Part of the NMRA Civil certification requirement calls for handlaying some track. And not only must it work, but it also has to be good enough to earn a Merit Award. I am allowed to pick three items from the following list: turnout (point or stub); crossover, double crossover; single slip switch; double slip switch; crossing; Gauntlet track, gauntlet turnout, dual gauge turnout; gauge separation turnout; double junction turnout, three-way turnout, spring switch, and an operating switch in overhead wire. Quite the list, though some look a bit more difficult than others. I am picking the three underlined above.
I decided to start with a turnout. I didn't intend to work on this until later this fall, after I had earned my Electrical certificate. Frankly, handlaying track isn't easy. If you work in the smaller gauges, it involves spiking tiny rail and trying to file minute angles in small pieces of rail and forming them with perfect flangeways. Yuck. If you pick the larger scales, then you practically need a milling machine to work the rail over and any mistakes are out in the open. Yuck. So, I photocopied an article by Tony Koester from Model Railroader on handlaying switches and put it in my file and just left it alone.
Bernard Kempinski's O scale blog and he handlays his track. It seemed doable. The tipping point was that I had an article from Garden Railways magazine from 2009 showing how to build a #5 switch. Done.
Then it came time to solder them up. The magazine called for building a fixture with fender washers that held the rails in place, which seemed smart. The problem was that you were supposed to flip the rails over and line them up, and then solder from above. That was beyond my ability. You need everything in perfect alignment, but cannot actually see it. So, I flipped the script (literally) and took a piece of wood and cut the template out and glued it to the wood. I put a thin piece of sheet brass on top, and then arranged the rails right-side-up on it. Everything was coated in rosin flux. I used the screws/washers to secure the rail and made final adjustments using styrene check gauges I built based on NMRA Standards found online.
Next, I used my brand new propane blow torch that I bought just for this project and slowly heated up the assembly. It took a while as I didn't want to rush it, and paper burned up and the wood got scorched. But, then I applied some silver solder I had lying around and it quickly ran into the gaps and filled up the joints in the frog rails. I then let everything cool down. I later soldered the guard rails to their adjacent point rails, which was a lot simpler. It sure looked ugly when I was done, but it cleaned up nice. This wasn't tough at all! I attribute my success to the article being well written, me taking my time in grinding the rail and arranging it on the templates, and God being really good to me!
Once it was all said and done, I used copious amounts of alcohol and a toothbrush to clean all the flux residue off of the rails. I checked the clearances and in one space a tiny bit of filing was done, and in another space I used my Dremel and a cut-off wheel to slightly open up the gap. Nothing big here. These rails are huge and easy to see. I then soldered some tabs under the point rails to eventually connect to the throwbar. I also drilled and tapped 2-56 holes in the base of some of the rails for wiring, but the screws looked out of place so I lightly bent the wire to look like spikes and inserted and soldered it directly into those holes.
I got so much farther ahead than I planned that I had to wait and order Micro Engineering spikes the following Monday morning. They arrived within a couple of days and I dove in. The article recommended pre-drilling the spike holes and I started to do that with a #51 drill bit held in a pin vice. However, it became very tiring and I feared I would snap the thin bit. On a whim, I tried just shoving the spike in with pliers (in the typical two-step process of starting it, then choking up on it and pushing it home) and it worked well. Sure, in the process the spike sometimes got knocked sideways and opened the hole, but I still used the hole because there was plenty of wood there.
I still need to install a ground throw to control the throw bar, which is a length of 1/4" square styrene that I painted black and drilled/tapped for 2-56 for screws. I soldered small tabs to the stock rails and the screws go through that. Since I am a glutton for punishment and wanted to make sure to earn my 87.5 Merit Award points, I used 4 spikes per tie. In total, I used 266 spikes on the switch and probably broke/bent/lost another 50. Pre-drilling the holes would have saved spikes but cost me my sanity. Since a bag only contains 500, I will probably need to order more for the crossing.
I was extra careful when spiking the point rails to allow enough free movement of the rails, and I also did my best to maintain gauge through the area. An Aristocraft freight car truck proved useful, though it was very sloppy and didn't measure out to NMRA specs. I am finished with this for now. I still need to wire it, but I don't know if I want to use a slide switch to control both the point rails and the polarity of the frog. I plan to paint the baseboard a nice dark brown, and ballast the turnout. Neither is necessary, but both make it more presentable. And, I already started working on my second item, a crossing track...