It’s been a real long time. I spent the summer focused on 1:1 trains and couldn’t find the interest to continue on with The Industrial Lead. But the last couple of weeks I’ve been back at it. I’ve given up on Proto:87 and handlaying track in HO. I laid all my track (save one stick of ME code 70) and soldered half of it.

Nov 052013

Hard Times for Hand Laying

I’ve hand laid a 3′ section around a 24″ radius corner. There are some minor dips in the track. Proto:87 cars run fine. A 6 axle loco with P:87 wheels won’t make the curve. It’s obvious now why you need smooth flat track or some sort of working suspension. The 6 axle loco really suffers here, because a minor dip on one axle will cause the other two axles to raise. Generally what is happening is that the center axle raises and the rear axle kicks out (no significant flange to keep it on the track). Possible factors for the problems:

  1. Tight Radius.
  2. Not flat track
  3. Incorrectly gauged wheels or track (I think I’ve got the gauges right though)

How do I Proceed?

Now I’m faced with a decision on how to proceed. I think I need to give something up to get something working. My options as I see them:

  1. Test again with 4 axle locomotive. I’m thinking the 4 axle loco will be more forgiving. I need to order some wheels to do this.
  2. Switch to flex track. It is easier to lay smooth track with and I’ve successfully tested 24″ radius curves with flex track and 6 axle P:87 locos.
  3. RP-25. My 6 axle loco with RP25 wheels works just fine.

Tie Plate News

 Posted by Greg Amer at 12:53 pm  Proto:87, Track  4 Responses »
Oct 252013


Cosmetic Tie Plates

I received the Proto 87 Stores cosmetic tie plates this afternoon. I was hoping to use them with code 70 rail on the lighter weight sections of the layout. The feature that got me interested in them was the 4 holes for spiking and the absence of the simulated spike heads typically found with Proto87 Stores tie plates. I was disappointed they are too small for code 70 rail. The base of the code 70 rail extends over the spike holes. I did check a small piece of code 55 rail and they do work with that. (so maybe I’ll be going to code 55 :) Or maybe that’s just too far down the rabbit hole.

Turnout Tie Plates

On another related tie plate topic. I decide to drill out extra spike holes in some of the special turnout tie plates. I used a #76 bit in my Dremel Workstation and just did my best to line it up with the simulated spike head and drill right through it. It worked out pretty well. I can’t see doing thousands of these, but some key tie plates on the turnouts shouldn’t be a problem.

Wandering Track

Finally, regarding the section of track I spiked down earlier this week (see Sleight of Hand), I need to rip it out. I messed up and let it wander, which wouldn’t be a problem, but if it continues it’s current course will wander right off the homasote. So my first 12″ section will be redone, kind of a bummer, but I want it done right.

Considering a Code Change

I mentioned earlier a possible code change on my light weight track. My initial plan was to use code 83 on the heavy track and code 70 on the lighter track. I’m considering changing this paradigm to code 70 and code 55, which would be closer to prototype. My actual prototype uses heavy track that is about 6″ tall and lighter track that is about 4 3/4″ tall. Checking Andy’s Prototype and HO Model Rail Sizes reference page puts it solidly at code 70 and code 55. The only concern I have is outlay of cash.

Thanks for reading Greg

Sleight of Hand

 Posted by Greg Amer at 12:21 am  Track  5 Responses »
Oct 242013

A break from building turnouts

I decided to try something more relaxing: hand laying track.

Why did I think this was going to be a real chore?

Guess what. It’s fun to lay track! And it’s even more fun building track in place on the layout. After spending the last nine or ten months unsuccessfully building what is essentially hand laid sectional track, its nice to have a success. I think I’m going to rebuild my turnouts in place also.


I’m using Kappler HO Scale 8′ 6″ Cross Ties. I glue them to the roadbed with tacky glue, I’ve also had success with matte medium. I’m also gluing in some Fast Tracks PCB Cross Ties at key points.  I use the Proto87 Stores Switch-Works Straight Track Fixture to space the ties. I sand them to a uniform height. I distress the ties with a wire brush and an exacto knife. I stain the ties with alcohol and sepia colored India ink (Video – Finishing and Staining Wood Ties).


I’ve switched to using Proto:87 Stores longer HO spikes and quickly exhausted my supply. I’ve ordered several more frets. They are awesome, they drive all the way through the tie to the homasote roadbed! They are much easier to handle than the small spikes. I’m not bothered with gluing tie plates in place before laying rail, I simply slide them under the rail and spike! I was previously using the small spikes (because they are so short they do not penetrate through the full thickness of the tie.) and I bought several thousand of them, but the small size makes them difficult to handle.

Tie Plates

I’ve been using the Proto:87 Stores heavy duty tie plates (8 hole), but they are a bit of a pain to deal with, mostly because the fret contains several variations of tie plate. Most of the variation has to do placement with simulated spike heads vs. actual holes that spikes can be driven through. There are a couple of plates per fret that do not have any simulated spike heads, I wish I could order a whole fret of them.

I ordered some Proto:87 Stores cosmetic medium duty (4 hole) tie plates to use on the lighter weight track portions of the layout like the Odom Lead. I haven’t received them yet, but the picture shows they omit any simulated spike head and have a full 4 holes open for spiking. I wish this type of fret were available in a heavy duty 8 hole tie plate.

I plan to use some 8 hole tie plates from Monster Model Works on the SIG Runaround Track. I’ve ordered a package and can’t wait to try them out. They are thicker than the Proto87 Stores tie plates (.003″ at the rail base slot) vs. Monster Model Works tie plates (.008″ at the rail base slot), so they can’t really mix and match with the Proto:87 Stores plates, but I see no reason they can’t be used separately on discrete sections of track.

The advantage I see to the Monster tie plates is that the will be easier to handle. The Proto87 Stores tie plates bend easily, slip easily while spiking & while easier to slide them underneath the rail, the slim profile also makes harder to compensate for any uneven ties.


So now, I’m anxiously awaiting more supplies (spikes and tie plates). In the meantime I may have enough time to lay in some more ties while I wait.



Finishing & Staining Wood Ties

I’ve already glued my ties to the roadbed. I used Kappler 8′ 6″ wood cross ties (KP00SS86-HO) I purchased from Proto87 Stores.

I sand my wood ties to flatten them all to the same level. I used a sharpening stone to good effect. I also use a small emery board to hit individual ties that are a little too high.

I distress the ties using a wire brush and Exacto knife. The wire brush helps leave the impression of a grain. I Scribe damage lines and marks into the ties with an Exacto blade.

Finally, I stain the ties using a mixture of sepia colored India ink mixed with isopropyl alcohol. I don’t have an exact mixture ratio, but If the stain coloring dries too light, I usually go over with a second coat; if it dries too dark I lightly sand it off and re-stain.

Staining Wood Ties

Staining Wood Ties

Sep 252013

I’ve tried a new two step method to staining my ties.

  1. Paint the ties with Humbrol #98 Enamel Paint. It’s not a thick coat, more like a wash. My goal is to get a nice warm base wood color.
  2. Wash with shoe dye & alcohol mix. I do this to fill in the crevices and bring out the highlights.

The results:

I’m very happy with this color. The only problem is that the glues I’m using to adhere the tie plates cause the black shoe dye to run. I might paint first, apply tie plates, then wash with the shoe dye/alcohol.

Sep 202013


I’ve been wanting to try making a turnout without using the Proto:87 Stores Switch-Works Ultimate Turnout jigs. I’ve seen many people print templates off of the Fast Tracks website and use that as a basis for laying ties and siting rail. There are also templates available on the Proto:87 Stores website.

I prefer the look of the Proto:87 Stores template because the ties are not uniformly placed, instead they are placed closer at critical areas to carry the increased stresses in those areas. In short, the Proto:87 Stores templates more closely represent a modern prototype turnout.

On the other hand, the Fast Tracks turnout building method where track is soldered to key PCB ties lends itself more easily to using a template. It allows one to easily remove the paper template after the key PCB ties are soldered to the track.

I tried my hand at laying a string of ties for a #10 turnout using the Proto:87 Stores Templates. I printed the template on #65 lb. card stock and sprayed it with dull-coat. I carefully cut and taped the template halves using a thin strip of masking tape. I glued a straight piece of card stock to the bottom edge to act as a straight edge for laying the ties. I glued the ties to the template using Elmer’s wood glue. Then I stained the ties using a shoe dye and alcohol mix. It all stood up nicely. Everything worked great except it looked too small to be a #10 turnout. I compared it to my other #10 turnouts and it was definitely undersized.

It took a while to figure out what was wrong, but printed across the top of the Proto:87 Stores template is a large black bar and a note that says:


I never read instructions until after something goes wrong. I measured the bar and it was less than 6 inches. I did some calculations and reprinted the diagrams at 106% scale. Now I need to try this again.





A long time ago, I purchased a stash of Peco #8 turnouts, just in case I got fed up with trying to make my own. But abandoning this Proto:87 venture would lead me right back to why I diverged onto the Proto:87 course anyway: Peco frogs don’t look like frogs (see post - Frog Frenzy). With making a suitable turnout moving at a glacial pace, and after another frustrating failure last week, I ordered a half dozen Details West #8 frogs to replace those ugly Peco frogs and move the layout along with at least a temporary track while I figure out how to build a suitable turnout.

One lament with this idea would be that I would have to build this temporary track as a standard HO track, while everything else I’m building would be Proto:87. As I ripped out the Peco frog and refitted it with a nice Details West frog, I had the idea to convert the Details West frog to be usable as a Proto:87 frog. To do so, I simply glued a .030 styrene shim to the wing rail portion of the Details West manganese frogs. This shim was then sanded down to not interfere with the flange-ways, and acts to carry the wheel tread from the closure rails to the frog point without dropping into the enormous HO gap. I also removed the Peco guard rails, filed their bases and moved them closer to the stock rails so that they met the Proto:87 Check gauge. If I do another one, I’ll try to make a video or take in progress photos.



What little time I had this summer for model railroading was pretty much devoted to making another Proto:87 Stores #10 “Ultimate” Turnout. This time I decided to heavily modify it from the original. These are some of the modifications and the lessons I learned along the way.

  1. I substituted Heavy Duty tie plates for the standard Medium Duty Tie plates.The heavy duty tie plates don’t fit the Proto:87 Stores Switch-Works tie-plate jig I’ve been using. So in order to lay the Heavy duty tie plates, I used tie plate jig to lay a few reference tie plates and then used a piece of rail to site the rest of the tie plates. I glued them in place using Barge/MEK. Somehow, I misplaced about every tie plate, causing me to have to lift them up and reapply them several times to get the correct position. In the future, I will use several more reference tie plates.
  2. I substituted tie plates around the points, guard rails and frog.Some of this had to be done somewhat freehand, so I didn’t get a perfect job, but the tie plates around the guard rails turned out pretty good. In the future I’ll be much more careful with these and I will need to develop a better way to site the frog first, then slip tie plates beneath.
  3. I added Details West Adjustable Rail Braces.These look OK, they all needed some degree of filing to make them fit. I don’t think they turned out that great, they don’t all look to be the same size and they don’t all seat the same. I was tempted to use the Central Valley rail braces, but I think I had a hard time cutting them off the sprue and threw them out.
  4. I tried Humbrol Enamels for Painting the TrackMatt 113 and Matt 98 looked good going on, but turned out to be more like a gloss than a matte. I had to strip the paint off and go back to my old friend Vallejo Cam Medium Brown. The Vallejo paint looks great.
  5. I Abandoned the Proto:87 Stores Point Hinges for Micro Engineering Rail JoinersI didn’t like the Proto:87 Stores point hinges, it leaves too much vertical slop in the points. I’m much happier with the rail joiners.
  6. I’m not Satisfied with the Turnout ThrowI’ve built six turnouts and probably experimented with 15 different points. I don’t like how the Proto:87 Stores throw bars work. The best interim solution I’ve found is to shim them, but this leaves them extremely stiff and hard to throw.
  7. Glue (Ewwww!)As you can see in the photos, I really ended up with some glue globs. Not what I want at all!

I started another turnout last week. This time using CA to glue the ties to the plastic base, and inadvertently to the Switch-Works fixture. I destroyed the tie base and thought I had destroyed the fixture also, but was able to reshape it and clean it up. I’ve ordered more supplies and hopefully will be making more turnouts soon.

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.


© 2012 Greg Amer
Suffusion theme by Sayontan Sinha