Layout Track

Building the Sierra Pacific Railroad – Part 4

I'm sure I'm not alone when it comes to model building. I'm always in a hurry to build something and move onto the next. With that said, improper planning of how I was going to lay my rails did prove to be a challenge for me as you will see in a moment.
Laying the first rails on the Angels Creek module.

I’m sure I’m not alone when it comes to model building. I’m always in a hurry to build something and move onto the next. With that said, improper planning of how I was going to lay my rails did prove to be a challenge for me as you will see in a moment.

I really want to spend time on my track. For me, track is as important, if not more, than the equipment running on it. While my track may not be hundred percent accurate, I do want it to be as prototypical as possible. Lot’s of studying was spent over the last few years to learn what it takes to build prototype track for the era I am modeling. I built several switches, all using Right O’ Way components, to try and master the skill of hand laying track as well as trying to figure out the best way to build them (for me). Everyone has their own way of doing things so take my advise as just one way to do it.

Track Planning

As the modules were hung in place, I began laying out the basic track plan onto the baseboard to get an idea of where components and scenery elements need to be.

My original plan was to build my modules removable and temporary. As I planed my track, I decided to build my track that way as well. Unfortunately a switch fell right in the middle of a joint which means the switch would have to be built on two modules. After speaking with some fellow modelers I decided to make them a bit more permanent. If I ever do move the modules I can use a saw to cut the rails and take the modules apart. Too late for the second switch of the first module, I am building it in two parts and it has proved to be quite challenging. Lesson learned.

I decided to cut all my rails to a scale 39-feet to give me a rough look of moderately maintained track. So far this is working out well and looks great.

As mentioned, there are two switches on the Angels Creek module. There is also a crossing with Murphys Grade Road and a bridge over Angels Creek. I decided to start with the first switch by the trestle bridge. I cut my base from GatorBoard, which is light weight and extremely rigid, then headed to my bench to lay the rail.

Laying Rails

Illustration be Shawn Branstetter

Most prototypes offset their spikes in the tie plate to help prevent the wood tie from splitting. The prototype railroads I am using as inspiration used four spikes per tie which is what I will do as well.

Each section of track is being built on my workbench in 18-inch sections. Gene Deimling has referred to this as detailed snap track and I would have to agree with him. I like this technique because it allows me to relax, take my time and detail my track which sitting down. It seems much easier for me.

I had previously build a 7.5 switch and used that to align the second switch and siding which I’ve started calling the shop lead. I laid the ties and then laid the ties for the first switch. All mainline track is code 125 rail, however, I am using code 100 in the shops area and some sidings. The shop lead is the first transition to code 100, so compromise joints were soldered in place. A shim for the ties was used to bring the ties up to the proper height at the joint and then sanded to ease it back down to the base level. All rail was cut, cleaned and sprayed with Rustoleum Camo Earth Brown as the base color.

Once the glue had dried on the ties for the second switch and siding, I staines the ties with my typical India Ink and water and brushed it onto the wood ties in several light coats. I follow that up with dirt I collected in Angels Camp, California. This dirt is mixed with just a bit of non-sanded tile grout to help keep the color light as the waster/glue mix tends to darken it a bit. After the dirt is dry I will follow it up with my ballast mix which you can read about here: Ballast for Low Maintained Track. I then spike some of the rails in place and then start working on the first switch.

After the scenery is dry, I like to add one or two light coats of my ink wash to add color variations to the ties.

Building Switches

My technique for building switches is fairly straight forward. I won’t go into full detail as I wrote about it in the April 2021 issue of Railroad Model Craftsman magazine.

I position the rail (which is a little longer than 39 feet here but will be cut later) and solder the rail braces into place. I also position the guard rails and solder them in place as well. After all metal parts are soldered, I clean the rails then apply plastic details such as bolts and braces.

I will then spray everything with Earth Brown and then start laying in place. I follow that with a light wash of acrylic rust colors to finish the track sections.

I secure the track sections to the base board using liquid nails and screws. The GatorBoard does take the screws but are there to only keep it secure while the adhesive dries. I then set the second section in place and secure that the same way.

Although the way I am laying the track is a bit unconventional, I am finding it quite rewarding and a lot of fun. I’m hoping to start the Angels creek bridge for the next post.


  1. I like the concept of building you track in 18″ sections so you can do it up close and personal at your workbench. I was watching a video the other day from a French company where it occurred to me that even scenery could be done that way in small ‘modules’ that could when finished added to the layout


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