Good track and reliable turnouts are essential to an enjoyable operating experience. There are many brands of track and turnouts on the market today. In most cases, plain flex-track from any manufacture will look good and perform well if properly laid, although some brands of turnouts are better looking and more reliable than others.
Most brands of track offer only a few basic turnout sizes, so if you want anything else, you are out of luck. Furthermore, availability of some brands is somewhat sporadic. I initially got into the turnout building business because the Walthers range had been unavailable for some time with many important items being discontinued completely and I didn't feel right about specifying unavailable or hard-to-find turnouts for my layout designs. Fortunately, they have started production again now, although they don't seem to have any plans to re-release the double-slips or three-ways.
My turnouts are built using precision aluminum jigs from a company called “Fast Tracks”. These jigs facilitate the production of great-looking turnouts that perform reliably, and have received rave reviews from thousands of happy customers. As good as these jigs are, not everyone wants to build their own turnouts. Now anyone can enjoy the benefits of this revolutionary track-building procedure without having to build it oneself.
I am not in a position to keep a large stock of these expensive items on hand, so they will in most cases be built to order. I started with #8 double and single slips, and #7 straight turnouts, since these are not available for HO-scale in ready-to-lay format anywhere else. Since then I have been gradually expanding the range so be sure to check out the lists of options for the various products in my store. I will continue to add new sizes as I receive requests for different turnouts. For the time being, I am only offering HO-gauge and On30 turnouts, although this may change in the future so feel free to ask me if you are in the market for something else. I do not build N-scale turnouts. I have an agreement with another builder (firstname.lastname@example.org). I send all my N-scale enquirers to him and he passes HO-scale enquirers to me.
At the time of writing, the jigs available from fast-tracks include straight, curved, and wye turnouts in may different sizes;
Although I currently have more than 20 different jigs available, it is entirely possible that the size of turnout you need is not among them. If you would like turnouts in sizes not yet listed for sale in my store, please contact me with a list of your requirements and I will be happy to give you a price. The jigs are available in 4 different rail-sizes. Code-100 is very much oversized for most applications and therefore not generally recommended. Most HO-scale modelers use code-83, so I will assume this is what you want unless you tell me something different. For that extra fine-scale look, consider using code-70 for branch-lines, yards and sidings, and even code-55 for industrial spurs. Code 70 and 83 turnouts can be built using the same jig, although code 100 and 55 each require separate jigs.
High-quality hand-crafted items are never cheap because of the time involved. I cannot compete price-wise with mass-produced factory-built turnouts, although with commercial turnout prices on the increase, the difference is actually not all that great. When you consider that these turnouts are more reliable and better looking than most, the extra few dollars per turnout is in my opinion well worth it. Additionally, each turnout is fully tested both electrically and mechanically before packing up for sale (a claim that the big name track producers cannot make).
I am offering turnouts in three different forms – complete, intermediate and skeleton.
The intermediate format is a good choice whenever you expect to have to trim turnouts in order to fit them closer together in tight situations, as it is much easier to trim them before attaching the wood ties. With this option, you get a basic skeleton turnout (see below), a “quick-stick” wood tie strip, and a small tube of the same glue that I use to attach the wood ties for complete turnouts.
Not only does a basic skeleton allow me to provide these same turnouts at rock bottom price without compromising on quality, but gives the customer the opportunity to finish them himself for that sense of accomplishment and pride of ownership that only comes by creating something with one’s own hands. In their skeleton form, all the critical work has already been done by me to the same exacting standards as the complete turnouts, but the customer still gets to add his own wood ties, either purchased by the bag, or individually cut from sheet basswood. Templates of all fast-tracks turnouts are available from their web-site as free downloads. These can be printed out as many times as desired, then glued to your roadbed and used to accurately lay out wood ties to ensure that the skeleton turnouts fit perfectly. Skeleton turnouts are also a way to save money in hidden areas such as staging yards, since the wood ties are only cosmetic and the turnout will still function properly without them. If you want to purchase your own “quick-stick” tie webs directly from fast-tracks, you can still save a few dollars per turnout by ordering enough to qualify for their bulk discounts and free shipping (or you can get them from me by ordering the “intermediate” option).
Things to note with fast-tracks turnouts
Before closing, I feel that a few words of caution are in order for anyone used to mass-produced ready-to-lay turnouts with plastic ties. Hand-built soldered turnouts with glued-on wood ties do require more care in handling. Whereas a commercial plastic turnout will (to some extent) quite happily twist and regain its shape without trouble, these turnouts will break if abused. They also require a stiffer control mechanism as the switch-points need more force to move properly. For example, the flimsy music wire supplied with tortoise and smail switch machines will not work. You will need to substitute a much heavier control wire. “Fast-tracks” recommend (and sell) 0.037 wire. I sometimes use an even heavier gauge (0.047) wire whenever it is necessary to pass through foam subroadbed. Tam Valley switch machines come equipped with 0.032" wire, which works well in most cases with roadbed up to 1" thick. Also, please note that fast-tracks turnouts (particularly the slip switches) often come out of the jig with a slight upward bow at the ends. This is not a defect and is easy to take care of during track-laying just by applying a small amount of weight to the two ends while the glue sets.
When attaching the wood ties to the skeleton, I feel that it is important to use a glue with moderate strength over one that is too strong. Sometimes it is necessary to break the tie strip away from the rails in order to adjust the alignment into and out of turnouts. Therefore it is important that the glue bond is the weakest link so as to avoid damaging the turnout. The downside is that some parts of the tie fret have very little gluing surface (most notably the area around the switch-points where the stock rails are thinned down at the bottom to less than half width). Sometimes wood ties come off during the rigors of shipping. Do not worry. Just install the turnout without them and slide the separated ties into place beneath it. The wood ties are entirely cosmetic and the ballast will hold them in place.
When installing these turnouts, the most critical areas are the copper ties near the throw-bars. These areas must be securely attached to the roadbed to hold the turnout immovably against the thrust of the switch machine. A gap-filling adhesive is best because the copper ties are slightly thinner than the wood ties. I use "Crafters Pick" glue, available from Hobby Lobby.
One other quirk I have recently discovered with fixed frog #8 slip switches is that track-cleaning cars don't like the center frogs. There is a very fine margin on these center frogs, requiring that wheelsets run true. The problem with track-cleaners is that the pad being dragged between the trucks sets up a sideways force on the wheels, causing them to try to take the diverging route and derailing the car. A similar situation can occur with multi-unit diesels if a trailing unit is faster than the lead unit. For this reason, I have started offering #8 slip switches with moving frogs. These require two additional switch machines but the reliability problem is eliminated. If in doubt, I'd recommend the moving frogs. Even though these are more work to build, I'm offering them at the same price in the interests of customer satisfaction.
In common with most other brands, these slips and turnouts come with longer lead-ins than are really necessary. If you need to fit several components close together to create complex junctions, some trimming may be necessary and the tie arrangement may need modifying – just as with any brand of turnout. If you don’t feel up to the challenge, I will be happy to give you a price to supply them with the necessary modifications already made. Just send me a message describing the desired arrangement.
I have recently added my first On30 turnout to the range. More will be added as I receive the necessary orders. If the turnout you want is not listed, send me a message.
Copyright © 2018 superior model railroads - All Rights Reserved.