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Hello Scale world ..I apologize if the mention of outside 3rd rail offends anyone  ... causing this to move this to  a different section .

Back in the good old days when O scale was new, it was hip to add pick up sweeps on your engine to  draw current from an elevated  3rd rail ( akin to  some subways today) ( no idea why,  inside 3rd rail was the an eye sore and sweepers on a steamer engine was cool..can anyone fill me in?) .    So the early pioneers in the hobby were fighting over 1/4" or 17/64"  and  2 rail , or 2 rail with outside 3rd rail know who won.   

Most modelers loved to build from scratch, or  kits  and lay their own track.  In Richmond Hill, NY, Fixen  ( two guys in a basement)  offered "sectional" ( snap together + -)    O scale track   with an outside 3rd rail . 

    I'm new to the early O scale world  and would not have believed that "sectional" out side 3rd rail track existed till picking up a pair of "Fixen" switches at the last York.  

I'd like to set up a loop of O scale with outside 3rd rail to run  MI-Loco's, Mini-Scale and Scalecraft on ...does anyone have any  "Fixen"  sectional O scale track with an outside 3rd rail?     Does anyone still run outside 3rd rail ?   The great Delta Lines  and other such early scale empires all ran with outside 3rd rail.


Below pair of Fixen switches . & ..copies from a Fixen catalog found at the TCA museum ( circa 1937).  Fixen in the Tinplate world are famous for their  Ives passenger cars kit bashed modifications  into Interurbans ...they also made standard gauge two rail track  , with outside 3rd rail for the total fringe element. 

Thank you 

Carey Williams




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Interesting topic. I too am wondering if anybody is still running outside third rail.   The center third rail was originally used by the New Haven on branch lines in the New Haven area about 1902. About the same time Lionel was in New Haven. The New Haven gave up on the center third rail because there is no way to cover the center third rail and a number of people got killed on it. 

Having worked around third rail for many years, the first thing I noticed on the switches in the pictures was the third rail was not lowered or interrupted through the points. The third rail shoe on the train coming into a turn out has the shoe on the non third rail side in the low position. So the third rail has to be interrupted or lowered so this low shoe does not run into the side of the third rail. This is why there is always two third rail shoes on each side of a car.

Then I noticed in the photos It looks like someone has added a small copper wire to act as a ramp to get the third rail shoe up onto the third rail at the switch points. I cannot tell if this was added by the user or was part of the original design.   

Thanks for the interesting topic. 

Yes, there are folks who do run outside third.  I have one locomotive set up that way, although I do not have track to run it.  The late Allan Wehrle had an outside third layout.

Your desire to run on "Fixen" is admirable, from a preservation standpoint.  It is far easier to just go two rail in my opinion, but should you wish to run outside third, grab that bag of standoffs and do it yourself.  Your track will look a lot more realistic.

Opinion, of course.

Hello all you outside of the rails type guys.


 Outside 3rd rail  and O scale in general received a big boost in popularity after many thousands ( millions)  of visitors to the Century of Progress fair in Chicago 1933 & 34 , viewed  4 large O scale layouts. 

Thank you for your responses.   Great to see a club is still running  outside 3rd rail

 Even Lionel offered outside 3 rd rail "collectors" with the 700E !


Here we have a Miloco or Mini-Scale Hudson with outside 3rd "collectors".

I've heard Miloco were marked "Mi Loco".....  were Mini-Scale/ Congress Tool marked ? I have found no markings on this engine .  


Miloco / Mini-scale tender ...note center hole ..I believe this also could be used for a "collector"

Looking for a Miloco /  Mini-Scale tender ..if any are loose out there .  Thank you


Bottom side of a Scale Craft Hudson .... I believe those two holes would be for the outside 3rd rail "collector"


Thank you

Carey Williams



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The third rail chairs i have have been promised to another modeler and are no longer available.


I am in the process of 2 railing a prewar Scale craft Hudson.  The tender will be a diecast Williams NYC 6 wheel tender and that has already been converted to 2 rail and looks quite nice behind the Scalecraft J-1d.


I have an outside 3rd rail switching layout using components from the 30's. I have several types of outside rail chairs and a nice supply of pickups for engines. I also have lots of code 172 rail in brass, steel, and nickel silver but still use the old pre-war code 198 brass rail on my own layout. I have both cast and machined brass frogs and cast switch points. They are crude by todays standards. In the top photo you can see that I use brass ramps on the diverging outside rail. This allows the end of the pickup to gently slide up the ramp and onto the rail. The ends of the outside rails are bent down to below running rail level to allow the pickups to easily ride up and onto the rail. The track shown here uses hand cut basswood ties that are 1/4 x 2-1/4 x 1/8 thick. The rail is code 198. These pieces came off of an old Chicago area layout called the Gear Lines. That original layout used roofing paper as a ballast simulator with thin black fiberboard ties nailed down to the base. I decided to use the ties that I did as they were a typical size used later. I've also made outside rail layouts using code 172 rail with code 100 outside rail on scale sized ties as well as have converted tin plate track to outside rail.

Last edited by fredswain

In the 60's and 70's and probably prior to, the corporate headquarters of Cincinnati Gas and Electric in downtown Cincinnati had a very large O gauge layout during the Christmas Season.  I used to schedule a business trip there almost every Christmas Season just to see the layout.

A large portion of the layout, if not all of it, had an outside high third rail and two rail track.  the attached photos are of a outside third rail pickup i found on a 763E I purchased at an estate sale.  The "out riggers" each have a spring.

Jim Lawson


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The Cincinnati layout still exists. It was built around 1931 by the B&O railroad and is still to this day outside 3rd rail. A few years ago it moved to a new permanent home at the museum at Union Station. It is open every year to the public for the Christmas season. Unfortunately, there are museum renovations this year so that wing is temporarily closed. For a while it was called the Cynergy electric layout and then later Duke Energy as that was the parent company that owned the layout whose lobby is used to be setup in every season. Do some online searches for Duke trains or Cynergy trains and you'll see all kinds of pictures.

Hello Fredswain  I like your set of switches . Thank you for mentioning the Duke Energy layout ..   you mentioned you had a number of rail chairs   any extra ?   I'm planning on adding 3rd rail to a True- Scale track  loop .    Were you able to get any of the rolling stock or engines from the Gear Lines RR?

Cheers Careygear lines Chicago based

Here is a photo taken from the WWW of the Miloco that ran on the Gear Lines


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I still maintain that outside 3rd rail is much more realistic looking that inside 3rd rail track. When detailed properly, it looks more like a railing. Your eyes don't necessarily associated it as being part of the track. There's absolutely nothing that can be done to inside 3rd rail, short of stud rail, that doesn't make it blatantly obvious what it is. Not a low mounted center rail or a lighter rail. It's always obvious that it's there. It never "disappears" or becomes unnoticeable as some people claim it does. I do agree that it has it's place and usefulness though and fully understand that some people don't mind the look.

If you were stuck with uninsulated wheels then outside third or stud contact done properly was once the answer to removing that unrealistic centre third rail. It separated the men from the boys.

Here stud contact was usually used for professional displays by the railways and serious modellers. I am not aware of an gauge O stud contact sectional track being offered at the time however.

Nice work on your outside third Fred!

These days battery/radio is an easier answer.


Fred did beautiful work on stud rail.  It looked almost as good as two rail.  He discovered that it was a lot easier to insulate and be done with it.  Even if one produced a line of stud rail, the expense would be higher than the simple alternative - insulation.

The outside third has a few advantages - first, it looks old-timey, much as a lot of my equipment from the 1930s does.  We call it the doorstop era.

Second, and most important if you are rationalizing instead of insulating, at least two eastern roads had outside third on trackage where a steam locomotive could occasionally be found.  I believe the New Haven even equipped Diesels with third rail shoes so signals would work.  Not sure of that.

Best to insulate - easier and cheaper.  Keep a three rail loop if you cannot justify doing all your locomotives at once.

Opinion.  And even then folks get upset.

I had rivet counter friends who loved my stud rail. It was laborious and adapting sliding pickups to each engine type wasn't always possible. Outside 3rd rail is actually easier. Pickups are fairly straight forward to install. I've made all kinds of outside rail track, including from O-27 tinplate track. There's no concern about wheel insulating. 

If I'd have been into model railroading 50 years or more so, or been alive then for that matter, I'd have definitely pursued outside rail or potentially stud rail. I decided to go 2 rail since I was converting all of my rolling stock to scale wheels anyways and all but one of engines are MTH 2/3 rail convertible it was a no brainer. I do have a couple of older outside rail brass engines for this small switching layout but when/if I ever build the permanent layout, it'll be 2 rail since I'm essentially there with my equipment anyways and even then it'll be on board battery power. 


Last edited by fredswain

My hat goes off to all those modellers who years ago bit the bullet and insulated all their 3-rail wheels  and rebuilt their layouts to 2-rail. A lot of broken saw blades and epoxy used in the process!

I suppose a lot did it when they were about to do a major revamp or build a new layout; so that helped soften the blow. I have never met or read about anyone being sorry they did it however!


Hello those who are tempted by the 3rd rail

 A new panel track  switch with outside 3rd rail has surfaced .... complete with individual fish plates with spikes!  

Can anyone identify the switch by the fish plates ?  rail chair ?  The little fish plates are a work of art .

Also a few sections of curved 3rd rail panels that have had the 3rd rail removed .

Still looking for outside rail panel track ...even Scalecraft offered loops in panel sections   48 & 52 1/2" radii !.  16 sections for a circle ,some of this track has to be out there .     Any chair rails ? 

Cheers Carey





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