Skip to main content

Let's face it, I've always been a fan of trains. 2 rails, 3 rails, steam, diesel, electric, whimsical, prototypical, etc. I love them all. To this point in my life I have been involved in N scale and in the last few years O scale. N was fun but at the end of the day I wanted more detail. I also like the size of O scale. When I watch them go by I don't feel like I'm in a helicopter 1000 feet above the tracks. It feels like I'm next to them.

I initially started messing with the standard tubular O-27 track and Lionel postwar trains. Then I removed the metal ties and used my own hand cut wood ties of a more scale size. Then I painted the rails. Then I started using O-42 then O-54 track with the goal of going up to O-72. Space being the limiting factor. I then started wanting to disguise the center rail. First by painting it black which had the opposite effect and did nothing but to highlight it's existence even more. Then I started trying to replace it with smaller center rails. I still wasn't satisfied.

Off I went in the stud rail direction using 2 rail track with a stud system. Then off to outside rail which I am currently at but only on a small historical switching layout. I started to despise the large couplers and switched first to old Monarchs but later to Kadee's. Then the large 3 rail wheels were killing me and I switched over to scale wheels. The swinging pilots became an eyesore and they are getting fixed.

The whole time though I've had a fascination with track. I love track. It too is a model. While some people love building structures, mountains, or perhaps scratch building train cars, my love has been hand laying and detailing track. Strange then that I'd choose 3 rail. I've always had the goal of retaining a 3rd rail in some fashion for a couple of reasons. 1 is so I could still run my dad's old postwar Lionel trains with little modification if I wanted to. He's still alive though so it's not like it's a memory thing. He just hasn't seem them run in years and running them on a nice layout would be neat. The other reason is so my nephew can bring over his Lionel trains and play with them on mine. He has a started set and some tough WBB engines so he doesn't have to destroy mine. Then again he's a kid now but he won't be forever and sports is his first love. Who knows if he'll still like trains in a few years or if I'll have a layout for him to run them on anyways.

I can achieve those 2 goals as long as I stay 3 rail. The problem is that while I actually like 3 rail, I don't like a solid center rail. I like my stud rail or outside 3rd rail. I can still maintain a degree of realism with those techniques that even the best center solid 3rd rail track could ever hope to achieve, regardless of who does it or how much effort they put into it. Of course 2 rail is the most real. I'm not making the jump to P:48 though so if we really want to nitpick then of course it too has issues.

My wife and I are trying to buy a house. No more 9' x 12' back bedroom space that I have to fit more than just a train in. The house we hope we can get has a nice 17' x 23' game room. Now we're talking! True it's not big compared to basements or other people's setups but we don't have basements here and I love switching so I know I can pull off a pretty nice layout in that space. It will be focused around the perimeter of the room though since we'd have a pool table to work around.

This leaves me with a dilemma. Do I complete the transition to go full 2 rail where I can mix code 100, 125, or 148 rail into a very nice realistic layout where I can only run my trains or do I sacrifice a bit and use a larger rail code with either stud or outside rail to meet the other goals? Either way I know I can build a nice layout but the thought of going completely over to the dark side is calling me and I'm not sure that I'll be able to resist. But I do have a strong love of outside rail and a fascination with my stud rail. My progression over the years has gone more and more towards realism. The good news is that I only have 3 diesel engines that would need to be converted to 2 rail and no rolling stock that needs to be.

Decisions, decisions...
Original Post

Replies sorted oldest to newest

Set it up for outside third, but insulate it so you can run 2 rail with the flip of a switch. Run your New Haven stuff on the outside rail and your steam and cars as genuine 2 rail.

Down the line you can simply remove the extra rail.

I still have my Gargraves track, but now have only one locomotive with center pickup. All the 700 stuff has long since been converted.
Originally posted by bob2:
Set it up for outside third, but insulate it so you can run 2 rail with the flip of a switch. Run your New Haven stuff on the outside rail and your steam and cars as genuine 2 rail.

Down the line you can simply remove the extra rail.

I could compromise a little bit. I could setup the mainline as outside rail but build the rest as 2 rail. That way we could watch the others run and if done well the track wouldn't look out of place. We'll see. I need to get the place first. I'm planning a bit ahead of myself.
We'll see what happens. We placed an offer on the house that the seller would be crazy to refuse but you never know. It's the perfect house for us and we really want it. If we don't get it, we'll wait another year since we aren't in a hurry and just so happened to come across this one. I hope we get it.

Whatever I end up doing for track it will be 100% hand laid.
We did get our offer accepted so now it's just getting to closing in mid February. If we can do that I'll be at the planning stages. Since this is a house that we intend to be in until our kids move out, I've got plenty of time. We don't have any kids yet by the way. I'll probably start with a 3D CAD model of what I want to do and then go from there. I have a large plotter at work so I can print up an actual size track plan and lay it out.

I'm not going to move up to G. I've got an LGB set for under the Christmas tree and that's enough. My friend Barry Bogs has a large indoor 1500 sq ft G scale layout that several of us operate on so I have access to it anyways. His layout is D&RGW with a combination of standard and narrow gauge. Everything is hand laid. He built all of his structures and nearly all of his rolling stock and engines. It's pretty nice. I'm not doing that in G scale!
Fred...seriously consider S scale. Not Flyer...scale.
Sized perfectly, bigger than HO, lots of great stuff both in standard gauge and in Sn3, which is a hugely popular narrow gauge.
I too love track. Knowing that I have appropriate 4 feet 8 1/2 inches between the rails works for me.
No more China drives, no more big gaps between loco and trucks, and plenty of 1/64th vehicles!
And, the detail on freight cars rivals or surpasses that of most O.
One downside, if you want buldings (and who doesn't?) then most will have to be built, very few ready builts available.
Love for me...just a thought!
Good luck on you closing and take advantage of the lowest interest rates in 50 years!
FredS. 2 rail is best for overall O detail. That said you definitly need a bigger layout as you will be into fixed pilots and wider radii.

Now, about that house, hope you get it. My son has put many offers on houses this last 6 months, full asking, just to be outbid by many thousands. Here in forecloser land, Phoenix Az. last year 1 in 4 houses on market were short or forecloser sales, today it is 1 in 10. and prices are goign up. SO, I think, waiting a year is a bad idea as it is only going to get worse for the buyer with rising prices and interest rates as this market gets stronger. However good for the country that we are putting alotof this behind us.
Hopefully Atlas will get stronger and we see more 2 rail models in the near future.

I was a real estate agent for 6 years so it's neat being on the other end of the deal. It's definitely more intimidating when it's your money going out! Our interest rate is so low it's laughable.

There is actually a decent sized S gauge group here which is interesting considering there are only 2 O scale layouts that aren't 3 rail. I have too much money in N scale, some HO, and O right now to add yet another scale into the mix but I do think S is a very nice size. I've got several ideas for the room but I'm leaning towards an industrial setting where I can do lots of switching where shorter trains and tighter curves as small as 36" radius don't look all that out of place.

I am thinking about diverging slightly away from the pure 2 rail. I am thinking that I can lay code 172 rail on the mainline with closed frog switches and the run an outside 3rd rail on it, taking the time to detail it so it looks like a real outside rail line. Then the rest of the layout aside from the main can be pure 2 rail in various rail codes. It may sound strange but with some easy wiring I'll be able to get my wish of running anything I want on the mainline such as my friend's Lionel FEF Northern or my nephews trains or my dads trains. True the mainline is a little bit heavy but code 172 isn't so large that it will stick out like a sore thumb nor will the outside rail since it would only be on the main. All I'd need is a little electric to run through and suddenly it would seem natural. I could set up the wiring so the main is blocked separately from the rest of the layout where I could just insert a plug as a jumper to wire it for 3 rail. Running only the 3 rail engines on it at that time of course. That's the way I'm leaning right now and I think it can be pulled of convincingly. My railroad is going to be a free lanced short line anyways. I change my mind quite often though.
Originally posted by fredswain:
I change my mind quite often though.

LOL, yes don't we all...and we often benefit from the extra time we invest in our thoughts. BTW, I happen to like your efforts to preserve outside 3rd rail. Surely 2 Rail will beckon you like the sirens song. Choices and decisions and now the potential for some new space to work with...sounds tempting Fred.
I have lots of it but unfortunately in the wrong material. I have over 400 feet of it in brass and about 60 feet in steel. I have two #6 switches in nickel silver though. American S Gauge has code 172 flex track in nickel silver that I could cannibalize for the rail but it is insanely expensive. I have no clue how they sell track at their prices. I did call them about selling me just bulk rail but the response of the person I talked to wasn't necessarily that he couldn't but rather he didn't want to take to time to find out of he could. I must have caught him on a lazy day. It was one of the owners since he said that his brother would be the person to talk to but he didn't turn me over to his brother or bother to ask. That leaves either buying very expensive flex track from them to rip apart for its rail or just to keep searching. I've been watching for this rail for a few years and I still don't have it in nickel silver. I actually don't object to using steel rail but I don't have enough of it.
Last edited by fredswain

OGR Publishing, Inc., 1310 Eastside Centre Ct, Suite 6, Mountain Home, AR 72653
800-980-OGRR (6477)

Link copied to your clipboard.