M&K Junction Railroad

M&K Junction Railroad
Another train of eastbound coal crosses the Cheat River

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Working with PECO and Micro Engineering Track


During the shortage of Atlas “O” flextrack from a year and more back, I bought some other brands while I was waiting for Atlas to reestablish their source of supply. Although I did not install them at the time, I am using these sections of flextrack now; this is my experience with them.

PECO

PECO is an English brand that is rarely seen in the USA. PECO makes two lines of O scale flextrack. One uses “bullhead” (i.e. English) rail and matching ties; the other has flat-bottomed rail, wooden ties and is supposedly US prototype. I bought some PECO track on sale at Walthers for less than $11 for a 3 foot section; quite a bargain as O scale flextrack goes. I bought the minimum six sections to see what it’s like.

PECO is nice stuff. Code 143 rail of a nicely formed cross-section (unlike Atlas); with larger, more widely spaced ties than Atlas/Micro Engineering/Old Pullman (that's not surprising since European O scale is 1/43.5). 


Tie Spacing: PECO (foreground); Atlas (background)

It’s sturdily built and flexible – a very little stiffer than Atlas – but still very flexible. It forms nicely along curves; and I would not hesitate to use it in “S” curves or other serpentine track work. It would be an option, except that the fasteners for the rail to the ties are not simulated tie plates and spikes but what looks like European and/or modern screw-type clamps, somewhat akin to the old Atlas/Roco track from the 1970s.


Peco Track Fasteners

Unfortunately, this track is not acceptable appearance-wise. Therefore, I installed the PECO track on the lower level, inside track of the helix where the unusual fasteners will be difficult to see. It installed smoothly and runs well.

Micro Engineering

I’ve successfully used Micro Engineering (ME) code 148 flextrack at some locations on the layout before. I was able to curve this very rigid “flex” track to large radius curves by working slowly and carefully. Now I’m installing it on the two outer tracks (64” R and 68”R) on the Graveyard Curve and I have worked out a procedure for bending it that someone else may find useful.

My standard procedure for installing any flextrack on a curve is to solder two straight sections of flextrack together on the bench. The resulting 72” (or 80” with Atlas flex) is just big enough to handle. By soldering the two sections together while they are straight you do not have to try to join these two sections on a curve and risk a kink at the joint; the soldered joint will curve smoothly without kinking.

My latest procedure for bending ME flextrack relies on the fact that the roadbed is in place on the layout and set to the curve’s radius. This procedure will work for constant radius (circular) curves. I use the roadbed as a guide for bending the flex. Now for ME flextrack, drill a hole centered in each tie on either side of the soldered joint. This hole should be a fit for a wire brad.


Holes drilled at joint in Micro Engineering track

Place the track on the roadbed approximately where it will be finally placed. Push brads through the holes into the roadbed on the roadbed’s center line. That fixes the ME track in place at its center point. 


ME flextrack temporarily affixed to the roadbed

 Now using both of your hands, begin bending the track – gently and gradually – simultaneously on each side of the center working from the center of the two sections outward. If you work on only one side of the center, the track on the other side will bend into weird shapes in response. Very slight pressure applied primarily to the outside rail, moving along the track from the center outward works well for me. Continue bending, using the roadbed as a guide to keep the track at the proper radius.

When you have worked about 1 ½ to 2 feet either side of the center, it will become difficult to work both sides simultaneously; unless you have arms as long as a gorilla’s. At that point, work one side only until it is nearly to final radius and sits centered upon your roadbed. This will cause the other side to partially undo; but that can’t be helped. Drill a hole into the last tie at the end of the section and push a brad through it into the centerline of the roadbed to temporarily fix this side of the track in place. Go back and work the opposite side to final radius. When you are satisfied, drill and pin that side of the section to the roadbed’s centerline.

Now put your head down to track level at either end of the newly formed section of track and sight along the rails (not the ties) and look for kinks or places where the radius is not constant or the curve is not smooth. If you cannot get your eye down to track level, due to where the track is placed on the layout, use a mirror to sight down the track to check for these discontinuities. 


Using a mirror to sight along the track

Straighten out any defects with repeated gentle hand pressure until they are worked out. Repeat this procedure, sighting from the other end of the newly curved section.
When you are happy, you can pull all of the brads and move your new curved section to butt against your already installed track. You’ll have to cut at least one rail of the new track as the inside rail will now be significantly longer than the outer rail. Cut and file the ends, attach rail joiners, do a final fit check and final check for radius before soldering the new section to the older track (that is if you solder all rail joints – I do).


Smoothly curved ME flextrack on the layout

This procedure takes more time than using a more supple flextrack like Atlas; but it allows you to use the finer-looking ME flex.


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