Today's project was going to be figuring out the best way to solder point jumpers on to my Atlas code 55 N scale turnouts. I've tried one or two techniques already, but I'm not totally happy with them. I was also looking into cleaning up the points. After a few false starts, I made an abrupt course change and pulled out the Fast tracks code 40 turnout jig I bought a few years ago but never actually tried.
A long time ago, when the first article on handlaying code 40 track came out in the late '70s, I built a timesaver switching layout in code 40. My first turnout worked marginally, the subsequent ones weren't even that good. More recently I've built a large curved turnout in code 148 rail in O scale, with much better results. I was more careful, and I know a lot more about turnouts than I did in the '70s. I was pretty sure I could build a turnout using the Fast tracks jigs without too much trouble.
Actually building the turnout took longer than I thought it would, but in fact it was in line with what the instructions tell you to expect your first turnout to take. There is still a fair amount of craftsmanship involved in making a good turnout even with the aid of all the various Fast tracks tools and jigs. My first turnout has a rather despicable frog. Although it seems to work quite well, which is a testament to how much the jigs help you get everything properly aligned.
|First Fast tracks code 40 turnout|
The above photo shows my first turnout. The wheelsets in that truck are Fox valley, it rolls through the whole thing very smoothly. I haven't installed the turnout on the QuickSticks ties yet, because I haven't gapped the frog rails yet, which is in turn because I can't seem to find the jewelers saw I am quite sure I have somewhere.
The hardest part of making the turnout is, as you might expect, getting the points and frog to be really nice. The points were considerably easier than the frog, oddly enough - the opposite of my experience making the code 148 curved turnout with no jigs. I think the frog is trickier because you can't fine tune the point by filing the gage face of the rail - doing so pulls the actual point of frog further back from the theoretical point of the frog. I think I also need to get a better optivisor, and better lighting on my workbench. But most of all I just need practice.
|A not so nice frog|
You can see from the above photo that my frog actually seems to have two points. It's pretty nasty, in fact. I'm sure I can do better with practice. But the interesting thing is the geometry of the turnout as a whole is so good because of the precision of the Fast tracks jigs that the shoddy frog point doesn't seem to matter.
And just for fun, a side by side of this and an Atlas code 55 turnout.
|Fast tracks code 40 vs Atlas code 55|
Both are number 10 turnouts. Note that the closure rail curvature of the Fast tracks turnout is a little different, so the points are actually further away from the frog than the Atlas turnout. The difference in rail height is the same proportions as comparing HO code 70 to code 100, or O scale code 132 to code 183 - the last comparison pushes home what's been bothering my about the code 55 track. The code 148 track on the newer half of the O scale No-Name Industrial looks bigger than I want (I prefer the look of the code 125 on the older half), and the thought of code 183 for O scale boggles the mind!
So, what's the point of all this? Didn't I already decide to build the Palmer Industrial Park layout in Atlas code 55? And have I not, in fact, bought all the code 55 turnouts and flex track for the job? Well, yes. But I've been repeatedly reminded recently of how much better code 40 looks than code 55, and the recent thread on the Atlas N scale forum on code 40 track got me thinking about it again. I'm also feeling less pressure to speed through the track laying since I got my O scale No-Name Industrial back into operating shape. I'll need to do a few more practice frogs and switches to see if I can consistently produce a good code 40 turnout, and I'll need to try laying some plain old code 40 track. I've already tried some ME code 40 flextrack, but the batch I got had very inconsistent tie height - it just didn't seem good enough to be worth the trouble.