Articles - Track: Handlaying Series: 4a. Spiking Rail
08/04/2012
It is now time for the actual laying of rail. I draw a light pencil line on the tops of the ties where the center of the rail is to be placed. Another method I use is to use the NASG track gauge centered over the ties so that the position of the rail is such that they are going to be centered on the ties.
Handlaying Series: 4a. Spiking Rail
I place the rail piece on the line and mark off where the feeder wire to the rail is to be soldered, both on the top of the rail and on the ballast. I punch a hole in the ballast with a scratching awl.
Handlaying Series: 4a. Spiking Rail
I then drill a hole through the ballast, ceiling tile, and underlying MDF. I use the next drill bit size bigger than the diameter of the insulation of the feeder wire I am using. This gives me a little bit of wiggle room to precisely position the rail later on. However, I try not to make the hole so big as to be noticeable from a normal viewing distance.
Handlaying Series: 4a. Spiking Rail
I cut a length of wire and strip the ends of the wire. The length is determined by roughly laying it out from where I drilled the hole and to where the nearest bus wire is. I try to keep it as short as possible, but not so short as to be too tight.
Handlaying Series: 4a. Spiking Rail
Next, I file the bottom of the rail clean, mark the location of the wire, and pre-tin it. Cleaning the bottom of the rail is important to help the solder secure itself to the rail, because there is paint and/or oxidation on the rail.
Handlaying Series: 4a. Spiking Rail
After pre-tinning the end of the wire that is to be soldered to the bottom of the rail, I bend it at a 90-degree angle. The amount of wire that is bent should be less than the distance between the two ties.
Handlaying Series: 4a. Spiking Rail
After the feeder wire is soldered, I file off any excess solder and test fit the rail in its position. Sometimes I have to move the feeder wire a bit by re-soldering it on the rail so that the gap between this rail and the previous one is not too big. I leave a little bit of a gap for possible expansion. Sometimes I have to clear or remove some of the ballast to fit the soldered wire under the bottom of the rail. I may also need to cut out some of the tie (see the marked area) depending on the size of the wire bend. Generally, this is not visible ones everything is in place. However, the nice thing about this approach is that the wire is hidden in the ballast.
Handlaying Series: 4a. Spiking Rail
For spiking I have found a small curved pair of pliers works great. It keeps the tool away from the rail (so it won't move the rail as the spike is going down), and allows me to see where the spike is going. The photo shows the tools I use for spiking rail.
Handlaying Series: 4a. Spiking Rail
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The thing I love about S-scale is that I can really add a lot of detail and it is actually visible afterwards. With that in mind I decided that I wanted to go the extra mile and use tie plates. I bought a package of tie plates from Tomalco Track (see photo below; which is one sheet, unpainted). They fit code 83 rail perfectly. If you use the Micro Engineering micro spikes, these tie plates require a bit of work to prepare them for the layout. I have found that the holes in the tie plates have some small amount of flash at the bottom. Most of the time there is enough flash to not allow the spikes to penetrate. I use a #75 drill to open up the holes I want to use for spiking. For my homemade brass wire spikes, the flash is not a problem and will penetrate the holes just fine.
Handlaying Series: 4a. Spiking Rail
After that, I cut them off the sheet using a pair of scissors or, lately, the Northwest Short Lines' The Chopper II. I used to paint the tie plates before I installed them, but with all the handling, I discovered that most of the paint flakes off of the tie plates by the time they're installed. I now use a tiny brush and touch them with Floquil Rail Brown after the track work is done. This also allows the spikes to be painted.
Handlaying Series: 4a. Spiking Rail
I place the tie plate under the rail and carefully drive the spike through its hole and into the basswood tie. I put a tie plate on every other tie, and spike it with one spike on each side of the rail on opposite corners. There are four holes in the tie plates, but I leave the other two empty. That is what the PRR seems to have done with its track. I plan to later on come back and "super-detail" by adding tie plates and spikes to the remaining ties. If it is the first rail to be laid in a section of the layout, I spike the first tie and the last tie under the rail. I then spike the appropriate tie under the middle of the rail, and keep dividing the spiking like that. I have found that that gives me the straightest rail. Due to the uneven thicknesses of the tie plates, after the first two tie plates are down, I slide the remaining ties plates under the rail before continuing to spike, or else they are very difficult to insert.
Handlaying Series: 4a. Spiking Rail
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If this is the opposite rail being laid, then I simply start from the end of the rail where another rail has already been laid and work my way to the other side, every other tie. I use the code 83 gauges by Tomalco Track to make sure the rail is always at the correct spacing from the other rail. I stagger rail joints so that no two gaps are right next to each other. These gauges, by the way, cause the rail to be right in between the minimum and maximum of rail spacings, according to the NASG Standards Gauge. They snap on to the rail head and hold the rail firmly in place - great for spiking. I wouldn't be able to lay reliable track without them. I highly recommend them. I have found three is all you need.
Handlaying Series: 4a. Spiking Rail
For curved track, I started off pre-bending the rail. At first I cut the scale 39-foot rail sections and then tried to bend them. It worked, but the ends of the rail were hard to bend. That meant that when they are all down, the rails alternate between straight, curved, straight. It looks really bad. Next, I tried pre-bending the entire 3-foot piece of rail to the curve. After that I cut it into the 39-foot sections. This worked much better, although it is very hard to accurately pre-bend a long section of rail like that. Finally, I e-mailed a friend here in town and asked how he laid his curved track for his code 100 HO-scale layout. He told me that he simply spikes enough of the rail so that the rail stays in place; he doesn't pre-bend his rail. At the same time I also decided to see if the "clickity-clack" sound I was looking for by cutting the rails in 39-foot sections was actually producing the sound I wanted. It turns out it made no difference. It was hard to hear any of it. Add to that the sound of the sound-equipped engine, and all that work was for naught. I decided to lay my track using as long a piece of rail as possible. I also stopped pre-bending my rail. It actually turned out to go a lot faster, and the curves are nice and smooth. The gauges help a lot when laying curved rail. I keep them close together, placing one over every tie that doesn't get spiked. The important thing to remember with regard to hand-laying curved rail is to always start with the inside rail first. If you start with the outside rail first, the inside rail may literally not fit on the ties!
Handlaying Series: 4a. Spiking Rail