Thursday, May 30, 2013


Once the track was laid in Oakridge, I cleared off the tools to make way for wiring.  I kept passing by the RR-East end of Oakridge and past the wye on my way to the center part of Oakridge and RR-West end.  Each time I walked past the RR-East throat I noticed a track alignment that seemed awkward.  Indeed, it was!   The switches along the RR-East leg of the wye retained an artifact of an earlier track layout that no longer had meaning.  Critically, the switch to the sand house “siding” used a left hand turnout instead of the much smoother right hand orientation.

Original track alignment at RR-East Oakridge.  Sand house “siding” is in the foreground with a left-hand turnout accessing the end closest to the wye.

After a couple of weeks of passing by this spot, I knew I needed to revise the track layout.  The left-hand turnout off a right-hand curving track  was a poor track alignment with an implied “S” curve.  The diverging route of this turnout will be used by all helper power and any other power serviced at Oakridge, such as the Oakridge Turn power.  Although diesels and Cab Forwards might not have a problem, ten-coupled locos such as a 2-10-2 might not “like” such an arrangement.

Out came some turnouts and a curve template to see what might be done.  Flipping the sand house turnout to a left-hand one and moving the wye leg curves closer to the rest of the RR-East switch ladders would fit.  It also turned out I could correct a misalignment of  the switches for the Maintenance of Way (MOW) spurs seen in the middle of the RR-East wye leg.  That misalignment was an aesthetic problem more than an operational issue.  It came about because of my need to solder frog wires to Micro Engineering turnouts before turnout installation on the layout.  The hole for the frog wire for the switch within the wye leg was in the wrong place, upsetting its alignment.

New track alignment trial with curve template and a pair of #6 turnouts overlaying the original alignment.

With some trepidation, I took a good putty knife in hand and began prying up the old track.  I used Dap 230 adhesive caulk to hold down the track.  This was my first time revising a track layout where the caulk was used.  I am happy to report the track came up easily with a little bit of care.  All three switches were pulled up and reconditioned for re-use.  One section of track came up easily and was re-used.  One other section was a bit tougher to get up and I ended up detaching ties from rails in a few spots—easy to do with Micro Engineering flex track.  I consider the track removal a success, as the high value items—the turnouts—were all saved and half the track was saved.  The damaged section of track contributed short  filler sections to the new track layout.

RR-East Oakridge wye tracks removed. And surface prepared for new track alignment.

With the old track removed and turnouts reconditioned, the new track was laid out and affixed.  The new alignment looks much smoother than the original layout and should not present operating issues.  The track alignment revision is something one should be prepared to do on any model railroad.  Its usually best to revise sooner rather than later, as that ends the frustration much earlier.  In this case, the track had not been wired yet.  It was not in service, and yet my experienced eye told me a change was necessary.

New Oakridge RR-East track alignment.

Thursday, May 23, 2013


With track laid and permanently affixed at Oakridge, I’ve been in “the Land Down-Under” (with apologies to my Australian and New Zealand readers).  Switch machine installation and wiring have occupied much time.  Most model railroads require a fair bit of time spent with these less-than-glamorous tasks.  For a railroad preparing for signals and Centralized Traffic Control (CTC) as it is built, a bit more time underneath the layout is required.  Troubleshooting the wiring has occupied a particularly frustrating part of that time.

My first bout with troubleshooting was documented in my post on my return to basics of model railroading (, wherein I related my mental block  with the Tortoise wiring pattern.  One positive outcome of that challenge was my return to a basic tool for use during wiring: a continuity checker.  Allan Gartner ( provides sound, advice STRONGLY recommending the use of such a device.  I can only add my “Amen!” to that. 

For much of the Oakridge wiring, I dutifully had a pair of continuity buzzers clipped onto the block bus wires as I wired each track.  That caught a couple of slips on my part.  Unfortunately, I did not ALWAYS have the continuity testers attached, nor had I used them (as recommended!) on my turnouts before I installed them.  The result was totally predictable within Murphy’s Law—shorts popping up in wiring done without the aid of the continuity testers. 

Most of my troubles in Oakridge traced back to the turnouts.  I wore out my first triangular file (probably poor filing technique as well as a LOT of turnouts!) on many of the turnouts used in Oakridge.  As a consequence, I had a number of supposed electrical gaps in the pc board ties that still conducted.  Several of these were in ladders of four or five turnouts, all in one electrical block.  My only viable choice was to pull out the rotary tool and cut/enlarge all gaps.  This eventually cleared each short, but it took a while to convince myself of the need (mental block!).

One “last” short was cleared in a previously “clear” block for the Oakridge Siding.  This block has a single turnout at each end.  Everything was fine until I hooked up the frog wires.  I neglected to attach my continuity tester during this operation (The block was clear already, wasn’t it?), so “Murphy” raised his head again and promptly produced a short.  It took a couple of days of tracing the wiring, staring at the switches and cutting some gaps before I finally went back to basics—remove the last thing I did before the short showed up.  I removed the frog wires from the terminal strip.  Sure enough, there it was—the frog ties had not been gapped properly.  The pair of pictures below illustrate this tale.

Oakridge Siding East Switch with continuity tester attached.

Oakridge Siding East Switch frog close up with new, deeper gaps cut in printed circuit board ties.

Friday, May 3, 2013


The challenge of successfully laying out a yard on a ninety degree curve requires careful attention to geometry, innovation, and a few compromises.  The photo at RR-East Oakridge illustrates the split into the four major track groups at Oakridge.  Left to right are the depot tracks (house, siding, mainline), four yard body tracks, the engine facility (eventually splitting into four tracks) and the turning wye and its miscellaneous spurs. 

RR-East Oakridge.  Incomplete “siding” in the foreground is for the sand house.

As noted in the previous post on Oakridge (, I began by laying out the depot tracks.  These three tracks form the inside radii of the ninety degree curve.  These tracks include the mainline with its higher track standards (42” minimum radius and #8 turnouts), which established a broad curve as the inner base for the remaining track splits.  My original full-size track planning used #6 turnouts for the yard tracks.  I found I needed to use a couple of #8 turnouts (with their extra length and shallower divergence angle) to match the inner curve formed by the mainline.  This used more length before the curve, which impacted subsequent track splits for the engine facility and wye.  It appeared I was running out of space for these latter track splits. 

The solution was to slightly curve several #6 turnouts for the engine facility and add a modest curve before the first turnout off the wye.  The choice to curve the #6 turnouts was not taken lightly as it effectively tightens the curves for those tracks.  I was careful to keep the resulting curves broader than the 36 inch minimum for secondary trackage. 

I still needed a solution to the space issue (tracks pushing further toward the wye tail).  I could not get all three tracks into the engine shed plus the run-around track in the available space.  The compromise solution, compatible with the curved #6 turnouts, was to drop down to 32 inch radius for the outer pair of engine shed tracks.  This compromise of my design standards is acceptable for me because I know all of my SP steam, including a 4-10-2, will work around 30 inch radii.  This was proven in my former operations at the Cal Central Model Railroad Club which had a 30 inch minimum radius.  Ironically, the engine facility run-around and the first engine shed run through tracks (the inner pair of the facility) have broader curves, so any long wheel-base visiting equipment can still use the facility.

Oakridge Engine Facility.  Engine shed features two run-through tracks and one stub.  The oil track will be outside the shed and machine shop although it appears to overlay the paper template for the shed in this photo.

Oakridge Engine Facility.  Engine shed and machine shop outline has been trimmed for this photo.  Boiler house (foreground) has been dry (tape) assembled to check for fit within the wye.

Oakridge Wye

Oakridge.  Engine facility lead will be extended to RR-West switch ladder behind the camera.

RR-West Oakridge

RR West Oakridge.  Depot is an American Model Builders SP Depot Type 22 kit.  This is a stand-in for the actual Oakridge depot, which was a modified version of the SP Type 22 (hipped roofs and open air extension).