Turnout Construction

Reg sent me the tutorial as a Word document and I posted it up best I could. I gave Reg editorial permission so he can tweak it as he sees fit.

Reg Hearn submitted the following article in a series of posts to The Whistle Post. I was concerned that such an excellent source might vanish into the forum much like socks do in the dryer and he graciously permitted me to re-post it here.

Much of this work involves working with revolving tools, sharp tools, and high temperatures. I assume you have read all manufacturers’ safety information and work accordingly. In undertaking a project you are solely responsible for the safety of yourself and those around you.
Handlaying turnouts in HO gauge is not really as difficult as it may sound. I started handlaying track as a teenager. While there are those who can lay prettier turnouts, over the years I have developed methods that produce good looking, smooth operating, reliable turnouts.

You may notice in the above photo that the ties seem to be rather large and long. I model in On30, which represents narrow gauge in ¼” scale using HO gauge track. Many of the techniques described here work for other gauges and scales as well. I have laid a lot of track in O scale, ¼” scale narrow gauge, and HO. I have to say, though, you N gauge folks are on your own!

Handlaying track is a labor of love. I started handlaying because I had encountered some really nicely handlaid track at a model train show in my teens and the commercial track of the time was pretty clunky looking. You could only get manufactured track with Code 100 rail. The flex track came either with plastic ties with really massive molded-in spike heads, or with fiber ties stapled to the rail. If you wanted good looking track, handlaying was the way to go. Especially if you wanted to make use of the just available Code 70 rail. There was no commercially available track using that rail size.

Note that for this piece I am using Code 83 rail. The methods work for Code 100 and Code 70 as well.

I can practically guarantee you that your first efforts will not look all that great, and will operate poorly. But if you exercise patience and practice diligently, you will develop the skill necessary to lay good looking track. I am not especially adept or skilled. Way back when, my first two or three turnouts were pretty abysmal. But by the fourth turnout I was producing credible results. If I can do it, so can you.

The methods I present here are not the only methods that can be employed. There are alternatives to almost every approach I take. For instance, you can purchase some high quality steel templates that produce some very fine turnouts. My only argument with that method is that the templates are so expensive that the cost per turnout equals the cost of many high quality commercial turnouts. While I don’t hand lay strictly for cost savings (and I advise you don’t either), commercial track has gotten so good looking I couldn’t see the point in handlaying.

If you intend to handlay track as a cost savings exercise, you will probably be disappointed. While handlaid track can be considerably less expensive than commercial track, that shouldn’t be the primary motivator. For me, it is all about the journey with the end product being a happy side benefit. The motivator driving handlaying, for me, is the process of creating something that works smoothly and is good looking. When doing this kind of work successful completion depends on working slowly and methodically. Trying to rush the job will only result in frustration.

Another company, that is devoted to Proto:87 standards, has a line of turnout parts that result in some very fine looking turnouts and their prices are very reasonable. I purchased three of their frog kits and was quite impressed. But the time to construct, and the level of soldering expertise required, did not offer substantial improvement over the methods that I have, mostly, used for decades.

The one area in which I have not developed a great deal of skill is close-up photography. In fact, despite having been a professional photographer during a period of my life, I have not really mastered digital photography all that well. So I apologize for the quality of some of the photographs.


Turnout Construction — 3 Comments

  1. Reg says that “If you intend to handlay track as a cost savings exercise, you will probably be disappointed. While handlaid track can be considerably less expensive than commercial track, that shouldn’t be the primary motivator.”

    One of the reasons that I’m interested is simply that it is HARD to find the turnouts I need. I model in O scale and I have a small section where an On18 line from a mine delivers coal to my coking operation. On18 – which is in reality HOn30. I find that slightly amusing since HOn30 itself is HO scale on N gauge track.

    In any case – for whatever the reason – I find it hard to get my hands on them. That brings me full circle back to possibly hand laying the ones I need.

  2. I appreciate the effort to preserve my work.

    Since writing this article I have experimented with some commercial turnout kits that arrive assembled with PC board ties.

    This approach may work for some, but it has been a disappointment for me. The biggest weak point is the tie bar/throw bar. Almost everyone of the eight I installed has had the solder connection on the PC board bar break.

    The methods I use to construct turnouts not only result in a good looking and, once you master the skills, smoothing operating turnout, but they are very sturdy and require very little maintenance.

    That is not my experience with the PC Board approach. Personally, I would avoid it.

    • When I approved your comment, I followed to the page and to my *shock* .. I had the “old style” Navigation at the bottom of the page. I checked .. and the last time the page was updated was in 2012!! Holy Update Batman!!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Heads up! You are attempting to upload an invalid image. If saved, this image will not display with your comment.