Dampening the sound upstairs

I was laying in the bed nursing my back when an idea hit me for reducing the noise of the track. When cleaning out the garage last weekend, I threw away an old inner tube for a bicycle.  I don’t know why I kept it around, but I thought that maybe that tube would provide enough rubber to reduce the transmission of sound through the joists in the ceiling. So, I got up and went to the garage to root through the trash for the tube.  It was gone.  Mike had had one of those moments when he isn’t lazy and he took the trash to his office to put in the dumpster.  He usually only does this with stinky trash, but I guess he was trying to clean up since his parents were visiting.

But, while rooting through the remaining stuff to be thrown away, I found an old doggy door in our pile to toss. This would be better than the inner tube in that it is 1/8 inch thick and made of a very soft rubber.  It had been discarded by Mike because it was ripped on one side.  We should have thrown it away, but he saved it for some reason.  Now I know why…it pays to be a pack-rat.

Anyhow, I took the flap and cleaned it up in the sink, and then cut it into 1/2 inch strips.  I unscrewed the track from the ceiling mounts and slipped the rubber under the track on half of the track.  I only did half the track and then went upstairs to hear how it sounds. I couldn’t tell the difference between when the train was on one side of the room from the other.  So, my choice was to either take out the ones I had put in or finish the job.  It occurred to me that maybe the sound would be transmitted by the ones without the rubber spacers even when the train is on the other side.  Kind of like putting your ear to a real train track to hear of the train is coming.  So, I went down and finished the job.

When all was said and done, I couldn’t tell a difference in the sound upstairs from before and after the rubber spacers were put in.  But, from downstairs the train is considerably quieter.  So, I left them in.

Now that I have tried everything I can think of to make it quieter, I am ready to put the mushroom caps in the holes to cover the screws.  The first batch of caps I had done were difficult and I had only done 12 of each size.  My first method was to hold onto the cap by the back side with a pair of scissors, and dip the head of the cap into the polyurethane and then set it upright on the work bench.  This took forever and I found that I couldn’t grip the caps very while after a short while.  So, this time I got a pie pan, poured some polyurethane in it to about 1/8 inch depth, and then dumped the caps into the polyurethane.  I was going to turn them over so that they were all head down, but I noticed that the caps were drawing the polyurethane through the pores of the wood and becoming wet on the side that wasn’t in the polyurethane.  I sloshed them around and then lifted an edge of the pan to get them completely submerged.  I then used the scissor tips to pull them out one-by-one and put them onto a piece of aluminum foil on my work bench.  I did the same with both the large 3/8 caps and the tiny 1/4 caps.  The caps formed puddles on the aluminum foil so I got worried that they would stick or worse…they would not fit into the holes.  So, I changed my method so that I rubbed the bottom of the cap on an old T-shirt before setting on the aluminum foil.  This worked well and since the caps had absorbed so much polyurethane, they remained shiny with just one dipping.  I will have to let them sit for a few days to make sure that they are completely dry before I try to put them into the holes.

Final Costs

In an earlier posting, I estimated the cost per linear foot of the track to be around $9. But, this was a rough estimate based on the cost of only the larger components of the track and on 100% utilization of components. In reality, there is a bit of waste on the metal track for the curves and the estimate did not factor in the costs of the track spikes or the screws needed to hold the track in place.

To get a realistic cost per linear foot of track, I added up the total cost of all consumable materials and divided by the number of feet. The table (below) shows all of the consumable costs needed to make my 81 feet of live track. This cost includes the costs needed for the prototypes and any waste material that was left over. The exception is that it does not include the excess metal track that was purchased due to poor estimation of the materials required for the project.

So, the final cost per linear foot is $15.87. This is still significantly cheaper than the $125 per linear foot for the Loco Boose track.

Consumable materials needed for track

Lowe’s SKU Description Count Unit $ Total $ Tax $ Gross $
1039 1X2X8 Red Oak Board 23 7.57 174.11 8.71 182.82
1175 1/4X2X4 Red Oak Scant 46 2.66 122.36 6.12 128.48
2234 4X3/4 PH FL Wood Screw 2 2.57 5.14 0.26 5.40
9362 1/4X2X2 Red Oak Scant 4 1.33 5.32 0.27 5.59
10777 1X2X6 Poplar Board 8 3.98 31.84 1.59 33.43
16422 3/4″x18MM Oak Cabinet Grade Plywood 1 44.88 44.88 2.24 47.12
19379 5/16″X48″ Poplar Round Dowel 14 0.68 9.52 0.48 10.00
19416 1/4″X36″ Red Oak Round Dowel 1 0.88 0.88 0.04 0.92
19437 3/8″ Oak Wood Button (Mushroom Top) 132 0.17 21.78 1.09 22.87
—— 3/8″ Oak Wood Button (Mushroom Top) – Mailorder 30 0.10 3.00 3.00
19444 5/16 Oak Round Dowel 64 0.88 56.32 2.82 59.14
27594 3/8″X36″ Poplar Square Dowel 105 0.88 92.40 4.62 97.02
35880 3.25 Oz PreBond Woodfill 1 2.98 2.98 0.15 3.13
45862 Minwax 1 Qt Satin Polyurethane 1 8.87 8.87 0.44 9.31
46575 Minwax 1 Qt Wood Conditioner 1 9.98 9.98 0.50 10.48
52068 2X3/8 PFH BRS WD Screw 2 0.98 1.96 0.10 2.06
86091 8 Oz TiteBond Orig Wood Glue 1 2.27 2.27 0.11 2.38
86092 16 Oz TiteBond Orig Wood Glue 1 3.98 3.98 0.20 4.18
86165 1 QT Dark Walnut Wood Finish 1 5.87 5.87 0.29 6.16
225794 2″ PGP Star Drive Screws 2 8.48 16.96 0.85 17.81
—— 0.05×3.5x.5 Stainless Steel custom plates w/4 holes 110 2.31 254.10 254.10
—— #4×1/4 Pan Head Steel Square Drive screws 400 0.03 13.92 13.92
—— Lagas Code 250 Nickel-Silver rail joiners 40 0.65 26.12 26.12
—— Lagas 1/2″ large spikes 1000 0.02 20.90 20.90
—— Lagas Code 250 Nickel-Silver 6′ rails 32 9.98 319.36 319.36
—— 1/4 Oak Wood Button (Mushroom Top) 100 0.08 8.00 8.00

 Total 1,285.69
Total Linear Feet of Track 81  15.87 1,285.69

Special Tools Needed for Project

Lowe’s SKU Description Count Unit $ Total $ Tax $ Gross $
Milwaulkee Table Saw 1
Dewalt Hand Drill 1
Saw Horse 2
Riobi 3/8 HP router 1
Carpetendar’s Square 1
127093 Skil Delux Router Table 1 69.00 69.00 3.45 72.45
171028 3/8″ Auger Bit 1 10.63 10.63 0.53 11.16
177059 1/16″ Titanium Drill Bit 1 2.96 2.96 0.15 3.11
195435 ALI 4×36 Sanding Belt, 120 Grit 2 5.86 11.72 0.59 12.31
195714 ALI 6″ DA Disc 220 Grit 1 11.29 11.29 0.56 11.85
204419 Skil CT 3/4X25/32 Straight Double Flute router bit 1 8.98 8.98 0.45 9.43
204422 Skil CT 3/8X25/32 Straight Double Flute router bit 1 7.98 7.98 0.40 8.38
204588 Skil 1/8″ Roundover 1/2″BB Double Flute router bit 1 12.98 12.98 0.65 13.63
206527 QT Turpentine 1 4.98 4.98 0.25 5.23
209208 Dewalt 1/4″ Brad 1 5.48 5.48 0.27 5.75
209210 Dewalt 5/16″ Brad 1 6.48 6.48 0.32 6.81
219285 1″ Metal Spring Clamp 16 1.98 31.68 1.58 33.26
227313 Bosch Carbide Tipped 5/16 X 1 Straight Double Flute router bit 1 13.97 13.97 0.70 14.67
241624 4″ Hand Clamp 6 6.96 41.76 2.09 43.85
243599 Firestorm 10″ 200T Saw Blade 1 12.97 12.97 0.65 13.62
251929 Task Force 4″X6″ Belt Disc Sander 1 99.00 99.00 4.95   103.95
251932 Task Force 10″ Bench Drill Press with Laser and Light 1 99.00 99.00 4.95   103.95
—— #4 Square driver 1 1.20 1.20 1.20
—— Lagas Code 250 Track Gauge 1 16.10 16.10 16.10
—— Lindsay Code 250 Rail Bender 1 80.70 80.70 80.70



At this point, the track is mostly finished.  All that is left for the track is the installation of the plugs for the holes that mount the track to the ceiling.  So, I started putting materials away and started cleaning up the pool table and the bar.  I want to be able to show people the various prototypes used in creating the track design, so I took the prototypes and mounted them on the wall near the TV.  I mounted the two ceiling mounts under the bar and put the final prototype on the mounts and put a car on the track.  I then took the leftover ties and glued them to a leftover piece of track wood with the intention that I will use it to display how the final track was assembled.

Steel Plates Installed

The steel screws arrived as I was leaving for work.  When I got home, I fed the dogs, then went to the basement and installed one of the plates to see how the screws would look.  They match in color perfectly and the square hole for the drill bit gives it a slightly odd look that works well with the track.  The color of the metal track, screws, and plates looks good together and the metal plates hold the track firmly.


I installed all of the plates on the inside of the track (facing the interior of the room) while listening to Transformers and then released the clamps that I had in place to keep the wood from moving.  As I released the clamps, the wood flexed slightly and set into place.  I ran the train for about an hour and noticed that the track slowly adjusted to the position of the wood.  In a couple of places, the track pulled slightly away at the joints leaving a 1/16 gap.  This happened just before each curve.

On Friday night, I watched the extra materials on the Transformers DVD and installed the plates on the outside of the track.  This was much more difficult because I could not use a normal driver to put the screws in and I couldn’t use the drill to tap the holes for the plates.  So, I took the little square driver bit that was for the #4 size screws, and a small wrench that could turn the driver bit.  With a lot of effort, I pushed with my index finger on my left hand while turning the bit with my right hand to start the screw into the wood.  After losing a bit of skin on the fingers, I was able to get all of the screws started into the track.  I then went back and used the wrench to finish driving the screws into the wood and locking the plates in place.

Temporary Engine Arrives

The engine that I ordered last week arrived today at work and I put it on the track as soon as I had fed the dogs when I got home.  The engine looked great.  I first powered up the track with a very low voltage until the engine started moving.  I let the engine run around the track backwards to watch how it behaved and ensure that there were no problems on the track.  All looked good.

But, I changed direction through the switch on the front of the engine and let it run forward at the same slow speed.  The engine did fine until it hit a curve and it stopped dead.  I checked what was going on and found that the front two wheels of the train not only pivot, but they also shift from right to left.  This allows the long engine to traverse curves without having to have any pivots in the drive train. The situation is difficult to see unless you look very closely at the way the front two wheels move with relation to the body of the train.


Unfortunately, this is not a situation that I had expected or planned for in the ceiling mounts.  All would have been fine except the front of the train had ears that supported a metal bar and the ears were catching very slightly but enough to stop the engine on the low speed. I have highlighted the ears in the following picture.


So, I took the nose of the train off the engine (it is leaning on my keyboard in the above picture) by removing two screws and then I got out the dremel tool, mounted a cutting blade, and cut 1/4 inch out of the plastic ears.  The two little metal feet that are hanging down below the circles are what I removed.  After mounting the cow catcher back onto the engine with 1/4 inch of the ears missing, the engine has no problem running around the track.  Notice that in the picture below that the bar that was on top of the cow catcher is gone.

So, with the cow catcher adjusted and the ears shorter, the train is able to move around the track with ease.  The next step was to start running the train a bit faster to see how it did at a decent speed.  Initially, the engine moved with variations in its speed, but those soon went away.  But, one thing I noticed was that as the engine went through the S-Curve, there would be a small clicking sound but the engine did just fine.  After watching it a couple of times, it was clear that the front two wheels that are floating with a very light spring were coming off the track and then popping back on.  I put the gage on the track and found that the track was not matching the gage any longer.  I tapped it back into position and the problem still occurred.  But, then I realized that what was happening was that the S-Curve was causing the wheels to shift across from one side of the engine to the other making a complete shift in a very short area of track.  There is a plastic seam in the middle of the slot that the wheels shift in and the seam was causing the wheels to catch.  After about 10 runs of the train around the track, I noticed that the wheels stopped clicking through the S-Curve.

So, now that I have the train moving smoothly on the track, I added the tender car to the engine.  The tender has two wires that attach to the engine.  One pair of wires has a label “light” on it, and the other pair says “sound”.  When the train goes forward, the light on the front of the train is on.  When the train goes backwards, the light on the tender comes on.  The tender has a slot where a 9-volt battery goes in and if you put a battery in, the tender gets a trigger from the engine every time the valve changes direction on the piston of the mechanism.

So, now the engine and tender have been tested and I can add cars.  I put the two animal cars on the train and the little caboose, but the caboose made a ton of noise with its metal wheel mounts.  So, I put the performer car on with the ringmaster logo to the back so that it lit from behind.  The engine was sluggish at first but after giving it a bit more power, the engine was able to pull the train without issue.  It slowed down in the curves, but otherwise did just fine.  I adjusted the pressure on the pickups on the wheels to free them a bit, and the train did much better.  Here is a picture of the entire train over the fireplace.


And below is a picture of the train pulling through the S-Curve.


Another view from under the 5th curve looking at the section that goes over the pool table.


And, finally a shot of the train pulling into curve number 5.


So, now my train is running and there are no problems.  I went upstairs to get something from my desk and left the train running.  When I came out of my office, I heard the sound of either a small jet or a large truck in the driveway but then realized that the sound was coming from the floor.  That is when I realized that this train makes a lot more noise upstairs than it does downstairs.  Downstairs you hear the metal wheels on the metal track, but upstairs, you hear a roar as the floor not only transmits the sound, but it seems to amplify it.  The track is mounted to the joists between the ceiling of the basement and the floor of the main level.  So, after discovering this effect, I realize that I won’t be running this train when people are sleeping.

Well, the big concern left is that the real engine, which is more than double the cost of this one, will have the same issue with clearance.  I don’t mind cutting on this cheaper engine, but I hope not to do the same to the expensive one!

Test connecting plate

I received the connecting plates today and immediately ran to the basement to test one out.  I am extremely pleased with both the color and proportion of the plate with the track.  Now, I have to decide how I am going to attach the plates.  I originally had planned to use brass plates so I already had a handful of brass screws ready.  So, I went ahead and put a plate up with brass screws.

I rolled the train car in place so that it would be easy to see the various colors of the track, wheels, trucks, and plates all together.  I don’t like the brass screws on the silver plate.  It makes it look to fancy.  So, I will search online and at the local hardware stores for screws that have silver heads.  The ideal screw would be one that has a square head like the top of a railroad tie.  But, I doubt I will find such a thing locally.

In any case, I am very pleased with the plates.  I really appreciate ID Plate’s ability to let me draw the plate in Visio and send them a PDF which they matched to create the product.  And, the price was not to bad.

Bought an alternate engine

Well, I just couldn’t stand it any more and so I called the place that I bought the caboose from Discount Trains Online and they had the Bachmann BM81094 in stock and could ship it out today.  Their price was the same as wholesaletrains.com so I bought it.  I figure that this does two things.  First, it is like washing your car to get it to rain.  Now that I have paid for another engine, wholesaletrains.com will probably find my engine and ship it out so that they both arrive at the same time.  Second, it gives me an alternative engine should anything go wrong with the one that I have ordered.  They have it in stock, but chances of it arriving this week are slim to none.  It will probably arrive next Tuesday.

When I got home, I also put some of the plugs in the ceiling mounts to see how they would look. They certainly finish off the look of the mounts.

Track completed

After feeding the dogs, I headed down to the basement and started working on the remaining 3 sections of track.  I started at 7pm, and finished up at 9:38pm.  I started with the straight section over the fireplace, then the 8th curve, and finally the little short pickup section.  I saved the short section to let me have a piece to work on that would be easy to manipulate and measure for getting the track correct without gap.  As it was, I ended up with a 1/16 gap on the last section and decided to leave it that way since it is between straight sections.

I rolled the performer car over the final curve and tested connectivity.

The other three cars were on the left side of the fireplace while the performer car was on the right long section.  After completing all of the sections, I rolled the cars together and had them meet on the 8th section.  So, as of 9:38pm on October 8, 2007, the physical track is complete.  I still have finishing touches to do, like putting in the plugs on the ceiling mounts and touching up the stain on the ends of some of the ties that got scratched during assembly.  I have 8 sections of nickel-silver track left over (about $88 worth), two 1x2x6 Oak Boards, and one track connector.

I also got an email from FedEx that a package had been entered to ship to me.  I got my hopes up thinking that maybe it was the engine, but the package was shipped from Texas.  Texas is where the steel connector plates were made and so I think it is the steel plates that are on their way.

Power continuity test

Today started the morning by putting the final coat of polyurethane on the remaining sections that I coated when I got home from DC last night.  I turned the pieces upside down in their final locations and then started tearing down my work area.  Now that I have completed all of the physical construction, I have no risk that I will need the router or any of my power tools.  So, I dismounted my router from the routing table, took all of the screws out of my workbench and broke the steadying board from the back of the workbench.  All of the tools went into one of the rooms in the basement and the board for the workbench was slid behind the dumbell rack in the server/weight room.  The board will be beneficial if we foster a dog that needs to be caged during the day because the previous dogs have torn up the insulation on the wall.  In the event that I decide to build another track in the middle area of the basement, I will have my jig for the curves ready.  And, should they ever lift the burn ban, this board will be very interesting to burn. After cleaning up the work area, I vacuumed and put the original furniture back in place.  It looks as if nothing ever happened there.

The next thing I did was to try to find some alligator clips to connect the power supply to the track so that I could test whether I had any issues with continuity.  I couldn’t find any clips, but I did find that if I simply leveraged the end of the wire between the track and a tie and could then test that I had power to every section.  Although I do not have an engine to test with, I do have the performer car which has lights so I can push the car around and make sure that the lights never go out.  This also lets me test to make sure that the joints between the sections are smooth and make little noise.  So, once I got everything connected, I was happy to find that I have good connectivity to every section that is currently up.

After testing for power, I hunkered down in the weight room and knelt on the rubber pads while I worked on the track that was on the concrete.  I started with what I consider to be the most difficult which is the curved section nearest the weight room door.  I got it done, and then rolled the performer car onto the section and validated that I still had continuity.  A picture is below showing the car with the lights with the camera in the corner under curve number 7.

After finishing curve number 6, I started working on the opposite side of the track near the fireplace.  The little 3 foot section after the S-Curve was the first section to be completed and then I built the 7th curve.  Below is a picture of the 7th curve with the animal cars rolled into place.

I felt like I was done for the day at about 6pm after the dogs reminded me that I needed to feed them.  After an hour of sitting around, I decided that I should work on another section.  So, I started on the long 8 foot section at about 7pm and by 8:30 I had it completed and in place.  Once again, I powered up the track and rolled the performer car onto the new section and then took a picture.

So, I am calling it quits for the day.  Sure, I could do the 5 foot section, but I don’t have an engine and I won’t have one for quite some time, so why rush.

Last of the ties are mounted

I am going into town for dinner tonight at about 5pm so I am pretty much done for the day.  I started at about 9am and worked pretty much constantly till about 3:30pm.  In this time I put the metal rails on the curve in front of the stairs and the straight section in front of the stairs.  I then checked the newly stained ties and a few were still tacky to the touch, but they were dry enough to slide on the metal of the router.  So, I got out my jig and router table, and routed the slots out of all of the new ties.  They were sticky enough that they picked up some sawdust, but this came off easily with the buffing pad for the between-coat roughing.  The nice thing is that the sticky part of the ties came off but the color stayed.  They had dried for more than 12 hours so I am pretty sure that the stain has penetrated as much as it is going to penetrate.

After routing out the slots, I took the two remaining sections (the one in front of the fireplace and the short section to the right of the fireplace) and glued the new ties to them.  As of 3:30pm, they were under the weights and pressure, and so they should be ready to be coated with varnish by the time I get home tonight.

When I got home at about midnight, I went downstairs to put on a coat of polyurethane on the last two sections of track that had the ties glued earlier.  I got the coat completed by 1am and headed to bed.  I will put another coat on in the morning and they will be ready by the time I get to them with the metal rail.

Ugh…no engine, but nicer people

Well, I got an email from wholesaletrains.com saying that they cannot find the engine I wanted through any of their suppliers.  So, I have asked if they can get BAC81088 or BAC81097.

From: WST [mailto:customerservice@wholesaletrains.com]
Sent: Saturday, October 06, 2007 3:45 PM
Subject: RE: Order 200715924 status?

The wire is on backorder and the BAC81493 I can not find at any of my
suppliers at this time

Sent: Saturday, October 06, 2007 4:13 PM
To: ‘WST’
Subject: RE: Order 200715924 status?

Thank you for the update. Go ahead and cancel the rest of the order and I will find another engine for the train.

Can you check to see if you can get BAC81088 (it is a backorder item also)? If not, how about BAC81097?

Thank you,

From: WST [mailto:customerservice@wholesaletrains.com]
Sent: Saturday, October 06, 2007 4:25 PM
Subject: RE: Order 200715924 status?

I did cancel that and I can get BAC81088 on 10/31


Sent: Saturday, October 06, 2007 4:47 PM
To: WST [mailto:customerservice@wholesaletrains.com]
Subject: RE: Order 200715924 status?

Thanks for your help! I called up your 888 number to find out what you had in stock and talked to someone that asked me to hold tight and that in about 5 days he would have more information on whether it is in the order coming at the end of the month.

The sense of urgency here is that I hand built an elevated track and am itching to put an engine on it. At the moment, I am just pushing the cars around by hand.

Can you “uncancel” the order for BAC81493 until he finds out more information?


So, I called them on the phone and happened to get the guy that orders the stuff.  He said that they can’t cancel an order for something like this without him being involved because these expensive engines don’t move very quickly.  He said that he had an order coming in at the end of the month that might have it in the box and to hold tight for about 5 days for him to find out the status.  He said that everything was delayed about 15 to 20 days due to the issues with lead paint from China and that it was probably sitting on a dock just waiting to be cleared.

So, I will call back in 5 days and see if they know anything new. 

wholesaletrains.com not so good with customer support

OK, so I am a bit of a sensitive person when it comes to relations with other people.  Partly this is because I am from the south where we bend over backwards to try to help a customer, but mostly because I have run customer support centers for various companies for more than 20 years. Well, today I simply wanted to know where the engine is for my little train, and I ended up feeling like I will never order anything from wholesaletrains.com again.  Here is the series of emails:

Sent: Friday, October 05, 2007 1:57 PM
To: customerservice@wholesaletrains.com
Subject: Order 200715924 status?

Could you check on order 200715924 to see if you have an estimate for the engine? This is my first G train and so I have cars and track with no engine. 🙂



From: WST [mailto:customerservice@wholesaletrains.com]
Sent: Friday, October 05, 2007 5:24 PM
Subject: RE: Order 200715924 status?

An estimate for what? I can tell you that, that item is on back order.

Sent: Friday, October 05, 2007 5:39 PM
To: WST [mailto:customerservice@wholesaletrains.com]
Subject: RE: Order 200715924 status?

I did not intend to offend anyone with the request. Since I referenced the
order number “200715924” and referenced the engine, I thought I was asking
for an estimate related to the order “200715924” which would seem to only be
the estimate for when the order might be shipped. The original order was


From: WST [mailto:customerservice@wholesaletrains.com]
Sent: Friday, October 05, 2007 5:54 PM
Subject: RE: Order 200715924 status?

Im sorry, I guess I was looking for a less vague request but I see what your
asking now. Your item CRE55453 is on back order which means WE are still
waiting to recieve it. You will recieve a confirmation when we recieve/ship
it. Thanks

Sent: Friday, October 05, 2007 5:59 PM
To: WST [mailto:customerservice@wholesaletrains.com]
Subject: RE: Order 200715924 status?


I was meaning both BAC81493 and CRE55453. If CRE55453 is holding it up, I can go down to Lowes and get some wire. It is the engine that I am most interested in. I have been building the track and have the cars, but do not have an engine.

I first instinct is to see if you have another engine that is comparable that I can get sooner, but I think that would leave you with an engine from your supplier that you have no customer for if you have the engine on order from your supplier.


So, I admit that my original message could have been more clear by explicitly asking them to check for an estimated delivery time for item BAC81493 on order 200715924, but I still think that the original message conveyed that request and did not warrant the response. It was the initial response that really turned on the sensitivity for me. Did the support person bother to read the message? Did the subject line not convey enough information that I was looking for the status of an order?

But, I figured that maybe this support person had just had a bad day and that I should apologize and explain my message. But, I cannot figure out if the response is just clarifying why they responded as they did or if they are being smug.

Now, in my support centers, I look for these kind of short answers back to customers because the brevity in the response immediately conveys a lack of patience with the customer. But, in the end, my question was never answered as to if there was any sort of timeframe for me to get the engine. And, the result is that I really want to simply cancel the order and buy from some place else even if it is more expensive. One thing for sure is that I will not do business nor recommend wholesaletrains.com to anyone. I realize that a wholesale place is basically able to undercut everyone by cutting everything to a minimum, but if you are going to respond to a customer support request, at least do it so that you do not offend your customer.

More ties have been stained

I got the miter saw out and cut the dowel rods for the ties, peeled off the stupid Lowes SKU stickers, put the gummed up sanding belt on the sander and took off the glue from the end pieces, and then stained the new ties.  While I had the sander out, I put the good belt back on and sanded down the last two sections that are to receive ties.  It was dark by the time I was half way through the ties but I finished them under the porch light. Hopefully it will not rain tonight and they can dry outside.  I will pull them in before I go to bed.

That’s it.  I have lost a lot of steam in the project because I don’t have an engine and so putting it all together is kinda useless other than for it to be a very elaborate display of a few train cars.  As you can tell, I am pretty frustrated with waiting 6 weeks for an engine and still having no idea as to when it will arrive. 

Wood Rail completed, short by 50 ties

In order to complete the measurements for the straight sections and the curves, I needed to hang the rest of the ceiling mounts.  I took this picture just after putting up all of the mounts and after starting the 7th curve.  You can see the 7th curve hanging on the mounts without ties.  You can notice from this picture that there are no mounts for the curve to the right of the fireplace as I had not started on that curve and could not put the hangers in place until I had cut the wood to length.


My method of putting up the mounts is to put the end mounts in place where the straight sections will end, put temporary straight sections in place, and then put the raw curve section in place over the ends of the straight section.  I then move the curve around so that I cut nothing off one end (the end that is straight from the jig) and catch the other end of the curve at the peak of the curve so that I get a perfect fit with a 90 degree curve.  I mark the wood with a pencil on the bottom, and then cut it with a saw erring on the side of making the curve to long.  I check fit afterwards and trim it down a very small amount until I get a perfect fit.

After putting up all of the ceiling mounts, I got a little goofey with the camera and decided to set it on the track and take a picture down the length of the track.  This shot is looking down the track toward the bathroom from just over the pool table.  After taking this shot, it dawned on me that it would be an interesting touch to put a camera on the engine and show a live feed of what the engine sees through the monitor of the computer in the basement.


Well, after taking a picture on the rails, I decided to take a picture from the unfinished section of track to the left of the fireplace before I put ties on it.


After getting the curves measured, I put the ties on the new pieces.  For the short straight piece at the end of the S-Curve, it turned out to be perfectly 3 feet in length and so I just had to cut a piece in half to get the stock for the section.  After cutting and making sure everything fit correctly, I put them on the workbench and glued ties to the pieces.


While the new sections were curing in the press, I got out the polyurethane and finished off the 5th and 6th curve as well as the long straight section.  Well, it dawned on me that the long straight section might be better served as two sections since the 8 foot section didn’t fit the entire wall.  But, after measuring it, it turned out that the length needed is slightly over 13 feet.  So, with the 8 foot section, I will need a 5 foot section.  If I used 6 foot sections, I would have a little short patch section needed just as I had to do for the bathroom.

After letting the sections set for a while so that the polyurethane was completely dry, I put the pieces in place.


Below is a straight on view of the new sections with ties and polyurethane.  Note that there is no track on these sections yet.  All of these pieces are simply laying on the mounts and the mounts are not tightened to the ceiling yet.  Once I put rail on the sections I will be able to tighten everything up.


Finally, after getting the 7th and 8th curve completed, I started cutting the remaining straight sections.  One long 5 foot section goes over the fireplace, and a short 3 foot section goes to the right of the fireplace.  After getting the pieces completed and cut to length, I found that I did not have sufficient ties to complete the work.  So, I am at a standstill till I get more ties made.


Well, since I cannot do anything else, the final thing I did was to cut the metal rail to length and mount both the six foot section and the short 1 foot patch section near the bathroom.  I then ran the cars around the track to confirm that the rail was smooth.


Tomorrow I will go to the store and get more materials for the ties.  I will cut them to length this weekend and get them in place.  With this done, I will have the track finished and will just need to install the rails.  Unfortunately, I am finishing the track to quickly and I doubt that I will have an engine for the train any time soon.  It has surprised me that the project has started moving so quickly once I got the prototypes completed and the final design and methods completed for the system.

Curving around the Stairs

Before I left for work, I glued the ties on the 8 foot section for the long wall and put them in the clamps and press to cure while I was at work.

I had taken a section of the prototype track to work to show people what I was building and I brought it home today. I took the metal rails off of the prototype section and put it against the short section that will be cut for the little patch near the bathroom door to complete that area of the track. The difference is that the prototype section was built with the ties that I dipped in stain and then used a cloth to wipe the excess stain off. The ties that I am using in production are simply dipped and let dry. Another thing to note is that the stain that I bought is both a stain and finish so the stained ties take on a bit of a shine. This is good because it saves me from putting polyurethane on the ties as well as the wood rails.


I started the 5th curve which is the one near the stairs from the basement to the main level. The first step is to figure out places for the ceiling mounts that line up with joists in the ceiling. The second step is to measure the piece to find the amount to cut off from the curve. Remember that I made the curves so that they went beyond 90 degrees to give me room to adjust for sections meeting up without being at perfect 90 degrees. So, I put up the straight section near the stairs and bathroom, then the straight section that is directly in front of the stairs. Finally, I put the curve in place and marked where I needed to cut on the end to connect things up without any sharp irregularities in the track. This may seem complicated, but I cheated by setting the curve in place and then adjusting the straight sections to line up with the curve to make clean transitions. This creates a gap for the straight sections but in both cases, the section already has a gap that will need to be filled. After cutting the curve, I glued the ties on the curve and used one of the other curves to clamp and press the ties to the rail. This forces the glue into the wood so that it is strong. Below is a picture of the curve with the ties in the clamp while in place.


Since the wall to the stairs is slightly longer than 6 feet, I already know that I will have a gap between the end of the curve at the bathroom and the straight section. So, either I have a gap near the bathroom or near the entrance to the stairs. Since the entrance to the stairs will be more visible, I put the patch area nearest to the bathroom.


To create the patch to fill in the gap to the section near the bathroom, I used the scrap that was cut off of the section to fill the gap on the long beam nearest that was completed this past weekend. I put the section on the gap and marked it. Unfortunately, from either end, the place to cut ends directly over a tie that is already glued in place. So, I cut the section and split the tie in half with the saw blade. I was quite surprised at how difficult it was to break the tie from the beam even after being cut in half. After cutting the beam, I glued a tie on the end. This will result in a tie that is not equally spaced with the rest, but it will not be as noticeable as a large gap.


In addition to the patch section, the above picture also shows the 6th curve in the press. The 6th curve was one of my first sections that I put together and the spacing between the rails is not as good as the later ones. So, I had to use the router to cut a little off of the gaps in the ties to accommodate the difference. I also ran out of ties that I had routed out the center section for the cross members so while I had the router hooked up, I routed about 12 more ties for the curves.

Finally, while the 6th curve was in the press, I put the ceiling mounts up for the long wall near the weight room. I then took the 8 foot section that had set all day with the new ties and put the section in place on the new mounts.


Tomorrow I will put a coat of polyurethane on the new curves and the long section and hopefully get a second coat on the sections on Thursday so that I can start putting rail on them this coming weekend.

Halfway point

On Saturday I put the rail on the first half of the S-Curve.  So, this morning I installed the track with the rail.  I was really surprised how well it fit together.


I think what surprised me the most was how well the wood track lined up when the metal rails were connected together.  The metal rails butted tightly together while the wood had a tiny gap.


The only disappointment in this assembly is that the wood rails are not exactly the same thickness.  In the above picture of the rail juoint, I haven’t put the screws into the curve section yet so the curved part is a little high.  But, still, when the wood is at the same level, there is still as light difference.  I think what happened is that the cheap table saw I was using allowed the fence to move under the vibration of the saw and so the wood is not perfectly the same height.  This is OK as long as people are not looking to close at the joints.

The real excitement began when I put the rail on the second part of the S-Curve and installed it.  Note in the picture below that I decided to put in the ceiling mount in the area where there is no joist in the ceiling (right in front of the white car in the picture below).  I looked at it with and without and decided that the symmetry in the curve benefited from the extra mount.  I was quite thrilled when I put the second half of the S-Curve up and the metal track matched up perfectly as did the wood track.  From a distance you almost cannot tell that there is a break and the ties space out nicely at the joint.


So, now that the S-Curve was up and in place, it was time to start on the curve near the bathroom door.  Again, the wood and metal rail matched up perfectly with a tiny gap between the wood and no gap in the metal rail.


Note that the clamp in the picture above is holding the curve tightly to the installed straight piece of track.  This is because I don’t have the steel connectors to force the wood to stay in place.  After putting up the curves and the two straight pieces, I had a 4 foot gap between the sections.  So, I took an assembled 6 foot section without rail and marked it in place.  I cut it with the miter saw and it fit in perfectly if not a little to snug.  I then tacked on the metal rail and put it in place.

The one thing that I didn’t think of was that putting a section of straight track in the middle of two pieces would make joining the track very difficult since the little metal joiners are very tight.  I tried completely opening up the metal joiner but the nickel-silver is very brittle and broke off when I tried to bend it back in place.  So, I took another approach and opened the joiner slightly and tapped it on so that it was completely onto the new piece.  I then installed it in place, and used the nail tap to gently tap the joiner to slide over the end of the other rail.  It worked nicely and I used a pair of pliers to pinch it down on the track.

The only thing missing on this section of track is the power supply.  The order from Whole Sale Trains contained a 75 foot track to power supply wire bundle.  But, the wire has not shipped.  I am thinking of stopping at Lowes and getting some 14 gauge wire or something appropriate and hooking things up so that I can see if I have continuity in the track.  I can test this with the Performer car since it has lights that pick up power off the track.

Now that I have about half of the track installed, I took the cars and pushed them down the track. I was disappointed at how much friction the cars have in their wheel mounts and how much noise they make just riding the track.  I think I can improve on both of these with some lithium grease or something appropriate for metal wheels on plastic mounts.

Steel connectors ordered

I spoke with Pam today from ID Plates with the pricing to add the 2 additional holes was $0.08. Then there was an additional charge for “center to center” drilling. The total for the plates was $2.31 per plate. Pam asked me for a drawing so I used Visio and drew up a engineering picture of what the plate would look like with only the relevant measurements included. And, so we went forward with the order and put it on my Amex. In thinking about it, I hesitated for a moment because I thought that this was an expensive part of the project since these plates cost half of what the engine cost. But, to put it into perspective, each six foot section costs about $49.

First, the Ceiling Mount:

Item Qty Price Total
1x2x7.5in oak board 2 $0.70 $1.40
12×5/16 round oak dowel 4 $0.29 $1.17

Total $2.57

Each 6 foot section needs about 2 Ceiling Mounts (one every 16 inches). So, when you add up all of the parts, you have $49.00 or $8.16 per linear foot. (Note, in comparison, Loco-Boose charges $125 per linear foot.)

Item Qty Price Total
1x2x6 oak board 1 $6.31 $6.31
60 poplar ties 60 $0.18 $10.56
Nickel-Silver Rail 2 $10.50 $21.00
Nickel-Silver rail connectors 2 $0.69 $1.38
Ceiling Mount 2 $2.57 $5.14
Stainless Steel 0.050×1/2×3-1/2 plate 2 $2.31 $4.62

Total $49.01

So, when you look at the total cost for each individual six foot section, you can see that the cost of the Stainless Steel plate is really not that much. The only big difference is that I had to buy a minimum of 100 so I will have 50% waste. But even at double the price, the connector plates are still reasonably similar to the cost of other items and will add to the fit-and-finish of the project.

Bending my first piece of track

I got up late this morning and started the third pass with the router on the ties.  I finished all of them up by about 11am.  With that done, I got out the polyurethane and put the last coat on the ceiling mounts and then started putting it on all of the assembled sections of track.  Then, while waiting for the polyurethane to dry sufficiently to start a second coat, I got out the rail bender and ran a couple of strips of rail through the device.  I was surprised at how well it bent the curve into the track and how consistent it was.  I also experimented with unbending rail to see how difficult it would be if I bent the curve to small.  It turned out to be very easy to unbend it.

After getting all of the ties routed, I glued the ties on the second half of the S-Curve and put it in place to check the look.  Below is a picture of the S-Curve with both sections in place with ties.


Now that I have the curves all covered in polyurethane, the hangers mounted, the seconds checked for proper fit, and most importantly… the rail, I can start putting rail on the curves.  To do this, I got all of my little tools out and started bending rail.  Below is a picture of everything you need to bend and install rail on a curve.  This is the same set of tools needed for straight sections except that it includes the rail bender on the right side above the track.


From left to right, and top to bottom here are the pieces I use:

Item Purpose
Nickel-Silver Rail Guides the wheels of the train
Rail Bender Bends the rail evenly to fit the curve
1/2 inch black spikes Attaches the rail to the track
Hack saw Cuts rail to length
Track Assembled track used to support the rail between ceiling mounts
Curved Nose Needle Pliers Holds 1/2 inch spike in place while hammering
Brass Hammer Heavy head brass hammer for driving spikes in
Small head tap Drives spikes into final position after rail has been threaded onto track
ExactO Knife Scores ties to mark where to put spikes
Code 250 Precision Track Gauge Gauges track to get proper separation between rails

The process of laying the track is really simple but takes a fair amount of time to get it right.  The Precision Track Gauge is the key to the spacing and if you eyeball the rail on the track, you find that it should be about 1/8 inch over the wood rail under the ties.  The reason that you eyeball it is because the wood varies slightly since my saw is a cheap $100 Millwalkee and because the little cross members are pretty close but not exactly the same size.  1/16 of an inch is a big deal when working with small parts. After doing a complete track section, you will figure out how to do it most effectively.  That first track section can now be destroyed or used as scrap because it will have to many errors to be on your final production track.  Well, that is, if you are like me.  I had the benefit of creating prototypes of the various types of wood and got a good bit of experience learning to lay track when doing those sections.  Just be prepared for some waste.

Step 1:  Scoring – So, start by cutting off a small 2 inch piece of rail with the hack saw.  Using a small piece of rail for your measurements and marking is much easier than trying to handle a six foot piece of rail.  Put the small piece of rail in place over the second tie from the end, use the ExactO knife to gently score the tie on both sides of the metal rail.  Move over to the 4th tie from the end and do the same.  Now repeat this same process for every 5th tie until you get to the other end and do the 4th and 2nd from the end.  You don’t want to lock down the last tie because you need to insert the rail connector and it will go between the wood and the rail.

Step 2:  First row of nails – Using the bent nose pliers, take a spike and position it just to the inside of the scored line.  If you put it right on the scored line, the nail will be wider than the line and will push the track over. So, you are adjusting for the width of the nail and positioning outside of the two lines where the metal rail will go. Tap it down until it is the thickness of the plier’s nose.  This will leave enough space to thread the rail under the spike head but tight enough that it won’t move and you can make adjustments before final tapping.

Step 3:  Second row of nails – If you are like me, you will not get every nail exactly where it is suppose to be.  Don’t worry about it.  As long as you are pretty close, you can adjust for it after you thread the rail.  Take your small piece of rail, lay it against the nail on a tie, then with the pliers, position the next spike so that the body will be against the tie when it goes into the wood.  Tap it in to the same depth of the other spike and then remove the rail and do the same for all of the other spikes.

Step 4:  Threading the track – (Bend the rail as needed with the rail bender before threading the track) You should now have two small rows of spikes in your track that are spaced enough to thread the rail through the spikes.  You will be tempted to just lay the rail against the first spike and then start putting the second spike in to avoid the threading.  But, you will find that no matter what you do, you will end up with dings in the rail that are both unattractive and will scratch your car wheels.  Additionally, since the first spike is not on a perfect line with the rail, doing the method of spiking the rail in place will result in a rail that follows the spikes rather than staying with the curve you designed.  So, thread the rail through the spikes so that it is in the position that you want.

Step 5:  Tapping the nails – After you have threaded the rail through your spikes, let the rail determine what the line should be.  If you did it right, you have about 1/16 of an inch of play where the rail can wobble between the spikes and the spikes have about 1/16 variance along the wood rail under the ties.  So, let the rail be your guide and tap in the spikes so that they grip the rail in the line that the rail tries to form.  If you are doing a curve, this is very important.  You have to let the curve of the rail determine the final position so that you don’t have a curve with flat spots.

Step 6 – Cutting excess – Now that you have spiked the rail in place, you simply cut off the end of the rail to be perfectly in line with the end of the wood track.  If you have glued your ties on properly, you have 3/8 inch overhang where the rail is not supported on the end by a tie.  Be as exact as you can because when you put the next section to this one, you don’t want to have to adjust the rail after the fact.

Step 7 – Scoring the second rail – Get your handy dandy Precision Track Gauge out and put the single side on the rail from step 6 and your little 2 inch piece of rail on the end with 2 guides.  Now, use your Exact-O knife and score on the same tie that already has a spike so that you have lines for your nails for the other rail.  Do this same thing for every tie that you put spikes in for the first rail.

Steps 8-12 – Repeat steps 2 through 6 on the second rail.

Step 13 – Install Rail Joiner – Before you mount the rail in place, get your rail joiners (2 of them) and use the pliers to open up the joiner slightly so that you can get it started on the rail.  Use the hammer to tap it on further.  Be careful that you don’t catch the edge of the tie with the sharp underside of the rail joiner.  Leave half of the joiner exposed off the end of the track to receive the other section of track. I tried putting joiners on opposite rails so that I didn’t have to worry about the direction of the track, but found that there are other reasons (like the wood rails are not perfectly symmetrical or the curves only fit one way) that you have to worry about the direction of the track, so it is just as easy to simply put the joiners on the same end of the track.

Well, that is it.  That is how I make a section of track. Assembling it to the ceiling mounts and lining everything up is another story. The nice thing about a custom made track is that you can accommodate construction errors as you go along.  So, if you build a section of track and the metal rail is a little short, you just use the hammer and tap gently on the opposite end until the rail meets exactly with the joining section.  Then, as you build the next section, you increase the length of the rail just a bit to compensate.  This is only really necessary for sections that are not exactly 6 feet long because the rail is exactly as long as your track from the start.  You may also find that it is a nice touch to use a Dremil tool to buff off the end of the rail so that there are no sharp edges to scratch the wheels of your train.