The Brook Smith tracklaying method for USA track
I decided to take a couple of weeks off from The Town wiring project to focus on some experiments and learn new skills. In particular I wanted to try out Iain Rice’s tracklaying methods for finescale OO track (called P4 in the UK) and apply them to USA track.
There were several things I wanted to try. I wanted to:
- Use the Brook-Smith method for tracklaying turnouts and plain track.
- Practice making frogs and rails more accurately.
- Practice putting down different ballast profiles with different grades of stone, sand, dirt.
- Practice coloring and weathering ties.
- Practice landscaping the right-of-way with the usual wear and tear and vegetation growth that exists on poorly maintained roadbeds.
In line with previous experiments I selected four pictures of trackbeds (that I had blown up at my local Walgreens) to try to replicate using the materials at hand. I also created a few test platforms to build these sections of track upon. I’m also making other tools where needed to assist me with the construction of the various parts the trackwork.
I have several misgivings about the two main methods of tracklaying: spiking rail and solding rail to PCB ties. I’ve tried both methods.
I find that the spikes too noticeable in close up photography and shout ‘model’ or ‘toy’ when detected on a model railroad. I’m fully aware that some of the greatest model railroads used spikes throughout their track construction (Gorre and Daphetid, Virginian and Ohio) but with those railroads there was a lot of ‘model railroad wonder’ to distract the observer away from the trackwork. Also, with the rise of iPhone photography (my choice of camera) and the ability to place the camera on the track, spikes become much too visible. In addition spikes don’t hold the track very well and have a tendency to move and loosen over time. Lastly I find spikes are a poor solution for laying turnouts as they tend to get in the way of rails that are close together and again don’t hold the rails firmly enough.
PCB ties solve many of the problems of spikes. Firstly after soldering the rail and cleaning up the joint the join between ties and rail is nearly invisible. Secondly the join is firm and will stay fixed over time. This method makes laying turnouts much easier and once again all the parts are fixed firmly to the ties once soldered down. Nevertheless the problems are twofold for me:
- Wiring can be a nightmare. Each tie has to have a cut in the surface to isolate each side from each other otherwise once powered they will short the track. This is generally easy to do before the tie is laid but can get difficult and messy once the ties and rails are stuck down. Turnouts and crossovers require several cuts in the surface of the ties and once those are completed the ties can look quite a mess. Those cuts, if made too deep or wide, have to be filled somehow before the ties are painted.
- The other big issue with PCB ties are the fact that they don’t match their fellow wooden ties. The nicest aspect of wooden ties is that they look very convincing once painted and weathered. PCB ties sitting along side wooden ties are plainly obvious and once again this becomes an issue when you take closeup photographs.
The Brook Smith Method
I don’t have a lot of information about the origins of this method in the UK but it seemed like the answer to my prayers when I read about it in Iain Rice’s book. The basic idea centers around using tiny rivets that you embed into the tie. Once embedded you solder the rail on top of them. It’s a simple concept in theory but not necessarily easy to do in practice.
I ordered the rivets from the Scalefour society in the UK: https://www.scalefour.org/stores/stores.html
Unfortunately you can’t just order them – you also have to purchase a Scalefour Society membership and then have them shipped to the USA.
- Membership: $36
- Rivets: $22 for 1000
- Shipping: $7
- $65 for 1000 rivets without membership (you have to join the Scalefour society)
- or $29 for 1000 rivets if you are a current member
This makes the initial cost quite expensive. However once signed up the cost comes down to something more reasonable.
Nevertheless I bit the bullet and had 1000 sent to me. They took about a week to arrive here in California.
I waited for a break in the Town Project before proceeding with my little experiment.
Laying Down Ties
Nothing much to say about this: you can either use a jig or lay the ties one by one.
Marking and drilling
Fitting the rivets
Fitting the rail
The final result
Here are the final pictures. It was a lot easier to do than expected and was very fast method. I really like the fact that you can hardly see the rivets and of course all the ties are consistent in color and weathering.
A turnout using the Brook Smith method.
I built this turnout using the same technique. The stocks, frogs, closures, points and guards all sit upon their own rivets. I'll add the steps for a turnout in the next few months. Here are a few pictures. I made a few mistakes but hope to do a better job of it next time.