Getting back to work on Santiago Yard


Ties laid in place at what will be the west end of Santiago yard.  

After what was a bit of a lull in my modelling endeavours, I’ve gotten back to work on Santiago Yard.  Transitions from thicker main track ties to thinner yard track ties have been laid down, so it was time to lay the rest of the yard’s ties.  The use of thinner ties and lighter rail in the yard than on the main track gives a visual demarcation between the two, while allowing me to keep the same roadbed height for both yard and main track.

Previously, I’ve mentioned using twigs for ties.  Along with the commercial ties and twig ties, I wanted some ties in very rough shape, perhaps in dire need of replacement. What’s the easiest way to replicate them?

I went back a few decades in my modelling and made my own ties from sheet balsa wood.  Using thicknesses from 1/32″ to 1/8″ thick, I cut a strip scale eight feet wide off each sheet.  This strip was then cut into individual ties using a guillotine-type modeller’s tool called a K-Tool Modeling Miter.  My NWSL Chopper is hiding somewhere.–amazing how much one can miss a good tool when you can’t find it!

Accuracy is not too important, as the balsa wood ties will be severely distressed once laid in track.

I placed my ties in a piano-key jig.  I’ve made three of these.  One has 14 ties to a 33′ rail length, and is used for yard and industrial track.  Another places 16 ties within a 33′ rail length for use on sidings and branchline main track.  The yard tracks at Santiago Yard use this spacing.  The third jig places 18 ties in a 33′ rail length; this is the tie spacing for the main track of the Campbellford Sub.


Piano-key tie jig in use.  This places ties at the appropriate spacing for the type of track that I am modelling. Red and blue markings indicate joints of prototype standard 33′ rail lengths so that I may place these ties closer together while still in the jig.  This will be useful later.

It’s not difficult to use whatever ties one wants to in the jig.  PC board, twigs, balsa wood, or commercial ties all can be used.  No 3 Siding at Santiago Yard will be nearest the layout edge.  Someone clumsy like me can damage handlaid track through pushing rail out of alignment accidentally by leaning on the layout, track cleaning, etc.  I know this because…. I figure that using PC board ties here instead of spiking rail down will be advantageous for preventing damage.

I place balsa and twig ties in the jig where I figure that I will not be driving spikes into them.  The twigs are hardwood and would have to be pre-drilled.  Balsa is too soft to hold spikes.  So every fifth tie must be a commercial or PC board tie to make life easier when securing rail in place on the ties.


My preference is to use painters’ tape for transferring ties from the jig to the layout. After drawing the track centre-line, I draw a parallel reference line scale four feet from it. This line is where I place the ends of my ties. I smear straight carpenter’s glue onto my roadbed, stick the ties down, and remove the tape after a few minutes.  Yes, some little bits of the ties come off on the tape–it’s not the end of the world!  I got a little daring here and dropped some ballast down into the still-wet glue.


Here’s an admixture of commercial, twig, PC, and balsa ties ready for weathering before rail is laid.  Those twig ties really show their value in modelling ties made of logs flattened on two sides.  Trimming the tops of some ties has removed stain; I’ll stain them back to uniformity.  Yes, I’ve been playing with the Noch Gras-Master.  More on that later….