Thursday, November 30, 2017

Pizza Box Track Planning

This article describes a classic method of track planning, which allows you go from an idea directly to laying track - bypassing the scale drawing stage entirely. This is the method I used on my layout. It still works fine, and plus you get a pizza (or two) to eat!


This assumes you have your benchwork ready.

Having a rough sketch is helpful to begin, but is not required. You can design on the fly as you go along.

You will need one turnout of each size you plan to use (#4, #6, etc). Either left-hand or right-hand is fine. If you don't have turnouts in hand, many manufacturers offer actual-size image downloads from their web site.

Place a turnout in a photocopier and make a bunch of copies of it. If you only have a left or right, flip it over and copy the other side to make the mirror image turnouts. Cut out the images.The only critical part here is to cut exactly on the track ends.

Obtain a large pizza. Eat (or discard) the pizza, and save the box lid. (Any large flat piece of cardboard may be substituted). This will become your template.

Make the template by drawing a quarter-circle on the cardboard of your desired minimum radius curve. Track radii are measured to the track centerline. For HO, subtract 1/2" since we will measuring to the inside of the track. See figure 1.

If you want a 24" curve, make the cardboard's radius 23.5". For my HO layout, I used two: a 20" radius for industrial trackage, and 24" for everything else.  Cut out the templates.


Now we begin. Place the turnout copies on the layout, approximately where desired. Try "connecting" them using flex track. When you have a curve, use the cardboard template  as a feeler gauge on the inside of the curve. If the track encroaches on the cardboard, your curve is too tight. Adjust location of your turnouts so any curves fall outside your templates.


Easements are used to gradually enter a curve, both on the prototype and models. Easements improves reliability and avoid the tinplate-train-suddenly-lurching-into-a-curve effect.

For a full discussion of creating easements, refer to the NMRA Data Sheet . It's pretty complex, so here is a quick-and-dirty method of creating a certain radius curve with easements:

Extend the lines of the two tangent (straight) tracks on either side of your proposed curve, until the lines cross. See Figure 2.

Place the template inside the intersection, but space it out a bit (offset) from each line. An offset between 1" and 2" works well for HO.

Place the flextrack tight to the center portion of the template, and allow the ends to join the straight track naturally. A flexible yardstick on edge can also be used. See Figure 3.

Then lay your track on the line. A thin bead of latex caulking can be used to glue it down, and still allow it to be removed in the future. You may wish to tint the caulking an earth tone color prior to applying to avoid it showing between the ties.

Draw a pencil line along your desired track line.


To make an adhesive that is flexible and repositionable, use white latex caulk. Squirt some into a container. Tint it by adding earth tone acrylic paint (so it won't be obvious if it shows between the ties) and mix. Apply sparingly to the track centerline using a putty knife. Press turnouts in place, and connect using flex track along the lines drawn earlier. Curved track may need some track nails or pins to keep it from springing back. You will be able to reposition track as needed for a few hours before the caulk dries.

Once you are happy with it, secure with some track nails.

Removal, if needed, can be done by prying a putty knife under the track and popping it off the caulking.

If you need assistance disposing of additional pizza, give me a call.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Night scenes

A couple of night scenes now that Kenton is fully lit up. All that remains are the streetlights, they will go in soon. Lighting the towns makes night operations a lot more fun.

LED Structure Lighting

1 December is a great time to light up the structures on your layout. LED Christmas lights are available everywhere. This box of 100 was about $4 and contains 100 3mm LEDs.

2 Each LED housing is held in with a retaining clip (arrow). Flip the clip open and pull the entire LED/housing free. Solder wires to the LED. On these, the LED lead next to the retainer clip is the (+) lead. Add a resistor appropriate for your voltage. I use a 5 volt supply, and 330 ohms works well.

3 Drill a 1/4” hole in the layout and poke the wires down until the LED housing is flush. To avoid seeing a point-source LED through the structure windows, make a diffuser from a strip of plastic cut from a milk bottle.

4 Diffuser set in place

5 Testing the LED

6 Set your structure on top.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Generic box trucks

Dollar General carries some Matchbox cars (for $1 even!) and their selection usually includes some box trucks. Here is one with the stock Chinese (?) writing on it. Masking and spray painting white makes a nice generic box truck, seen here. Also note the HO scale light blue truck backing into the N scale enginehouse in the background!

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

A nice $65 drill setup

Here is a “home-made” model drill set which I put together following a clinic at our local NMRA meeting (Thanks, Rich Breton!). I’m glad I did, it has made the task of drilling small holes simple.

This is a battery-operated General Tools model 500 screwdriver. It uses 2 AA batteries. A drill chuck from Micro-Mark fits right in. It turns very slowly, so slow you can see the fluting on the drill bit turning; perfect for drilling plastics. The control reverses the direction of turn, the speed is fixed.

About $65 set me up with everything.

Micro-Mark 82727: 20pc drill bit set, #41-#60 $19.99

Micro-Mark 26104: 20pc drill bit set, #61-#80 $10.99

Micro-Mark 86259: Drill chuck $16.99

General 500 Precision Cordless Screwdriver, about $19 at Lowes or Amazon

Also note NMRA members get a discount from Micro-Mark.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Before you do the 4x8 thing...

The traditional starter railroad is on a 4x8 sheet of plywood. However, a rectangle has limitations - it is difficult to use the corner space in a practical way. Here's an easy improvement on the good old 4x8. Cut two triangles, A, and B, off one end. Flip them around and attach to the other end. Now your 4x8 is 4x10, with a shape better suited to a big oval, with a longer mainline run. Formerly wasted corner space is gone.

Switchlist for the Kenton Turn

Well, I have tried a switchlist and I am sold on it. The Kenton Turn departs Davis Yard as Train 61, works only the trailing point industries all the way to Kenton. The loco runs around the train, and becomes Train 62 heading back to Davis Yard, switching the remaining industries (now trailing point) on the way. It was always confusing keeping the setouts/pickups straight but this does the trick now.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Easy domed rooftop vents

A little find from Hobby Lobby - 1/4" furniture buttons, intended to fill in screw holes - 32 for $1.99. They make nice little HO scale domed rooftop vents. Item 621367. I just stuck them on some tape and colored them with a silver Sharpie pen.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Wrong color, but expedient

CR 260517 wound up on the shop RIP track with a damaged door. All they had handy for a replacement was one still in PC Jade Green.
The speckly rust effect was made by making a distant squirt from a spray can of red auto primer.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

GP-18's arrive at Davis

The four new GP-18's arrive at Davis Yard.

Four new GP-18s in service

Four "new" (to me) AHM GP-18's, 604, 608, 714, and 790 are just out of the shops and ready to be placed into service. All are eBay finds. The AHM GP-18 is the mainstay of Cape Ann's freight service. They are readily available (around $20 for a running one), and very easy to completely disassemble for cleaning and service. 8 wheel electrical pickup, 8 wheel drive. They get a complete overhaul here: clean, lube, directional LED headlights, paint, and decals.