PRR Chartiers Branch: Hazel Mine - Track
03/25/2018

December 27, 2017

After a long delay involving many other projects not related to this model railroad, I am finally able to get started on laying the track for this layout. I started at the mine tipple area, since that is pretty much fixed. As in my previous attempt to model this scene, I used Plaster of Paris to cast some 3-foot cubes to represent the foundation of the tipple, as shown in the prototype drawings. This time, however, I made sure to adjust them so that there was plenty of distance between them to allow my engines and cars to pass through. Using a piece of flextrack, I could then mark off where the blocks were to go, and in the photo below, I am starting to glue them to the ceiling tile base of the layout.
However, I had recently made this S-scale clearance gauge. Remembering that, I pulled it out of the drawer and placed it on the flextrack. Oops! The blocks do not clear the gauge. I then tried it with an engine and a car. The wheels and the stirrups come within a fraction of an inch of the blocks. If I am ever so slightly off when I hand-lay the rails, they will hit the blocks. After pondering this issue for a day or two, I finally made the decision to "bury" the blocks such that they are at or below the tops of the rails. That way I will have no issues whatsoever. I twisted the 8 blocks I had glued down off of the layout, and I will revisit them later. For now, I want to get to the actual track laying.
As you can see from the non-green area, the track has a gentle sweep to it, leading to the tipple. The camera is somewhat facing geographical west, and the empty hopper cars would be brought to the tipple from that direction. I needed something that would allow me to trace out the position of the ties, conforming to that gentle sweep. I didn't have anything close to 8 feet long that could be easily bent. But, then I noticed my pile of recently-cut strips of wood that will eventually become the ties for the track. I clamped two of those to each other, overlapping them half their lengths. I kept doing that until I had the length I needed. Then, with some metal weights, I could hold the whole assembly together to form a template.
At the other end of the layout, the tracks exit the layout/diorama at an angle. To make sure that those ends are still the appropriate distance apart from each other, I used two pieces of flextrack and my recently-made track-separation gauge, to determine where each of the 5 tracks are going to end. Even if you are going to hand-lay your track, I would recommend getting at least one piece of flextrack, so that you can do things like this before laying the ties and rail.
Here you can see where I made the black Sharpie lines, and I numbered each of them. The fifth track is a bit into the grass area near the bottom of the photo.
The next photo shows the set-up for using the strips as my template. I used a straight block of wood and two C-clamps to hold the first section of that strip straight, and then lined that up with the lines I had already marked for where the tracks will be under the tipple (those were straight in the real world). Then, with some metal weights placed around the template, I could hold the whole thing in position while I traced on the ceiling tile with a pencil. The bend in the stripwood makes for a nice, smooth curve.
Since the template can be shaped to just about anything, it is important to make sure that the lines I trace are no closer than the track-separation gauge's distance apart. This was easy to do, and the weights allowed me to make fine-tuning adjustments before tracing it out.
And here you can see the lines for the 5 tracks (ignore the blue pen lines). These are the lines against which I will lay the ties.
Here's the view of the other end.

January 20, 2018

With the general position of the 5 tracks marked off, I now needed to deal with the turnouts. There are 7 turnouts in the modeled area. I used the prototype design diagrams to determine where they were. With a Sharpie, I marked the center-line of the tracks, and how the turnouts would flow. Part of this decision was deciding on what frog angle to use on these turnouts. No prototype information is available. However, I've always wanted to start using #8 or larger turnouts in S-scale. Judging by the overall length of the turnout, I decided to use #8 frogs.
And off we go! I used my Hand-laying Track article as the go-by for cutting the 8-1/2' long ties (see that article for some enhancements to how I cut the tie strips). Yellow carpenter's glue works great for these. I applied glue to the individual ties, rather than spread a big area of glue down and then install the ties. My reason for doing so is that the vibration of the equipment running on the track is limited to just the affected ties, not an entire section of one cohesive whole of ties. I have no scientific proof that that will make any difference, but it seemed logical. Glue, once hardened, transfers vibrations to the other surface.
I put down as many ties as I could until I had to deal with the turnouts.
External Reference:
I downloaded the PDF of the #8 turnout from the Fast Tracks web site, and then taped the three pages together. They have marks at the corners of the pages, so it is easy to line them up and then tape them together. For me, since all my turnouts are curved on this layout, the template itself is rather useless, but what I used it for was counting and measuring the lengths of each of the ties used. This template will also be handy later on when I get to the shaping of the rails.
The hardest part was deciding where to start. Since most of these turnouts are used as crossovers, the position of one affects the position of the other. I decided to start with track #1 (the back track, closest to the creek), and its right-most turnout. I had laid out the original plan for what I was going to model such that this turnout just fit within the scope of this layout. So, using the Fast Tracks template, I cut the individual ties to length and started at the end. I positioned it such that the full 15-foot throwbar ties just fit within the layout space. As you can see in the photo, the plywood edge of the framework is right there. I had to decide whether or not I wanted to include its top as part of the layout. In the end I decided not to, because it would be very easy to catch a shirt sleeve on the rail and damage the layout. In the future, when/if I build modules that butt up against this one, I will deal with that issue then.
It actually turns out that when I looked more closely at the prototype track plan (such as it is), track #1 feeds each of the other four tracks. Tracks #3, 4, and 5 have already branched away from the first track further to the right (not modeled in this layout). Track #2, however, is fed by this turnout. You can see where I crossed out the Sharpie line I had originally drawn for track #2. What is interesting about track #1 and #2 is that they form a very small run-around section, which starts right after track #2 branches off from #1. So, in the photo below you can see where I am starting to lay the ties for the second turnout on track #1. Also a #8 frog. Note the position/direction of the long throwbar ties. I tried to aim them toward the front of the layout, which I wasn't able to do for this turnout due to the run-around. Aiming it toward the operator's position will make it easier to throw turnouts when the tracks are occupied with equipment later on. The ties for tracks #3, 4, and 5 were also started, thereby completing almost all of the ties for the right-hand module.
I had noticed when I put the modules together last year that there was a slight raised rough edge to the tops of some of the ceiling tiles. That was how they came in the package. I used a small block plane (visible in the upper left corner of the photo) to strip away some of this, so that the two ceiling tile surfaces were perfectly even with each other. You can see the material I had to remove in the unpainted sections. As I crossed the module boundary, I continued to lay the ties as if the boundary wasn't there. At some point I will need to cut the ties. To remind myself of that fact, I put a small handsaw in the gap between the modules. As you can see in the photo, the ties for the second #8 turnout are in place, and they cross the module boundary. To complete the afore-mentioned run-around, the ties for the third turnout have been placed in the middle module. However, I quickly realized that using all-#8 turnouts in this layout wasn't going to work space-wise. So, that third turnout will use a #6 frog.
Immediately following that third turnout is the first of two turnouts that make the crossover from track #2 to track #3. I placed the ties for that turnout (frog is #6), and that then allowed me to complete the ties for track #1 and #2.
After completing the ties for another #6 frog turnout to finish the crossover, I was able to finish laying the rest of the regular ties for track #3. In the space modeled, there is no connection between track #3 and #4. So, when operating this layout by itself, I can move between tracks #1, 2, and 3, or between tracks #4 and 5. However, as you can see in this photo, my workbench space is to the right of the layout, and it would be possible to have some temporary "staging" tracks over there to make "operating" this layout possible, if so desired.
I have more space available between tracks #4 and 5, so I decided to lay ties for a #8-frog turnout there. I then completed the ties for track #4. I was able to make good progress here, because Houston got hit by an ice storm that took out our Internet connection for three days (overnight temperature of 17F had to have been a record-low). We had ice/snow on the ground for four days; unheard of in Houston, Texas!
The last of 7 turnouts is the #8 frog one on track #5, completing the crossover between it and track #4. I could then finish laying the rest of the regular ties, and thereby completing all the tie-laying work of this layout. There are a few ties that need to be cut to length here and there, so that is what the Dremel tool is for. The strips in the photo are the leftover ties, ready for the next layout/module.
All in all, it took me three weeks of modeling time to lay all the ties. I put down 32 feet and 8 inches (just shy of 10 meters) worth of ties. Based on my calculations, there should be around 1,250 ties in this photo.

January 24, 2018

I then used the thinnest-kerf saw I had and strategically cut certain ties that spanned the gap between the modules.
After lightly sanding the tops of the ties, and vacuuming up the dust, the final task was to apply some Minwax stain to them. This keeps them from being affected by the moisture when I get to the ballasting stage. I used "Dark Walnut" (all that I had left). The color doesn't matter that much. Nor will I age/weather the ties. This is because most of them will be completely covered by ballast once I am done with this section.

March 08, 2018

I applied the first layer of ballast, to just below the tops of the ties. The ballast consists of two colors of Ashland coarse sands (gray and black), mixed together 50/50 (see my ballasting article for more about that product). After I was happy with the way it was positioned, I carefully misted it with rubbing alcohol, followed by a spray of watered-down white glue (70% water, 30% glue). This allowed the glue to really soak into the ballast. I let that dry overnight, and then the next day I tapped all over the ballast to see if any was still loose. A couple of spot were, so I used an eye-dropper filled with the watered-down glue and covered those areas (after wetting it with the alcohol).
Some of the white from the painted ceiling tile base was still visible here and there, so I took this opportunity to also cover some more of it with some green foam. At least it looks like ballasted track surrounded by grass fields, instead of a layout under construction. Note how the tipple foundations neatly stick out of the ballast around the area. After the rails are installed, a second coating of ballast will be applied.

March 25, 2018

And, here it is! The official commencement of the laying of the rail on the layout. It was March 10, 2018. This process will take quite some time to complete, but I am enjoying it tremendously. Barring any unforeseen circumstances in life, I am estimating that I will have all the rail done by the end of the summer of 2018. We'll see. I am using my track-gluing method for installing the rails on this layout. I have successfully used this method on code 40 and code 83 rail before; now I'm trying it on code 100 rail. I decided to start with track #1, for two reasons. First, it is the furthest back, so I won't be leaning on the first set of rails as I am working on it; and, two, it is the easiest one to get started on (the longest section of non-turnout track on the left side). This first section is simple straight track under the tipple building.
Ah, the exciting moment when there is enough track down to fit the two-bay hopper! The first official piece of equipment on this new layout.
As stated above, the track under the tipple is straight. We are now getting to the first curved track. When hand-laying curved track, you always want to lay the inside rail first. As I do this, I also loosely have another section of rail in position with the track gauges spanning the two. That way I can visually check to see if the general flow of the rails is such that they sit evenly across the ties. Note that the NASG standard-gauge track gauge is the same width as a standard tie, so you can also use that to make sure that its edge lines up with the end of a tie.
Once I had enough track completed, I couldn't help but put the NW2 engine on the layout. Thanks to the convenience of battery power, I was able to run the engine back and forth without having to worry about wires to the rails, nor the fact that I had metal weights and track gauges on the rail further down the line. Frankly, I don't know why anybody would want to not switch to battery-powered locomotives (note the headlight)! As soon as the rail is down, the layout is ready for operations!
In a project that is estimated to take several months, intermediate milestones are good anchor points to keep one motivated. The milestone captured in this photo is the fact that the first two pieces of rail have been fully installed. They end at the border between the left and middle modules. All rail will be cut at the modules' ends, of course, so that the whole thing can be easily disassembled. This measures about 34 inches (86cm) of track done.
One advantage of gluing the rail is that rail joiners aren't necessary. However, since this section of track is on a curve, and since the gap between the two sections of track is above a module gap, I didn't trust the rail to stay in gauge over the years. So, I installed a rail joiner between the rails between the modules. The rail joiner is loose (i.e. not glued or soldered in place) so that it can be removed when disassembling the layout (the idea is that when the module is moved, you don't want anything to stick out outside of its outer perimeter, otherwise it is too easy for things to get caught on something and rip the rail loose).
As you can see from the white styrene of the tie plates, contrary to what I stated above, I am actually laying the outside rail first. I can do this because I am using a temporary second (inner) rail to help guide me where the track should be relative to the ties. The primary reason for doing this is that this track #1 has two turnouts in it. The outer rail represents the "straight" stock rail for each of those turnouts. So, by placing that rail first, I can build all of the turnouts based off of that fundamental rail. Unlike what magazine articles show, I do not modify the turnouts' stock rails at all; I build turnouts the way the prototype does it. So, for now, I can continue to just lay the outside rail across the middle and right-hand modules for track #1. The large mirror is used to help me see what I am doing when installing tie plates and applying glue from the back of the layout. This section of the layout is hard to reach from either the front or the back. The mirror is held upright through the use of two clamps.
The photo below shows an intermediate progress report of laying the outer rail on the right-hand module. Because the track only has a slight curve to it at the point between the middle and right-hand modules, I decided to not use a rail joiner here. Here you can clearly see how I am using the inner rail as my overall track guide for making sure the outer rail is in the correct position.
Although a bit fuzzy, this photo shows the completion of the outer rail of track #1. I still need to trim the rail to about the first tie. With the outer rail done, I can now start to think about which section of rail to install next. For example, a solid piece of rail that acts as the stock rail for one turnout can become the frog rail for another turnout. This requires planning, to make sure that I lay the rail sections in an order that makes sense. I will update this page as I reach more "milestones" in my track laying.