Gandy Dancing: Turnouts


There’s something cathartic about the sound of a UPS Truck idling in front of your home, followed closely by the resounding THUMP of a heavily-loaded parcel landing on your front porch. Especially when you’ve been anticipating its arrival.

After several months of room prep, benchwork construction, backdrop painting, and fascia installation, it’s finally time to install track and turn the large green shelves in our basement into an approximation of The Hills Line. But despite the burning desire to slap it all together just to see something run, I do have a few preparatory steps I need to accomplish to ensure long-term success.

As on the IAIS Grimes Line, I’m using Micro Engineering Code 70 flextrack and turnouts exclusively on The Hills Line. ME remains, in my opinion, the most realistic commercially-available track on the market. But like all mass-produced products, there are some steps you can take to fine tune the track.


The two obvious areas of concern on any commercial turnout are the frog and the points. For the latter, a few swipes from a file adds a knife edge to the rails to prevent car wheels from picking the switch.


For the former, a quick pass over a honing stone makes fast work of the milling down a sometimes too-high frog. Once complete, even finicky cars glide through the turnout.


My long-term plan is to add Frog Juicers for all the active turnouts on The Hills Line, but that’s still several months down the road. I do take the time to prewire the frog for the eventuality.


On ME turnouts, power is fed to the points by the hinge connection to the closure rail. Over time, and following painting, weathering, and ballasting, that connection can fail. Adding a pair of loose feeders ensures that the points stay powered in perpetutity.


Each path out of the turnout get feeders as well. This ensures that every piece of rail is being powered directly from the bus, instead of relying on rail joiners or other internal wiring connections. Is seven feeder wires per turnout overkill? Absolutely not.


The last addition is the brass tube under the throwbar and through the roadbed, which will support the switch lock mechanism. More on that later.


The feeders are run into holes in the foam roadbed and attached to the bus using 3M Scotchlok Connectors.

There’s been a fair amount of discussion lately on several model train forums between the benefits and disadvantages of commercial track components. Opponents point to the lack of consistent manufacturing standards versus the precision of handlaid track. I believe a few simple adjustments make commercial track just as reliable as handlaid with twice the detail. For me, that’s a win-win proposition.


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