Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Superelevated Track Demo

I superelevated the mainline on my N-scale test layout to see how I am going to superelevate the track on my CSX Dixie Line layout. This video shows a train on the non-superelevated siding, then on the superelevated mainline, then one train on each track for a side-by-side comparison.

To superelevate the track, I cut eight (8) strips of masking tape each 1/4" wide and each the full length of the curve to be superelevated. I then pulled the track nails out of the Atlas flex track and raised the track so I could lay the strips of masking tape below the track under the outside rail along the curve. For the first strip of tape, I used the entire length of tape. One inch of is cut off of each successive layer of tape and the shorter length is laid right on top of the previous strip. This staggering of the ends of each layer of tape results in a nice smooth transition between the superelevated and flat track. I will be superelevating all of the mainline curves on the big layout using this same technique.

One word about video quality: filming model trains is nothing like filming the real thing. Getting the focus and lighting correct is aespecially tricky. In fact, I just used autofocus because it proved better than manually focusing on a certain spot. However, because of this you will see a lot of focus hunting as the camera tries to find the ideal focus. Hope to get better at this as I find the time!


Sunday, March 22, 2009

Layout Progress as of 3/22/2009

This week I installed all of the cork roadbed in the Emerson area of the N-scale CSX Dixie Line layout. Rather than purchasing a commercial cork roadbed product, I chose to make homemade cork roadbed since I could customize the height & width of the roadbed. I have posted a detailed HOWTO article on how I did my homemade cork roadbed.

Here are some photos of the cork roadbed atop the laminated spline roadbed. Notice how the beveled edges have been carved and sanded into the cork roadbed:

Since the sidings are 3/16" lower than the mainline, I had to sand a transition ramp down from the mainline to the siding. In this picture, notice how the roadbed slopes down from the turnout in the distance to the siding in the foreground:

The double-thick cork roadbed continues across the dropdown gate that crosses the entrance to the layout room. I used a hacksaw blade to cut diagonal gaps in the roadbed that lineup to the diagonal gaps in the bridge deck. This allows the gate to swing down freely while still having a solid roadbed to be used for laying track across the gate:

I also cleaned up the end of the spiral temporary staging track roadbed built atop the helix base. After track is laid here, I will attach a small block of wood to keep trains from overrunning the end of track and vanishing into "the gulch":


Monday, March 16, 2009

DIY: Homemade Cork Roadbed

This post includes a detailed step-by-step account of how I made my own cork roadbed for my N-scale CSX Dixie Line layout. I chose homemade cork roadbed over the commercially available products because I wanted to vary the thickness of the roadbed on my mainlines and sidings. I considered using two layers of standard N-scale cork roadbed for my mainline, but that would have been too thick. I also considered using standard HO-scale cork roadbed for my mainline and N-scale cork roadbed for my sidings, but I did not think that would not have been enough of a difference between the heights of the two roadbeds. To give a visual reference of what I am trying to accomplish, take a look at this picture that shows the mainline and siding of the CSX W&A sub through Emerson, Georgia:

In this photo, notice the much higher ballast profile of the main track at the far left compared to the siding track in the center. The house track to the right does not even have a ballast profile. This is the effect I am trying to duplicate on my layout.

For my custom cork roadbed, I purchased The Board Dudes #268 Hobby Cork Roll from Hobby Lobby. This package contains a solid sheet of 3/16" thick natural cork material 2 feet wide by 8 feet long. I also found rolled sheet cork at Michael's Crafts and Ace Hardware, but the product at Hobby Lobby was the ideal size and also had the lowest price. Since my cork roadbed will be 1 inch wide, this roll will yield 24 strips of roadbed 8 feet long, or 192 linear feet of 3/16" thick roadbed. Even when stacking two strips of roadbed to produce a 3/8" height, you will still yield 96 linear feet of roadbed--not bad for a $15 roll of cork!

Aside from wanting to vary the thickness of my roadbed, I also wanted to customize the width of my roadbed. I found that commercially available N-scale roadbed--both cork and foam--is just way too wide for my liking. When I place a piece of flex track on a piece of store bought cork or foam roadbed, there is a really wide shoulder between the outside of the ties and the beveled edge of the roadbed. By contrast, most of the prototype photos I reviewed shows that the ballast begins sloping down immediately outside of the ties. Of course this arrangement is not always the case, but it certainly seems to be the practice along the lines I am modeling. I could just narrow down the commercially available roadbed, but if I am going to make all of these cuts anyway, why not just start out from scratch?

Step-by-Step Instructions

Step 1 As mentioned above, I first cut the 8' long roll of cork sheet into three equal lengths (32" long each). This made the cork easier to work with when cutting into strips. Although my roadbed is 1" wide, I cut 48 1/2" wide strips out of each 32" long sheet of cork. When laying the roadbed, the 1/2" width makes it much easier to fit the roadbed around curves. I cut my cork on the kitchen table, first laying down a scrap sheet of Masonite hardboard to protect the table. Spring clamps helps to hold the cork in place:

Step 2 I used a standard utility knife to make the cuts along a metal ruler used as a straight edge. The 1/2" wide strips of cork will curl up since they have been rolled tightly:

Step 3 Once all of the strips have been cut from the sheet of cork, I placed them together in a bundle and set the entire bundle in a spot on the layout close to where I will be installing the roadbed:

Step 4 For fastening the cork to the top of my spline roadbed, I used DAP ALEX Plus acrylic latex caulk. I used the Easy Caulk variety that comes in a spray can and eliminates the need for a caulking gun:

The Easy Caulk is more expensive than the cartridges that go in a caulk gun, but I found that the "caulk in a can" gives much better control and the tip is much easier to clean and reseal. To begin, I cut the nozzle along the smallest score line and laid a bead of caulk about 3 feet long where I wanted to start installing my roadbed:

Tip: You may want to practice laying a bead of caulk on some scrap material to get a feel for how to control the flow of the caulk. If you press too hard on the nozzle, the stuff will squirt all over the place. This happened to me, but fortunately the goop missed my backdrop (just barely!) and landed on a scrap piece of foam board.

Step 5 Using a regular putty knife, spread the bead of caulk so it covers the entire surface of the spline roadbed (or whatever your cork will be sitting on). Try to spread the caulk as thin as possible while maintaining even coverage--this step is a lot like icing a cake:

Unless you spread the caulk perfectly, you will get a lot of gobs of the stuff on the side of the spline roadbed. This is not a big deal since it is easy to remove once it has dried. In fact, we will shave off any of the dried gobs of caulk when we come back later to trim down the width of the cork.

Step 6 Lay down one 1/2" wide strip of the cork into the caulk on top of the spline roadbed. You want to make sure that the inside edge of the cork follows the track centerline, which in my case was the center of the middle spline in my roadbed:

Don't worry if the outside edge overhangs the outer spline; this will get trimmed down later. Just start at one end of the strip of cork and keep the inside edge following the track centerline until you have the entire strip laid down into the caulk. I had planned on using push pins to keep the cork in place but found that the caulk had plenty of grab to keep the cork right where I laid it, even around my tightest 15" radius curves.

Tip: Remember how the strips of cork are curvy from being coiled up on the roll? When laying the strip of cork into the wet caulk, be sure to place it curvy side down. If you do not do this, the ends of the strip will want to curl up and you will need to secure each end with a push pin or a weight. When laying strips curvy side down, I never had to use anything to keep the edges from curling.

Step 7 Lay another strip of cork into the wet caulk, using the previously laid strip to align the new piece. When you have done this, the seam between the two adjacent strips of cork will provide a perfect centerline for laying your track:

Step 8 When encountering a turnout, lay and spread the bead of caulk beyond both legs of the turnout. When laying the pair of adjacent cork strips, lay one along each leg of the turnout being sure to keep the inner edge of the cork strips aligned with the track centerline:

Step 9 Finally, starting from the far end of each leg of the turnout (where the previous two strips ended), lay two more strips of cork back towards the turnout. Fill in the remaining "bare spots" with triangular pieces of cork cut from a scrap strip:

Step 10 For any mainline track, add a second layer of 3/16" cork over the first layer. This will give your mainline track a nice high 3/8" ballast profile. For the sidings, you will need to lay the double layer of cork a short distance into the siding. I laid the second layer of cork a full 12" beyond the end of the turnout for the siding:

Step 11 Using a sanding block loaded with 150 grit sandpaper, I sanded a transition ramp into the short section of second cork laid into the siding. This provides a nice, smooth transition in the track from the lower height of the siding to the higher height of the mainline. In this picture, you can see how the cork roadbed has been sanded to provide a nice smooth transition from the higher mainline at the left down to the lower siding at the right:

Step 12 After the caulk has completely dried (I allowed 24 hours), the outside edge of the cork roadbed needs to be trimmed to be even with the outside edge of the spline roadbed. The cork roadbed is 1" wide while the spline roadbed is only 15/16" wide, so there will be a bit of overhang to trim away. I use a single edge razor blade to do this trimming. I hold the blade vertically pressed against the outside of the spline roadbed as a guide, then trim away the excess cork using a sawing motion:

Step 13 The edge of the cork roadbed needs to be bevelled to match the shape of the ballast profile. For this cut, I use the same single edge razor blade and the same motion as in the previous step, except that I hold the blade at about a 45 degree angle:

You want the bevel to begin just outside the ties of a piece of track. I have set a piece of Atlas code 55 flex track in place to show how this should look (notice that the cork roadbed in the distance has not yet been bevelled):

Step 14 Using a sanding block loaded with 150 grit sandpaper, I very gently sand the top of the cork roadbed:

Important: Remember that the natural cork material is very soft, so it is easy to overdo the sanding. All you want to do here is knock down any slight bumps or ridges so the track will have a nice flat, smooth mounting surface.

After installing, trimming and sanding the cork roadbed, you will have a nice sturdy, smooth and quiet surface that the track can be mounted on. When the track is ballasted, you will have a realistic high ballast profile for the main track and a lower ballast profile for any sidings. Industrial tracks and spurs will be laid directly on the roadbed where appropriate for an even better effect.


Saturday, March 14, 2009

Layout Progress as of 3/14/2009

This week I finished the spline roadbed in the Emerson area of the layout. After completing the roadbed, I used a handheld planer/scraper to scrape the dried blobs of glue off the top and bottom of the roadbed. I was not going to scrape the bottom of the roadbed, but all of those blobs of glue hanging down was bothering me. After scraping the bottoms, I realized it was a good thing to do since I would need a flat surface for mounting Tortoise turnout motors. Here is a view of the finished spline roadbed in North Emerson:

Completed spline roadbed in South Emerson:

Overall view of spline roadbed in Emerson and onto the base of the future helix:

I was going to build a temporary return loop around the helix base, but decided instead just to coil the end of the mainline around the base and terminate it where it meets itself. This coil of track will act as a temporary staging track. By doing this, I don't have to put any temporary track in the visible area and don't have to worry about building scenery around any temporary track. Here is the temporary staging track coiled around the inside of the helix base. The roadbed that has the clamps on it will be the end of the line:

Finally, here are two views of how I built the spline roadbed for the turnout at the south end of the Emerson passing siding:

In the previous two pictures, you can see how I drove a drywall screw down through the center of the roadbed to permanently fasten it to the riser. I did this in every location where the roadbed was resting on a riser.


Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Layout Progress as of 3/10/2009

With a single spline clamped to the risers all around the Emerson area of the layout, I began adding the first permanent splines. Before attaching a new spline, I cut the 8' long spline in half so it would only be 4' long. This way, the joints of the splines are staggered and there will not be a weak point where all of the splines join in the same spot. I vary the lengths of the splines as I go to make sure no two splines end at the same location.

To get started attaching the new splines, I first ran a bead of wood glue along the face of a spline and spread it evenly using a cheap foam brush:

Next, I attach the new spline to the first spline on the opposite side of the nails that the first spline is clamped to:

I continue attaching along the length of the new spline until the entire length is attached to the first spline. After the new spline is attached, clamp the new spline in place. Lots and lots of clamps:

The spring clamps I am using came from the local Harbor Freight Tools. If you have never been in one of these stores, they are a model railroader's dream come true. Discount tools priced low, low, low. These spring clamps usually sell for $0.99 each but can often be found on sale for $0.33 each--what a bargain! I purchased 40 and I wish I would have got 40 more:

During the process of gluing on a new spline, a lot of the glue will get squeezed out during the clamping process. Be sure you protect the floor of the room or whatever else is below your benchwork. I kept my plastic sheeting in place that I used to keep the carpet safe when I was painting the backdrops. Here you can see just how messy this can be:

Where two splines come together, I just butt their edges against each other. When the adjacent spline is installed, this will permanently secure the butt joint. In this picture you can see a butt joint in the first spline that has been secured by the installation of the second spline. During the drying process, there is a clamp on this joint that has been removed so I could take this picture:

In the South Emerson area, there is a fairly long straight section of track. To make sure the roadbed is straight, I purchased a 3' long section of aluminum angle:

I then clamped the aluminum angle between the splines and the finishing nails as I built the roadbed along the straight section. Without this aluminum angle, the roadbed could have slight curves in it. Here is a view of the aluminum angle used to keep the splines straight at South Emerson:

One final view of the clamp party as I began to install the third spline:


Sunday, March 8, 2009

Layout Progress as of 3/8/2009

Over the last few days I continued working on the laminated spline roadbed that will be used on the layout. As mentioned in a recent post, the helix will serve as a temporary return loop while the track is being laid on the lower level. This means I had to install risers on the helix base so the spline roadbed could continue from the layout to the helix base and back uninterrupted. I made risers out of a mix & match variety of wood scraps. Her are the risers installed on the helix base with the risers throughout the Emerson area visible in the background:

With all of the risers in place, I went ahead and installed a short strip of 1/8" thick spline into the end of the dropdown gate/bridge that crosses the entrance into the train room. Although I am using 3/16" thick splines for my roadbed, the slot cut into the deck of the bridge accommodates a 1/8" thick spline since that was what I planned on using at the time the bridge was constructed. This short piece of spline--the "key spline"--will provide a gluing surface for the first "real" spline that gets installed:

Here is the first 3/16" thick spline temporarily clamped into place onto the key spline. Note that the 3/16" thick spline (the lighter color) is actually 3/4" tall and rests on the ledge made of scrap 1x2. The key spline (the darker color) is shorter since the 3/4" plywood that it is inserted into is not quite 3/4" thick. The important part is making sure the top of the roadbed is all at the same height. Once the spline roadbed is finished here, it will be screwed in to the ledge:

The first spline temporarily clamped in place around the entire Emerson area from the dropdown bridge/gate to the helix base: