Building a Back Yard Railroad
Part 3, Working with Rail
switch on the line. It is on the north leg of the Carl Baskin cutoff, a
switchback that will allow trains to reverse direction. It will join the main
loop at the southwest corner, and also is access to the yard tracks.
Written by William
Continued from part 2
|My rail finally arrived. The first task is to
paint it. Next task is to fasten it down. I use 3.5d x 1 1/4" zinc plated or hot
galvanized roofing nails to hold the rail down.
|Editor's Note: I suggest using hex head screws to mount
the rail to the tie. Works great with a battery drill. Nails have a tendency to
loosen up. Spikes will too.
I've been asked what the fan and the cardboard are for. It's hot here in the
summer. Plus, the fan is the best mosquito repellant I've ever found. The
cardboard protects the track gang from the deer ticks and poison ivy.
Did you notice my track gauges in the photo below? You need at least
two sets. One set is for straight track and is 1/16" over gauge. The other is
for curves under a radius of 60 feet and is 1/8" over gauge. Also notice, I use
an inside gauge and an inside-outside gauge.
|Do I need a rail bender?
That's a question I hear a lot. I have curves down to 38 foot radius, and I
never once needed one. But That is one of the advantages of using stringers. The
ties hold the rail in place. Just like in real railroading. I have one switch
that needed a pre-bent rail. I used two trees as a bender.
Ballast was moved
to the track by wheelbarrow an laid with a grain scoop. The track was leveled
with a (full size) railroad pick and carpenter's level and tamped with the
"Florida Stick". When you use stringers, you don't pick the track up by the
rail, you pick it up by the stringer (with the RR pick).
I have now switched to the new ACQ lumber. The warnings are just as bad as
with the old pressure treated lumber, and maybe worse. Plus, the new lumber is
somewhat more reactive than the old. The supplier indicates the need to stop
using the old fasteners and start using enameled ones. We are told to NOT
put aluminum in contact with the new wood. The only reaction I have observed so
far is, the rail forms a white oxide where it contacts the ACQ lumber. The only
precaution I am taking, is to paint the bottom side of the rail.
So how do you build and install a
You will almost certainly need to build at least
one switch (or turnout if you prefer) on your railroad. Once again, use the
track panel building bench and template. Do you need a special template? No. Use
the straight track template. The ties do need to be cut to the correct lengths,
Two of the ties need to be extra long to support
the switch stand (right). Don't under estimate how long these need to be for the
stand to be clear of trains.
Two switches are being laid out in the photo
(right). Be sure to figure out the length for each tie (tie length calculator,
curved switch tie
calculator). You can see in the photo that each tie gets a little longer.
Also in the photo you can see the wheelbarrow used
to transport the ballast.
click any image to enlarge
I was thinking about using a stub switch here,
but then I thought that would be rather pointless.
This little switch machine controls the position of the points. The handle
clearly indicates the route the switch is set to.
|And here is my frog and guard rails.
The frog is the "X" shaped component in the center. Its job is to support and
guide a flanged wheel as it crosses the other rail.
This frog is a #6 from Cannonball. A 5.5 would be ideal, but 6 is close
enough. The smaller the number, the tighter the radius the turnout will make (frog calculator).
The guard rails (to the right and left of the frog) are made from leftover
pieces of stock rail. The rail guards are necessary to prevent the wheel
from wondering off as the wheel on the opposite side of the axle passes thru the
|Take a close-up look at
the photo. You can see I staggered the nails used to attach the rail to the tie.
If you don't stagger the position of your spike, screw or nail, you run the risk
of splitting the tie or at the very least, weakening the attachment.
I wish New
Hampshire had a live steam railroad club. That way many of us could pool
together our resources and build a colossal track. Instead, we have a few really
small tracks. But despite the huge amount backbreaking labor, moving earth and
rock and pulling up roots, I really did enjoy working out in nature and in the
weather. Every day brought something new. Plus I lost about 40 pounds. No other
activity I participated in was able to do that.
photographed by William Gardei
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|Here are some of the track laying questions...
- Is steel or aluminum rail recommended and why?
- How is track tamped and lined if stringers are not used?
- Is it a good idea to excavate prior to laying track? If so, what is the
- Should I use some type of weed barrier?
- What is a good source for rail?
- How do you join the panels?
Here are some answers for the above track laying
- You must tamp down the ballast or hope it settles enough over the winter.
- We tamped our track the old fashioned way, by hand with a steel bar.
- Steel vs. Aluminum. Aluminum will wear out after years of constant service
on curved sections of track. Aluminum will not cause as much wear on the wheels.
Steel track will get rusty unless coated. Steel supports better, you can use
- To cut down the wear on our aluminum rail we use 7 9/16ths gauge on the
curves with the outside rail slightly elevated (super elevation).
- We use Trex ties that have two benefits; longer lasting and the density of
the material adds a tremendous amount of weight to the track panel and helps
keep it in place. We also use a air hammer with a special attachment to tamp the
ballast on the days we feel extra lazy.
- DO NOT use sheets of black plastic (poly) under wooden ties. We tried it as
weed control. The problem was, it prevents the water from draining away from the
ties and caused premature rotting of the wood. The weeds could still grow above
it in the ballast anyway. Spraying turned out to be the better option for us. If
you want to use a barrier, get the netting type.
- A money saving tip for aluminum rail: When you start to get wear at a curve,
swap the rail inside with outside or forward to backward, so you get to wear out
both sides of the head instead of one.
- About the best weed control I've found is called "Round-Up". It comes in a
concentrate that makes enough to weed 5 tennis courts. A gallon pressure-jug
sprayer full will last a whole summer. And it's been blessed by the EPA.
Here are some photo's
of my track leveling tool. Charlie Jensen
Even if you use stringers, you will
still need to level and tamp. The photos show Charlie Jensen's leveling tool,
but where's his tamper stick? If you pick up either side, be ready with the
tamper. I use a handle from a broken shovel, sawed off on the end so it's nice
and flat. I call it my "Florida Stick". (as in Tamper, FL) [grin]
Tamping ballast: Many tamp more on
the outer-sides and just under the rail, a little less tamping in the center so
the rail will not tend to rock
Aluminum rail: my 30 foot radius. I
just give a little pre-curve by holding one end of the rail up in the air and
kind of bouncing it or give it a little hand pressure down to relieve the
natural tension/stress. Wrap it around the curve fastening as you go. It will
tend to roll-not lay flat. Take a couple big Crescent wrenches and here and
there give the rail a twist back to lay flat. For more Curved forming on ends,
put your foot against the rail, use the Crescent wrench to slightly pull the
rail to shape. Be careful not to pull too hard and kink the rail. I t takes a
little practice to use these bending methods and you don't need a rail bender to
have a good track.
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