I'm wortking on my first layout, in NScale, I just restarted my old passion from 40 years ago It was never much to begin with and I didn't do any soldering when I was a kid.
So after reading a number of posts on this site and thinking about what I wanted, I went with ME code 55 weathered flex. I really wanted realism and relaibility. You have to put some effort into learning to build track, and there's some trial and error, but its been one of the most satifying things I've done so far, getting the track into a fine-tuned machine. And its well worth it. I'm having very few derailments at this point.
Now I'm thinking of building track as nickel-steel art. Like jewelry being laid through a landscape. I'm waxing a bit there but there's a lot of artistry to making a workable railroad, like in the real world.
Soldering was challenging at first but I got a good 35 Watt iron and a 100/140 watt gun, using the gun for track joint and power-lead soldering. Now, it's no problem to take on a little track soldering.
Some soldering supplies I recommend for track soldering: 100/140 watt gun, sponge or brass brush (there's some other brass cleaning tool I can't recall), shrink-wrap tubing of various sizes, grabbers on a little stand - I bought the block of four stiff wires with alligator clip ends and although its flimsy, it sure can handle tricky holds well.
Techniques: Clean the tip of the iron all the time, get the iron hot before you apply it to the track or wire, use flux liquid (I use H&N Electronics Flux Gel - it tends to stay where you put it), .Don't file your track too much, just where its needed.
I would have tried the ME turnouts but they were never available from the time I got into it in March 2008. So I have Atlas code 55 #5, #7 and #10 turnouts. I also have a couple of Fastracks #10s from eBay. The last ones, built on a fastracks jig are great, smooth turnouts but mine are a little floppy from poor tie-gluing.
I power the frog of about half my turnouts with Tortoises, the other half with Caboose manual throws. On the Tortoise, there are two auxillary switched circuits, one of which you can use to power the Atlas turnout isolated frogs. For the Caboose version I'm using there's some electrical switch contacts built-in so you can run power from the main to it, and switch the frog polarity.
I have no issues where the ME track meets the Atlas. I do however use Atlas joiners for those joints because the ME joiners are too frustratingly-tight.
I painted my track and ties too, all part of the art project as I see it. Looks very good and since your eyes spend a lotta time on the rails when watching trains, makes the whole experience more real.
Lastly, I tried gleaming and I'm convinced it's the way to go. I haven't fully tested it but things sure run more consistently with it.
And what's the deal with the Atlas curved turnouts? I want some juicy details on the China production run that went awry. Good thing its taking me so long to just get the basic framework together, or I'd be dead in the water, two crucial mainline sections need them on my layout.
Long post, hope that helps,