Friday, October 10, 2014


With the roadbed panels built (, the next step for the Crescent Lake project was to layout and form the track.  I used MicroEngineering flex track.  ME track has excellent detail, but is tougher to form than competing flex track.  That tougher track forming property translates into holding its shape once formed.  I chose to form the track while the roadbed panels were still on the floor.  This gave me a clear view of the underlying track lines and made it easier to form the track.

The first step was to transfer the track plan from the newsprint paper plan to the roadbed panels.  I overlaid the paper plan on the roadbed and then transferred key locations such as switches  to the cork below by punching through with a pencil.  This is one advantage of the cork sheet roadbed—it accepts such a punch-through indentation.

Paper track plan overlaid on roadbed panel.

The key points were joined using curve templates and straight edges.  I augmented my hardboard curve templates with “SweepSticks” curve templates from Fast Tracks (  These tools show in the photo above.  They have centerline slots that can be used to lay out the curve.  Later, they can be used to form the final track curve.  My track plan for my SP Cascade Line has twelve-track staging yards at both Crescent Lake (upper) and Eugene (lower), each with three sets of curves for the twelve tracks.  It was worth the modest investment to get curve templates for the broader curves of these yards.

Laying out and forming the track involved forming the curves in the appropriate locations.  A handy tool for this is the track laying tool by MLR Mfg. (479-5001).  This basically is a block of plastic with grooves cut for the rails.  One simply places this on the flex track and push to form the track to the desired configuration.  This saves fingers and sanity!  Once the track is roughly formed to the desired curve, I finish with a curve tool such as the SweepSticks noted above or the aluminum tools made by RibbonRail.  I have a selection of both, with radii below 48” available from RibbonRail.  I prefer these, as the aluminum plates slide easily in the flex track.  The wood SweepSticks get the same job done, but require more force due to their wood construction.

Track forming tools: RibbonRail templates in the foreground, MLR Mfg. track forming block in the middle, SweepSticks in center and above.    Maxon Rail Nippers complete the primary tools.

I laid out the track starting with the switch ladders.  Once they were located, I drilled throw bar slots and then attached the switches using Dap Alex 230 adhesive caulk.  This provided a firm base from which to lay track.  I loosely laid and formed the track around the loop, leaving a straight gap to be filled later, once the roadbed panels are installed and track permanently laid. 

Crescent Lake switch ladders.  Each side of the reverse loop has two five-switch ladders.  These will be joined by another switch before the throat switch for the loop.

I modified my original plan for Crescent Lake by consolidating the “left hand” switch ladders (center-right in the photo above) closer to the “right hand” switch ladder against the wall.  This greatly extended the reverse loop tracks.  These tracks are now 36-40 feet long.  I will wire them as two separate blocks so I can split them later should I chose to do some tandem staging of trains.  With the extra length, I ran out of track, so I chose to leave the inner pair of staging tracks until I gain a resupply.  These will be easier to reach from a ladder, which will be the access method once the roadbed panels are elevated.

I soldered adjoining pairs of flex track segments to each other.  This makes for easier handling right now, assists curve geometry formation and retention, and will provide a layer of redundancy to the track wiring when I solder feeders to each individual track segment.  Finally, I labeled the track segments and removed the loose track from the roadbed panels.  With that, I am ready to move on to elevating the roadbed panels.

Track formed and labeled.  

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