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Craftsman Extra Board - March 1933

March 1933

Model of winter scene, New Rochelle, New York -- Penn Eastern System
constructed by the author

Building and Equipping Model Railroads

by Edwin P. Alexander/photos by the author

This was the first model railroading feature to appear in the first issue of The Model Craftsman in March 1933. We have reproduced it here for you to enjoy and appreciate just how far our hobby has advanced over the last 80 years! --The Editors

Starting very slowing but in the last year gathering considerable momentum, the branch of model making devoted to miniature railroads has gained large numbers of newcomers for its ranks. By model railroads, we refer, of course to true scale replicas, not the commonly seen toy trains. These new thousands of fans have joined their older or more experienced members of the fraternity for various reasons. One is no doubt because they want something more realistic than toys, another is because it provides outlets for their mechanical ability in wood, metal, cardboard, and all materials. Another side appeals to the electrically minded in the field of control and signaling which is really identical with actual practice. Still another aspect draws the artistically inclined where scenic effects and backgrounds provide them with something to create. Fundamentally, of course, all have a liking for railroads, motive power, rolling stock and accessories. Naturally then with so many different phases to draw and hold the interest, this hobby is growing rapidly.

There are a number of gauges and scales in use of which 1/4" scale is by far the most popular. This is used for 1 1/4" gauge. Others are 3/8" scale for 1 3/4" gauge (also used for the toy "standard" gauge although it should actually be 7/16"), 1/2" scale for 2 1/2" gauge and 3/4" for 3 1/2" gauge as well as several larger sizes. The writer has in various articles described 1/4" scale models due to its popularity and universality and the following remarks accordingly apply to it.

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New type construction of passenger cars. All cast aluminum.

Planning a Layout

Laying out a model railroad, is, except of course, in its space limitations and roadbed, like planning a real one. In other words model track material does not come like toy sections. The rail is solid steel (easily bent, however) and must be laid on real ties. Splice bars for the rail ends, cast switch points or blades, cast frogs and guide rails, brass 3rd rail, connectors and chairs are available. Therefore your railroad can be planned, following actual practice as far as possible, to suit yourselves as no arbitrary fixed curves or track sections will limit its realism. The radius for curves on your model line should be 3' absolute minimum and 4' for main line curves, always more if space permits. Keep the main line towards the wall of the room and the yards, extra sidings, etc., towards the center so you will not have to reach across the main line on which trains may be running to operate switches or yard engines. Do not lay the tracks on the floor but always use a specially built table, baseboard, or shelving.

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Model built by author

Laying out a model railroad is not merely putting down a lot of toy track hit or miss. It should be carefully planned and built. Every main detail should be gone over before actual construction is begun.

While these remarks refer chiefly to O gauge or quarter-inch scale, as most model railroads are in this size, they apply also to any one working in a larger scale or smaller scale if the available space is proportionally larger or smaller, radius of curves being a consideration.

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Click for larger image

Figure 1 shows a suggested layout for a smaller space, 10 by 12 feet. In this case, as in the other plans, 4 foot radius is the minimum for main line curves, although larger is used where possible; 3 foot radius curves may be used for yards if necessary. The plans I have given here are only suggestions; the individual should design his own layout to suit the size and shape of room at his disposal.

Figure 3 gives an idea of baseboard construction. Seasoned wood should be used to avoid warping. When building the baseboard it is a good idea to allow places about 8 inches deep wherever bridges or trestles will be wanted later. For the roadbed proper 1/2-inch pine (No. 2 shelving dressed down) is best. For single track lines it should be 3 1/2 inches wide and for two track lines 7 inches.

The edges may be beveled slightly so that when the slate-surfaced roofing used for ballast is laid over this and nailed down, it will not have a tendency to crack along these edges. Cut the roofing 2 inches wider than the roadbed. When this is laid, the projecting inch on each side should be nailed to the baseboard, thus forming a small bank on each side.

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Curves can be laid out on baseboard and roadbed with railroad curves (used for drafting), a template or a trammel. After roofing has been put in place, a colored pencil can be used to show where the rails will come. After these lines have been drawn, ties may be laid. Ties should not be more than 3/8 inch apart. Ties should be 1/4 inch by 1/8 inch and 2 1/4 inches and third rail ties should be 1/2 inch or 3/4 inch longer.

As rails come only in straight lengths, curves can be laid to any radius. Rail is best bent by hand rather than bent while laying, because it is so springy. One rail should be laid for a good stretch before the other is aligned with it. On curves this should be the inside rail and the apex or track gauge placed on this when laying the other rail.

The builder naturally desires to have something running as soon as possible, and as the completed plan will probably mean months of work before its culmination, I suggest that only one track or loop be laid first, rather than build simultaneously two tracks of a double-track system.

An important thing to consider while laying track is the signal system. The length of blocks, locations of signals, and similar problems should be decided on. I will not go into automatic block signal circuits at this time, for if the railroad is only no being started, there is plenty to do before the signaling stage is reached. However, I will say that a complete block can be connected within an hour, provided the track work is already done, including relay, signal and batteries at a cost less than $9.00.

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Many model builders hesitate about making switches, although they are not difficult. Figure 4 shows the layout of a switch. Cast frogs are used, doing away with the necessity of filing ends of rails to points and troublesome fitting formerly done. The outside rails should be filed vertically on the inner side to take the points of the switch when thrown.

The points should be filed down and soldered 1 inch apart to a small bar (to connect with the stand, rodding, or switch motor). The heel of the switch is similarly soldered, only the bar is wide enough to be drilled at the center for a wood screw used as the pivot. Thus the movable rails are in one rigid piece.

Rails abutting the frog should not touch it if they are at the end of blocks. The outside limits of the third rail collectors are shown on the drawing and switches of different lengths in the gap in the third rail.

A supply of ties cut in successively 1/4 inch longer lengths and kept in separate containers is very handy so that cutting the ties for each individual switch will not be necessary. It is well, too, to have a piece of rolling stock with accurately spaced wheels (1 1/16 inch to 1 1/32 inch back to back on axles) with which to try out the switches.

Besides being easy to connect with switch points, rodding looks very realistic. Model electro-pneumatic controls also may be had (only electric contacts) for electrically controlled switches. These also provide extra contacts for interlocking.

Signal diagram boards serve the same purpose as in actual practice, and some switches may be mounted directly on them. Colored lamp caps, which may be had for 10 cents each, come in red, green, amber, white, and blue; they may be used to designate signals, switches and tracks, whether or not occupies.

These boards may be wood, bakelite, or similar material with narrow paper strips glued and painted white to represent the tracks. Switches or push buttons can be mounted directly on tracks they control. Switches, signals and tracks should be numbered to correspond with the levers in your signal tower.

Rolling Stock

One of the reasons for the large radius curves mentioned is that scale models of the latest types of locomotives will not negotiate a smaller curve. Such engines run up to and over 26" in 1/4 scale. Pullman cars and coaches are 18" to 21" in length and these too require a large curve for their long wheelbase trucks and to prevent excessive overhang. Model railroad supply firms can supply models of practically any company's motive power although most models seem to be of Pennsylvania equipment at present. The distinctive "Tuscan" red of this line's passenger stock seems to appeal to many although other road's yellows, blues, and greens are also attractive. It seems usually true that most enthusiasts model equipment of the roads serving their communities.

Railroad Model CraftsmanA model of the latest type (K-5), P.R.R.

All locomotives are entirely of metal, bronze castings entering to a large extent in their construction. Passenger cars have been built of nearly all kinds of material, the commonest being with wood roof, floor, and ends and mounting board sides. To the uninitiated this may seem flimsy but in the last six or seven years the writer has yet to see one of these cars break up or come apart, the construction has been surprisingly strong. However, a new type of construction is appearing -- an all cast aluminum Pullman with practically every detail cast on. The price runs somewhat more than others, of course, but is no doubt worth it. Freight cars are of wood or metal, box cars wood although cast aluminum cars will soon appear. Other cast cars are hoppers, gondola, flat and container. Cabooses are mostly sheet brass. Of course, model supply companies have a hard time trying to standardize such equipment, in fact it is almost impossible. The reason is that every railroad has its own distinctive designs in rolling stock and model firms cannot afford to list hundreds of types of equipment. They have, therefore, put out first the most important roads, Pullmans, for instance, are standard everywhere.

The subject of miniature railroad is much too extensive to go into detail in such an article as this but it is hoped these remarks provide a general idea of their possibilities. Innumerable hours of pleasure for years are what they offer and after all that is what one pursues a hobby for.

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