Aug 152013

Shimming Proto:87 Stores “Ultimate” Throw Bars

I’m continuing to build Proto:87 Stores “Ultimate” turnouts. One feature I’ve complained about before is holding the points snugly against the stock rails (see: Getting to the Point). With a bit of filing and shimming I’ve been able to make the “Ultimate” throw bars work, but they are hard to throw and they aren’t pretty. Shims are placed above the plastic portion of the hooked throw bar and below the plastic portion of the straight throw bar. Without shims, the throw bars are prone to falling out of place and don’t seem to hold the points snugly to the stock rails.

Shimmed Proto:87 Stores Throw Bars

Shimmed Proto:87 Stores Throw Bars


Can I Make My Own Throw Bars?

I am trying to make my own throw bar system with Fast Tracks N Scale Copperheads PCB Ties and .015″ phosphor bronze wire. The basic premise is to connect the points to the PCB ties using the phosphor bronze wire. The PCB ties will be used with the copper portions facing the ties (giving a thin profile). I’d like to report some success at this point but can’t.

I’ve tried a few methods.

  1. Hook and Eye - In this method I’ve soldered eyes to the sides of points and fashioned a hook of wire that is threaded through to the PCB tie (throw bar).I like this method for the looks, but it has draw backs.
    • It is hard to produce eyes that look the same.
    • It is hard to make several bends in the wire without breaking the wire or the PCB tie.
    • I need to come up with a better jig to drill holes
    • I tried soldering wire hooks to the eyes, but lost the flexibility, and still having trouble bending over without breaking.
  2. Thread and Solder - I thread wire through the PCB tie, slide it through a hole in the point, bend it over and solder it to the point.This method looks kind of bad and doesn’t function well.
  3. Straight Connection- I solder full size PCB ties directly to the points.Looks terrible. Almost always results in points being soldered to the stock rails. Function OK.
  4. Modified Proto:87 points- I drilled an extra hole in the points and used the hooked Proto:87 throw bars instead of the pointed ones in the front throw bar position.This doesn’t work, the hook bumps against the base of the stock rail and doesn’t allow the points to close.


Aug 142013

It’s been a real slow summer. No time for trains. Kids summer camp brought me a couple of hours of free time to take on a couple of projects.

Work Bench Add On and Dremel Workstation

I added a small section to my workbench. The new section is for my new Dremel Workstation. The 12″ x 16″ section was made from a piece of scrap melamine and is supported by a steel angle bracket. I found some Micro Carbide CNC drill bits on ebay that work great with the Dremel. They have an 1/8″ shank. I bought a set of 50 bits, 5 each of size #72 through #83. I plan to start using the set up immediately to drill holes in the points and throw bars.

Turnout Progress

I started this #10 turnout in May, but it’s been dormant mostly all summer. I started it using Proto:87 Stores Switch-Works tie plate jig, then substituted heavy weight tie plates for the standard plates and made some adjustments to the types of tie plates around the points, frog, and guard rails. I’m adding adjustable rail braces.


February has been a hard month and my second turnout project has been stalled by parts delays, illness, a death, and a vacation. Patrick and I layed out the ties earlier this month and were waiting for a new frog from Andy at Proto:87 Stores. I had Andy build a new frog because I screwed up the last one. I glued in most of the tie plates before I left for vacation. While I was on vacation some new track gauges arrived from DDWheelwrights and Railway Engineering. Having a set of track gauges provided me the motivation to finish the tie paltes and

Essons Learned

  1. Gluing tie plates is a pain in the ass. I tried using a syringe to squirt CA glue onto the ties, but the syringe got blocked up rather quickly and became unusable after a day. I tried using a toothpick to dab a small amount on the ties, but the dabs were frequently too big and would spread to the jig. Too little glue and the tie plates fall off. I found myself constantly being set back by tie plates that came loose. I don’t know if this is a process I’m willing to continue with this method of turnout building.
  2. The Proto:87 Stores throwbar is very difficult to install correctly. I ordered extra, because I had trouble before and I had to use the extras. I finally got it to work long enough to take a couple of photos, then it fell apart. In the end, I soldered a PCB tie to the points.
  3. I needed to file the inside tips of the points so the wheels won’t trip on them.


Jan 202013

I’ve finished assembling my first Proto:87 turnout using the Switch-Works Turnout Building fixture. It took about a month and I made many mistakes along the way. So I wanted to share what I learned.

  • Fix the ties down to the plastic backing strip using barge cement. I first tried to just Press-N-Seal plastic wrap, but they don’t hold the ties firmly in position and you end up with a lot of play in the ties.
  • Paint your ties before installing the tie plates. This allowed me to get the ends and and sides pretty thoroughly, which would be more difficult to do after the rails and ties were installed.
  • Do not pre-weather the tie plates. It makes it impossible to tell which side is the top side, because you can’t see the raised detail.
  • Make a pointy tool out of an old piece of rail to place the tie plates. Steel tools don’t work well with all the magnets around the workpiece.
  • Super glue the tie plates. I started by affixing each tie plate with a dab of 15 minute epoxy to each tie. Epoxy doesn’t set up quick enough to prevent the tie plates from sliding out of position.
  • An 80W soldering iron doesn’t do a good job soldering frogs together. I’ve made three frogs and all needed some after work, because they weren’t completely soldered. I think I’ll order my frogs pre-soldered from Andy from now on.
  • Install both stock rails before installing the frog. I installed just the curved one (as the instructions indicate) and therefore only had one reference for installing the frog. I ended up having to pull the frog off and push it backward because it didn’t line up well with the straight stock rail after I installed that. Since this is basically a jig and the position of the curved and stock rails are set, it makes best sense to use both as a reference when installing the frog.
  • Get some gauges. I only have the Proto:87 stores flat gauge. I ordered some Rollee Holders from Railway Engineering, and I am also considering getting some gauges from DD Wheelwrights.
  • Buy some nut bolt washer (NBW) casting for the frog. The frog details from Proto:87 Stores are a little too uniform and low relief for my tastes. I bought some plastic NBW from Tichy #8144.
  • Don’t bother using PCB ties. I thought that maybe the turnout would need the extra rigidity some select PCB ties would add, but I don’t think they made much of a difference, my future turnouts will use just wood ties.
  • Don’t install the bolt head detail to the points prior to installation. It makes it impossible to find the hole drilled for the point bar.
  • I have no idea how to Proto:87 make the throw-bars work. I couldn’t get them to work with the Superfine turnout I built either. I opted to solder the points to a throw-bar, but it cannot be soldered directly, as it will not allow the points to fully set in place. Instead soldered point bars to the points, held the points in place, then soldered the point bars to a to a PC board. I’m still trying to find a long term solution, maybe I can get the next set to work as designed.
  • Add jewelry. I already mentioned the NBW castings, but I also ordered joint bars / fishplates from Details West in plastic and pewter (Don’t try to solder the pewter ones, they melt immediately into sticky goo). I also ordered adjustable and rigid rail braces from Details West, I’m not sure I like how they look though. Proto:87 makes rail braces, and they look really good, just not so much how my prototype looks.

Making so many mistakes is discouraging. But overall, it’s been a very rewarding experience. I’m still determined to get it right. I’ve already started on my second turnout.


Jan 022013

I am building a #10 turnout with Proto:87 Stores Switch-Works assembly fixture. I thought I’d be clever and use Press-N-Seal to hold down my ties instead of cementing them to a plastic strip (see my previous Blog entry – Switch-Works Arrives). Bad idea! After installing about a hundred tie plates, I determined that the Press-N-Seal doesn’t hold the ties in position, which is imperative since the tie plates serve as a guide to lay the rail in correct gauge. With the ties flopping around, I couldn’t ensure my tie plates were lining up correctly from tie to tie. So I stripped the ties and started over.

Take 2

For this try I used Barge Cement to glue the ties to the supplied plastic base. I also decided to paint the ties before installing tie plates and pre-weather the tie plates. I painted the ties with Rust-O-Leum Camouflage Brown, then dry brushed them with Railroad Tie Brown and a little Depot Buff. I soaked the already cut tie plates in Micro Engineering weathering solution and painted the solution on to the rails. I’ll do more painting once everything is assembled, but I thought it’d be a good idea to get rid of the bare wood and bright silver before I assembled the turnout.

Dec 202012

My Switch-Works assembly fixture arrived recently and I finally got a chance to get started building some #10 turnouts.

After assembling the base, I put some Press-n-Seal plastic wrap on the base to hold the ties. Then I emptied a bag of precut ties and fitted them into the tie fixture. Put the tie plate aligning fixture on and held it in place with magnets. Everything is easy so far. We’ll see if it stays easy when I start gluing in the hundreds of tie plates :)



© 2012 Greg Amer
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