Monday, April 02, 2007

making an elevated railway

Marc asked for tips and strategy for making elevated railways. He wants to run an elevated 2 7/8" line. Mazel Tov!

Making and elevated line is all about 2 things

1) What do you want it to look like?


2) How much time do you want to put into it?

We all need to answers those for ourselves. As for me, I had two simple requirements: I wanted it to look late victorian/ early Edwardian. This was before the whole Bauhaus movement that said form should follow function and ornamentation was frowned upon. I love Bauhaus, but my collection is Edwardian. So that meant my elevated posts had to be a bit frilly. The second requirement was that the track be supported by a substructure. Every toy train company that made elevated posts did just that, made posts to elevate the tracks. There was no substructure, the rails supported the trains between the posts, and the track just kind of hung in mid air. This goes for post war Lionel and Gilbert trestle sets as well.I really really do not like this look.

So as far as posts go, ideally I would like to have used Carlisle and Finch posts, but can't find any, even repros (see pics, and notice how ornate they are).

I thought about using cut down turned coffee table legs from Lowes (see picture, either end up), but decided against it because I thought it would look too fat. Thinking back, I don't think this would have been a bad idea, and would certainly try it for 2 7/8" gauge. However in the end passing on it was the right choice because some of my trains just barely clear the skinnier posts I used.

What I ended up doing was turning all 11 damn posts myself on a lathe. This took forever. The post design was pretty much the first thing I came up with on the first attempt. Nothing too fancy, some bumps and a bulge at the top. I really should have made some "arms" that stick out to support the sides of the track but got lazy. Actually the first post I made was quite a bit taller than this. I didn't want the trains too high in the air and played around with the height before committing to making more posts. My posts are 8 1/2" high and will clear everything except maybe a 200 series crane with the boom up. Someone with more interest than I can find out the real New York Elevated height and come up with a correct post height (standard is what - 1/26 scale? around 15.5/32" = 1'? So 8-1/2" is about 18.7').

Looking at the actual New York elevated RR trestles, I would probably do it differently now. Instead of round posts I probably would go with something more like Lionel 2-7/8" posts with lattice work. Lowes or Home Despot should have some kind of preperforated strip metal that can be used.

The other criteria was that the track be supported by a base. I used 3/8" square basswood, some more straight than others. One under each rail. I thought the rails would straighten them out but they didn't and parts of the elevated suffered for it. These were laid first lengthwise on a jig, the ties glued on top crosswise using voltamp, or repro voltamp ties in between for temporary spacers, and the standard gauge rails screwed down to the ties. The track was made in individual sections that can be taken apart like ordinary track when I move. If you are going to use 2-7/8" or 2" gauge strip rail, the ties need to be lined up so that the slot in the ties is in a straight line. The rail can be inserted after the elevated is set up. For the curves I cut the 3/8" wood into 3/8"x1/8" strips and bent three of them around a jig the same radius as the curved rails and laminated them together. Like the straights, ties glued on top, rail screwed to the ties. Again for strap rail-in-groove track it would be very important to lay the ties out such that the groove was lined up and even for the rail to slide in.

And that is about it.



Anonymous said...

Nice work Alex.
I can appreciate the effort made to design something with the right look. Backdating design is tuff for the modern mind, post Bauhaus and Eames.

If you ever do another project along those lines you might want to consider using modern plastic mold technology. You could make a mold of say a C&F original post then cast multiples in resin. Once painted, viewers would never know they were not cast iron and they would be just as structuraly sound.

Anyway, can we see a video of something running up there?

And a question, who made that neat clock and destination sign?
Cast iron?


alex said...

Hi Bert,

I made my layout as closely as possible as one would in 1910, so no resins, urethane, plastic allowes, though I cheated with the standard gauge roadbed. I looked into casting the posts in metal but the foundry I talked to wanted like $100 a piece to do it. I think I talked to the wrong guy. The clock is Bing, tin, and shows up for sale from time to time.