Modelling the right-of-way

Working on the rails myself, I’ve always been interested in accurate modelling of the right-of-way.  I’ve seen many model layouts with almost vertical scenery and poor rendition of the right-of-way.  I can and want to do better.


Instructions for levelling track using a long trowel. This tool was most often used for levelling track in the vicinity of rail joints.

Lines out of Lindsay on CN were not well-photographed, and the area around Santiago Yard even less so.  But we’re very fortunate to have this photo courtesy Ian Wilson that shows what I want to model.

The pole line has two six-pin crossarms of differing lengths.  I may use an Atlas line pole with a second shorter Pikestuff crossarm mounted on the pole below the longer atlas crossarm.  The line passes through slightly undulating topography, yet with a defined ditch to drain water away quickly from the roadbed.  This is especially important during spring run-off.  The right-of-way is a hundred feet wide, its boundary defined by a “Page Wire” fence.  I’m going to use a lot of static grass here as well…..


CN 2580 operating on Train 726’s schedule, is one mile east of Santiago Yard.  Jack Rehor photo from Ian Wilson’s “Steam Memories of Lindsay”, used here for discussion purposes only.   Notice that the ballast level at the tie ends is lower than it is in today’s track.  Notice also that there is NO deflection of the rail under the locomotive.  

The rail joint has always been the weakest part of railway track.  In the days of jointed rail instead of today’s welded rail, joint areas were the subject of constant maintenance by the section forces.  Various factors would cause the rails at the joints to sink along with the ties supporting them.  This would result in the rails’ running surface becoming lower near the rail joints than the rest of the rail length.   At speed, this would result in a rough ride.  Once track was pounded down at the rail joints, it was more susceptible to further damage with the passage of more trains.

The section forces would dig out the ballast around and under the joint ties, jack up the rail, and add ballast under the ties using a trowel.  That ballast came from material taken from the tie ends.  Sometimes the section may have brought some on a lorry behind the hand- or motor-car.  The rail was then lowered onto the fresh ballast, and the track’s surface checked for level.  When the track was levelled, ballast was packed around the ties to keep them from shifting with rail expansion/contraction.  This was done one joint at a time by the sectionmen, and a major part of their work.

Taking ballast from the tie ends resulted in the area around the joint ties having a slightly lower ballast level around those ties.  The photo above shows how this looked, and is a feature that I want to model.  Today’s track using continuous welded rail has much heavier ballast to counteract the forces of long strips of rail continually expanding and contracting.  Jointed track did not need such heavy ballasting as the rail joints took up the expansion/contraction of each rail.

But how to model this?

To be continued…..




Twig ties

I wanted to try making a few rough ties for use on my Midland in track on both the main track and in Santiago Yard itself.


A couple of rough track ties on the York Durham Heritage Railway.  


On the CP Campbellford Spur in Peterborough, 2016.  This was the former CN Campbellford Subdivision.  



Ties from my side yard?  Why not?  I gathered up this small bunch of oak and maple twigs in a few minutes.


Twigs planed using a small block plane.  Followed up with a wood rasp, they are cut into pieces just over a scale eight feet long.  Debarked, I’ll install them in track with commercial ties.


Final plaining to thickness using a 3/4″ wood chisel running on the tops of adjacent track ties.  Be sure that the glue is dry first!  These will be stained to match the other ties in track, then ballasting will follow.

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….