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Anyone Build Their Own Track and Turnouts?

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  • Member since
    November, 2018
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Anyone Build Their Own Track and Turnouts?
Posted by Erie1951 on Wednesday, December 05, 2018 6:15 AM

My previous layout was in Sn3 with hand-laid track and custom-made turnouts. The new HO layout will be built with hand-laid track, but I'll build my own turnouts using a Proto87 Stores jig system. Does anyone else hand-lay their own track? What have been your experiences with making turnouts? Thanks!


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Posted by doctorwayne on Wednesday, December 05, 2018 11:30 AM

If you're going to use the Proto87 jigs, I assume that you're also building your hand-laid track to the same standards, and using rolling stock and locomotives compatible with the Proto87 standards.

If I were to have a smaller layout, Proto87 would definitely be an option, but, as I understand it, there are few options for steam locomotives meeting those standards.
Another choice, if you don't wish to be limited by the constraints of Proto87, would be the Fast Track jigs.

I've built handlaid turnouts before, but only for special situations where there was no commercial alternative.  I am not, however, a fan of handlaid track, unless it's of a calibre similar to Proto87's visual standards, where there are tieplates and spikes represented on every tie.  The old saw about the free-flowing curves available only with handlaid track was put to rest with the introduction of flextrack on plastic ties.
For most of my layout, I used Atlas flextrack and mostly Atlas turnouts.  When I added a partial second level, I opted for Central Valley tie strips, the new version of "handlaid" track.  With it, you get all of the details, like woodgrain on the ties, scale-size tieplates and spike heads, and your choice for the rail height you wish to use.  Again, I used mostly commercially-available turnouts (Atlas, Peco, Micro Engineering, and Shinohara), but I did include a couple of the Central Valley turnout kits, too.
As for my experience building turnouts, I found it very satisfying to be able to build things that weren't otherwise available (one was a #12 curved turnout, with a geared motor drive), but I would rather use commercially-available stuff if possible, and devote more of my time to building rolling stock, locomotives, and structures. 
Nobody pays much visual attention to turnouts or track unless it works poorly or looks really bad....exceptionally well-done track and turnouts, of course, are noticeable and worthy of comment.

My opinions aside, if handlaying track is a satisfying task for you, by all means follow that route:  the hobby is meant to be enjoyable, and each of us, hopefully, finds our own version of that.


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Posted by 7j43k on Wednesday, December 05, 2018 11:44 AM

The Proto:87 website is difficult to navigate.  For me.  But.

I don't think Proto:87 is actually a scale reduction of the prototype.  I BELIEVE it is NMRA compatible, at least for some of the versions.


Oh, yes.  I have built some trackwork and switches, quite a long time ago.  I didn't use any special jigs.  I think I followed an article in Model Railroader, back in the mid-sixties, or so.  

I'm not sure how I'd approach handlaying today; but I'll have to resolve that, as doing it is in my future.



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  • From: Neenah, WI
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Posted by sschnabl on Wednesday, December 05, 2018 12:12 PM

My previous layout was all Peco c55 in N scale.  I am in the process of tearing down that layout (track is off, now dismantling the benchwork).  My new layout will be ME flex with Fast Tracks turnouts (c55).  So far I've built about 60 turnouts, and in the tests I've run, my rolling stock just glides through them.  It took me about 2-1/2 hours to build each one, but I enjoyed doing it.  I'll be using all my Peco track in the staging yards. 

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Posted by BigDaddy on Wednesday, December 05, 2018 1:54 PM

I never got that bug.

You might check out

Their business model may have changed as their website is different than a year ago.  At one time they were renting their more complex templates.  I think they still sell templates, they also manufacture custom turnouts and crossings.



COB Potomac & Northern

By the Chesapeake Bay

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Posted by JAMES MARLETT on Thursday, December 06, 2018 8:14 AM
I hand lay in HOn3. Granted, this is not Proto 87, but in my opinion, building turnouts isn't that hard and I did it before there were jigs. Today's jigs would make it easy as far as I can tell. (I bought a Fast Tracks jig for some planned expansion, but haven't used it yet.)
  • Member since
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  • From: Vancouver Island, BC
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Posted by selector on Thursday, December 06, 2018 10:17 AM

I never got the bug to lay my own tracks because developing a layout is a means to an end for's not really the 'fun' part.  I want to play with my trains, but in a setting that looks passably realistic and natural.  This would include natural-looking tracks with curves and dips and rises.

However, I did get the bug to try my hand at making my own turnouts, and being the green fella I was in the hobby generally, I looked to Fast Tracks.  I did make some purchases and built several Code 100 #8 turnouts and a couple of #6 double-slip turnouts.  I still have them, but will only use the double slips in my current construction.

What I learned from it all is that a person can easily construct any type of turnout, particularly ones with unique geometry that solves a unique track plan's problems.  I have done this five times now.  One is a long, broad radius, curved turnout, built with Code 100 rail stock and PCB ties, which I have in place on my current construction.  This is its third 'life'.

As most of us know by the time we're 14 or so, there is immense satisfaction in conceptualizing, developing, and in constructing items we need, and reaping the rewards with many years of successful use.  I figured I didn't need to invent my own new wheel with tracks because flex track is a marvelous stand-in.  But turnouts are another matter, and I very strongly encourage all people to try their hands at the various techniques.  They are rather straightforward once you have built a couple, and you'll have the skills, knowledge, and some leftover rail stock and PCB ties to reach to whenever you realize that you could construct your own and close an otherwise great track plan's loop for free running.

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Posted by 7j43k on Thursday, December 06, 2018 11:31 AM

Another benefit of hand building track switches is that you can close up some enormous ugly clearances:

the gap between the points and the stock rail

the gap between the frog and the wing rails

the gap between the guard rails and the stock rails

the flangeway at the frog, to minimize bumping of cars as they go over



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Posted by SouthPenn on Thursday, December 06, 2018 12:56 PM

I have some hand laid track on my layout. The first section I did was a 20' section of double track mainline, code 83. I wasn't planning on doing any more hand laid track anywhere on my layout. Until a six year old young man was visiting my layout. He pointed to the hand laid section of track and ask 'are those real wood'.

Now I have a few more sections of hand laid track on my layout. And I have come to the conclusion that painted plastic ties look like painted plastic ties, no matter what you do to them.

If you are going to hand lay tour track, I highly recomend Fast Tracks 'Tie Rack' tie installer jig and Proto 87 spikes.

South Penn
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Posted by dehusman on Thursday, December 06, 2018 9:38 PM

I learned to hand lay turnouts about 1977.  I have laid them in a dozen different ways in HO, HOn3, and N, codes from 100 to 55.  On my current layout I have about 95 #4, #5, #6 switches handlaid in codes 55 and 70.  Track has been under construction for about 3 years.

I have handlaid them in place freehand, built them in place on paper jigs, made points and frogs on the bench and laid "kits", I've used PC ties,  I've used hinged points and solid points, hinge throwbars and solid throwbars.  I've use Caboose throws, Tortise machines and  several variations of handmade linkages .

About the only way I haven't built switches is a commerical jig.

All the various methods work.

Currently, I layout out the track on the roadbed (Homasote), paste down a paper template, cut a slot for the throw mechanism, glue ties to the template, apply ballast, lay the switches and voila! I have a switch. 

Dave H. Painted side goes up.

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Posted by oldline1 on Saturday, December 08, 2018 2:04 PM

I have never used any fixtures to build turnouts. I have handlaid a few layouts in HO, HOn3 and S scale. Generally I use 2 or more codes of rail to get an even better look.

Turnouts aren't all that difficult and I always checked them with the NMRA standards  gauge and they always worked fine. For the track I've used 3-point track gauges for the proper rail size or Ribbonrail gauges or a combination of them both.

I've never dabbled in Proto 87 and probably won't. Handlaid track and turnouts look far superior to me than any commercial track and allow many areas to be built as desired and not set to the limitations of commercial turnouts.



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Posted by gregc on Sunday, December 09, 2018 5:55 AM

Does anyone else hand-lay their own track? What have been your experiences with making turnouts?

i hand laid the turnouts on my small layout.   Read that it was simple enough and of course saves $$.  In particular, wanted live frogs because I have short wheelbase locos. 

But after joining a club, i saw that many club members use hand laid turnouts using kits, FastTracks or w/o jigs, again for live frogs and in many cases custom need for curved turnouts.

i'm not sure what the trend is.   I've been reading several threads where modelers are having problems using commercial turnouts because dimensions aren't accurate and they are trying to fit them into tight spaces.    I think there is some confusion about standards and what a turnout frog # implies.

greg - Philadelphia & Reading / Reading

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Posted by dehusman on Sunday, December 09, 2018 8:00 AM

Gregc :  I fond a 1922 RDG MofW rule book that had switch diagrams down to a #3 turnout.  I photoreduced them to HO scale and use them as templates for tie placements and switch building.

Dave H. Painted side goes up.

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