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© October  9, 2004 

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Building a Back Yard Railroad
Part 2, Building and Installing Track Panels

April 27, 2003

September 24, 2003

Written by William Gardei   

Continued from part 1

My track panels are 98 inches long including the gap between adjacent panels. I needed a place to build them that was long enough. So I built this bench out of some of the lumber destined to become ties or stringers. On this workbench is a template, printed on my computer that tells exactly where to place the ties for straight panels, and panels for 38, 40, and 100 foot radius curves (actual template can be viewed here). In the photo on the right, you can see the stringers stored beneath the bench.

Track panels are built by placing the ties on the desired pattern on the template, placing stringers over the ties, and driving a drywall screw through the stringers into the ties..

On this template (right), straight track is in black, 40' radius in red, 38' in blue, and 100' in green.

Track panel construction bench.

Cad drawing of tie layout. Click to enlarge.

Editor's Note:  Bill chose to use stringers below his ties to add stability in his track bed which is prone to excessive frost heaving. Frost heaving is where the ground buckles over the winter months leaving the track bumper in the spring.  Heaving is more server in areas where you have very wet soil and very cold winters.  Most cold weather climates do not experience server enough heaving to justify the expense and additional work that installing stringers would involve.  In those areas, you can level your track with a little track maintenance in the spring.

A stack of track sections (left) 8 feet long. These have a 40 foot radius. All track sections are built on stringers.

Once the track sections are completed, the next task is to lay track. Most individuals and clubs prefer to have the rail already laid on the panels. But my rail order never came. Because I used stringers, I could lay track even with no rail and solve the rail issue later.

The first and most labor intensive task is to grade the roadbed. This is complicated by the presence of rocks, roots, old buried building materials, etc. New Hampshire is called the "Granite State" for good reason.

Editors Note: Grading the road bed consists of removing high spots and filling in low spots.  Many folks remove a layer of top soil and vegetation along the entire width of the right-of-way. You may wish to lay a weed barrier cloth mesh before placing the track.
I was always afraid of encountering a rock that was too big to move and too difficult to go around. We did find one that couldn't be lifted, but we managed to roll it out of the way.

You may need to remove quite a bit of soil or borrow it from another location to create a fill.

Then the sections are placed on the earth and fastened together using short stringers. Having the ties on stringers elevates the track off the ground. Then ballast is poured onto the track and between the ties.

Working all day means only completing 40 feet of track. It's going to be a long summer!

Editors Note: If you choose to use wooden ties like Bill did, you will need to pay special attention to drainage along the right-of-way. Even if you use pressure treated wood, the life of the ties will be shorted if water is not allowed do drain away quickly after a rain.

This article is continued in part 3                                              

Written and photographed by William Gardei

the end



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