CP Executive train in Albany

CP Executive train in Albany

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Handlaying a Diamond Crossing

I was having so much fun working on my handlaid turnout that I started looking ahead to the next project. Out of the list of things available, the crossing seemed to be a nice challenge without being ridiculous (a double crossover? Really?) I thought about doing a Crossover, but that just seemed to be two turnouts face to face which wasn't much more work than building one. Plus, it would have been 5-6 feet long.

So, I picked a crossing. I fiddled around with some dimensions to see what would fit on another 1x3' board like the one I had got at Home Depot. However, to leave enough track on all four ends to fit an engine to prove it worked would require making a really narrow crossing, like a 19-degree. I didn't like that idea at all. Then, I thought about making a 90-degree crossing, which would require all beveled rail angles to only be 45-degrees. That wouldn't be too tough. And as I thought some more, I remembered seeing a nice round wooden board at Home Depot for about $5 that would be perfect. And the die was cast.

I bought the board and more 3/8" square basswood dowels to use as ties. Right now, my Home Depot is cleaned out of straight ones and if I need more I will need to go to a different store. I did some measuring on the circular board to lay out the tie edge lines, made up some more tie strips, and glued them all down. As for the tie arrangement under the frogs, I printed out an O scale crossing template from the Fast Tracks website and used it as a reference. Once I had the ties glued down, I stained them as before using the Minwax "Jacobean" stain. When it pooled on top and wouldn't fully absorb, I lightly sanded the top to get rid of the sheen.

I didn't have a cut list for the parts I needed, and I was sort of making it up as I went. So, I sketched out what I wanted and how long the rails had to be. I added about 10-15mm each which would allow me some extra play should the grinding not go as planned. I knew once I had all frogs soldered up I would need to machine them to length to fit, and I wanted to have excess rather than be short. Incidentally, I prefer working in metric because the math is so easy; when using Imperial, I need a calculator and a fractional chart. By the way, the secret to my success is that Kalamazoo 1" belt sander, which was a gift from a good friend. It easily goes through the large brass rail.

To bend the guard rails where necessary, I used a Dremel and cut-off wheel to go through the base of the rail on both sides. Once I clamped it in my mini drill press vice, some vice grip pliers easily bent it. When building the switch, I didn't saw through the base of the rail enough on both sides all the way and the rail cracked the head, rendering it useless. So, I learned my lesson here. I didn't follow any formula for how much to bend the rail, I just did it until it looked good. The cutaway at the base looks a bit odd, but it really isn't noticeable once spiked. I don't know how the real railroads do it.

I had the optimistic idea of drawing parallel lines on paper, putting a brass shim on top of it, and then aligning and clamping all eight rail pieces together and soldering. This is what I did with the switch frog, but that only involved four rails. This was different. I tried and tried but a slight bump to one rail knocked all eight off. Crucially condemning the plan was that if the two main rails were not in perfect 90-degrees, not only would the other rails be off but the frog might not line up with the other three I had to build. I tried using screws and fender washers but it was no use. So, using my flangeway tool I did my best and just lined everything up.

I then soldered it like before, using the torch to fully heat everything up slowly. The rails didn't budge, but I didn't stick the full flame into the joint either. When it came time to apply the silver solder, though, I had problems. My solder is about 1/8" thick and when I brought it close to the rail to melt it I bumped a small rail and knocked it out of alignment. I had time to fix it with pliers for about a second or two until it hardened up, but the same thing happened again. Finally, I got all the solder in and I let it cool. I figured it would be bad, but I had to just let it cool and see. It was about as ugly looking a thing as you could get.

I was pretty dejected, and I started to have thoughts about throwing in the towel and doing something else besides a crossing. But, there was hope, The main rails were still at 90 degrees. So, I gave it a good scrubbing in alcohol to remove any flux residue (note to self: next time, use less) and then used a Dremel to cut away the excess brass sheet from the four corners. Finally, a wire brush tool in my grinder brought it all up to a nice shine. I then used my Dremel and a large flat file to clean up some tight spots in the rails where the guard rails got too close and I had myself one complete frog assembly. And after seeing that, I pressed on. 

But, I needed a way to make sure the rails didn't move when setting up all eight. I considered temporarily gluing the rails onto the wood/brass shims, one rail at a time, using wood glue or superglue. It would probably work, but it might contaminate the joint once burned and it would take a bit of time. Then, as I was cleaning up my desk I saw random spikes lying around had a great idea. The most critical joint was the two large running rails, and they had to be at a perfect 90-degrees. So, for the next one I spiked them in place on the board over the shim. I couldn't use a lot of spikes as they would get in the way, and I didn't want them soldered in place. So, I used 2 on each end and one on the outside edge of the rail. The rails were pinned down but a hard bump would move them. I was then able to get the other six rails in place pretty easily.

I also had to figure out a method to feed it solder during heating without disturbing anything. So, I took small pieces of solder and stuck them in the rail joints before heating up the assembly. When soldering, you are taught to let the work heat up the solder instead of melting the solder itself with the iron. I relied on that principle here. I made sure to aim the flame at the base brass stock and waited and waited. Sure enough, when the time was right the solder melted and it filled the gap. Only one rail slightly moved, but I was able to quickly nudge it back. Then, I let it all cool and it was cleaned up again like before.

And then I ran out of rail. And, it was too late on a Saturday to go to the closest hobby shop (which might not have the rail anyway). So, progress was halted for a couple of weeks until the Springfield train show, where I found a vendor selling rail. I had to get LGB rail (instead of, say, Aristocraft) because I wanted the rail profiles to match. I bought a 2-foot section which I assumed would be enough and the next day I got to work. I decided to lengthen the approach running rails which would reduce rail joints in the diamond. I wish I had done this with all four frogs. After about an hour's worth of work, this is what I had.

When spiking my turnout, I discovered the rails had shifted over to one edge of the ties and by the end of the turnout the track looked off-center. Here, I scribed some lines on the ties to help me keep things centered on the ties. Unfortunately, I read my ruler wrong and I had to re-scribe them, meaning my ties have a visible score mark running through them that I couldn't hide with stain. I used a file in the flangeways to keep the various pieces in line, and did spiked one corner at a time. Some rails had to be shortened (I had made the small ones oversize) and I had to also carve away the ties to compensate for the brass sheet. A check gauge was used to space everything properly.

Finally, at the end of the night this is what I had. There are still some extra ties on each end and that will just have to be the way it is, because I hate the thought of buying more expensive LGB rail just for this. In looking it over, it isn't perfect and there is one rail that I am not really happy about. However, it works great and in the grand scheme of things I am pretty proud of this crossing. I had to do it all from scratch, and getting the 32 pieces of rail lined up took some thinking. I painted the base a nice brown color with oil paint so that it will be durable and provide a semi-professional appearance. I plan to wire it up (and the turnout) this weekend, and then I ballast it and call it finished.

Further Work on the Turnout
I noticed that when I ran a freight car truck through the frog it would make a noticeable clanking noise as the wheel left one of the rails, dropped into the gap (and started riding on the flange) and then bumped back onto the rail. Had I made the frog shorter (like on a #4 switch) this wouldn't occur. But, longer frogs can have this issue. So, I applied some white caulk to the three ends of the frog inside the guardrails and after it dried I filled it up with epoxy. Once that cured, I scraped out the caulk, used a knife to ramp up the edges of the epoxy (not that this really does anything), and it was done. Now, it just makes a faint clicking sound.

1 comment:

  1. Great Blog. I'm a D&H fan having grown up in Guilderland and travelling near the Albany Main from Delmar to Altamont. I did some occasional warehouse work in the Depot in Guilderland Center and even unloaded a couple of [NYC] boxcars along Railroad Ave in Albany.

    I plan on modeling parts of The Albany Main and I'm trying find info on any industries in the area besides the Guilderland Center depot and the old Train stations along that route. I'm sure I can freelance a lumberyard and cement plant if I need to, but from far away research is hard.

    I know now that the Albany to Colonie section is much more interesting and If I ever get room to expand your blog and layout will be invaluable.

    Best of Luck with your layout and certifications.