The (in)sanity of hand laid track…with concrete ties…and clips

I ‘ve been thinking about it…I ‘ve been dreaming about it. I know I wanted to try it. To hand lay railroad tracks with concrete ties and to include rail clips. All this in HO scale. Although there are some very nice commercial flex tracks with concrete ties, I wanted a hand laid one.

So how did I go about it? The rails were Code 100 from an Atlas flex track. But the ties had to be designed and mass-produced. Using a CAD program I designed the concrete ties to specifications found online from various concrete tie manufacturers.

Once the digital model was done, the ties were CNC milled out of extruded foam insulation. I like the fine-scale texture of the insulation foam. If properly painted and weathered, the ‘fuzziness’ of the material imparts a worn, pitted concrete surface to the ties, not unlike the prototype.

The ties had to be mass-produced, so the extruded foam insulation ‘master’ was used to make a silicone rubber mold.

Now, the ties can be mass-produced by mixing up a batch of Hydrocal and casting as many ties as needed. The only problem was that the fuzziness of the surface makes it moderately hydrophobic and the wet Hydrocal really has to be forced in to avoid any holes and air pockets. Maybe less fuzzy ties next time.

Almost everything is ready for laying track. The last thing was to come up with an idea how to represent the rail clips. The Pandrol-type clips, with their characteristic shape, were a challenge. I have tried to make them out of 26 AWG wire, wound around three stainless steel sewing pins. But I failed. I could not consistently cut them and form them to the right shape. Instead, I wound the wire around a single pin and with a very fine needle-nose cutter I cut small open rings. A ‘representation’ of the clips.

At this point everything was in place to lay track. I used extruded foam insulation as a base, cork roadbed, and then used caulk to adhere the individually laid concrete ties spaced prototypically. Once the caulk cured, the ties were painted with a diluted grayish ‘concrete’ colored paint. Next the ‘tie plates’, formed from 0.02” styrene and painted dark brown, were glued to the concrete ties. At this point the track was ballasted with gray limestone-resembling crushed nutshells. All organic.

On top of the ties was the Code 100 rail laid and attached with CA glue while keeping it in gauge. Once the glue set, then came laying the rail clips, by first putting a microscopic dot of CA glue where the clip would go. Then, while holding my breath, each individual rail clip was positioned with tweezers. Four per tie, for every tie.

The rails were painted with a custom mix of raw umber and burnt umber color to resemble slightly rusting rails. The rail clips received the same color.

Next came weathering. Washes of diluted black acrylic paint for the concrete ties, rust color for the rail and rail clips. Once dry, the rails and clips were further weathered with dry pigments of raw and burnt umber and the middle section of the ties received some black pigments to represent oil and dirt.

And that is about it. At this point I still don’t know if it is worth the effort. What you see above is only 5-6 inches long…