Friday, June 29, 2018

N Scale Flex Track Comparison Guide

Here is a breakdown of the main N scale flex track options available as well as some other options. I personally most often use Micro-Engineering code 55, not because it is perfect but because it has the most features I want relative to what is available. Recently, I’ve started using Central Valley Model Works (CVMW) N Code 55 Curvable Mainline Ties with Micro-Engineering code 55 rail when appropriate. CVMW ties are pretty much the best bet available currently for nice looking N scale track. I’d probably use Peco code 55 if the tie spacing was prototypical for the United States. Atlas code 55 is nice but the spikes cause issues with some of my older locomotives. The ideal track for me would be code 40 Peco style track (where the rail is actually code 80 but half of it is embedded in the ties and thus very sturdy) with prototypical US tie spacing, prototypical tie width, and small spikes. Kato Unitrack is also nice track just not very prototypical. I like to use Kato Unitrack for hidden track when appropriate and practical. If Kato made code 55 Unitrack with prototypical US tie spacing and spikes plus also left the ballast off the roadbed allowing users to paint the track and apply their own ballast I’d likely use a lot more Unitrack than I do. At the very least, I’d use more Unitrack if Kato made some little Unitrack code 80 to code 55 flextrack transition tracks. Those would be easier and more reliable than fabricating transition tracks out of Peco code 55 track (see below).

Micro-Engineering code 55
  • Long 36”
  • Small spikes
  • Prototypical US tie spacing and tie width (close enough anyway)
  • Somewhat hard to bend into smooth curves
  • Plastic flashing is somewhat common
  • Somewhat fragile

Atlas code 55
  • Easy to bend into smooth curves
  • Prototypical US tie spacing and tie width
  • Short 30”
  • Spikes are too big and interfere with wheel flanges on older equipment. But not really an issue if you just have newer equipment made in the last decade or so.

Atlas code 80
  • Cheapest
  • Easiest to find
  • Easy to bend into smooth curves
  • Not prototypical US tie spacing or spikes
  • Short 30”

Peco code 55
  • Long 36”
  • Uses code 80 rail embedded in the ties…making it sturdy
  • Not prototypical US tie spacing or spikes
Peco code 55 track can be used to make transition tracks from code 55 to code 80. All that is required is a file.

Central Valley Model Works (CVMW) N Code 55 Curvable Mainline Ties.
  • Unlimited length
  • Ties can be painted and ballasted before the rails are applied making variation in tie color easier to achieve (especially if a masking template is constructed) and the rail can easily be painted a slightly different color than the ties
  • Long stretches of Micro Engineering code 55 rail can be soldered together before being applied to the ties
  • No glue required to attach the rail
  • The ties vary a bit in length which is true to a lot of prototype track (especially older track) but not necessarily true in all cases
  • You still have to buy Micro Engineering code 55 rail


Kato Unitrack
  • Reliable
  • Reconfigurable
  • The rail is code 80
  • Not prototypical US tie spacing or spikes
  • The ballast is part of the track which can be a pro or a con, but it is a con if prototype accuracy is the objective.

Kato N Unitrack vs. Micro-engineering code 55 Flex

3D Printed Track?
Finally, I just wanted to mention that I played around with 3D printing some code 40 track. I did this because there is some track I wanted to put on my layout to make it true to the prototype, but I didn’t need it to be functional. So, at about 10 cents a foot, this 3D N scale code 40 track does the trick just fine, especially since it allows me to make custom track such as very long turnouts in code 40 rail that aren’t commercially available. As technology gets better, dead rail battery powered locomotives on cheap 3D printed track may be a viable solution for some applications.

Code 40 N Dummy Track 3D Printed in PLA

Originally posted 1/10/16. Updated 3/19/18.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

N Scale U36B Solutions

I have two parts available on Shapeways for turning Atlas U23B models into reasonable facsimiles of a U36B or U33B. The first solution requires cutting off part of the U23B radiator and fitting a whole new flared radiator over the cut section.
The second solution simply requires gluing flared radiator wings onto the sides of the U23B radiator.
I use method two for my own models just because it is very easy and can easily be applied to a factory painted model. I paint the flared radiator wings the proper color. And I attach the flared radiator wings with Elmer’s white glue so I can wet them and remove them if I ever desire to do so.
If you aren’t satisfied with the second solution due to the existing U23B radiator, which is too narrow and doesn’t extend to the flared section, I provide a choice of two vector images (white background and gray) that can be printed as a decal or on paper to represent the radiator screen and to cover the existing U23B radiator. To use the radiator graphics, scrape the grab iron on the top of the existing radiator off with a razor blade. Print the screens (ideally using a laser printer), glue the screens down with Elmer’s glue if using paper. You could print the graphic with the white background on colored paper. Or you could use the dirty gray screen graphic.
Get the parts at Shapeways here and here. As always, with parts in the Frosted Detail materials, don’t skip the step of using a soak in Bestine (or Doc Edington’s brand) to properly clean the parts of support wax.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Postcards from Bone Valley: Great Model Railroads 2017

Note that you can see the acrylic glass reflecting the camera in this picture, giving a sense of what the layout is like live in person.
I got to see a copy of Great Model Railroads 2017…since my small N scale Bone Valley layout is featured on page 52. Unfortunately, my layout only got four pages in the issue. That resulted in a trimmed up article and a measly three layout photos included in the article (two of which are redundant). So, I’m posting some stuff that wasn’t shown in the article here. There were also a few errors to the article added by the editor. One thing is that it said Atlas is releasing the U36B in N scale; I have not heard anything about that, only HO. As you can see from this layout plan that I made when I wrote the article back in the beginning of 2015 (which at the time I didn’t intend to be in Great Model Railroads), there were a whole lot more pictures (A thru L) that could have been included than just three. Anyway, as the maker and owner of my layout, the photo-scarce article doesn’t quite do it justice. But this is just step one in what is to be a bigger layout, so there will be more in the future.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

N Scale GP11 Paducah Geep

An N scale GP11 is now available. There are two versions depending on if someone wants printed handrails or do it yourself brass handrails.
For the printed handrails you can just download the handrails file here: gp11handrails – STL. The file is a .STL file and is in a zip folder. So you need to remove it from that folder on your computer before you try uploading it to Shapeways. Then upload it to your own Shapeways account (choose “inches” when asked). When ordering, select “print anyway” and Shapeways will print these for you. These are too delicate to put up for sale but Shapeways will print them for individuals. Contains two of each handrail piece in case one breaks, but they held up fine in my own test orders. Print in either Frosted Detail or Frosted Extreme Detail.
I was thinking of doing some other Paducah Geeps, but Intermountain has decided to make the real deal, not just shells, with an N GP10 model.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Book Review of West Florida Rails In Color Volume 3: Bone Valley Phosphate Operations 1971-87

So, finally a Bone Valley book exists. I would have made one a long time ago myself if I had possession of old photos. The book just came out and I got my copy right away. After having it just a short time, I can already say this is currently my favorite railroad book ever made. There were some things I was hoping would be in this book that weren’t–like pictures of the tower at Rockport from the mid 80s and clear views of certain plants and mines I’ve long wished to see for modeling purposes–but there are plenty of good things nonetheless. The book is composed of and limited by photos taken by Emery Gulash (there are also some photos by the book’s author Jerry Pinkepank). Most of the photos Emery Gulash took were typical railfan type photos, which are nice but not always that useful for modelers. That’s my gripe with railroad photography in general. For someone who wants photos for modeling purposes, the typical shot of a locomotive at a slight angle isn’t often all that useful since such photos don’t emphasize cars or structures. In fact, such photos often block out cars and structures.
The book cites this website as a reference source for figuring out locations of certain pictures from Emery Gulash’s collection. So far I’ve noticed one error (errors are virtually unavoidable when dealing with the transient Bone Valley). The picture on the bottom of page 108 is Agricola not Big Bend. There are two similar pictures in the book of the plant at Agricola. The Agricola plant is something I’ve long wanted more pictures of for potential modeling purposes, so if anyone out there has any send them to me. I’m always looking for pictures of phosphate plants and structures (see my wish list at the end of this post).

One mystery this book has solved for me so far comes from page 88. At the top of page 88 is the same place as the picture on the bottom of page 77 in the book Seaboard Coast Line in Florida. The location is Rockland. Most of that stuff has been long torn down, so I was never quite sure where that place was. I can now pretty much verify it is Rockland based on photos I’ve found of partially demolished structures from that location.

I never quite realized that the blue 100 ton Ortner-built rotary flip-top gondolas that I always refer to as the BPPX cars were also owned by Mobil. Mobil had 70 that were painted either beige or white (I’m not sure) marked MOBX 51500-51569. Unfortunately, there are no clear side pictures of the MOBX cars in the book. But it seems the MOBX cars had square roof hatches while the blue BPPX cars had round hatches. I also never realized there used to be a SAL Edison station, which was disintegrating during the time the pictures in the book were taken.

There are a lot of pictures in the book from around Nichols. The Nichols shots show more details of the Conserv plant than the Mobile plant. The most revealing shot of the Mobil plant is at the bottom of page 76. There are some nice Pierce/Achan shots. There are several shots of the Agricola to Rockland/Watson Swift operation. Nothing really from Mulberry yard or New Wales. The book also covers the ports and Tropicana.

Anyway, the book is great for what it is: a collection of photos taken by Emery Gulash. And the West Florida Rails In Color series as a whole is great. But there are still things I need to find out for modeling purposes about the Bone Valley and the ports. I was born in the 80s, so I wasn’t able to go out and take photos and document the peak of the Bone Valley in the 80s. So, I’m trying to gather as much info as I can before the history becomes lost.

West Florida Rails In Color Volume 3: Bone Valley Phosphate Operations 1971-87 Here’s the publisher page for the book, but you can find it for sale various places for under $50.
List of Unknowns (Contact me if you have answers to any of these or any Bone Valley related info to share!):
  • The color of the trim on the Rockport yard tower in the mid 80s (I think it was blue).
  • The lay of the plant at Agricola (I need more pictures with more angles).
  • Details about the Piney Point plant and its operations, were there rotary dry rock trains between it and Rockport?
  • Details about the TECO coal trains, how and where exactly they were unloaded at Sutton and Big Bend?
  • The structures around the Mobil drying bin at Nichols.
  • The Mobil mine just north of 640 east of Edison.
  • The Tencor mine.
  • CF Industries Port of Tampa.
  • The Royster plant structure.
  • The operations and plants of Brewster Phosphates.
  • The history of the tower at Agrock, when it was built and what it looked like originally.
  • Did IMC only use its own port at Sutton or did it also use Rockport?
  • And more, but that’s all I can think of right now.