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Discussion Starter #1
I live in New Jersey which experiences a broad range of temperatures and humidity over the course of a year. I'm contemplating running some HO track around the inside perimeter of my 20'x14' shed. About 7' above the floor (so it goes over the doors). The plan is for a Sierra Nevada scenery which would support looking up at the trains. The plan is to use code 100 nickel silver flex track with track joiners instead of soldered to allow for track movement (track won't be very visible and less chance of a wheel flange/track equipment disaster). I'm thinking of using extruded foam substrate with cork roadbed using DAP adhesive caulk to hold the track. The track would not see direct sun light.

Am I being overly optimistic this is going to work? Cold temperature streaks can be in the low 20'sF with low humidity in the Winter. Summers might be around 90F with very high humidity. The shed has a pellet stove but only used while in the shed during the winter to save money which would cause a relatively dramatic temperature change (over the course of an hour). There's no AC.

Would this be a viable reliable system or just a waste of time headache?
I appreciate your thoughts and thanks very much!

**None of the engines or rolling stock would be stored out there and would run a track cleaner when operating
 

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Sounds mostly okay, but without soldered track joints, it's gonna be dicey.
 

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If you're not soldering any of the rail joiners, make sure you run power leads to each section of track. The cork and caulk will flex and shouldn't cause any trouble, and the rail joiners should help keep the rails in line.
 

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Nickle silver rails don't actually expand and contract that much. What causes the most problems with temperature changes is untreated wood, which DOES expand and contract a lot with changes in relative humidity (which is directly related to temperature). If your base is made out of extruded foam, and you use foam (not cork, which IS a kind of wood) roadbed and fasten things down with adhesive caulk, you shouldn't have much of an issue.

Nickel silver expands / contracts 0.000009" per degree F change. The perimeter of your shed is about 816", so over the 70 degree temp swing you describe, you'll have roughly half an inch of expansion / contraction. If you lay your track near the middle of that temp range, it's more like a quarter inch. So if you have 4 x 1/16 gaps in your rails that would cover you (although you might want to do a few more, just in case). Solder the rest of your track pieces together for best electrical conductivity.
 

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Solder every SECOND joiner. Power every soldered joiner. Power goes two ways, left 'n right, so if you solder one joiner and feed the joint, you'll get uninterrupted power for a total of 6'. Cuts down on a lot of wire, wire cutting, wire end stripping, drilling, and soldering.

So, you're going to leave every second joiner free to slide and to accommodate some movement. Up that high, you don't really need to ballast. You could use track nails here and there, which will allow some movement, but also help with alignment, especially along curves where there's a lot more tension, even when things are stable.

Here's the schematic I use to help to show what I mean:

======X=========================O===========================X=============================O===============

...where the X's are soldered/closed joiners, but also have 22 gauge feeders soldered*, and the O's are free-sliding joiners that will allow for some expansion and contraction. They just provide mechanical alignment.

*Once you bare the ends of your feeders, you can hammer them ribbon flat and slide them into the joiners. They'll have a pretty solid mechanical link to the various metal surfaces that way, but your solder will really help to keep the electricity flowing and it will strengthen the joint some.
 

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Discussion Starter #6
This is all extremely helpful and appreciate the detailed information right down to try working during the median temperature and the schematic. I'm encouraged by everyone's positive opinion and valuable feedback. Thanks!
 

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A few suggestions:
(1) code 100 will not keep your trains from derailing anymore than c83, c70, c40..The wheels have no 'knowledge' of that..Only reason for 100 (which scales out to about 14" tall in the 1:1 scale when the tallest rail in the US is no taller than about 9"), is if you have old cars and locos with deep (pizza cutter) flanges which would hit the tie plates/spikes on 83 or less. Also, if it's the old black plastic track, the ties are out of scale (too wide, too close together) if that matters.
(2) If you can, reconsider the 7' height and instead make lift or swing-out bridges in front of the door/s. After a while always having to cock your head up to watch the trains will become a big drag. One exception would be to construct stepped platforms to stand on so as to be level with the layout.
(3) Unless it's going to be a giant MRR, you don't need feeders under the rails. Rail joiners are snug enough for elec continuity. if IF you then begin to get stall outs in a particular place you can always run a feeder to that track area later on or solder the offending joint..
(4) Far as expansion and contraction of track, if joiners are kept un-soldered they'll allow this to occur with little if any damage to rails..You can also cut the flex rails back enough to form a 3/32" gap between railheads for expansion..
(5) If you don't already, consider buying Xuron Rail Nippers to do all your rail cutting..And if you do, make sure the flat side of the jaws is against the good rail you're keeping; concave side of jaws is the bad rail...
I had a medium-large HO layout, all flex with no soldered joints or feeders and never had stallouts, derails, or expansion damage. This is Los Angeles with radically shifting hi-lo temperatures and humidity... 🛤🌄🛤 ...M
 

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Discussion Starter #8
I appreciate the level of information provided from beginner all the way to expert in these responses. I've been out of the hobby for a long time. Was pretty good at it (was president of the model railroad club in HS during the late 70's) but have been out of it for 20 years for the typical reasons. You are reminding me of some of the basics that need to be dusted off along with some more current methods like using foam. All great stuff!

Two reasons for elevating the track which I should mention. The shed is also used for my other hobby auto restoration. The framework would likely get bumped and damaged and take up valuable wall hanging space (tools, parts etc.). I've tried the lift out sections and come to find I'm too lazy. My interest in doing this is enjoying the trains run continuous while I work on the car or just focus on running the layout other times (which would involve some sort of mobile platforms in strategic locations).

Which leads me to another question (maybe there's another thread somewhere that covers using foam?), the wall studs (exposed) are typical 16"o.c. I'm thinking in general of using 1/2" plywood support angles screwed to the studs every 16" and using 2" thick strips of foam at a minimum of 6" wide for the substrate. The foam would be glued to the supports. As I mention above, I'm not hip to the more modern methods. My concern is the foam probably sags over time or during high temps? I want to build a solid foundation for sure but be efficient at the same time.
 

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The foam we're talking about is extruded styrofoam panels that are used for home insulation. Those are very rigid and dimensionally stable. They won't sag or warp, at least not under normal temps.

Obviously, you need some support under them, but one bracket every 24" or so will be ample to hold the weight of a typical layout. Use of a flexible adhesive like caulk helps keep any movement of the brackets (or the shed walls, which might also be subject to expansion and contraction) from translating to your layout. You can even make a shelf for it to sit on. Either let gravity keep the foam in place, or treat your wood with an impermeable finish (varnish, oil based paint / stain, and / or polyurethane) to make sure you're not going to get warping or swelling.
 

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I'm going to have to disagree with telltale. Joiners are notoriously unreliable for anything but mechanical alignment, and some would quibble with that. On curves, they tend to be considerably weaker than if they had been soldered. But for the purposes of electrical continuity, they are highly unreliable, especially if you do any scenicking and ballasting, including using sprays or adhesive solutions as fixatives for the various materials. THAT is why we solder...to ensure the joint is both sealed and mechanically robust. For joiners to let you down, it's not if, it's when. And if you have left two or more unsoldered, which of the three or four pairs is the one that has become compromised? Are you going to be sure it's just the one pair, and not the ones on either side of it as well?

Before you ballast, that's when you do the proper 'prep work', just like in so many operations...not later. So, you drill and feed as I suggested in my previous post, and then you can apply all those other elements to improve appearance if that is what you wish to do. If you apply at least a pair of feeders so that about 10', not much more, of rails is fed, you'll have good power. I would definitely do it before I had to go back and add feeders based on where power seemed to be lacking. At that point, you'll probably also have to do more soldering.
 

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Discussion Starter #11
The foam we're talking about is extruded styrofoam panels that are used for home insulation. Those are very rigid and dimensionally stable. They won't sag or warp, at least not under normal temps.

Obviously, you need some support under them, but one bracket every 24" or so will be ample to hold the weight of a typical layout. Use of a flexible adhesive like caulk helps keep any movement of the brackets (or the shed walls, which might also be subject to expansion and contraction) from translating to your layout. You can even make a shelf for it to sit on. Either let gravity keep the foam in place, or treat your wood with an impermeable finish (varnish, oil based paint / stain, and / or polyurethane) to make sure you're not going to get warping or swelling.
Excellent point about the shed naturally wanting to move (sunny side vs shade) or even during heavy wind storms. Thanks, great points
 

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Discussion Starter #12
I'm going to have to disagree with telltale. Joiners are notoriously unreliable for anything but mechanical alignment, and some would quibble with that. On curves, they tend to be considerably weaker than if they had been soldered. But for the purposes of electrical continuity, they are highly unreliable, especially if you do any scenicking and ballasting, including using sprays or adhesive solutions as fixatives for the various materials. THAT is why we solder...to ensure the joint is both sealed and mechanically robust. For joiners to let you down, it's not if, it's when. And if you have left two or more unsoldered, which of the three or four pairs is the one that has become compromised? Are you going to be sure it's just the one pair, and not the ones on either side of it as well?

Before you ballast, that's when you do the proper 'prep work', just like in so many operations...not later. So, you drill and feed as I suggested in my previous post, and then you can apply all those other elements to improve appearance if that is what you wish to do. If you apply at least a pair of feeders so that about 10', not much more, of rails is fed, you'll have good power. I would definitely do it before I had to go back and add feeders based on where power seemed to be lacking. At that point, you'll probably also have to do more soldering.
Agree, there’s more stress on the connectors in the curves I would think.
I plan to do lots of strategic scenery and minimize ballast etc. to keep track as simple and reliable as possible. My goal is a reliable layout because I have some expensive engines such as brass cab forwards and brass & SS passenger cars. I didn’t buy them years ago to sit in boxes and the shed is perfect for long runs. Your point of maximizing the soldered joints is well taken. Derailments would be a likely disaster. Would run a lot of Athearn to build confidence before doing anything.
 

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Telltale, I don't doubt that you have enjoyed your layout as you constructed it. I don't begrudge you that enjoyment, and I sincerely hope it lasts.

I haven't a lot of time in the hobby, but I am running trains on my fourth layout, and the last two have had 50' twinned loops. I have spent hundreds of hours reading at least six different fora over 15 years, and the wide consensus is that one should have a mix of soldered and free-sliding joiners, and for the reasons you and I have explained. The people who do the lion's share of helping over at Model Railroader, for example, and at Model Railroad Hobbyist, warn newcomers not to rely on joiners for electrical purposes, only mechanical ones. They have all learned the hard way that, sooner or later, you'll have a stall, and when you meter the rails, it will show power is just fine, thanks very much. But your trains will continue to stall there intermittently, and it will eventually be clear that you need a pair of feeders there. Soldering every other joiner provides a robust 100% continuity around an entire rail system, even if you only used feeders on one end of the soldered pair. It's only six feet, so no problem with voltage loss over that distance. Ten feet is a little more iffy, and most people find their voltage drops quite remarkably after about 12 feet of track. Wherever there's an unsoldered joiner, and it has begun to fail electrically, the power path is that much shorter.

I do agree with the gist of your post. But, I can't agree with the idea of counting very long on unsoldered joiners, most especially if one spreads ballast grains, grooms the ballast to a nice profile, and then dribbles a dilute glue or matte medium into it to fix it in place. Some of it, or paint if you 'rust' up the rails that way, will migrate into the joiners and reduce the contact point quite severely.
 

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If you want to keep the ballast flexible, smear some colored caulking on the roadbed (I would assume you'd use cork or foam here) and then sprinkle the ballast into the caulk and press it down by hand to make sure it sticks. Once it dries you can blast it with canned air to remove the loose bits, and you should end up with decent ballast that won't crack from the weather cycles.
 

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PS. 1 EXCEPTION to my rail joiner claim in post # 7.... If one is using 2 or 3, 3' flex sections for curves, do solder them end to end by first laying them out flat and straight on the bench or floor..This way when you do bend them to make a curve there will be no kinks in the rails at these joints. IE. curve will be very smooth..
I did do that, but no solder or buss/feeders elsewhere... 🛤🌄🛤
 

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Discussion Starter #17
PS. 1 EXCEPTION to my rail joiner claim in post # 7.... If one is using 2 or 3, 3' flex sections for curves, do solder them end to end by first laying them out flat and straight on the bench or floor..This way when you do bend them to make a curve there will be no kinks in the rails at these joints. IE. curve will be very smooth..
I did do that, but no solder or buss/feeders elsewhere... 🛤🌄🛤
I forgot about that, you’re right for a smooth curve. Takes a little gentle massaging as you flex it if I recall
 

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Discussion Starter #18
If you want to keep the ballast flexible, smear some colored caulking on the roadbed (I would assume you'd use cork or foam here) and then sprinkle the ballast into the caulk and press it down by hand to make sure it sticks. Once it dries you can blast it with canned air to remove the loose bits, and you should end up with decent ballast that won't crack from the weather cycles.
Sounds like a great option for my situation, thanks!
 
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