Makin’ Tracks & Getting Wired
You’ve got your benchwork up and your topographical foundation set. Are you ready to get down to the nitty-gritty of deciding on your train route? It’s time to lay some track and wire ‘er up! Wow! Just where do I begin? For the first year or so of your hobby, you may find it much easier just to buy tracks than to scratch build them. (Yes, those truly devoted to this hobby actually build their own!) And that’s fine. The point of this hobby — and any hobby for that matter — is to simply enjoy yourself. As a newcomer to the subject, jumping in with both feet, trying to do everything at one time — build tracks, scenery, even cars — may be a bit too overwhelming. Many people prefer just purchasing products — all their products, including scenery and other structures — and just enjoy the locomotive and its cars. And you know, that works for me! But if I’m going to talk about tracks, I may have to, by necessity talk about manufacturers. It just comes with the territory. When I mention certain brands or models of tracks (as well as other products), please don’t take these to mean an endorsement of them in any way, shape or form. As you progress in the pursuit of this leisurely pursuit, you’ll see what I mean — and you’ll discover some favorites of your own! Talk to just about any veteran model railroader and he’ll (or she’ll) tell you in no uncertain terms: good trackwork is essential to your operation. In the next breath, they’ll probably start talking about some horror story of somebody – or even themselves when they first began — of trying to do a “quick start” at the hobby and laid their rail down quickly. They soon discovered that they encountered derailments (trains falling off tracks). Locomotives and cars may have been damaged beyond repair in the process. It’s possible even some of the scenery they worked so hard to build got damaged.
“Quick and haphazard” doesn’t work for the real life-size railroads and it certainly doesn’t work for your model either. Makin’ Tracks:
What to expect Before you even start, it’s best to know a little overview of the track itself, what’s it made of, what form you can expect to find it in when you buy it, the types and grades available to you. Track, for the most part, is composed of one of four materials. You find it in brass, zinc-coated steel, steel, and nickel sliver. Of these, brass and zinc-coated are the most common, but some hobbyists swear by nickel silver. Brass is a good conductor of electricity, but the care and cleaning associated with it tends to be a bit overwhelming sometimes.
For on thing, the oxide that forms on it is a poor conductor. That tends to inhibit the optimal working of the train. In order to keep the train in running condition, you need to clean the rails frequently with track cleaning block. The other way to remove the oxidation is to keep running your cars over them. The zinc-coated steel also has more than one disadvantage.
When the zinc coating wears away (as it eventually will), it leaves the steel exposed. Yes, you can see the problem right away: steel definitely rusts. While nickel silver is not quite as good as conductor of electricity as the others, its residual oxide works every bit as well as a conductor as its original coating, providing you with reliable, consistent track no matter what the circumstances. Go figure! Bringing your first set home When you buy your first model railroad, you’ll notice that the layout of your set is not . . . well, terribly imaginative. For the most part, your initial model comes with a circular layout. Perfect for under the Christmas tree, but a little boring to watch for any length of time outside of Christmas morning! Before you bring this set home, though, you may wan to give some thought to where you’ll be setting it up in your house (yes, other than the under the tree!) Your circular set, if it’s an S gauge will probably be, once laid out, about 40 inches in diameter. This means you should plan on a space about this size. Now you could place your set on the floor to start, or you could put a large piece of plywood on a tabletop to get you started. The choice is yours………….More on Jonah’s book “Ultimate Comprehensive Guide to Model Train Building”.
Makin’ Tracks & Getting Wired