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Questions about sectional track, rail joiners, and scale discrepancy

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Questions about sectional track, rail joiners, and scale discrepancy
Posted by gimme30 on Tuesday, May 15, 2018 5:23 AM

Hi gents/ladies, 

I've finally reached the point with my "layout-in-a-box" where I can start laying track. (In case you didn't see my first post here, I'm building Woodland Scenics' Scenic Ridge using Atlas code 80 snap track)

I've been looking forward to this but it's turning out to be a pain in the you-know-what. 

First off, rail joiners doth truly sucketh. They come 4 to a strip, which need to be cut off and nipped if they're too long to allow the ends of the rails to butt together. Tedious at best, and installation is the same, but painful. Darn things tend to poke right into your finger! 

And most of them wind up fitting very loosely!

I ruined a few in an attempt to tighten things up by squeezing them more "closed" before installation, or by crimping them down after. 

Just how tight do they need to be?

On that note....After getting all the track down something isn't right. I assumed it would all follow the centerline of the foam risers, and it does in some areas but not in others-Especially if I make sure the rail ends are butted together completely. If I force sections close to center it opens gaps. 

I don't suppose being off center is a big deal in areas other than where clearances may be tight, like tunnel entrances, but should I be concerned about the gaps? Is that normal with sectional track? 

Lastly, I've been trying to figure out how to determine scale for landscaping, but again something isn't right. For example, let's say I want to model the Matterhorn. That little molehill is 14,692', which equates to 102' when converted to 1/144 scale unless my math is off. Obviously that's one mighty heap of plaster of paris to fit onto my little 3x6 layout. 

Things seem better when lesser distances are calculated, for example a 20' cliff works out to .14" @ 1/144, so I'm guessing some fudging is required when it comes to scale? (ie: as long as it looks right, as opposed to being perfectly scaled)

Thanks for your help!

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Posted by Water Level Route on Tuesday, May 15, 2018 5:40 AM

Yes, certain scenic items are done to a scale that looks right, rather than is exact in scale.  Another thing to note though on your Matterhorn example.  That elevation is to sea level.  In comparison to the terrain around it, it isn't as towering.  Something to keep in mind as you make your scale Alps.

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Posted by richhotrain on Tuesday, May 15, 2018 5:58 AM

Welcome to the world of model railroading.

Your experience with rail joiners is somewhat typical. I use Xuron rail cutters to close clip the individual joiners being careful to remove the flash between joiners. For the most part, the joiners should provide a tight fit. If not, toss the loose ones. It is simply too difficult to squeeze them tighter without making them so tight that you cannot fit them on the ends of the rails.

As far as the sectional track is concerned, give flex track a try. Replace those 9" sections with 36" sections. Easier to shape without rail gaps and a lot less rail joiners required.

Rich

Alton Junction

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Posted by riogrande5761 on Tuesday, May 15, 2018 6:25 AM

gimme30
I've been looking forward to this but it's turning out to be a pain in the you-know-what.  First off, rail joiners doth truly sucketh. They come 4 to a strip, which need to be cut off and nipped if they're too long to allow the ends of the rails to butt together. Tedious at best, and installation is the same, but painful. Darn things tend to poke right into your finger!  And most of them wind up fitting very loosely! I ruined a few in an attempt to tighten things up by squeezing them more "closed" before installation, or by crimping them down after.  Just how tight do they need to be?

This is one of the basic skills you will need to develope as you lay track and in the future possibly build a bigger layout.

Perhaps this is where having a set of basic tools will greatly reduce your frustration assuming you remain in the hobby.

Yes, all the Atlas rail joiners I've bought come in strips of 4, and it is a matter of routine for me to use a wire stripper which has a cutter on the end that works perfect to snip them apart.

I find I often have to gently squeeze rail joiners with a pair of needle nose plyers if they don't fit snugly.  You want a fairly snug fit if you want a reliable electrical connection between rail, and I assure you, you do want that.  You'll get the hang of it with a little practice.

As for poking your fingers, while laying the yard in the photo below, I'm done any number of minor injuries to my fingers. 

FYI, there is a little triangular tool you can buy which helps you put rail joiners onto rail which could save you some injury.  See the link below (I may have to get me one for a layout I am planning next after moving)

https://www.trainsetsonly.com/page/TSO/PROD/150-401?gclid=CjwKCAjwiurXBRAnEiwAk2GFZjx66shjwVDTWa19Umto4P7qyQ_epOFE1Ubxiq6pwBMeORQCZtdnehoCB7YQAvD_BwE

On that note....After getting all the track down something isn't right. I assumed it would all follow the centerline of the foam risers, and it does in some areas but not in others-Especially if I make sure the rail ends are butted together completely. If I force sections close to center it opens gaps.  I don't suppose being off center is a big deal in areas other than where clearances may be tight, like tunnel entrances, but should I be concerned about the gaps? Is that normal with sectional track?

I don't use sectional track other than pre-fab turnouts, but with sectional track, you have to be very precise because it is unforgiving in the geometry.  With flex track, you can draw a center line and lay it on that centerline and never have any issues with track not going through the center of a portal.  Thats the glory of flex track - although it is a new skill you may have to learn to gain it's advantages.

 

Lastly, I've been trying to figure out how to determine scale for landscaping, but again something isn't right. For example, let's say I want to model the Matterhorn. That little molehill is 14,692', which equates to 102' when converted to 1/144 scale unless my math is off. Obviously that's one mighty heap of plaster of paris to fit onto my little 3x6 layout. 

You will almost never get "scale" land scape simply because you don't have an aircraft hanger to build a layout.  That is one of the biggest compromises in building a layout; landscape will pretty much always be out of scale - it's a necessary evil, if you will.  Everything in a train layout is basically selectively compressed except maybe the trains themselves and even those can be compressed, such as shorty passenger cars or compromises to rolling stock to allow them to take unprototypically sharp curves.  You just have to deal with that in the best way you can.

Rio Grande.  The Action Road

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Posted by BigDaddy on Tuesday, May 15, 2018 7:22 AM

It never occurred to me that I could or should measure my landscaping for scale. 

I'm not modeling the Grand Tetons for the NPS Visitors Center, I'm building a mountain that appears big enough to have a tunnel.  Some people landscape to the ceiling, and the look is dramatic, but I'm not interested it doing that.  Good enough works.

 

 

Henry

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Posted by riogrande5761 on Tuesday, May 15, 2018 7:46 AM

Yes, all you can do is try to create an illusion of a larger landscape. One of the most effective ways to do that is with a well done back drop.  Perhaps Rob Spangler can post a photo of some of his most excellent work, which allows a narrow seen to appear to have distance to it.

In my current layout design, to fit what I wanted in the space, I have a narrow benchwork only 18-inches wide and will need to run a mainline through it on each side of a backdrop - so the space will only be 9 inches wide.  See track plan upper left below the stairs.

But with a scene behind it, it can be made to look more than acceptable.  David Barrow did that on his Cat Mountain and Santa Fe with some long linear scenes with low hills painted in the back ground, although the scenes were wider than 9 inches, the concept is still there.

One of the techniques used if you paint your own is to use brighter colors in the for front and faded, hazy features in the painting for distance, just like real life.

So if you want to do a European layout with the Matterhorn in it, don't make a real mountain with plaster because you could never do that, ever.  But if you painted a Matterhorn in the distance or background, you can achieve something far better than trying to make a real mountain which would never do in HO or even N.

Rio Grande.  The Action Road

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Posted by SpaceMouse on Tuesday, May 15, 2018 11:18 AM

gimme30
On that note....After getting all the track down something isn't right. I assumed it would all follow the centerline of the foam risers, and it does in some areas but not in others-Especially if I make sure the rail ends are butted together completely. If I force sections close to center it opens gaps.  I don't suppose being off center is a big deal in areas other than where clearances may be tight, like tunnel entrances, but should I be concerned about the gaps? Is that normal with sectional track? 

If you have gaps in your tracks, you are setting yourself up for derailments. Worse, the kinks in the tracks where you are trying to make things work will also be a source of trouble. 

The idea of using flex track here or there to correct inconsistencies is a good one. One piece of flex can replace 4 pieces of 9" track and can fit perfectly on your centerline. 

Take your time laying the track. Unlike other parts of your layout you want your trackwork perfect. Nothing is more discouraging than having to get up and fix your train if it derails every other time it crosses some part of the track. And if the derail is in a tunnel... 

Chip

Building the Rock Ridge Railroad with the slowest construction crew west of the Pecos.

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Posted by bearman on Tuesday, May 15, 2018 12:53 PM

Hey, Gimme, if you are modeling in HO scale then I dont understand the 1/144 that you describe.  HO is is 1/87, so the scale Matterhorn, for example, would be 168.9 ft high. 

As for your rail joiner issues, welcome to the club.

Bear "It's all about having fun."

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Posted by jjdamnit on Tuesday, May 15, 2018 1:00 PM

Hello all,

bearman
...if you are modeling in HO scale then I dont understand the 1/144 that you describe.

Where did you get the OP models in HO?

Atlas Code 80 is N Scale.

Hope this helps.

"Uhh...I didn’t know it was 'impossible' I just made it work...sorry"

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Posted by mbinsewi on Tuesday, May 15, 2018 1:26 PM

The Woodland Scenic's Scenic Ridge, is an N scale layout.

I think this has been talked about in here before,  in other threads about track plans, and sectional track,  but N scale or HO scale track plans, all seem to need some tweaking to the track work to get the layout to come together.

As long as the rail joiners are tight, your going to end up with slight gaps here and there to make it all fit.

Mike.

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Posted by cuyama on Tuesday, May 15, 2018 1:27 PM

gimme30
I'm building Woodland Scenics' Scenic Ridge using Atlas code 80 snap track)

If you are not using the specific track set for that layout kit, but instead a collection of separately acquired components, it won't fit as intended. That may explain some of the gaps, misalignments, and other discrepancies you are discovering.

Because of the limitations of sectional track, there are often some minor issues in alignment in published plans. But it’s best to minimize gaps and kinks for reliability. Sometimes one can “spring” curved sections slightly in or out to minimize a gap or kink elsewhere. 

Soldering track connections helps both with keeping the pieces together and with electrical continuity. As others have noted, most experienced folks use flextrack to minimize joints and to ease misalignments.

Good luck with your layout.

Byron

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Posted by bearman on Tuesday, May 15, 2018 1:32 PM

jjdamnit

Hello all,

 

 
bearman
...if you are modeling in HO scale then I dont understand the 1/144 that you describe.

 

Where did you get the OP models in HO?

Atlas Code 80 is N Scale.

Hope this helps.

 

 

Oopsie, I posted in haste.

Bear "It's all about having fun."

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Posted by wjstix on Tuesday, May 15, 2018 2:57 PM

I suspect the OP is in Britain (or on the Continent?) where "N scale" is 1:144 scale, not 1:160. Kinda like how in the US "O scale" is 1:48, but it's 1:43.5 in the U.K. and Europe. (The correct scale is 1:45 by the way.)

I notice the Woodland Scenics website has an "updated" track plan for the Scenic Ridge layout, and notes it is different than what is marked on the foam base. I suspect that may be where the problem lies??

https://woodlandscenics.woodlandscenics.com/images/instructionsNew/ST1482trackplan.pdf

Generally, it's best to get the track down first, then do the scenery, risers etc. Kinda build the layout around the track.

As far as having trouble with track staying together, I would suggest looking into using (c'mon everybody, you know where I'm going - let's all say it together)

KATO UNITRACK!! Stick out tongue

http://www.katousa.com/N/unitrack.html

 

 

 

 

Stix
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Posted by snjroy on Tuesday, May 15, 2018 4:55 PM

Having some kinks can be essential to avoid warps in warm weather conditions (due to expansion). But keep theser in straight sections and within 1/16". For the joiners, I use a dremel and cut them in half. This avoids the crunch created by pliers... I should mention that I model HO, the dremel might not work on N scale.

Simon

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Posted by cuyama on Tuesday, May 15, 2018 9:46 PM

snjroy
Having some kinks can be essential to avoid warps in warm weather conditions

Might be helpful to keep the terminology standard. Gaps are necessary. Kinks (misalignments) are not ever good.

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Posted by gimme30 on Wednesday, May 16, 2018 5:52 AM

One of the things I've always hated about public forums is receiving condescending responses from more experienced members looking down their noses.

That doesn't happen here. Thank you all for your very thoughtful replys!

After roughly an hour of cutting joiners and piecing track together I swore I'd use flex track on my next layout, and I will, but as I apparently got a smoking deal on this I'd like to use what I have rather than replacing everything-for me this is really a training excercise, kind of a practice run. 

Having said that, I wouldn't mind replacing the turnouts...the switch machines(?) look really huge, completely unrealistic, and I'm just not sure how to hide them. I like the idea of ground throws but from what I've read the few commercially available units are just too big.

Anyway, to clarify I am using the 'track pack' designed for this layout, following the updated plan. It just seems odd to me that it could be so far off...If I make sure all rail ends are solidly against each other certain sections hang right off the risers! (mainly in the tunnel area of course Hmm)

I've gone over it several times, thinking maybe I put piece "A" where piece "B" should have gone, but I haven't found anything out of place. 

It looks to me like swapping a few pieces around may be the answer but I'm hesitant to stray from the plan as designed-surely the people at WS/Atlas know FAR more than I do and tested it before release! 

As for scale I don't really intend to model the Matterhorn. Smile  I think the landscape as shown on the box is a bit bland and want to change it a little, so I'm trying to figure out how deep a ravine would be, or the circumference of a lake, or how high a rock outcropping, etc etc. (Just more examples, haven't settled on anything yet) 

If close enough is good enough that works for me! 

 

 

 

 

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Posted by riogrande5761 on Wednesday, May 16, 2018 5:57 AM

gimme30
I wouldn't mind replacing the turnouts...the switch machines(?) look really huge, completely unrealistic, and I'm just not sure how to hide them. I like the idea of ground throws but from what I've read the few commercially available units are just too big.

Switch machines are why many install types which go under the benchwork and poke up through a hole under the turnout.

If you are modeling N-scale and the size of the rail bothers you, code 80, which is very out of scale, look into code 55, which is finer and more realistic looking.  Way back in the 1980's I was into N scale but never cared for the oversize rail.  I've since switched to HO but since that time code 55 track has come out and it looks very nice - something to consider for the future.

Rio Grande.  The Action Road

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Posted by mbinsewi on Wednesday, May 16, 2018 6:57 AM

gimme30
Having said that, I wouldn't mind replacing the turnouts...the switch machines(?) look really huge, completely unrealistic, and I'm just not sure how to hide them. I like the idea of ground throws but from what I've read the few commercially available units are just too big.

Look on the bottom of the turnouts, you might be able to remove them, and use Caboose Indusries ground throws.

Or, if you can remove them, you could try an under the table type control, Like Rio Grande suggest.

Mike.

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Posted by snjroy on Wednesday, May 16, 2018 6:59 AM

cuyama

 

 
snjroy
Having some kinks can be essential to avoid warps in warm weather conditions

 

Might be helpful to keep the terminology standard. Gaps are necessary. Kinks (misalignments) are not ever good.

 

Agreed, thanks for making that clarification. I guess my point was that filling every unintended gap with solder is not always a good idea. My previous layout was based on a plan with sectional track, and I had filled all the gaps after nailing everything down. Two summers later, it got very warm in the basement and the track warped pretty badly. It also happened at the club not too long ago. Again, this may not be an issue for all...

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Posted by selector on Wednesday, May 16, 2018 8:42 AM

"...Anyway, to clarify I am using the 'track pack' designed for this layout, following the updated plan. It just seems odd to me that it could be so far off...If I make sure all rail ends are solidly against each other certain sections hang right off the risers! (mainly in the tunnel area of course..."

There has to be an error in the mix.  If you have been scrupulous and error-free in your own interpretation of the plan, and in your use of the correct materials/components, and in their arrangement/geometry, then the plan itself must have an error in it as presented for public consumption.  This follows necessarily from the quoted text higher.

Would it be possible to confer with the author?

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Posted by Atchee on Wednesday, May 16, 2018 3:57 PM

Rail gaps are necessary.  They can also be a pain if you let them.  What I've always done (after a lesson or two) with sectional track is lay 4 pieces between a couple of straight edges with no rail joiners and the ends butted together, in the area where it will be installed.  Then heat the room to the warmest you might expect it to get and install a block against the rail ends.  Then, cool the room to the lowest temp you expect the room to see - you might have to get creative here.  Then push the track ends back together against one end block and measure the gap on the other end between the rail and the block.

You should be able to come up with a reasonable gap that will accomodate expansion from this exercise.  I've done this, then take a freight car truck and run it back and forth across the gap to see if I like the way it feels and sounds.  If the wheels bounce going across the gap to where it feels like a really noticable dip then close the gap a bit and repeat.

Finally, lay the track on curves with something flexible so if the track does grow  excessively the curves will push out but the straight stuff wont buckle much, if any.

As a side note, I lay my flex track without rail joiners and power each length individually.  The only thing I do special for this is break the sharp corner on the top inside of the rail head with a few strokes of a fine file, and do the same with hand layed rail.

A Dremel  (or flush cutter) and a fine file makes track fit like it's supposed to, gaps or not.  This is a skill you need to acquire if you're going to lay track. 

Another way to take care of possible issues is to substitute pieces of flex track, even cut to the length of the sectional  track,  for a couple of pieces of sectional track in any long tangents and not anchor it so it can't move a bit.

Long post I know, but learning how to do this stuff and what will work for you get you to the point you can lay track and then get on with rest of the layout without having to come back and revisit things already supposedly done.

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Posted by gimme30 on Thursday, May 17, 2018 4:48 AM

selector

There has to be an error in the mix.  If you have been scrupulous and error-free in your own interpretation of the plan, and in your use of the correct materials/components, and in their arrangement/geometry, then the plan itself must have an error in it as presented for public consumption.  This follows necessarily from the quoted text higher.

Would it be possible to confer with the author?

 

That is an interesting question. I suppose he or she may still be around to answer it, but to be honest at this point I think the fault lies with me rather than the designer.

Searching doesn't reveal anything definitive but there are posts/blogs etc from as far back as 2006 referencing the Scenic Ridge, so we know it's been around for at least 12 years, and I never saw a single mention of anyone having issues with track on the layout. 

Of course that doesn't mean there weren't any but I'd have to spend more time digging to find out for sure. 

Unfortunately, I work long hours so I won't really have time to dive into it until this weekend, but I may just pull the whole thing up and start over. I am seriously considering replacing the offending sections with flex track but I'm one of those types that can't let things like this slide....

I call it determination. The ex would just say I'm stubborn.Big Smile

Anyway you guys really have me worried about expansion/contraction. I'm building this in my garage where temps can vary by more than 40 degrees over the course of a day and the last thing I need is buckling track! 

Since small gaps are unavoidable won't they allow for a bit of a cushion here, as mentioned above in Atchee's post? Or am I doomed to constant repair?

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Posted by NHTX on Thursday, May 17, 2018 6:14 AM

       I can't offer much on the Woodland Scenics kit but, I did have a layout in a garage without climate control.  I used flex track with power feeders to each section but, at each joint, especially on curves I used a piece of .010 styrene to leave an expansion gap.  Pay particularly close attention to the outside rail on your curves because if it is smooth and flowing, the inside rail will follow suit.   On the straight sections, gaps the width of a razor saw kerf offset from each other by 45 degrees were cut and jumpered relying on the rail joiners for mechanical alignment only.  The air gaps in the rails took care of any expansion or contraction due to temperature change and any derailments were equipment related.       Working in N scale might require a bit more care, since my experience was with HO. Good luck.

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Posted by kasskaboose on Thursday, May 17, 2018 7:57 PM

Welcome to the hobby!  Rail joiners are a pain.  One way to remove the sharp edges is bending them downward or simply snap them off.  Not sure if you'll have an easier time with flexible than sectional since that's all I use. 

I love the Atlas joiners.  They are much easier for me than the ME.  I hate losing small things and don't with the Atlas ones!

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Posted by BigDaddy on Thursday, May 17, 2018 9:26 PM

selector
Would it be possible to confer with the author?

What he is using is part of a prepackaged kit by Woodland Scenics.  I don't see much support on their website other than it is designed for Atlas code 80.  The diagram seems pretty specific. 

 
 

Henry

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Posted by floridaflyer on Thursday, May 17, 2018 10:04 PM

Interesting, their bill of materials calls for 3 LH turnouts, when the turnout in the lower left is a RH  

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Posted by wjstix on Friday, May 18, 2018 2:55 PM

As far as why the track isn't lining up, I noted in my earlier post that the Woodland Scenic website refers to errors in printing the trackplan on the foam base for Scenic Ridge, and that anyone building it should follow the new updated plan (see link below).

wjstix

I notice the Woodland Scenics website has an "updated" track plan for the Scenic Ridge layout, and notes it is different than what is marked on the foam base. I suspect that may be where the problem lies??

https://woodlandscenics.woodlandscenics.com/images/instructionsNew/ST1482trackplan.pdf

 

SCENIC RIDGE® TRACK PLAN LAYOUT

Modifications have been made to the track configuration on pages 42 and 43. The new track configuration is slightly different from track layout printed on foam base. Please follow this plan when laying track on your layout.

Stix
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Posted by gimme30 on Saturday, May 19, 2018 5:07 AM

Yes, thank you Stix, I did see that and am using the updated plan. The only difference is the omission of one 1 1/4" straight which frankly I don't see how they could have squeezed in to begin with! (it already seems like there's one piece too many)

The areas giving me trouble are the inner loops, with the left side being the worst offender. Naturally that's the section that will be inaccesible once covered by the 'ridge.' The difficult part is that if I move or adjust one piece of track it affects all the rest. For instance, if I rotate the bridge just a hair to the left, less than 1/16", the right hand loop is perfect even though it puts the last curve (In the picture Henry posted, that's the brown piece marked "I" near the center of the plan, bottom left of the right loop) and connected straights slightly off center.

That's workable. But it makes the left side loop MUCH worse! 

Well, it's the weekend and it's supposed to be raining all day, so I won't feel one bit guilty about ignoring the yard work and working on this instead. Wink

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Posted by gimme30 on Sunday, May 20, 2018 6:53 AM

Success, finally! Two things were mucking up the works...

First, some of the rails had slid in the ties. Most likely pushed by me when attempting to press on some particularly tight joiners. I thought they were fixed in place but once corrected that fixed the kinks.

Second, that 1 1/4" piece omitted from the revised plan? Turns out it should have been included after all. When inserted between the second and third curve in the left hand loop, (the green pieces in the pic Henry posted, from the top down) everything else lined up just the way they should.

Thanks alot Woodland Scenics.Bang Head

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Posted by bearman on Sunday, May 20, 2018 7:19 AM

Looks to me like swapping a few pieces around may be the answer but I'm hesitant to stray from the plan as designed-surely the people at WS/Atlas know FAR more than I do and tested it before release! 

At the risk of sounding cynical, which if accused I would plead guilty, I am not sure if your testing assumption is 100% accurate.

 

 

Bear "It's all about having fun."

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