In this section I will deal with three aspects of the project: the building of the river; the laying of the track; and themodification and installation of the switch controls. Bridges are covered in Structures.
By switch controls I do not mean electrical in this case. This is where model railroading becomes confusing but there are electrical switches and then there are rail switches - often called turnouts to avoid confusion. I am talking about the rail switches in this case.
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The river gave me absolute nightmares! Initially I wanted the outer loop to cross over the inner loop at about the place where East Bay Road begins. Truth is, the only reason I wanted it was so I could build a bridge - an overpass. It was never going to be a large overpass. I was not interested in a large trestle. I have seen some very nice, modern bridges and wanted one. It would have been long enough to span East Bay Road and one track on the side, coming off the inner loop and heading toward East Bay.
A number of people who should know eventually convinced me that the layout was too small to get the grades that I needed in order to make the overpass work. Well, fact is, I am not as sure that they convinced me as I got tired of arguing the point. In any case, I abandoned any sort of idea and in the revised plan had East Bay Road cross over both the inner and outer loops at a double track grade crossing. The track headed for East Bay Road was reworked into what is now the sector plate yard. The sector plate is covered in Structures.
It was then suggested that I could have a river. I looked at a number of other layouts and saw a river I really liked so I thought I could do something similar. To make a long story shorter, the first river just did not fit in the plan. Far too many other pieces of the town were adversely affected by trying to crowd it in. So, at the suggestion of Mark Underwood, the river was seriously down-sized to just enough that it would give me a reason for having my little park, and two bridges - one road bridge and one rail bridge.
I could picture in my mind what I wanted the water in the river to look like but I knew I could not create what I saw in my mind's eye. I frantically searched for products that would be helpful and found nothing I had confidence in. Then I had the idea that I could paint the color of the water on the table and cover that with obsured glass that had a pebbly texture. It was close but I could never make it really right.
It was at about that point, with me about to write the river off entirely, that my brother Jim offered to paint the river. Trouble is, he lives about a three hour drive for here and I really never see him. But, we hatched a plan for me to send him an exact drawing of the shape of the river, by mail, he would paint it on poster board, preserve it with dull-coat, and he would mail it back to me. He would also paint me an extra bit of water so I could experiment with top coats. I sent the drawing along with several photos of rivers that I thought I could live with.
I was quite skeptical about it and when it arrived in the mail I thought it was all wrong, it could never work. He had varied the colors of areas of the river just slightly to enhance the shading under the bridge and the increased depth where the river empties into the bay. I was okay with that but I thought over all, the whole thing looked far too pale.
The idea was to lay the river painting on the table with double faced art tape and then paint at least two or three top coats of something clear. As I sat and stared at it the thought came to me that I could correct the fact that the colors were too pale and give it some depth if I added a bit of color to the top coat. I tried different mixes but finally settled on a formula of 1 ounce of polyurethane with 1 drop each of green and blue food coloring and 1 drop of black paint.
The first two pictures show the river being taped to the table. This is prior to top-coating it.
The next photo shows the first top coat. I realized after just one coat that tinting the top coat was going to produce the result I wanted. The photo following that is with one coat of top coat and with the foam board cut and glued in place.
This next photo shows the river with one coat of top coat and the culvert temporaily in place. The last two photos show the river with the second coat of top coat and the culvert installed. I undercut the foam and painted a grimy black inside before installing the culvert to give it some depth.
Laying the Track
Because I was working with a very small layout and every last detail had to be exact, and the fact that sectional track was not going to give me the flexibility I needed, I decided right up front to use flex track. Switches (turnouts) are a mix of Atlas #6, the regular Atlas which I think may be about a #4 and Peco #4. I bought the Atlas with manual machines because they are less cost and I intended from the beginning to use Caboose ground throws. I did give thought to using electronic switch control but with all that is going on under that table I thought it might be a bad idea. Besides, let's face it, if all the exercise I am going to get while running trains is getting up off the chair to throw a few switches, I need all the help I can get!
Initially I thought soldering track would be very difficult and actually laying it in place would be a piece of cake! Boy! Was I wrong!
As it turned out, I very quickly became quite good with a soldering iron and was very comfortable with soldering the track together in sub-sections, separated primarily where insulated joiners divided it into electrical zones (or blocks). And laying the first sections of track was not too difficult. Laying the final sections of each loop - trying to get the joiners to mate on one end - trying to holding the whole thing up out of the adhesive - trying to get the joiners on the other end to mate - before dropping it into the adhisive turned out to be about as much fun as trying to stuff an octopus into a zip-loc bag! Not that I have ever done that.
Getting the fibnal sections in place was no fun. But, having used all my "carpentry words" at least once each, I finally got it together. Three things I can tell you about laying track - test fit; test fit; test fit! Also, file the ends of the rails to a slight taper on the bottom and the sides of the base so it is easier to get them into the insulated joiners.
There is not much else I can tell you about the track. I used acrylic adhesive caulking to fasten it down, using map pins and cans of soup for weight where necessary ... although there was only one section where I really needed weight. Once it was all installed I added Tomar wheel stops because I like the look of them and that is what we see around here for the most part. I used Caboose ground throws because they seem more "N sacle appropriate in my opinion. When all of that was complete I used Floquil paint markers to weather it. I bought the set of three markers and used the rust for the rails and the rail tie brown on the ties.
The following six photos show the track laying process at various stages.
Switches and Throws
Right from the beginning, when I was still in the research phase, I had decided I really liked the look of Caboose 206S ground throws. They look very prototypical and they are about the right size. They are a little big for N scale, in my opinion, but that is an easy fix.
I really don't want to duplicate effort here by offering a lot of advice on topics that others with far more knowledge and experience have already made available but I do have a few tricks that I want to share with anyone who may be interested and the modification of the Caboose 206S ground throw is one of those tricks. For a tutorial on how to modify the ground throw to make it just a bit smaller, check out the link below.
Tutorial - Trimming a Caboose 206S Ground Throw
First I worked on the Atlas switches. With the manual controls removed it was easy to get rid of the tabs using a simple cut-off wheel in the rotary tool. BE CAREFUL - DO NOT cut into or cut off the throw bar for the points! It is very close - please be careful!
You may also notice that the switch behind (top) has the throw bar for the points on the opposite side. I modified the switch because there was not enough room for the ground throw on the near side, where the throw bar was originally positioned. The Peco switches were easier in this regard because the throw bars are double-ended.
Unfortunately I was unable to get good photos of that process because I would really need someone else taking the photo while I did the work. Essentially, it involved cutting the sub-rail out between the two closest ties so that bar would drop and then patching the sub-rail so the switch would hold its shape.
The next step, after trimming the machine tabs, was to insert wooden blocks for the ground throws. I did not want to fasten them just to foam. I cut blocks approximately the same thickness as the foam board, cut the foam, shimmed the blocks with card stock and glued them all in. Once the glue was set I patched the gaps around the blocks with plaster.
While the plaster was setting up I trimmed the Caboose ground throws. As much as I loved the look of them, I wanted to make them just a bit closer to a realistic N scale size. To a "rivet counter" they will never be perfect but for me they are now close enough. To see the actual trimming process, go to my tutorial on trimming a Caboose 206S ground throw. these two photos show the "before" and "after".
The next photos show the process of installing a ground throw. I made sure the switch points were centered, made sure the throw handle was upright, and marked it in that position. I used #2 x 3/8" screws. The throw bar pin fit the throw bar on the Atlas switch with no modification. The mounting holes had to be drilled out with a 3/32" bit and the pilot hole was 1/16".
CAUTION: When choosing wood for the mounting blocks I should have used something like balsa or a hardwood like poplar or birch. I used yellow pine which has very hard, wild grain with softer areas in between the ring lines. It was all but impossible to get the pilot holes drilled straight because the bit wanted to follow the grain.
The Peco switches were a little trickier. Whereas the throw bar is spring loaded - to hold the points against either side as selected - it was not a simple matter of placing the points dead center as I had with the Atlas switches. The points did not want to sit in the center.
In the first photo below you can see that I had centered the ground throw on the throw bar of the switch with the points aligned to the near side. But in the second picture, when I moved the points to the other side, the throw bar was no longer centered with the ground throw. I found I could jam the ground throw if it was not centered.
The trouble is that the throw bar on the Peco switch moves with the arc of the points as they moved - not in a straight line as with the Atlas switches. Using the Caboose ground throw, which does not have much side to side tolerance, it is a must to align the ground throw with the throw bar of the switch with the points centered.
The fix was easy but it took a bit of thinking time before I figured it out. In the next two photos you see I used the tips of a tooth pick to hold the points centered, and then it was easy enough to align the ground throw.
To see all of the adjustments that had to be made to make the Caboose 206S ground throws work with the Peco switches, go to my tutorial on trimming a Caboose 206S ground throw. It will open in a new window.
Modification: Adding a Turnout into an Existing Track
It was inevitable that some day I would want to add to the existing track plan. It was easy enough to decide I wanted two new spurs and, frankly, the cost was negligible. The one obstacle that might have prevented me from going ahead with it was my fear of having to tear up existing track.
As with most things in life I figured that if I made a good plan, it could not be so intimidating. Read my tutorial. The link is below the photos. You will see just how easy it really was! Here are just a few photos of the new spur at the front.
Tutorial - Inserting a New Turnout into an Existing Track