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Handlaid Track

Since having handlaid track was one of the principal reasons to start over, I was grateful that all of the steps leading up to it went so quickly. I'd already handlaid some Z scale track using my custom-made Code 25 rail as a test. The results actually exceeded my expectations, so I did everything exactly as before.

I use 100% PC board ties, as opposed to using wood ties with a PC board every Nth tie, because of the extreme delicacy of the Code 25 rail wire. I also use the copper cladding to simulate tieplates. The PC ties were purchased from Fast Tracks; they come double-length for use in making turnouts, and I simply cut them in half.

The tracklaying began with double-sided foam tape. Using Micro-Trains flex track as a tie spacing jig, I placed PC board ties individually onto the foam tape.

Except for the turnout area, the rails were all single continuous lengths of wire, beginning and ending at the transitions to the sectional track. Transitions were made by grinding a small relief on the inside edge of the end of sectional track rail. The Code 25 wire was placed into this relief and soldered.

Holding the rail wire upright with tweezers, I soldered it to a tie every couple of inches just to get the contour right. To avoid getting excessive amounts of solder on the joints (which would create problems with flanges), I would place the soldering iron on the very end of the tie and allow the solder to flow under the rail. After making any necessary adjustments, I soldered all of the remaining ties.

My track gauge was a bit unorthodox—actually, I didn't use one at all. Anxious to get track down, I didn't want to take the time to fabricate anything. So I let laziness be my guide and I simply used the end of a scrap of Micro-Trains flex track. I would place the base of one rail against the outside of the first piece of Code 25 rail, and then placed the second piece of Code 25 rail up against the base of the other rail of the flex, and soldered. That's it!

Next came the tedious part. Holding a sharp knife at about 45 degrees, I ran the blade along the rails to cut through the copper cladding. This was done four times, once on each side of each rail. Then I placed the very tip of the blade into a knife cut and, with the blade nearly parallel to the tie, I pushed it away from the rail to peel off the excess copper.

After masking off the bridges with masking tape, the track was sprayed with a base coat of Floquil Roof Brown. This was followed by Rail Brown brushed on the rails and tie plates with a #3/0 round brush. Ties were individually colored with varying strengths of India ink washes and Doctor Ben's Aged Driftwood using a #0 round brush. Finally, the rail was stained in places with splotches of Doctor Ben's Realistic Rust and Weathered Rust.

Ballasting the layout track is yet to come, but I have ballasted a length of test track to verify the desired appearance. I chose minitec 50-0321-01 Standard-Schotter Grauwacke Z (ordered directly from the maker in Germany). At first I thought it was too dark, but comparing it to real Reading Railroad ballast that has aged, it looks dead on target. Getting the ballast smooth and even was a challenge, and required quite a bit of time gently teasing it into shape with small paint brushes. Once it was in place, I misted it generously with rubbing alcohol before applying thinned white glue.

Incidentally, the AZL and Micro-Trains Geeps both handle the track just fine.

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PC board ties are cut to length using a Northwest ShortLine Chopper.

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The ties are placed on double-sided foam tape using flex track for spacing.

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The rail is first soldered to the end of the sectional track to make a transition.

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Solder is applied to the very ends of the ties and allowed to flow under the rail.

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The rail is soldered every couple of inches and allowed to curve naturally.

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After positioning the entire rail, all of the ties in between are soldered.

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The deck girder bridge receives a pair of guard rails.

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The bridges are masked off and the track sprayed with Roof Brown paint.

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After painting the rails, the ties are stained individually.

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Copyright © 2007-2013 by David K. Smith. All Rights Reserved.