So, maybe you set up a loop of track and an electric train for Christmas, and now you’re thinking about a permanent layout. I’ve been there. Once you build a table, you’ll need to attach your track. Screws are the most common way to do that. Here’s a list of the best screws for Lionel track. Read more
For some reason, a lot of people are interested in making their own Lionel train track. I don’t think it’s practical, but it’s definitely possible.
I found a 1944 Popular Mechanics article on making your own DIY Lionel train track. During World War II, toy production all but stopped, so short of buying from stores like Madison Hardware that sold old stock, making your own was all you could do. Even Madison Hardware had to resort to creativity, building a machine to straighten curved track sections to make straights so they would have straight track to sell.
The article used scrap tin salvaged from cans, wire salvaged from a coat hanger, and a homemade jig made of flat steel bar and wood. It was possible to make both straight and curved sections, although the article didn’t elaborate a lot on making curves.
I don’t think it’s practical, at least not today, when clean used O27 or O31 tubular track sells for $1 or less per section and most dealers take in used track faster than they can resell it. The jig will cost more to make than a circle of track costs, and then there’s the trouble of locating suitable metal sheet to use, which is likely to cost more than the track as well. Then there’s the time involved with cutting the metal, forming the rails, and assembling the track. It’s something to do because you really want homemade train track, not to save money.
But I do think the article is interesting from a historical perspective. If you found some track in a stash of 1940s trains that appears to have been homemade, there’s a pretty good chance the person who made it found the instructions in Popular Mechanics. And there’s a pretty good chance whoever made it didn’t have any other source for track at the time.
Here are some train-related questions I’ve received that I really don’t think I ever answered adequately elsewhere. Hopefully this will help. Read more
It’s that time of year again. Time to get that old Lionel (or Marx or American Flyer) electric train running before the holidays sneak up. More often than not, the track isn’t in the best of shape. Fortunately, it’s not all that hard to fix or restore Lionel track.
Believe it or not, you can effectively remove rust from old Lionel track with a ball of aluminum foil. A small ball of aluminum foil plundered from your kitchen and five minutes of your time is likely to be enough to restore a loop of Lionel track from rusty, unusable junk to reliable operation.
I just spent some time explaining some of the terminology that goes along with Lionel and other O gauge and O scale trains. That made me think maybe a definition of some terms might prove useful to somebody. So here’s an O scale glossary.
An old trick for automating a Lionel or Marx train layout is to power accessories off an insulated rail section. Run one wire to the center rail, then run the other wire to a rail that’s been insulated from the other rail and the two adjoining track sections. A passing train completes the circuit, causing the accessory to activate.
The usual way is to take a piece of track, pry up the pair of tabs holding the rail on one side of each tie, and then insert some kind of nonconducting material–a piece of electrical tape or a piece of cardstock are popular options–and then mash the tabs back down onto the tie. Then you insert a Lionel o27 insulating pin or o31 insulating pin into each end of the rail you just insulated. I’ve also made my own O27 insulating pins out of bamboo skewers from the grocery store. (I don’t know about anyone else’s schedule, but most hobby shops aren’t open at 9 PM, which is usually when I get time to work on my layout.)
But there’s another way that you might like better. Pry up all of the tabs on the metal ties and set them aside. Cut similar-sized ties from a piece of wood. Popsicle sticks are close enough for O27 track ties, or you might want to buy a strip or two of basswood of appropriate size from a hobby shop. Nothing stops you from cutting extra ties, if you like your track to have more than the usual three. Stain or paint the ties the color you want, and then glue the ties right to the rails. Cyanoacrylate (superglue) or epoxy is best. Insert insulating pins (store bought or homemade) and you have an insulated track section.
What to do with the extra metal ties you just removed? If they’re in reasonably good shape, you can put them on other pieces of track to improve their appearance a bit. If you don’t like that idea, save them and once you get a decent quantity, sell them on Ebay so someone else can put them on other pieces of track to improve their appearance a bit.
XTrkCad, one of the many model railroad track planning programs–and the only one I know that has both Windows and Linux versions–is going open source. This also means the program is now free.
You can’t download the source code yet but you can download binaries, enter a registration code, and play with it. I’ve been doing just that.One thing I noticed right away when I started trying to use it to plan a layout using Lionel and Marx O27-profile sectional track–which it doesn’t support directly, so I had to enter the track, confusingly, using the “custom turnout” tools–is that the model railroad and toy trains people measure track differently.
A Marx or Lionel O27 curve isn’t an O27 curve in XTrkCad. It’s a curve of radius 12.5 and angle of 45 degrees.
Here are some measurements. Keep in mind this is what they’re supposed to be. Manufacturing tolerances and the effects of age sometimes cause these measurements to be off. Some of my vintage track is off by 1/8 inch or more.
I happen to know that O27 and O34 tubular track use a 45-degree angle, and that Lionel and K-Line O42 tubular use a 30-degree angle. Unfortunately I don’t have a piece of K-Line O54 or O72 sectional tubular track to measure.
Since O42 track is supposed to be 12 sections per circle, and 180/12=15, I believe to calculate the angle measurement of O54 and O72 you can divide 180 by the number of O54 or O72 track sections in a full circle, then multiply that result by 2. The math works for the O27, O34, and O42 track sections I have, but since I don’t own any K-Line O54 or O72 track I can’t be certain.
Also, confusingly, traditional O gauge switches are straight turnouts in XTrkCad, even though one leg of them is curved. Here are the parameters I got by measuring a Lionel 1121. The measurements are close enough to represent Marx or Sakai O27 switches:
Diverging length: 8.5
Diverging angle: 45
Diverging offset: 3.75
Overall length: 8.75
And here’s what I measure on a Marx O34 switch.
Diverging length: 11.375
Diverging angle: 45
Diverging offset: 4.5
Overall length: 11.188
I believe the diverging angle would be 30 degrees on a Lionel or K-Line O42 switch, but since my vintage Marx and American Flyer locomotives won’t make it through modern O42 switches, I don’t have any of those to measure.
I’ve already used the software to draw a layout using Marx O34 track that will allow two-train operation with room on sidings for three additional trains. It’s much easier than setting up track on the floor and measuring it to see if it will fit on the table. And you can do your layout and then print an inventory to compare what you have with what you need. Not having enough track to mock up a layout isn’t a problem anymore.
On the computer some of the things I want to do don’t quite fit; if the track measurements are slightly off, the solution is to cut a section of track to move things a bit, or, if they’re off by less than a quarter inch or so, force it. O27 track has a lot of give, and, like I said, manufacturing tolerances and the effects of time can cause real-world track to not match the published standards.