Wednesday, October 03, 2012

The Straco Layout, Part 28 - Relaying the Rails

Trouble ahead! Those screws holding down the
tracks cause more than one derailment.
Read all the installments of the Straco Express layout project here.

With the increase of vehicles on the layout, I've been referring to it as the "Straco layout/display." One of its functions is to serve as a static display for the Japanese cars I've collected. But the other is to be an operating toy train layout, with trains moving along the track.

It's important to remember that these Japanese rains were designed to be inexpensive toys -- not realistic (and reliably operating) scale models. The track is substantially taller than standard HO gauge track, and the wheel flanges are significantly bigger as well. As you can see from the two images at right, there was a lot of variation between manufacturers. Both cars fit on the track, but the wheels on both have enough room to let the trucks slide back and forth as they travel along the rails.

Wheel detail from a Straco Express car. Note how
much distance there is between the left flange and rail.
And that was the problem. Initially, I knew I had to be careful where to put the screws, and came up with a simple pattern that held the rails together and kept them securely on the board (Part 7, Laying Down the Rails). Unfortunately, while I thought I had allowed enough clearance for the wheels, I actually hadn't. If you look carefully at video showing all three trains, you'll see the cars -- and engines -- bouncing along as they occasionally hit a screw head.

Wheel detail from a Cragstan car. Both the right and left
flanges have gaps between them and the rails.
With featherweight cars and locomotive pickups that only marginally conduct electricity, that was a big problem. After only a few circuits, either the cars would jump the track, or the engine would stop because it lost contact with the rails (and didn't have enough momentum to carry it past the screw).

So I've relaid all the track, taking the screws out from between the rails. In the process, I've also doubled the number of screws used, since I had to secure both sides of the track (the screws on the center ties are offset to prevent slippage).

Before: Those screw heads just got in the way.
There was a big improvement in performance. Electric contacts work better, and cars stay on the track for more circuits. And with these toys, that's significant. Maybe it's time to make another video to demonstrate.

After: Nothing to interfere with the wheels as they
wobble back and forth.

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