 turnout built in HO scale is not much longer than an NMRA no. 6, yet allows almost any model rail equipment to run through it.

Fast Tracks makes some nice assembly fixtures for NMRA number 5/6/7 turnouts, but not for a CN no. 7.  The NMRA number 7 is a longer turnout than the CN version when built in HO scale.  As I’ll be using a lot of the CN no. 7’s, I needed some device to help me build these in a consistent fashion and faster than laying them out using offsets and a scale ruler–every time.  Here’s the diagram, taken from the CN turnout plan—

CN no. 7 turnout offset diagram

I converted the offsets from feet and inches on the CN plan to HO scale decimal measurements, and drew up a rough dimensioned drawing for a closure rail jig that fits between the gauge sides of the curved and straight closure rails.  The left edge is where the tips of the switch points are located–


I was given some 2′ square 1/16″ thick aluminum signs a few years ago.  I’d tried cutting a piece to make this closure rail jig using sheet metal shears, but found that I produced a piece of crumpled, distorted sheet metal which would not make a good closure rail form without lots of work flattening it.  A little online research told me that when cutting sheet metal with shears, the smaller piece being cut takes the stress from the process, distorting it.  Ah-ha!  But if you use a jig saw and a metal cutting blade…

With a metal cutting blade in my old Sears Canada saber saw, I cut out an oversized blank.  This process did not result in distortion, but a lot of swarf was produced by the blade.  No big deal.  This blank was then filed and sanded to produce a truly straight edge on one side.  This edge became the edge that the gauge side of the straight closure rail is placed against.

I marked out the dimensions from my rough drawing on the aluminum sheet, using the straight edge for reference.   I cut small slivers of aluminum off the sheet until I was near to the markings, leaving the part slightly oversize.   This prevented distortion of the jig, as the cut-off slivers took the stress.  I finished my cutting and shaping of this jig using a mill bastard file.  Here’s the finished jig for setting and soldering to ties (or spiking them to wood ties) curved and straight closure rails for a CN no. 7 turnout in HO scale–


I white-glue a CN no. 7 turnout diagram to a scrap sheet of glass, then white-glue Fast Tracks’ PC board ties to the diagram.  Here’s an example, with rails ready to be soldered to the ties–



I lay the frog in place first, measuring distance from frog to points and soldering the frog in place.  I clean the tie tops off using a sanding stick, sand the base of the rails by drawing them over 400-grit sandpaper, and spread some rosin paste flux on the tie tops before soldering the rails to ties using regular 60/40 electrical solder.



This is followed by soldering the straight closure rail in place.  I then bend the curved closure rail to almost conform to the jig, and solder it in place against the jig, as seen in the bottom turnout here–


The rest of the turnout is gauged off the soldered curved and straight closure rails, as well as those of the frog assembly.  I use a three-point gauge to hold the rails as I solder them, checking my work afterwards using an NMRA Mark IV Standards gauge.  I then run a set of trucks fitted with narrow-tread Code 88 wheels through it, looking for gauge issues, binding, or metal chips in the running surfaces of the turnout.

I soak the finished turnout in hot water to soften the white glue holding ties and diagram to the glass sheet.  A scraper is used to gently separate the ties from the paper diagram, then the diagram from the glass sheet.  Glue another diagram on the sheet, and the process begins again.

So far, so good.  This use of a home-built jig-works well if you can’t buy a commercial turnout assembly fixture.  1/16″ thick aluminum sheet gives me a jig that will allow me to use Code 40 to 83 rail to build a turnout, using just this one jig.  Left or right-handed versions of the CN no. 7 turnout are easy to build–just flip the jig over for right- or left-hand versions.

If Fast Tracks or Oak Hill makes a turnout assembly fixture for what you want.  Buy it and use it.  Don’t make your own closure rail jig.  But if you want to model New York Central, Illinois Central, or even British Railways’ flat-bottom rail post-WWII turnout and have scale drawings for it, my method may work well for you.




Progress report on Santiago Yard



Almost ready to lay track!  The string line is used to check uniformity of main track level along the thirteen feet of roadbed. There will be a main track on the left and three yard tracks to the right of it.

With roadbed and sub-roadbed glued together, I set about to build the frame to support it.  While L-girder benchwork is easy to build and forgiving of poor carpentry skills such as mine, I decided to use open-grid benchwork, as it’s much thinner than L-girder.  For the multi-level layout that I plan to build to get what I want for mainline run, this is a concern.

I cut a few lengths of 3 inch wide strips of 3/4″ thick plywood from a 4′ x 8′ sheet.  Two strips were cut to 5′-6″ long.  These were each butt-joined to an eight-foot long strip, with a foot-long 3″ wide splice plate glued to one side of the joint and then clamped together to make two 13′-6″ long side members.  Several strips of 3″ wide, 3/4″ plywood were cut to 10 1/2″ long for joists to run between the side members.  I drilled three 1/2″ holes through their sides to accommodate DCC bus line and Digitrax LocoNet lines.

I screwed a couple of joists to the side members, connecting them and making a basic benchwork frame 12″ wide.


Roadbed temporarily screwed to a joist.  These screws will later be withdrawn and the holes plugged. The level is used to check roadbed cross-level as I build the benchwork.

The roadbed assembly was screwed to the joists and checked for cross level.  Satisfied that the roadbed was level, I added joists between the side members, checking that the roadbed remained level. I did not want to use risers as this would introduce complexity, height, and weight to the roadbed/benchwork assembly.


An example of roadbed and benchwork construction for Santiago Yard.  The skilled carpenter will likely find my work a little rough, but fascia, scenery, and track should make this all look a lot better by the time that I’m done. 

Using this type of benchwork construction, I’ve built a rigid layout benchwork/roadbed combination that is less than four inches high.


The screws in the roadbed were removed.  Screws through the joists into the roadbed replaced these and can be withdrawn easily if needed.  I hate removing screws from the roadbed when they are under ballast or ties.


Soon I’ll build the turnouts to lead Santiago’s three yard tracks off from the main line.  Still to be drawn on the roadbed are accurate track centre lines for placing the ties.

More to come….