Used Track?
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Author:  paulrace [ Wed Aug 28, 2019 1:33 pm ]
Post subject:  Used Track?

A reader writes:

Grew up with huge O gauge layout in family basement. Raised my kids with HO. Recently moved into a Northern Virginia town-home with much less space to maintain a permanent display. I put up the old HO for Halloween and Christmas with a different set of cars. Town-home has a nice size Garden as you walk through the front entrance. I am approaching retirement age and ready to shock the neighborhood with a display using real smoke and sound that I can keep up year round. Halloween, Christmas, and First Battle of Manassas Civil War theme the rest of the year.
question: First question. Using brass track, is there a universal coupling method. For example, if I by a USA starter train set can I add track in larger sections from different manufactures. As you know the track is $$$. I am looking for large sections for my 2 straight away. I found a web site with 4 foot sections. I see people selling used track on eBay. With a little elbow grease how hard could it be to rehab old track or use where trains run through bushes or a tunnel.


Thanks for getting in touch. Sounds like a plan. Regarding brass track, the brass track from USA trains, AristoCraft, and Bachmann all go together very well. Some of the track (US-Style) has smaller ties closer together than the standard (Euro style) track but nobody will really notice that if you don't mix and match too much.

LGB and PIKO track also has rails that are the same shape, and their rail joiners will go on any of the other brands mentioned here. I just prefer rail joiners that screw together, like USA Trains, AristoCraft, and Bachmann.

The brass rail doesn't deteriorate that much, but I've had trouble with used curves that have been bent out of shape - not enough to notice, but enough to derail certain units. Also, the plastic ties DO deteriorate, they don't stay UV resistant forever, and they can turn to powder. So when you're picking up used track, watch for ties that are crumbling, and expect, say, one out of ten curves to have problems, and you'll be fine.

You might consider raising the whole thing if the association will let you build a wooden framework. If frost heave isn't a problem, you might could build a sturdy framework that sits on the ground but brings the track up to a level where you can weed and or get trains on and off the track without spending all your time on your knees.

Best of luck - Paul

Author:  paulrace [ Wed Aug 28, 2019 2:11 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Used Track?

The reader writes back:
Wow what a response. I guess my note convinced you that I am not a computer or HackerSmile just a guy fascinated by model trains.
I have consider the soil moving issue but did not know it was called Frost Heave. I just googled that one.
I am looking at starting with a 10 ft x 10 ft layout and if all goes well expand to 10 X 20. The initial layout is in the garden behind a 2 foot high decorative block wall, so no association issues at first. There is a 3-4 foot space between end of wall and next town home ( Just ripped out some over grown Holly bushes and roots) to make way for an eventual switch to another loop in front of wall for all to see.
I have seen elevated wood but I wanted more of the rock bed look I see on the raised local Haymarket Norfolk Southern tracks that run through our town. These tracks carried the Confederate Soldiers from the south to the Battle of Bull Run. First time trains were use to transport soldiers and munitions into war. Next time I cross the tracks I'll send you a picture.
Our local stone center has a product call Stone Dust. My wife has me refresh her small garden pathway in the back of town home. With plastic underneath, weeds are no big deal. It looks just like the standard rail bed only on a smaller scale and easy to spread between and around ties. Last year my kids tried to satisfy my Garden Rail Dream with a cheep plastic set that I put up for the 2 weeks around Christmas. In the summer these tracks would melt away. Plus the battery driven tender had a mind of its own. Start and then stop for no reason but to take a short rest then I could start again.
See attached picture of how I used the raised stone dust rail bed. I placed a 6 inch garden stake through a small hole I drilled in every other track to keep track stable.
So here is my thought for the heavier year round brass rails. First build a wooden 2 -3 inch high 4-6 foot long and 1-2 inch wider then the track . Smooth out the ground, level and place the mold on the ground and then chicken wire and fill with sakete mortar. Before mortar sets, push a track size board down about 1/2 inch. Thus creating a trough for the track to sit in after the motor sets. Lay the track in this trough, then pile on and around the sides the stone dust. If I can make it work on the straight sections, I can the experiment with the turns. I am still studying all one needs to know about car size and turn radius.
I was going to buy some track and experiment next spring. After your response, I may start this fall.
Thanks for your response and if you have any other experience to share please send.


I have the Lionel Polar Express G gauge version and my main problem is the thing derailing or cars uncoupling. On well-laid brass track with wide curves that's much less of a problem. Now I chiefly use the Lionel G gauge battery powered trains to give kids something to run during open RRs. Nowadays, these are only made in 2"-gauge versions, so not so useful. ... trains.htm

The stacked stone look is very nice.

I'm a fan of the 10'-diameter track curves. Almost anything made for G gauge will run on them. They're also 12 to a circle, which makes them compatible with almost all other curves made in case you have to shrink one of your dimensions a little. That said if your actual space is 10x10', consider the 8' diameter curves to start out. They'll run 90% of the products made for G gauge, and will give you a little room for accessories or stacked stones on the outer edge. The only complication is that they're 16 to a circle, which means if you mix them up with other track configurations things can get real confusing real fast.

Alternatively, if you're looking mostly at Civil War era trains, you should know that Hartland Locomotive Works trains run very well on 4' diameter curves and look great on 5'-diameter curves. I mention Hartland because they make a 4-4-0 that is foreshortened to fit on narrow curves. And 99% of the trains used during the Civil War were 4-4-0s. Bachmann's 4-4-0 is an expensive scale model that requires wide curves. Also, Hartland's 4-4-0 is based on the Kalamazoo 4-4-0 frame, and you can sometimes get Kalamazoos fairly cheap on e-Bay. They're not as pretty, but they're pretty solid.

In the meantime, if you can get a Bachmann Big Hauler 4-6-0 that you like the look of, it and it's cars will run well on 5'-diameter curves and even better on 8' or 10' diameter. . . MOST people, including most rail fans will NOT realize it is an anachronism.

Hope this helps. Best of luck,

Author:  paulrace [ Thu Aug 29, 2019 1:45 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Used Track?

The reader replies:

Again thanks for your input. The hell with waiting for fall. I may start a practice oval late summer on packed earth. Get the bugs out before a concrete base next year. I need to see and play with the curve issue to fully understand. Ultimately I will have to design some curves to by pass the hearty shrubs already there. Pulling them out would lead to a nicer layout but a divorce from my wife.
With the Polar express, I found a strip of 1/4 inch black duck tape around the last tie keeps the track tightly attached and I have not had a derail problem. When season is over I simple cut tape with razor and detach track for storage in the Styrofoam box.
It takes a little longer to set up, take down, but I think the tighter track fitting makes a difference.

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