Detailing a Wood Timber Grade Crossing – Part 1

Photos by the author unless otherwise noted.

Most railroads, standard or narrow gauge, intersect with a road at one point on the line. In the early days of railroads, horse and buggies, or wagons, and dirt roads were common. At the time, dirt was pushed level with the railheads or timbers were added to create a smooth path for the wagons to cross the tracks. As roads developed, so did the design of grade crossings.

Even for shortline model railroaders, whether modeling modern railroading, a logging or mining line, or anything in between, there are a wide range of crossings to choose from. Crossing style is determined by the type of traffic of the road, as well as railroad standards and state regulations.

This brings us our project; the wood timber grade crossing. A crossing of this type would be typical for a private road, a low-traffic highway, or a farm crossing from the 1960’s or earlier era. There are some railroad that still use timber crossings, however, cast concrete and rubber-pad type of crossings were introduced and are used in most cases from the 1960`s to present era. Our title photo is a good example of a modern wood timber crossing by Mitch Eiler

The Design

Although the design looks simple, take a look at what goes into building a timber crossing. First is the roadbed. Typically, this is a crushed rock base which the ties rest on. Next are the crossing timbers. The height of the timbers and filler blocks will be determined by the weight or height of the rail. The rail I used is 75 pound or code 100 in O Scale, which was typical for branch lines and short lines in the 1970’s and earlier.

Drawing of a typical timber crossing by Shawn Branstetter

The timbers will vary in in size depending on the size of the rail. Wooden filler blocks are spiked to the crossing timbers at the ends of the crossing to secure them in place. Finally, the cross timbers are secured in place with a timber screw approximately 11/16 of an inch in diameter, counter sunk one inch deep.

The Model

While I built my crossing to Proto48 standards, the techniques used apply to any scale or gauge. While the size of your material may vary, the items you will need will be similar. Start by cutting your crossing timbers. These will typically be between 10 and 20 feet in length. Mine are approximately 8 feet in length because of the stock I had on hand and look similar to a crossing I found online which I really liked.

Using a razor saw and a dull X-ACTO blade I distress the wood creating quite a bit of wear on my timbers. I want mine to look well-used, however, your weathering should depend on the type of crossing you are modeling: well used, used but maintained well or new. As you can see in the drawing, the timbers will need to be notched out for the tie plates and spikes. I sand down the edges and then install the outside timbers.

While those are drying I will turn my attention to the filler blocks. The size of the wood blocks will depend on the height of your rail. The width should be fairly standard and be a scale 3 inches. For proto48/87 we are using scale flanges and this will work just fine, however, O and HO scale will need to modify or omit this detail. I install my boards and then test the flange clearance before I install the inside timbers. Any filing is done and then I install the inside timbers. As per the prototype, you will need to taper the inside timbers slightly to clear the tie plates.

After everything is dry, I will stain the timbers. You will notice I have not installed the nails yet. I decided to wait because I will be masking off the timbers to create the road. Once the road is complete I will go back and install them.

In part 2, I will model the road and finish the crossing details.


    1. Wonderful! I’m glad you find it useful. Looking forward to seeing your work Charles

Leave a Reply to Jerry Cancel reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: