Layout Construction

One Bite at a Time

Redesigning on the fly. The XtrackCAD drawing has been revised, printed and laid out to satisfaction. Now to figure out the particulars with the benchwork modifications.

I’ve been making some progress on a bunch of small construction projects. Hopefully I can keep the momentum going. Here is what I’ve been up to:


I have banged out most of the open grid work I need to do to finish things. The entire staging yard is ready for subroadbed now and I did the sections around the back door including a lift out section. I also cut a notch in a partition wall so the yard could cut the corner.

The 45 degree corner of the benchwork. Cutting the ends to 22.5 degree angles was actually a fun learning project.

I’m not happy with the lift out, though, it is too big and I am feeling less confident of all the tracks crossing gaps at skewed angles. I’m rebuilding it ASAP with a simpler design based on Lance Mindheim’s blog post (link), albeit on a curve. It will be sceniced but with next to no relief. This is going to sacrifice some realism, but will be easier to store, less likely to warp and should operate more reliably.

The rebuilt corner will feature a joint roughly where the ruler is vs. the skewed one that was built to accommodate a rectangular lift out section. A low backdrop is planned to partially conceal the spray booth vent and window.


I built Jamesville Yard on a pair of hollow core doors capped with a layer of foam and a ceiling tile. Others have had success with this, but my yard bows up like a “U” in the spring from the humidity. This is very noticeable even from the side, if I were modeling a branchline it would not be a big deal, but it doesn’t look right on a main.

I have been meaning to strengthen this when it dries out in cold, dry weather but I missed my chance last year. Not taking any chances this year I added the fascia and some extra support as soon as the bow disappeared completely this year. What a huge difference a little thing like that makes visually. I also was able to fix the lighting on my workbench which is on a desk below, and that is a huge improvement too. Let’s hope the yard stays straight when the humidity comes back.

Claflin-Sumner Coal

The photo from Jack Leonard from my last post gave me just enough of a glimpse of the coal yard that I could finally do a decent mockup of it. I used the dimensions from the 1950 Sanborn map and estimated the height above the rail from the picture. I used a 12:1 pitch on the roof, which is about as low as anyone goes in New England. With that drawn out I figured out the depth below the rail using a 10′ height on the low side. This meant I needed another half inch below grade for the building to sit properly. So I ripped out 1″ of foam and replaced it with a 5/8″ thick ceiling tile. I may steal a half an inch for the foreground by switching to prototypical 13′ track centers (1.8″) from the HO scale standard of 14.5′ (2″) when I relay this section with Micro Engineering track.

I realized I had to lower the grade when I built this mockup. Of course that was right after I cut and installed the fascia. In later years hoppers were unloaded in a pit where the D&H car sits, rather than through the doors in the back of the building. If anyone has or knows of good detail photos of the open side of this type of shed, I’d love to see them.

So lots of little projects are getting done and moving the layout forward. Those who are prolific layout builders say the best way to make progress is to do something every day, even if you only work for 15 minutes. It all adds up. How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.


Layout Construction

Laying Track

Since our weekends are bound to the house right now, I have gotten back to work on the track. Technique-wise, I’m not breaking any new ground here, but thought I would share some of my standards and experiences.


While elevating curves on a model railroad does nothing for performance I feel it is necessary to capture the look and feel of a major main line railroad. From what I can deduce from speed tables, NYC used a maximum of 6″ elevation on the B&A. Penn Central and Conrail later reduced this the modern freight standard of 4″.

NYC 3023 Ashland MA 7 66 Haskel
A westbound NYC freight, led by GP40 3023 and 3 U25Bs at Ashland, MA in July 1966. This is a good illustration of the roadbed profile and super elevated track that I was looking to capture.

For years I had been using Campbell profile ties, but my stock ran out and I switched to 1/16″ square basswood which I like better since you can curve a single strip instead of having to use many short sections.

Super elevating with Campbell profile ties – the 1/16″ square stripwood I switched to is in the background.


Taller cars really show off the super elevated curves.

Other Prototype Engineering Standards

To represent the engineering standards of the NYC, I used N-scale cork on top of Homasote subroadbed. Again, this is a choice made to capture the look of a well engineered multi-track mainline. N-scale cork is about a scale foot tall and pretty much equals the height of prototype roadbed, plus you get the added bonus of a lower per-foot cost. The Homasote helps kill the sound of the trains on the foam scenery base and replicates the wider subroadbed when used with the correctly shaped shoulders. I’m also using a prototypical 13′ track center standard on tangent sections opposed to the traditional HO standard of 2″ (14′ 6″). Two inches is prototypical for modern railroad construction, but older eastern lines are usually narrower.


The biggest gripe people have with Micro Engineering flextrack is how hard it is to curve without getting kinks. There are a bunch of different techniques out there to deal with this issue. The most popular solution seems to involve using a template, but I have many different radii and some cosmetic spirals so I needed something else. I had seen someone suggest using an MLR track tool, but since those aren’t available any more, I decided to try a Kadee coupler height gauge. Placing this on the rails and using a little twisting force while running it back and forth over the tracks actually worked very well with a little practice.

Making adjustments prior to final installation. The ruler is held up against the track and roadbed with nails.

I made a couple of passes with the Kadee tool and then smoothed out any imperfections by laying out a steel ruler up against the ties. I then squeezed the track up against the ruler. The result was nicely flowing, kink-free trackwork.


You need a way to straighten out ME flex as well, whether you make a mistake or are looking to fine tune a tangent section. Fine tuning obviously requires a long straightedge. The easiest way to straighten out an already curved section is to whack the edge of the ties against a flat surface, like a table, a couple of times.

Here the caulk is down and the track is tacked down. The track can then be pushed up against the ruler to get it perfectly straight. The caulk and pins keep it from moving back.

Securing the Track

I secured the track using clear acrylic adhesive sealant caulk. This seems like the new standard for tracklaying, but was the first time I had used this technique. It worked perfectly. The adhesive set up quickly, but slow enough that I could go back and straighten things out first. I tacked it in place with push pins and let it dry for a few hours.

The track through this section is done now and I’ve moved on to soldering feeder wires. Next work will move to bridge abutments and scenic contours.