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Posted by Anonymous on Thursday, July 20, 2006 3:32 PM

I haven't been here in the Layout area of the Model Railroader Forum for a long time; I'm sure that like many of you when I come up on this particular forum the first place I stop is at General Discussion and I don't ever get out of there.  Last week Bergie was piqued because he felt that topics more appropriate to either the Layout or Prototype areas of this forum were being put in the General Discussion area; he is probably right!  This topic is a Layout and Layout building subject so here I am.

A few weeks back when I got my July, 2006 Scale Rails from the NMRA I was busy with something and I stuck it aside for future perusal and it promptly got covered up and was only rediscovered this morning. This issue contains an article by a Mr John Ostier titled "Laying Light Iron - Using Code-40 Rail".  (A brief aside at this point - for those of you who feel there is no value in NMRA membership this article should challenge your reluctance.  This is an excellent article; well-written; well-illustrated.  I am glad I am an NMRA member - first joined in 1971 - Life Member since 1974; I enjoy the bulletin/Scale Rails; I don't always find myself drooling over its pages - some issues I just do little more than browse -but then the same thing holds true with MR and RMC!  Consider joining.  Moving right along---).

Back in the '70s and into the '80s there were a number of features - primarily in MR as I recall it but not restricted there - on laying - and using - code-40 rail in N-Scale.  No one - at least at that time - had made any code-40 flextrack so the primary focus of these articles was laying-your-own; BK Enterprises makes #4, #5, and #6 switches - I hate the word "turnout" and I don't use it; Micro Engineering also makes swithes;  these come both assembled and in kits.  If you need - or want - anything else you are going to have to build-it-yourself.  Two of the authors involved in this discussion then were Petty - can't remember the first name - and the renowned Gordon Odegaard.  I may have missed something in passing but this subject seems to have died somewhere in the mid-'80s.

Laying code-40 rail involved either soldering the rail to Printed Circuit Board ties or pliobonding the rail to wood ties; this is what Mr Ostier does in his Scale Rails article.  Appropriate sized spikes were not available in those heady days of yesteryear and probably still aren't - the smallest spike, if I recall, protruded .023 inches above the top of the tie; that is only .017 inches below the top of rail, far too shallow for the flange depth both then and now.  Flange depths in N-Scale are considerable less today than 20 years ago making code-40 rail a more viable option than it was then.

I use code-55 flex and have for many years (Micro Engineering - Atlas' code-55 wasn't on the market yet when I started my last/latest layout) but my interest in this size rail was peaked by this Scale Rails article.  (By the way, code-40 rail in N-Scale is equal to 6.4 inches high - that equates to code-73 in HO).  I saw some code-40 rail on a layout in the San Diego area some years ago (industrial trackage and it was brought to my attention by an overheard comment; I didn't have time to querry the model rail about his impressions.)  Code-55 looks very nice on the mainline; like the prototype, however, I would like to use lighter rail than code-55 for sidings and side tracks/spur tracks.

For those of you N-Scalers, past or present, who constructed your pike using code-40 would you share some of your frustrations/victories in your experience in construction and/or operation and/or upkeep.  What kind of advice would you offer to someone desiring to use code-40 rail on an N-Scale pike - (don't-do-it is an entirely acceptable response because it screams a message - I would, however, like to know why you would offer that piece of advice to a potential modeler).  And most importantly, I suppose, if you were required to - or elected to - tear down your pike would you rebuild it using code-40 rail.  

An aside to HOers, I encourage your responses  particularly if you have experience using either code-40 or code-55.  The old attitude of code-80-is-great-for-N-Scale-because-all-it-ever-does-is-derail-every-fourteen-feet-anyway-and-all-anyone-would-ever-get-interested-in-N-Scale-for-is-long-trains died many years ago.  Our superstructures may lack a bit of HO's detail but under the hood Kato is the "Creme de la Creme".  It hasn't really been an awfully long time past that I had an HOermake a comment to me while I was running a three-unit Kato lashup on our club's NTrak layout - and lugging seventy plus cars along behind - that he wished his Athearns performed as smoothly as my Katos were performing - he did, I noticed, act just a little bit embarrassed when he made the comment, and he lowered his voice considerably - after all, for an HOerto say anything positive about N-Scale is the height of blasphemy.  Your problems using code-55 are not quite as extreme as N-Scalers experience using code-40 but they are really not that far removed; I tried code-55 on an HO layout once upon a time; if you have experience using small rail I would appreciate hearing from you also.

  • Member since
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  • From: Newark, CA
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Posted by dacort on Friday, July 21, 2006 3:23 PM
I dabbled with handlaid code 40 and 55 back in my N scale days. Some people might cringe, but my method was to just glue the rails down using CA type glue on wood ties. It held up surprisingly well, and even much of the old deep flange stuff ran on it.

I tried pliobond and hated it because of the mess and smell, and it didn't work that well for me. I never found a source for PC board ties so I never tried that (this was back in the 80's).

On my current HO layout I have an industrial yard that is completely handlaid with code 55 (mostly because I had a ton of it leftover from my N scale days). For this I used Micro Engineering micro-spikes on wood ties glued to cork. I haven't had any issues with equipment hitting the spike heads. The small rail makes a nice contrast to the code 83 and 70 used elsewhere.

I've handlaid track in several rail sizes, and in some ways the smaller stuff is harder to work with. There is not as much material to file away when making switch points, etc., but I've found it's also harder to curve smoothly. Code 83 will tend to hold a nice smooth curve, but 55 tends to want to kink or curve unevenly.
- Dan Cortopassi Rail Videos:
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Posted by cuyama on Friday, July 21, 2006 8:52 PM

They use a lot of hand-laid Code 40 N scale at the San Diego museum.

Here's a link to their specs

and to their procedures

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  • From: McHenry County, Illinois
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Posted by tomnugler on Sunday, July 23, 2006 9:16 PM

Well , it's nice to see someone else dabbling in realm of scale rail. Since you have researched the topic in depth I can only add a few comments.

First I have been in and out of HOn3 for 30 some odd years so all of these comments relate in practice to this scale and gauge. I have done work in N but only on a small scale.(no pun intended).

 As far as pc board ties go I have been cutting my own for years on a band saw. I have used the contact cement method of affixing rail to ties but find solder seems to work better. I try to use flex track when possible to keep construction moving at an acceptable pace. 60 year old eyeballs have put handlaying everything long behind me.

Code 40 is a must for any HO narrow gauge involving custom trackwork in order to maintain any reasonable appearence and prototypical layout. I build whatever is necessary on the bench and transfer it the site when done. Cross-overs and dual gauge frogs are built on larger strips of PC board, in-filled with commercial ties. I usually grind away the copper on the pc board to prevent a short and drag a piece of coarse sandpaper across the ties to match the grooves on the flextrack ties. Ballast then covers what doesen't look right. Hey it's narrow gauge, pretty isn't at the top of the list. 

Hey, give it a try. So much of this hobby is trail and error. If it doesen't look good, tear it out, try again or change the way you approach the problem.

Good luck,



The Dinky: HOn3 C&NW Narrow Gauge in Southern Wisconsin
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  • From: Reading, PA
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Posted by rrinker on Sunday, July 23, 2006 9:37 PM
 The ultimate insanity perhaps? I am helping a friend with his layout, and he is using Code 40 (and Code 25 on some sidings!!!) in N scale. I'm not touching the trackwork - he's handlaying almost everything, although using ME flex in spots. Oh yeah, did I mention he's building it all to Finescale standards? He uses a lot of Atlas and NWSL wheels, which already have shalow enough flanges, and turns them from the back to reduce the flange thickness to finescale standards. And it's not just simple trackwork - his terminal throat has a doozy of a slip switch with others attached. And yes, it actually works, without derailing. Looks good when finished.


Modeling the Reading Railroad in the 1950's


Visit my web site at for construction updates, DCC Info, and more.

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Posted by fwright on Monday, July 24, 2006 1:51 PM


You might give the Hand Laid Track Group at Yahoo a try (  The Group Moderator hand lays Code 40 in N and Nn3.  A lot of great information in the group archives.

Also, Proto:87 Stores ( have a lot of supplies, that while for very prototypical HO track, often will work quite well in N.  He has exact scale HO spikes, which are smaller than the Micro-Engineering smallest spikes.  He has also just introduced some N code 40 supplies, such as tie plates, switch rods, spikes, ties, rail, etc.

There's a lot more of what you are suggesting going on than one realizes because it's not very often captured in the MR mainstream press.  Since I took a serious interest in HOn3 a year ago, I've been amazed at how much is available and is going on in the minority scales and interests that you would never know about just reading MR and/or RMC.

A "for instance" was the HOn3 Symposium in Occidental, CA (about 30 miles from where I now live) in June.  A great learning experience for my son and me, and I found out about it through the Yahoo HOn3 group.

my thoughts, your choices

Fred W 

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Posted by Anonymous on Thursday, July 27, 2006 11:07 AM
Great responses, Podnas!!!  Great responses!!!
dacort, tomnugler, and rrinker, you imparted some solid information based upon your experience with small rail - just what I needed - I reckon I'm ready to jump into either a new layout or doing some serious modifications to my existing one - the former proposal has more credibility than the latter; and cuyama and fwright, your links are invaluable; I have put them in my little black book for future reference.

Once again, great posts and I thank you all so much.

Querry for rrinker;

You reference code-25  rail in your post; never heard of it.  As small as it is I am going to guess it must have something to do with Z-Scale.  Can you provide any more details or give me a  link where I might go for more details.

Let me put an aside here about rail size and N-Scale.  The late Gordon Odegard - I misspelled his last name in my original post - mentioned one time that someone was contemplating a code-45 rail for N-Scale; that's the equivelant of code-83 in HO.  Gordy O has been dead many years now so this is really ancient history - anybody ever hear anything about this?????
  • Member since
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Posted by rrinker on Thursday, July 27, 2006 11:47 AM
 He doesn't have a web site up with pictures of his layout,  he gets loco drivers and other bits from the 2mm association or something liek that. The code 25 rail is little more than squared off wire - under magification you can see it doesn't have an actual rail profile. Not that you can tell otherwise. It's pretty finicky, even with the tiny finescale flanges, which is probably why he hasn't used much of it.
 I don't know about the idea of code 45. It seems as though code 55 and code 40 are the 'standard' sizes since they are available commercially.


Modeling the Reading Railroad in the 1950's


Visit my web site at for construction updates, DCC Info, and more.

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Posted by gnarlydude on Friday, July 28, 2006 5:40 PM

Having gone out and actually measured the height of the rail used on the UP mainlines up Weber Canyon and on other UP trackage, code 45 rail is "perfect" as far as height is concerned.  Code 55 is bigger than any trackage every used on any railroad in the US and code 40 is fine for branchlines and sidings experiencing moderate traffic.

Code 25 flat wire is available from a number of sources as is code 30, but they are simply flat wire.  A good friend and fellow N-scaler here in Utah is building an empire in his basement in Nn3 and is using code 25 rail on PCB ties (every fifth one).  The Z-scale flanges on his motive power work fine on his exquisite hand-laid trackage.

I've handlaid every one of my switches in code 70 (in my Ntrak days), code 55 and laid switches and branchline trackage in code 40.  Cost per switch is about $2 and takes about an hour and a half per switch.  Andy Reichert at Proto87 Stores now manufactures code 40 N scale tie plates, rail joiner plates and switch details as well as etched stainless spikes for those of us who are confirmed rivet-counters. 

Superdetailing N scale trackage is now a very real possibility and one which I am looking forward to in my future construction projects.

Have fun

Bob Gilmore, Eden, UT

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