PRR Chartiers Branch: Hazel Mine - Track

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 (about ties) 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. That is 2,090 scale feet (or 0.4 scale miles). 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

With the ties finished, I first made some more tipple foundation blocks. Since they are now going to be to the height of the rail, they were too thin for plaster castings. So, I made them out of styrene sheet (several layers glued together). I then attached them to the ceiling tile foundation with 5-minute epoxy. Next, 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 (the last section of that page) 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 (ahem, 2019). 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. I am now getting to start 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 (maybe as long as a year), 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.

May 30, 2018

I decided to lay the other stock rail through the turnout next. I kept going with it until I reached the end of the right-hand module.
With the two stock rails in position, I could then determine where the frog point needs to be using two track gauges, after shaping the points of the rail sections.
I finished installing those two rails until the left edge of the right module. Note how one of them becomes the stock rail of the second turnout. Thanks to battery-powered engines, I don't have to cut electrical gaps in my track, which really simplifies construction.
I could then form and install the straight point rail.
Unlike conventional construction of point rails being bent at the frog to form the wing rails, I decided to stop the point rails right at the frog point. I formed and shaped the rails' ends to allow for free wheel travel. After testing this new method of construction, I concluded that the wheels are fully supported throughout the frog area, with a much smaller gap than I had been able to do before.
Next up was the other (divergent) point rail, formed in a similar manner. You can tell from the white styrene tie plates just how much of the rails are actually glued down, and how much of it is free-floating near the throwbar.
I spent a bit of time experimenting with constructing a throwbar that looks and acts like the real thing, but I just couldn't do it. So, I reverted back to the good old standby, the printed-circuit-board tie. For this layout I am going all-manual, so I installed the HO-scale version of the Caboose Industries' ground throw. It has an S-scale throw range of 12", but I only need 4", so I bent the connecting wire so that it can take the slack. It works well. Update: I later on decided that these are too difficult to work correctly, and they may be hard to reach, so I will be going back to using Circuitron's Tortoise switch machines with push buttons on the fascia.
The two wing rails near the frog point and the two guard rails were then formed and glued into place as well. More detailing may be done to the turnout in the future, but the mechanical functionality is there.

July 27, 2018

I used "Rail Brown" paint by a company called "Modelers Decals and Paint" to hand-paint my rail and tie plates. Product photos are available on my Painting & Weathering: Paints articles page. The paint is more like a wash, so I had to apply it twice, letting is dry for an hour or two between coats. It adheres well to the rail, but I feel it is too thin for the white styrene tie plates. However, I plan on mostly burying the ties and ties plates in coal ballast, so the painting was only done so as to not leave any bare surfaces should they be visible later on through the ballast.
Leftover pieces of rail too short to be used are gathered together and glued to each other, to form a pile of scrap. These were painted with the same paint as well. Other details and some weeds can be added in the future to make a nice mini scene.
Track #1 has been painted.

March 25, 2019

The construction of Track #2 is complete. It took 8 months. Of course, a lot happened during that time, not the least of which was my Mom's passing. I also did several other projects (including several magazine articles). I also have most of the rail for Track #3 done, just the innards of the turnout shown in the foreground of the photo.

May 19, 2019

The construction of Track #3 is complete, with the completion of turnout #5 (foreground). Most of April was spent sleeping trying to heal from the flu. To the right you can see what is still on my to-do list. Only two more turnouts, though.

October 13, 2019

Well, it took a total of 19 months to complete my layout's rail-laying phase, but I am happy to report that it is done! There were several factors that led to this long duration of the phase. Late last year my dear mother passed away, so I spent a few weeks with my Dad. Then in April of this year I got a severe case of the flu, which knocked me out for about a month. Ultimately, what really slowed me down were the fact that I have been very busy with my work, and that this track work is rather complex.
As you can see from the photo below, other than for the first foot or so of track (as viewed from this side angle), the rest of the track work is on a curve. All of the 7 turnouts are also curved, with their frogs being curved as well. I have been hand-laying rail for more than 15 years, but this was the hardest to do.
I am not finished with the overall track phase yet. First, about halfway through laying the rail, I decided to not go with manual-throw turnout control, but rather go back to the method I have used in previous layouts, i.e. use Circuitron Tortoise switch machines. Because of that I didn't install throwbars at each of the turnouts. So, I need to do those, install the Tortoises, install their driver circuit boards (left-over from the previous layout), and install the fascia pushbuttons and LEDs. Also, the rail needs to be painted, and the final layer of ballast needs to be applied. And, of course, every piece of track needs to be "debugged" by running cars and engines through it all. The final tally is exactly 41 feet (12.5m) of track on this layout.
I occasionally had a "supervisor" come by to see if I was doing the right thing, using the right glues, etc.

December 06, 2019

If you are just reading this page, you might be surprised to find this module sitting on its edge. Well, I took the layout apart, so that I could work on installing the Circuitron Tortoise slow-motion switch machines under the modules. While I was at it, I also decided to paint the sides of the rail and the tie plates, because they are easier to reach this way. It took me several days, but I eventually got all the track painted. However, after letting it cure for a while, I am not happy with the color. I used Tru-Color's "Flat Rail Brown" (part #TCP-830) and it is way too red/burgundy for my tastes. It just doesn't look like rusted rails at all. On the first track I painted (shown on the right-hand side in the photo below), I used "Rail Brown" (part #16012) by "Modeler's Decals and Paint". I liked the color, but it is really more of a wash than a paint, so I wound up having to apply it twice, and it still didn't fully cover the rail and the tie plates.
So, I needed to go to Hobby Lobby to get some other supplies, and decided to take a look at which paints they offered that might look more like rust to me. I found Anita's All Purpose Acrylic Craft Paint. So, I bought a bottle of "Rich Brown" (part #11185). It goes on quite thick, but with a thin brush it is manageable. The photo below shows the comparisons of the three paints. The rail in the foreground is the one painted with the Anita's acrylic paint. The other rail of that track is the one I had previously painted with the Modeler's Decals and Paint's paint/wash. The other rails in the background were all painted with Tru-Color's paint. There is a substantial color difference, but I really like the Anita's paint the best. Of course, I would much prefer the old Floquil's Rail Brown, but that is gone for good.
In this photo the two rails on the right-hand side have been repainted with the Anita's paint, as well as the third rail from the right. There is still a slight bleed-through of the too-red paint that I had previously painted that rail with, but it is much better now than before. Ultimately this won't matter too much for this set of modules, because most of the rail will be buried in ballast, but I wanted to develop a standard that I want to maintain for all the modules I am going to build from now on. I will definitely go back to Hobby Lobby and stock up on more bottles of that paint. Although, I noticed that I can paint about a 3-foot side of a rail with one drop of paint from the bottle (not thinning it down), so one bottle should last me for a long time.

December 13, 2019

The re-painting of the track of the left-most module/section is now complete. It took me 18 calendar days to complete the final track work on this section.

December 29, 2019

The installation of the Tortoise switch machines, the circuit, the wiring, and the painting of the rails of the middle section is now complete. It took me 11 calendar days to complete the final track work on this section.

January 17, 2020

The installation of the Tortoise switch machines, the circuit, the wiring, and the painting of the rails of the right-hand section is now complete. It took me 9 calendar days to complete the final track work on this section. And with this, ... all of the core track work on this small layout is now finished. It took me two years and three weeks to do that. It seems an insanely long time, but I am extremely busy with my software company, so spare time is very limited.

January 31, 2020

The layout is back in its normal position, with the overhead lighting set up again. This gives a better view of what the finished track work looks like now. The ballast you are seeing here is just the underlayment. A final layer of finer coal ballast will be applied after I have had the time to test all of the track to make sure that everything is working as expected.

April 25, 2020

One of the three modules now has two thin layers of simulated coal applied as ballast. I ran out and the crafts store, Michael's, where I had bought this "decorative sand" product appears to be out of it, or not selling it anymore, or the manufacturer stopped making it.