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Discussion in 'FAQs' started by Christopher62, Feb 7, 2008.
I should have mentioned that. Sorry Chris
Don't be afraid of flex track. If you build with sectional track, within a relatively short time, you will start to experience electrical gremlins. Your trains will slow down in areas or even stall. Unless you solder in drops (short small wires soldered to the rails and larger "buss" wires underneath the layout) to EVERY piece of rail in the layout, you will get some bad electrical connections sooner or later and most likely sooner. With sectional track, you have the potential for a problem every 9 inches, except where you may have some shorter pieces to fill small gaps in the layout.
Here is a method to use for doing flex track that I think is easy. Take 2 pieces of flex track and your Exacto knife and cut the spike heads that hold the rail off the ties on the last 3 inches or so of each section of track. Remove the ties from the last 3 inches of each piece of rail. Put a little electrical flux into each rail joiner and connect the 2 pieces of flex track. Now get 2 wash cloths or old t shirts or other rags that will absorb water and wet them down, and put them on top of the rails over the last ties on each piece of track. The wet rags will work as a heat sink so you can't melt ties. Now use a small soldering iron and rosin core solder (get the finest, thinest size you can find) and heat the rail joiners and apply the solder to the rail right at the end of the joiner on each rail. As soon as the solder "sucks" into the joint, you are done soldering the track. You have just a little bit mors soldering to do. After everything is cool, turn the track over with the ties up, and lay the track on top of the wet rags, again with the rags under the sections of track where the ties begin. The soldered rail joiners will provide a good solid mechanical connection, but you don't want to rely on that connection to carry electricity. Even if the solder should crack due to the movement of trains over the rails, once the rails are fastened down the soldered joiner will hold everything in alignment. If you are relying on the joiner and solder to carry electrical current however, and the solder cracks, you might have electrical problems. The trick to making solid, reliable electrical connections in track is to now solder in a drop wire to each rail. Take off the wet rags, and rewet them if needed, lay them down and put the rail on top of the rags again with the plastic ties over the wet rags. Cut 4 six inch long pieces of small wire, preferably of 2 different colors of insulation so that you can easily tell by color which rail the wires go to when you wire everything up. Strip about 1/2" of insulation from the end of each wire, and tin the wires by putting a little solder to each wirewith your iron to draw the solder into the wire and make the stranded wire at the end into what appears to be a solid piece of wire. Using a pair of needle nose plier, bend the wires 90* after the solder has cooled. Put a little flux on the bottom of each piece of rail a little bit away from the joiner. Now put the tinned part of the wire against the rail where the flux is, and just touch the hot soldering iron to the tinned wire until the solder flows to the rail. Hold the wire in place with the iron removed for a few seconds until the solder hardens and cools. Repeat the process with the other three wires to the other three rails. Make sure one color of wire is on both sides of the joiner on one rail and the other color of wire is on both sides of the joiner of the other rail. In case you are afraid of melting the ties with the soldering iron, that is why you use the wet rags. It is impossible to get the rail hot enough to met the ties until you have boiled out virtually all of the water in those rags! Let it cool, and remove the wet cloths. Now you have a 6 foot long piece of flex track instead of 2 three foot long pieces. If you bend it into a curve it will not "kink" where the 2 pieces join together. The reason for removing the ties is that the rails will shift a bit as the track is curved into position and the missing ties allow the rails to move freely. When your track is located where you want it to stay,drill 2 or 4 holes in your table top and roadbed between the rails just big enough to pass the 4 drop wires through to the under side of the layout. Put the drops through, and fasten down your track with glue or nails. If you want to use nails, you will need to drill small holes in the ties you want to put the nails in. Do not put the nails in too tight. If the nails are driven in too tight, they will push the center of the tie down and bend them knocking the rails out of gauge. What some guys do and the method I prefer is to use some sort of pin to positively locate the track while I ballast it. After the track is in place, but before applying ballast, slide the ties that you cut off the flex track under the bare rails. Once the ballast and glue dries, the track won't move, and the pins can be removed. Those drop wires will disappear under the ballast and no one will know that they exist. In fact, the rail joiners will also disappear so that people wil have to look very closely to even see them. If you want to paint rust on the sides of your rails, do that after the track is down or at least after the track is soldered together. Just keep paint off the tops of the rails or else clean off the tops of the rail to get it nice and shiny before you try to run your trains over it.
If you want to connect another piece of flex to the 2 you just laid, just remove the ties from the last 3 inches of the track that is down and the next piece to join, use your wet rags again, and solder drops to the new piece, put the new piece of track on the old piece with a pair of rail joiners and solder them as you did previously. I usually cut off the rails to the same length on the track that has been bent around the curve already and if the curve is continuing, I leave the last 6 inches or so of flex unfastened until after I solder it together to keep from having a kink in the curve.
Thanks for this great tutorial. It is one of the best descriptions for how to use flex track that i have seen.
After hearing about how 6 axle diesels need a minimum of 22" R curves I thought I would put that to the test.
Last night i was doing some testing with a 18" radius loop so I thought I would try out my Athearn C44-9W 6 axle diesel. It handled the curves very well as I let it run for about an hour with not a single derail.(pretty good for any loco on unsoldered Atlas sectional track) Then I got brave and hooked a string of cars up behind it. Again no derails and no issues pulling with knuckle couplers on the 18" radius. It did not look the best as there was lots of overhang but if that is not something you are concerned with then a 6 axle athearn will work on an 18" radius.
A 4x8 probably won't fit if scaled up. It'll need longer turnouts to go with the larger curves.