The On-Line Magazine of Rideable Model Railroading
  NUMBER 128


© March 17, 2009   

©Discover Live Steam. This material may not be published, rewritten, or redistributed without written permission.

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How to make your own
Large Scale Backyard Railroad
(part 1)

Written by Tom O'Connor
photos by Tom O'Connor

Introducing A Exclusive!

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 charge.

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 or company.

The track is barely visible on the lawn and can be mowed over without damage.
click image to enlarge


Rail Stock

My choice for rail stock is 3/8 X 1" Hot Rolled A-36 Steel Flat.  Purchased from: Metals Depot 1-859-745-2650

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 installation.


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

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 O'Connor
photos by Tom O'Connor

©Discover Live Steam. This material may not be published, rewritten, or redistributed without written permission.



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