The track was in fact the reason for starting over. Commercial track was simply too bulky-looking, even after careful painting. The only solution was to hand-lay the track; however, the smallest rail stock available was Code 40 which, while smaller than the Code 55 commercial track, was still too big—bigger than the heaviest rail ever used in real life. I resigned myself to the fact that I'd have to make my own rail.
After a few weeks of calling around, I finally found a wire manufacturer willing to do a really small run of custom-drawn nickel wire (most shops would only take orders in 100-pound lots, and I only needed a fraction of that). But it would also have been far too costly to have a die made to produce a realistic rail profile. So I settled on flat wire—it's small enough that the lack of proper profile isn't noticeable.
Commercial Z Scale ties made from PC board were secured to the subroadbed with double-sided foam tape (above left), using a length of flex as a tie spacing guide. Then the wire was held in place with tweezers and soldered to the ties (above right). After all the rail was soldered in place, the copper cladding between the rails was peeled away, leaving "tie plate" pads under the rails (below left).
Given this was such a tedious process, I only handlaid the visible track; for the hidden loops I used Märklin sectional track. This meant having to make transitions between the two kinds of track. I made these by grinding reliefs on the insides of the rail ends, and soldering the Code 25 rail into the reliefs (above right). This also served to highlight the stark contrast between commercial track and handlaid.
The real challenge, of course, was handlaying a turnout. Although I used fairly typical techniques, it still took a couple of days due to the small size and delicacy of the parts. The final steps were painting and ballasting. The ties were painted individually in different shades of brown, then the rails and tie plates received various rusty hues. For ballast I used an ultra-fine product from a German supplier, as most of the typical ballast brands were far too coarse.
The finished effect was precisely what I'd worked so hard to achieve—it was well worth starting over from scratch.
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