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How to make your own
Large Scale Backyard Railroad
Written by Tom O'Connor
photos by Tom O'Connor
Build any gauge track you
like for dimes on the dollar!
Created by T. F. O’Connor, design & details are offered on this website at no
This Backyard Track System® is a composite of many track systems
but with my own additions. I offer readers of Discover Live Steam to take my
ideas and use them or not… according to your liking. I offer my designs and
ideas at no charge to any and all train enthusiast to use at your own risk and
liability. That being said, I’ll jump right in with my track design. The basic
design is much the same as Groovy Track, in so much as I cut slots into the
ties and insert flat-bar steel for my rails. I found groovy track to have some
traits that I didn’t care for though, the first of which is in not fastening
the rail to the ties. So in my design the rails will never separate from the
ties. The name “Backyard Track System” is not affiliated with any other product
The track is barely visible on the lawn and can be mowed over
click image to enlarge
My choice for rail stock is 3/8 X 1" Hot
Rolled A-36 Steel Flat. Purchased from: Metals Depot
The hot rolled steel has two great features over cold rolled steel. Hot
rolled steel is a bit curved at the edges (this prevents the flanged wheels
from climbing the rails on a curve). The other factor is the cost. I found the
hot rolled steel for $1.27 per foot (about ½ the price of the cold rolled
steel). Workability of hot rolled steel: Excellent for welding, drilling,
machining, sawing, punching, & forming.
||With my first attempt, I
made some track with aluminum flat bar stock, but because the edge of the rail
is not rounded, the steel flanges of the train wheels would chew into the soft
aluminum rail on the curves and make the train ride up and derail every time.
I used treated 2x4s and steel rail (aluminum rail with the old type of treated
wood will corrode the rail). I used a table saw to easily cut the lengths of
the ties and then put in a datto blade to cut the slots (left).
|The way I standardized the
straight and curved tracks was to lay them out on my driveway. I laid out a
huge 90 degree angle in chalk and wanted a radius of 20 feet. So I put a mark
at 20’ from the inside of the 90 on one of the legs and a mark at 20 feet plus
my track gage added for the 2nd mark. Then I had someone hold a string at the
center of the 90 degree and I placed a piece of chalk at the first mark. I then
struck a circle at that radius to the other 90 degree leg. I also struck a
straight line at the 45 degree mark on this arc to indicate the length of my
single 45 degree curved track (above right). This gave me my
pattern for my curved track (right).
||I ran the flat-bar stock through a bar
bender (right). I was not able to set my bar bender at a single tension for the
bends, as they came out differently with each bend. I did not have to make a
curved slot in the ties for the curved track. I just laid the ties flat onto my
driveway pattern and pressed the rails into the ties (left).
||Next, I drilled a hole at a 45 degree
angle on the outside of the rail at each tie. Then I drove the deck screws into
the rails (outboard side of the rail, away from the wheel flange). By
standardizing my straight and curved track, I was able to lay it in the yard
much the same as a Lionel track. Everything is based on 45degree curves and
regular straights. The bar stock I bought was in 20’ lengths, so that is the
length I made my straight track.
|I chose not to put ballast
down for several reasons. First and foremost was for the purpose of making the
track low to the ground and far less visible. Since the rail is secured
strongly to each tie, there is no issue of rail pulling loose from the ties. In
fact it worked out nicely that if a tie was lifted off of the lawn after the
train passed, then I would simply fill that void under the tie with more dirt.
This did a great job of making the track blend in nicely with the landscape. I
am actually able to run my lawn mower right over the track with no problems.
This is my second year with this track in place and thus far all is doing well.
There are no issues of ties rotting and the rust build up on the steel rail
does not build up beyond the initial coating that happened within a month of
Ahh Yes… The turn-outs. From the stand point of cost, it
is almost the same cost as the regular track. I was able to make all necessary
parts (except the spring-loaded return) out of the 2x4 stock and the flat bar
stock. The photos will hopefully show the progress of the turn-outs as I built
them. I don’t know if it was just me, or if everybody is going to have to stare
and look at exactly what you want these turnouts to look like. It helped me to
take photos of other (real and model) turnouts.
Rail joiners were rather easy, but I had
one very strict discipline in mind. I wanted the joiners to be standard and
universal as well. What I mean is that I wanted the ends of each track to match
up with any joiner. I wanted to make a standard straight and standard curved
track. In this way I could design and layout my backyard railroad much like I
designed and laid out my train layout on my Lionel train set when I was a
child. So the joiner becomes critical as far as being universal with any of my
track sections. For this reason I made a jig to force identical specifications
on my joiners and track ends. You’ll have to make your own adjustments for what
scale you build, but these specs. are for my 13” gauge track.
||My son Willie and my grandson Nathan
(right) enjoy phase 1 of my backyard train.
It's finally my turn to take
Nathan for a ride on Papa Tom's train.
In part 2, I'll tell the story of this train "The Success Express".
Written by Tom
photos by Tom O'Connor
©Discover Live Steam. This material may not be
published, rewritten, or redistributed without written
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