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Few things can send a shiver down my spine as much as hand-laying track. The epitome of stress would then be building my own turnout. Let us face it, turnouts are a pain in the biscuits. We buy ready made to make things easy and more reliable, right? We throw money at the problem and expect results and quality. Quality being proportional to the investment. Basic model railroading theory, right? It is kind of like if you want the most reliable, smooth running locomotive, buy the most expensive brass?

Actually if you spend any time on the forums, pretty soon you come to an inescapable conclusion. If you don't build your own turnouts, well, let us fact the facts, we just are not a man. Exaggeration, myth, no not at all. It seems that the expert guys build their own; you know the the ones I mean. They make you feel like you saw your first Lionel yesterday.

Then they talk about how smooth these hand laid turnouts are. Like glass they say.

My Fast Tracks jigs arrived last month. I got a #8 double crossover which will also function as a regular #8 and a #6 turnout. I can tell you that they ain't cheap. So what pushed me over the top? Couple of things did,

  • First my utter disappointment with Peco which I've talked about in my Track entry on this blog.
  • Second, while the Atlas turnout works ok, they just don't have the look I wanted.
  • Third, but the really big reason was not so obvious and is NOT on their website. They make jigs that work with ATLAS rail! This means I would NOT have to scrap some 600 feet of Atlas flex track! I get great turnouts that are 100% compatible with my flex track.

So I plunked down my money and waited for the jigs to arrive.

To date, I've built 8 turnouts,

  • # 8 7 each
  • # 6 1 each

Lessons learned

  1. It takes time to build a turnout, first one was over 3 hours, next was just under 2, the 3rd was about an hour and 10. The last two were just under an hour a piece.
  2. Not all bastards are the same. Mill bastards, that is, you quickly learn that a good file, and a big one at that, is your friend. One of the reasons the first two took so long is that I was using a small 6" mill bastard file, today, I use my big bastard, the 12" job and I bought the right handle for it!
  3. Making the closure points is the hardest part of the job. Getting them right seems easy with the jig, but knowing when they are done is the tricky part.
  4. Cut the groves in the ties BEFORE you start soldering rail.
  5. Acid core solder is very hard on your soldering iron tip.
  6. Hand built turnouts frequently put an excessive strain on the switch motor/machine.
  7. Laying your own ties, even if they are pre-made is not trivial.
  8. Troubleshooting problems with hand laid turnouts consumes horrendous amounts of time.
  9. I'll forgo building my own turnouts in favor of commercial turnouts.

Hand Laid Turnouts summation

I've wasted a lot of time building 8 turnouts that had more flaky weird problems than I care to deal with. I've removed every one of the turnouts, replacing them with Atlas and Walthers code 83 turnouts. Not one of the 8 turnouts I built proved to be reliable and usable. Each one of them had one or more serious problems. Typical problems included failure to work in both directions through both paths. Some would work excellently in one direction or the other, but none would work in both directions. At this point, I just cannot see any advantage to them for my needs.

Turnout Assessment Methodology

Determining which brand and or type of turnout for my model railroad has turned out to be a much more difficult problem than I ever imagined. Certainly looking back is easy. I use Walthers or Atlas, thank you, next issue. So, how did I come to that conclusion? Well, here is my methodology for evaluating Turnouts.

More to come, got to make a living today!

Joe Daddy hisself

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