Layout Construction Milestone: Ties

This morning, after I glued the last tie from a package of 1000, my layout reached a minor milestone.  All of the ties are are now glued in place.  Next, I’ll finish staining and weathering them in preparation of spiking rail.

The photo below shows some pieces of rolling stock placed in the various spots, and annotations describe each spot’s purpose.  The photo is taken from the middle of the layout, which is also the middle of the paper plant, looking south along Tonawanda Island.

Ties, southThe indicated capacity for each lead in the above photo doesn’t necessarily represent the number of cars that will be positioned in each spot during operating sessions.   I’ll write a blog post about the flow of cars into and out of the plant some time in the future, once I’ve done more research on the actual flow of traffic at this plant.

The photo below was posted last week.  It’s also looking south along the island, but was taken from the end of the layout, which represents approximately the north end of Tonawanda Island.   Combining these two photos, one gets an overview of the entire layout representing International Paper.

IMG_0217I’ll get working on staining all those ties using the results from my experiments over the past few days.





    1. I used a few more than 1000, Colin. Probably more like 1200 in total. I had package of ties left over from a layout I built a long time ago so. They are smaller, branch line ties, so I used those for the oldest parts of the plant where a locomotive would seldom travel… the “inbound” lead, coal lead, and outbound lead.


      1. No, I’m going to use code 55 everywhere that track is visible. The track I’m calling the “main” wasn’t really a mainline. The paper plant was served by a lead that came off the end of the North Tonawanda yard ladder, travelled up the street a couple of blocks and then across a swing bridge and onto the island. The lead went into the plant complex and dead-ended at a pair of storage tracks on the north end of the island. It’s maybe a mile from the yard at North Tonawanda to the end of track at International Paper. Penn Central crews used a locomotive and caboose to take cars to the island and to switch the plant. I don’t understand why they needed the caboose, because according to my research, they didn’t shove caboose first. It might have been a throwback to an earlier time when the crew assigned to switch International Paper also switched the other industries in the immediate area (of which there were quite a few). So in terms of how the layout is operated, a train comes from storage with a caboose on the end, and then switches cars to and from the track I’m calling the main. The name really only distinguishes that track from the run-around track.


  1. Congratulations on the milestone. You’re maintaining a really terrific pace and it’s fun following along on your progress.

    When it comes time to lay rail, from the photos it looks like you’ll spike 100% of the rail as opposed to the PC tie and wood tie combination?

    I think you’ve hit of a terrific concept for the layout and think it will support some interesting operations within the plant. I particularly like that some of the industry is staged “off layout” so you’re able to represent its traffic without disturbing the balance of the scene itself.


    1. Thanks Chris! I’m pleased that you picked up on the fact that much of the industry is represented off the layout. I planned the layout for a few months, and struggled with the balance of keeping the amount of track to a minimum, but also ensuring I could represent most of the important kinds of car movements at this industry. I resolved that if I couldn’t represent woodchips, coal, dry supplies, and tank cars inbound, as well as finished paper outbound, I would build something else.

      WRT building switches, I’m going to build the first one using only wood ties. That may change, and if it does, I can easily scrape out the necessary wood ties to accommodate the PC board ties.


      1. I like how having some car spots “off layout” allows you to model those cars and represent their traffic flow in the scene. I think it’s a terrific way to incorporate cars that would be really fun to build models of and use in service on a layout without having to also build their destinations. Scrolling through the photos, I think you’re maintaining a really nicely balanced scene and I like the way the track flows through the scene.

        I saw in another reply you mentioned code 55 rail. I used that and some 40 on the last HO layout I worked on. It looked really terrific to me and was something I would want to do again if I ever returned to HO. I soldered mine to copper ties since it was what I was familiar with. I’ve been spending a lot of time on Andy Reichert’s Proto 87 Stores website and think his system would be really fun to play around with and would want to try that. Whether or not I’d adopt the full P87 standard is undecided, but I like the idea of spiking rail instead of soldering it.


      2. The spacing I’ve adopted varies between turnouts and “plain track” (e.g. straight track):

        For straight track, in HO, I tend to like to place a PC tie every fifth tie. So, four wood ties, then a PC tie, four wood ties, a PC tie, and on and on.

        For turnouts, I’m actually strongly of the opinion that all the ties can, could, and should be PC stock. That said, most of the turnouts I’ve ever built follow the same basic rule as for plain track with a mix of wood and copper but with an extra concentration of them clustered around the frog area. As a terrific general guide to PC tie placement, check out the printable track templates from the Fast Tracks website.

        Since we rely on the PC ties as the only means of holding the rails in place and in gauge I tend to actually distribute mine to suit this sentiment. I’ll chuck in a few more where I think I need them and that “every fifth tie” thing fast goes out the window.

        I’ll dig out some pictures that speak to this distribution if you’d like.


      3. I like it. I might give it a go. I’m not sure it’s the best solution for this part of the layout, but when I eventually get around to building the next phase of the layout, it might be worth a try.


  2. I was wondering if you’re staining the ties after you’ve glued them, and if so, why after and not before?


    1. Excellent question Ralph. I love questions like this because it opens the door to learning about new techniques. The short answer to your question is: I’m staining the ties after I glue them down. Recognizing the advantages of staining the ties first, there was a long list of reasons that informed my decision to glue the ties down before staining them. Here they are:

      Ties that are pre-stained need to be re-stained after they get levelled by sanding. Re-staining is no big deal, but the top of the ties is the place where the all the colour goes. The sides and ends should be darker to represent shadows.

      My approach might take longer than prestaining. If I was under pressure to finish this layout quickly, or if this was a bigger layout, I would pre-stain the ties. I’m not in a rush.

      I’m modelling the bankrupt Penn Central – a railroad that deferred maintenance on key assets that were central to its business. Maintenance priorities were very low on this industrial lead, and surely, Penn Central foresaw its abandonment. In fact, International Paper, the factory I’m modelling here, left this site shortly before the creation of Conrail in 1976. I’m modelling the early 1970s up to Conrail day. These historical facts inform my desire to depict track that is in dire condition. It’s my opinion that well maintained track looks more consistent than poorly maintained track, so I want to be attentive to capturing the look of track that is near the end of its life-cycle. The lack of consistency in the appearance of the ties negates the benefits of pre-staining them.

      Learning Process
      My layout is a site of experimentation and learning. I’m trying out different things all the time because I get a great deal of satisfaction from improving my skills through exploration. If it turns out that my methods fail to yield the results I’m after, I’ll tear it out and try again. I pre-stained the ties on my last layout. It was time to try something else.

      My Preferences
      90% of the track on my shelf layout is less than a foot away from the viewer’s eyes. As a consequence of the whole layout being foreground I’m just about “detailing” each tie individually. I’m sure there are ways to accomplish this by pre-staining the ties, but that seemed counter-intuitive to me.

      Do you have a preference for pre-staining?


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