My recent decision to  revert to track power meant I needed to keep the switch rails insulated from each other, and the easy & strong soldered joint method previously employed would no longer work.

Right O Way’s recommended method of gluing the two tie bar halves together with tissue paper as insulation wasn’t to my satisfaction. I found that it was easy to kink the two components so that they came undone, so I put my thinking cap on to see if there was a better solution.  As is often the case, a glance at the prototype lead to the answer.

The prototype tie bars turn out (pun intended) to be straight strips, and looking at the photos in my library with fresh eyes, I thought I recognized PC board ties, Z scale ones, in fact. I’m pretty sure I saw the idea elsewhere previously on the internet, but a quick glance at Fast Tracks’ website revealed that the Z crossover copper clad ties were an appropriate width and long enough to work as an O scale throw bar.

An order was placed and Saturday night I experimented in the layout room until, voila, the points were connected and moving smoothly back and forth.

I’m very pleased with their visual appearance and quite confident that some paint and weathering will adequately hide the gap I filed in the middle for electrical insulation purposes.

Because I am so enamoured of the filigree look of the rods between the header ties, I’m going to try to throw the switch from the switch stand rather than by extending a rod up from below in the typical position half way between the points. Stay tuned for an update on this next experiment.

Back at it

I’ll spare you all the other model railway things I’ve been doing since my last post, but suffice it to say that work on the layout itself has been sparing for the best part of 2019.

Well, that changed this November when I decided to move from dead rail to powered track. While I really enjoy how quickly laying track can go when there’s no need to add feeders and gaps, etc, I have long been frustrated with the work required to add the battery and electronics to my locomotives. There’s not a lot of guidance online, the cost adds up quickly, and I just got tired of not seeming to make progress. And I realized that everyone I know who applies graphite to their rail seems to have no issues with power pickup.

So the three layout sections are one by one ending up on their sides on my workbench (one of the benefits of lightweight construction) while I planned the routing of the bus underneath and placement of the feeders. It was much easier to do than originally feared.

Where I was not spiking down new rail (and thus able to solder a feeder wire to the underside), I used phosphor bronze wire for the feeders. I would choose a tie location, drill through the tie plate hole, homasote, and foam, and scratch off the paint on the base of the rail so that I could tin it.

The phosphor bronze then got a “spike” bent into the tip so that it was essentially indistinguishable from the actual rail spikes holding the rail in place. A quick tinning of both ends followed, then push through the hole until the spike was against the rail. Finish off with a touch of the soldering iron. Easy!

Underneath the layout I wrapped the end of the wire with a feeder, quickly soldered them together, and then joined the feeder wire to the bus with a 3M Scotchlok connector.

I’ve been taking the time as well to spike all the ties that were skipped originally. It is still as relaxing an exercise as the first time, even if I’ve noticed my eyesight is not quite what it was even a year or two ago. I had to flood the area with lights and, as is the norm nowadays, use the Optivisor.

Next up, optimizing turnout construction.

Now we’re talking II

Ever since I paused tracklaying to redo the layout support structure and place the HO Pine Street Spur underneath the Guelph Spur, I’ve had difficulty getting back into the groove of things. “Life” and all its responsibilities hasn’t helped, but I couldn’t seem to get back into my previous 15 minutes (or more) working on the railroad routine. If I got into the train room I would tend to stare at things and wonder where to start.

I realized that part of the issue was the sheer clutter in the room. The layouts were both covered with “stuff”, and it seemed that when I wanted to start something I could not find the tools or the supplies. Everything has a place, and in my basement nothing was in its! I was spending too long looking for things and quickly losing any steam. This weekend I resolved to change things, so I spent some time putting up new shelves so that the stuff on the layout now had a home. My workbench was cleaned off and rearranged so that I could find items when I need them. The only thing left to do before I can put my Red Caboose GP9 back on the workbench and complete the drive train is to add lighting over the workbench. I have the LED strips, but just need to fashion a lead long enough to reach my power supply. Up top on the railroad I’ve already made progress, with new lengths of rail fitted to the second two switches and several additional feet receiving the full complement of 2 spikes per tie plate.

Speaking of tie plates, with news of the pending shutdown, or hopefully sale, of Monster Model Works, I decided not to take any chances and placed an order for sufficient tie plates to finish off the visible portion of the railroad.

It’s amazing the difference in mood when I enter the newly organized train room. Now I don’t waste time looking for items I need, they’re all to be found exactly where I expected to lay my hands on them. Hopefully this state of affairs will last for a while!

3D Modelling

Once I put the Guelph Spur sections back in place, progress was not as quickl as I thought on completing the trackwork on the initial three sections.  I was getting hung up on the rail braces on my first switch.  I’d purchased braces from Right-O-Way products, and unfortunately it turned out they were not designed for use with Micro Engineering code 125 track.  The track base is too thick and/or the brace gap too small to work with each other.  I was getting very frustrated trying to make them fit together, cutting and filing and trying different things, but nothing worked well or looked good in the end.

All of this contemplation led me to take a closer look at the real thing, and I quickly saw that CPR’s rail braces for 100 lb rail looked quite different than the Right-O-Way product.


The obvious solution became to model them myself and have them 3D printed on Shapeways or a similar site.  I’d already tried Jim Lincoln’s adjustable rail braces purchased on Shapeways, and the resolution was quite satisfactory and I was happy with those.  I just needed the fixed braces as found on the Guelph Junction Railway.

I was a design engineer for many years prior to my current sales career, so 3D modelling was something that I could do and was looking forward to picking up again.  I tried out various programs and ended up with the student version of Fusion 360 from Autodesk.  It seems to be powerful enough, has an interface that feels comfortable and familiar to me as a Siemens NX user, and lacks the restrictions that the student NX version has.

One of the things I’ve always wondered about the parts found on Shapeways was where did the source data or measurements come from.  In other words, how could I know that a particular model is actually an accurate depiction of the prototype?  In my case I found that a combination of drawings and field measurements got me to where I wanted to be.  Drawings for the braces happen to be available on the CPR Historical Society’s website (  I used them to create my first model, but since it just did not look quite right on the screen, I took some measurements on the real thing and found some relatively subtle but noticeable differences.

My next task is to update the model with my measurements and do a test run.  Really looking forward to seeing how they come out and if they will fit out of the box!

Boundary Trail 8208

It’s what’s underneath that counts, right?   that’s the case if you’re trying to detail an O scale model of an ex-CP GP9u. So here are some shots of the belly of Boundary Trail Railway 8208 resting after work one weekday this past spring.


Now we’re talking

It took a bit longer than I expected, but the Guelph Spur sections are back up and I can get back to tracklaying.

My workbench has been moved back into its original location in the alcove and the Pine Street Spur sections are happily ensconced in their new home underneath.

I should get back to finishing off the O track, but part of me wants to install some sort of lighting over the HO layout. At a minimum something has to be put in place over the workbench so that I can see what I’m doing while I get my locomotives in shape as far as both battery power as well as kitbashing them into proper representations of the prototypes.

There’s lots more to come soon, stay tuned

Rebuilding (already)

My wife and I cleaned out the basement recently as part of having the larger living space carpeted.  I also gave up my office and suddenly found myself looking for a home for all the “stuff” I’d squirrelled away in there.

After more than a few evenings spent pondering what I could do, I decided on the following:

  • Redo the supports for the Guelph Spur. I wasn’t happy with the system I had cobbled together from scrap wood that I’d been saving for decades.
  • Take a look at what I could do to make room for the essential pieces of my Pine Street Spur. I was having a hard time with the idea of completely separating from HO.

The result is shown in these in-progress views:



The Guelph Spur is supported by sturdy metal shelf brackets except across the space where my hobby desk will be relocated to, where I have reused a metal piece from some Ikea furniture item to allow the layout to span 6’ without sagging.

The three Pine Street Spur sections will now sit underneath the O scale railroad, with a removable switching lead extending out the room’s doorway when in use.

Much more finishing work remains to be done, but I’m pleased with how things look so far.

The Sky is Falling!

A while ago I found myself looking at my backdrop and not being satisfied with what I saw.  In theory the integrated shadow box style backdrop and light support would make for a nice set-up at shows where I choose to exhibit the layout, but in practice it was far from ideal.

The primary issue was that the mat board I used, while perfectly flexible, was available only in sizes such that the sky became a quiltwork of seams, none of which matched up well.

The other issue was that the shadowbox sections were very unwieldy to handle, being essentially 2’ x 2’ x 6’ boxes.  I was concerned how well they would transport out of my basement.

So I thought about it, and with some encouragement from friends decided to create a fixed backdrop support.  This would allow me to dramatically reduce the number of seams while making the layout sections easier to handle. I also won 1.5” in scene depth and about the same amount in height.  Out with the old!

There were two possible ways to create the backdrop with coved or curved transition between the vertical and horizontal surfaces.

The more permanent method would be to use drywall and thin hardboard to cove both the horizontal and vertical edges as shown on Trainmasters TV and practised by Barry Silverthorn on his layout.

The other method was to bend sufficiently stiff styrene sheets into the backdrop, potentially giving up the vertical coving.

I decided to try the latter, as it appears to be less work!  And less time spent on the backdrop is more time laying track and assembling my first engine.  Styrene is also put up within minutes, with only track spikes holding my first sheet in place.

My first test section shown is shown in the pictures.  I had prepared by purchasing .030” thick 4×8 sheets, but I should have saved my money.  It was too thin to be sufficiently self-supporting. I had a sheet of .040 styrene as well, and it seems to work.  It still sags somewhat, but with some glue to the drywall base could possibly work.  Ideally I will use .060” thick material, and the additional cost may well just be something I have to swallow.


For now I like the more open look of the styrene and higher sky, and the additional depth created. In O scale every inch counts.

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