Ten tips for better O gauge track
Publisher Terry Thompson shares his tips for laying track to get your layout off to a good start.
August 31, 2010
|If you're just getting into O gauge, or even if you're a collector
getting the urge to build a layout, you'll need to lay some track.
After all, without track (and a transformer, of course), your
three-rail trains are just expensive push toys!|
I refer to "tubular" track, I'm talking about regular Lionel, K-Line,
or other track with rails formed from sheet steel. There are also
tracks on the market with solid rails, including those from MTH and
Atlas. You can have good success with any type, but it's usually not a
good idea to mix types, even using adapters.
Here are ten tips that will help you get your layout off to a good start.
1. Gloves, please.
If you're using traditional tubular track, you'll want to wear a pair
of gloves when you assemble your track. Especially if you've purchased
new track, it will require some force to fit together (see tip #2), and
the corners of the rails and ties can be sharp. Save yourself some cuts
- glove up.
2. Tight is right. If you want your
trains to run well, you need to have a good supply of electricity to
every section. That won't happen unless the joints between sections are
tight, no matter what type track you use. A little work with a pair of
needle-nosed pliers can pay big dividends. If you're using Atlas track,
pay special attention to this - it looks great, but the joiners loosen
3. No nails, please. It's a really good
idea to fasten track down to any permanent layout. It's a really bad
idea to use nails to do this, though. It's hard to control how far you
drive them, and easy to hit the rails with the hammer. Use small
panhead screws instead, and leave just a bit of room between the screw
head and the ties. That way you won't bend or crack the ties, and your
trains will also run more quietly.
4. Clip those joints.
If you're running your trains on a temporary layout made with tubular O
or O-27 track, they'll run better if you clip the joints together.
Lionel offers metal clips that work quite well. It's also possible to
use plastic tie-wraps. Check your local hardware store - you might even
find them in brown or black to match your ties.
5. Get the kinks out.
You can build nearly any track design with sectional track - but make
sure you don't ask it to do something it can't, namely bend. Sections
have specific sizes and geometries, and while you can fudge things a
bit, bending the sections too much can introduce kinks at the joints -
and kinked joints are a sure-fire cause of derailments.
6. Wired for sound?
Whatever type of track you use, you need power for your trains to run.
Lockons work well for a temporary layout, but if you're building for
the long haul consider soldering your power feeders to your track. And
don't skimp on wire size - an O gauge passenger train can draw nearly
10 amps at 16 volts, so get some no. 16 or even no. 14 wire.
7. All tied up.
That O gauge fast freight will make quite a racket once you get up to
track speed, especially if your track's on a plywood table. If you're
using tubular track, consider putting some rubber ties between the
factory metal ties. They'll help damp the sound - so you can hear your
train's whistle. You can glue them to the plywood or the roadbed with
8. Hit the roadbed. Whatever track
you use, it can benefit from some roadbed underneath it. Roadbed not
only keeps things quiet, it makes your track look more realistic. If
you're using tubular or Atlas track, some 1/4" thick Vinylbed or cork
roadbed ought to work, If you're using track with built-in roadbed, a
layer of flat cork or vinyl (even carpet padding can work!) will help
keep things quiet.
9. Get a plan. Especially if
this is your first layout, consider a published track plan. Most are
time-tested, so you can be pretty sure the assembly will go smoothly.
The best, including many of the old 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s Lionel
plans, also incorporate ideas for good operation. Give one a try - you
can always go wild on your second layout.
10. The kindest cut.
Even if you're using a published plan, you may need to cut a section or
two of track (though remember, 1/2 straight and curved sections are
available for most brands). If you need to cut track, the easiest way I
know is this: 1) Wrap some masking tape around it in the approximate
location of your cut, then measure and mark the tape. 2) Clamp the
section in a bench vise gently, using some scrap sections of roadbed or
even plywood to cushion the rails and leaving the place where you'll
cut about 1/2 inch from the jaws. 3) Cut the track slowly and carefully
with a fine-toothed blade in a hacksaw. 4) Remove the tape, then remove
any burrs from the ends of the rails using a large flat metal file.