Aug 27, 2013
I agree with Jim it would be great to hear from somebody who is currently using ME items.
I believe in my previous post I explained the layout I am currently working on is half and half, and I explained the differences and my frustrations.
OK, here's one: I love ME flex. I used it on my Cajon layout and wouldn't use anything else. Atlas is easily flexed, but will get straight right after bent, while ME can be bent and will retain that shape until glued down. I always started bended from the middle of the stick, as that seemed to reduce the amount of unintended bended down the length. If you bend ME flex in one area, it is possible that it will bend a bit in the opposite direction somewhere else in the stick, so pay careful attention. Also, as others have said, no problems with bigger flanges.
On turnouts, I have built a lot, and I don't think slight vision problems should make building them impossible. Have you used an optivisor? I use on a lot in N and my vision is corrected to about 20-15.
This is the part I dont really like. If you draw your centerlines and bend the ME to it and start glueing it down...and then find you are a bit off line as it's being glued...you have to rebend the unglued portion. This usually cause the end not glued down to want to go in the other direction. So now you are trying to reshape and reshape the unglued portion. Atlas flex...because its actually 'flexible'...on the other hand can be shaped and glued to the centerline as you go...with nary a glitch in the process. On my old layout...I bought a stick of ME and a stick off Atlas...just to see how laying the track would go. I went with the Atlas.
All that being said...with Atlas going on 2 years with track/turnout delays... I would definately give ME another shot. The fact that you CAN get the rails to 'move' in the ties with a warm water soaking could mean ME is gonna really sell some track. JMO YMMV.
I spent time on Fastracks web site and watched all the videos. They make some nice stuff to really speed up the process.
The picture I have yet to see is a finished, painted switch made by this method.
jdcolombo, can you please post a picture of the finished product?
I am wondering if the dissolved glue was acting as a slight lubricant.
I am surprised, this track discussion has stayed very civil. I just don't understand with the pent up demand for track how a company like Atlas is making more money on track when it can not fill orders due to the Chinese factory being backed up. To me, it makes more sense (and cents) to make a little less per piece and make my track in NJ (or even have ME make it in MO) but to have it constantly and sell MORE than to lose sales to ME or Peco....
Nope..I found that months ago,posted it here and Railwire....I've been doing trackwork since with new stuff,it works on new track.If anything,the glue made it a little tougher at first..
I'm a picky wacko about trackwork,it has to be PERFECT..First of all,for really straight trackwork,don't lay track by the centerline.If you want it straight,draw your arc to the outside of the ties!! If you go by centerline,you're making a judgment call on something that isn't really there,there's no real mark on the center of the track,and also,you can't even really see it,because it's interrupted by the ties.If you go to the outside of the ties,you get a perfect reference point,the edge of the ties,and you can see ALL of it.And if you use a pen instead of a marker,you get an even better reference point.
I sand superellevation into all my curves,sand all the roadbed dead flat,solder all my joints,my trainroom is kept within a constant 20 degree range.I spent a lot of time learning ME track..The secret is,you can't be worried about using every inch of track,to get it perfect,you waste more than with Atlas flex...
When I do a curve,I don't start on the straight,then bend it around the curve.I start by soldering two pieces of ME together,then I put the joint in the center of the curve,and work it out like one big piece of flex,gluing it and pinning it down with big map pins as I go along.The pins I use are wide enough that they bridge the rails,so the pins don't get glued to the ties.I don't glue it until it's perfectly aligned & pinned down..I flow alcohol under the ties,then glue/water/alcohol mix.I then move onto the next curve,and do the same.After both are dead dry,THEN I connect them together with the straight[er] sections.BY the way,I use C70.When I first started,ME C55 turnouts were non existent,and since I have a LOT of heritage stuff,I just went to the C70.If I were to start again,I'd use ME C55..
I agree Lou...BUT...
Ya still have to 'fight' rigid flextrack more then flexable flextrack is all I'm sayin ;-)
I'm hoping I never have to re-lay track again. I'm to old and decrepit for any of that s*** even if its Unitrack !!! LOL
Lou .. would you feel comfortable using or are you using ME turnouts? Since I am considering redoing my layout, I would prefer to go with one manufacturer for the entire thing. Since Atlas seems to be so unpredictable, is why I started this thread. I can live with #6 turnouts and just not comfortable with my skills yet to even remotely try making my own. I know everybody says it is easy but ....
Craig,my entire RR is all ME C70.I've had trouble with one turnout,the frog went dead after after 4 years.I carefully cut it out and replaced it,then I fixed it from underneath.I won't use it on the main again,but I have no second thoughts about putting it on a short stub track,or somewhere else it can be easily removed.Consider just the fact that it CAN be fixed!!
Truthfully,I feel a heck of a lot better about ME turnouts than Atlas.The ME stuff is built from actual rail,and appear to be silver soldered together.Atlas 55 has what appears to be plated cast aluminum frogs,I just can't get myself to use them..I actually bought a half dozen Atlas turnouts when I first started my new RR,they ended up on Ebay..I've had MANY Atlas C80's go bad over the years,the points just went dead.
George,I'm an old fart too,40 years of fabricating motorcycles beat me up,just had 4 bypasses two months ago..ME takes three times as long to put down as Atlas,but to me,the end result is well worth it.I may even start making my own turnouts this winter..
Yup...IF... BIG IF ...I ever had to do it again...It would be ME over Atlas hands down. Wouldnt care how much Atlas stuff was out there !
I started actual work on my layout in June of 2012. I was already hearing grumblings about the shortage of Atlas C55 track etc.. I heard "August...possibly November" (2012). I wasnt gettin any younger ! ME stuff was gonna cost me MORE then THE Wife budgeted for 'trains'. Had I waited back then (and would still waiting) on Atlas with their 'every 3 month delay announcement'...to paraphrase... "Fool me once Atlas, shame on you. Fool me twice or more, shame on me." ...my layout would still be looking like this for the past 14 months!!!...
I shoulda just bit the bullet and went with the ME...but...I am also happy with the Unitrack I decided to use...
We all model in different ways and by different means...its all good !!
Couple of things here. First with regard to the flexibility issue. I like the stiff flex stack [is that an oxymoron?] for doing straight track like in yards but not so much for curves. Second there is a dealer at the Greenberg shows who seems to have a good supply of Atlas C55. I didn't pay much attention to flex track when he was here in July but I did notice he had the C55 switches. I will have to check him out in November. Also at the Bedford N Scale Weekend two venders had ME bridge track which I hadn't seen in a while. One, who also is an E-tailer, priced it at $12.50 while the other vender's price was only $8.50. Needless to say I got the one priced at $8.50.
Regarding the China situation, somehow I can't believe that manufacturers were totally oblivious to the dangers of dealing with that country. The old adage about putting all your eggs in one basket had to be buzzing around their brains. Any economic advantage they realized with the lower costs have been completely eliminated by the ongoing product shortage. Who knows maybe they will move tooling to North Korea next.
Sorry to be so late in replying to this thread. I can't say enough good things about ME unweathered flex. I have never used code 80 for any modules or layout I've built for myself. My first Ntrak modules were built back in the early 80's with Railcraft code 70 to more closely comply with Ntrak's Atlas 80 standard. The Railcraft (now ME) flex looked exponentially better than Atlas or Peco 80 not because of the .010" difference in rail height, but because of the prototypical tie proportions and spacing, as well as the fine tieplate and spikehead detailing that simply does not exist on Atlas 80 or Peco trackage.
I also learned to roll my own turnouts at the time because nobody made either code 70 or code 55 (for my sidings) turnouts. I never have used any expensive jigs or fixtures for my hand made turnouts...just paper templates. Not only are my hand made turnouts better looking (more prototypical) as far as tie spacing, frog and guardrail proportions, and other details, than anything commercially available either in the early 80's or now in N-scale, they save(d) me thousands of dollars over the years as a #8 costs me about $1.75 to construct as I bought my supplies in bulk years ago. It'd cost you about $3.75 nowadays buying your ties and NS rails piecemeal, which is still a huge savings.
If you can't tell the difference between Atlas 55 and ME 55, you need to get those cataracts fixed. There's a brobdignagian (I'm using the word "huge" too much) difference in the tie-to-rail attachment protocols as Atlas 55 has huge "thingies" that don't look anything close to tieplates or spikes, whereas all ME flex (code 70, code 55, code 40) has individual spikehead details. Old Railcraft flex is the best, but it's not made any more. Luckily I have a good stash of it, which I use for my modular layout's prototype scenes.
Yup, I am fairly fanatical about track, and lay it as close to perfect as I am able, which includes super smooth curves and straights where appropriate using both tools and the M-1A Eyeball Method, with sanded Midwest Cork roadbed, superelevated curves and spiral easements. Some places I kink the rails slightly to duplicate ill-kept prototype sidings and branchline yards. I solder all of my rail joiners (which I cut into thirds to fit between ties so there are no ties on my mainlines that don't have spikes) and all of my 22 ga. feeders are either soldered to the underside of the rails or onto a PCB tie. The fanaticism includes my ballast color and size, as well as contour. It includes the tie and rail color and different weathering for my dual mainline's uphill and downhill grades also. I am progressively adding etched NS prototype-style rail joiners to the web of my rails every scale 39' (2.925"). I also build every turnout on my modular layout on my workbench to tight NMRA standards, adding prototype track furniture details to turnouts which will be prominently displayed in the foreground of my LDE's. I really like doing this, so it's a LOT of fun for me, and I realize you may not care...but that doesn't deter me from doing my "thing" because for me, the end result really makes my superdetailed engines and rolling stock look even more "real" when I photograph them...which I do a lot.
Atlas "floppy" flex has some problems as we all know...particularly the fact that pizza cutters buzz on it because of the huge thingies holding the rails to the ties. Only ME code 40 has that problem with pizza cutters. Atlas "floppy" flex also will "pop" easier than ME flex when confronted by extreme temperature variables because it's not held as securely to the ties as the stiffer ME flex...and this is with track that's laid and ballasted identically. The only places I've had ME flex do a spontaneous S curve because of heat has been on unfinished areas when spanning a river or gulch where there will eventually be a bridge. After the bridge is in and the track secured, it just doesn't "pop"...and that's on modules that have been stored outside in a shed here in Utah in 100 deg. plus temps in the Summer down to several degrees below zero in the Winter.
As to ME turnouts. They are available in both code 70 and code 55, but not in code 40. The proportions on ME #6's are mostly correct and look much more prototypical than Atlas turnouts, which are built much too short between the wing rails and headblocks, so as to make the diverging track's radius much less than it should be. Also, Atlas turnouts have plated frogs and closure points. If you clean your rails with an abrasive Bright Boy, you will eventually wear that plating off and it will not look so nice. ME frogs are cast NS, and the closure points are fabricated out of NS rail, so they don't have any plating to wear off. Also, the ME turnouts have an over-center spring on the throwbar so you don't absolutely need a switch motor for them to be operational right out of the box.
The good thing about Atlas turnouts is that they at least have three different sizes and one curved turnout, and the #7, #10 and curved are reliable, even if they aren't correctly proportioned (BUT, they look a whole universe better than code 80 or Peco 55 and if you don't hand-lay your own turnouts or know how turnouts work, you'd never notice that fact.). The bad thing is they're nearly impossible to find right now.
Several members of various N-scale clubs here in Utah use ME flex combined with both ME turnouts and Atlas 55 turnouts. They have no problems whatsoever mixing brands, but everybody I know strings a DPDT switch under the benchwork to make the frogs hot...which is just good track-laying practice anyway.
Peco 55 might as well be code 80 from a looks standpoint as the tie details are virtually the same as code 80 trackage...out of proportion, grossly too big in some dimensions and too short in others...but, it works, and is available.
Here's the thing...no matter what commercial brand of turnouts you decide to use, or even a combination of brands, your layout design is going to be limited to what you can buy. That's just the facts. If you know how to fabricate your own turnouts (it's neither expensive nor difficult), then you can use the best looking turnouts (Atlas 55 and ME #6's) in conjunction with ME flex for the best appearance AND functionality...then you can fabricate turnouts for those special places you need a three way, or a #4 wye or a curved turnout with a 24" inside radius...or whatever.
You don't want to take the time to hand lay all of your turnouts?...then don't. BUT, it would add a lot to your layout designing freedom to learn to fabricate them so you're not limited by what's commercially available when designing your model railroad empire. If you don't mind the limitations...then #5, #6, #7, #10 and one size of curved turnout, and six different angles of crossings are what you have to work with by combining Atlas 55 turnouts and ME 55 turnouts and flex.
You should be aware also that properly built hand-laid turnouts are much smoother and more reliable than commercial turnouts...and if you ever break one, they can be repaired easily in-place. The only negative thing about rolling your own turnouts is the extra time spent doing so. Everything else is superior to any commercially available turnout...everything.
I work on my good friend Nate Goodman's layout every week, and he chose to use Atlas 80 on it. I don't pooh pooh his decision or make fun of his track height, I just lay his Atlas 80 trackage exactly the same way as I lay both my flex and hand-laid trackage, painting, ballasting and weathering it the same (except for the rail joiners every 2.925"!) But, I would never use code 80 on my layout, cause it jumps out and grabs my eyeballs in a most unpleasant manner.
However, your eyballs might be less sensitive than mine, and there's NOTHING wrong with that.
Truthfully, if you're not concerned with details then use whatever is readily available. But, if you ARE concerned with details and vastly more prototypical appearance, the trackage is available for your use, and there is plenty of instruction for you if you decide to learn to roll your own turnouts if you want to go that route.
'Nuff said, so to add another thousand words, here's a photo of one of the things you can't buy in code 55 RTR in my Echo Yard LDE:
Code 55 Railcraft Flex, hand-built 3-way:
Photo of "finished" (headblock ties have not been installed because I do that after installing on the layout) #6 (top) done with Fast Tracks #6 jig, their point form tool, and their stock rail filing tool. The wood ties were bulk wood ties cut to length on a template, which could use a bit of "evening up" on the "flat" side (I did not use their "quick sticks" ties for this one - they are convenient, and are cut more precisely, but expensive, and cutting bulk wood ties is only about a 5-minute job; everything tends to disappear after ballasting anyway). There's still a bit of paint on the rails I need to clean off on this one.
#4 (bottom) was made only with a paper template, using the Fast Tracks point form tool to form the points and the StockAid tool to file the notch in the stock rails.
For those just starting out making turnouts, I'd recommend getting a Fast Tracks jig for the turnout # you will use the most (e.g., a #6), plus the point form tool and stock aid tool.
Other tools you will need:
Good pair of rail nippers
10" ¤¤¤¤¤¤¤ mill file (buy a good one; an 8" would be helpful, too)
35 or 40w soldering iron with a good conical tip (I use a Weller pro 35w)
paste soldering flux (Fast Tracks recommends normal acid flux; other folks swear by SuperSafe flux; I used both, and ended up preferring standard acid flux - I basically simply copy the techniques in the Fast Tracks videos)
thin solder (I use coreless silver solder, because it gives a stronger joint; Fast Tracks just uses a standard rosin core solder)
A good stainless steel wire brush for cleanup (get one in a plumbing supply department or from Fast Tracks)
At least two 3-point track gauges (also available from Fast Tracks) and an N scale NMRA gauge
Supplies would include:
bulk rail, available from Fast Tracks or Proto87 Stores
bulk PC board ties (from Clover House or Fast Tracks - the Fast Tracks ones are nicer, but more expensive)
bulk wood ties (Fast Tracks or Proto87 - the Proto87 ones are longer, and I prefer them)
Pliobond or CA gel cement (for gluing wood ties to rail; I prefer Pliobond but have used both)
I calculated that the cost per turnout NOT INCLUDING THE TOOLS is about $3. No question that the Fast Tracks tools are expensive, and your cost break-even point between using Fast Tracks tools and buying factory made is about 25 turnouts. But using the Fast Tracks tools is the best way to learn the techniques; once you've done that, you can resell the tools (though the point form tool and the StockAid tool are both very useful even without the jig; I use the #6 point form tool to make points for #4 - #8's; you can do this by adjusting the amount of rail that you file off in the tool, even though in theory the tool is made specifically for one point angle). The StockAid tool works for any turnout.
Even with the Fast Tracks tools, your first turnout will take about half a day and at the end, you'll throw it away. Your second should produce something useful, and by the fourth, you'll be a master. You do need basic soldering competence, but this is a skill easily learned by practice. Everything else is just patience and the old "measure twice, cut once" process.
And finally, the turnouts you make will be smoother in operation than anything you buy factory-made. Why? Well, because you are making them to exact NMRA standards. No slop; no manufacturing tolerances. Even my Athearn BigBoy will smoothly negotiate my hand-built #4 turnout. It doesn't much care for stock Atlas #5's.
Here's another photo - I cleaned the rails up a bit for this one.
The top two turnouts are both #6's; the top one uses the "quick sticks" wood ties from Fast Tracks to complete the turnout, while the middle one I used bulk wood ties that I cut myself (this is the same one as in the previous photo). I've also attached a wire to power the frog to the top one. The bottom turnout is the #4 from the previous photo, again with the rails cleaned a bit more.
Every time that I read one of these threads that talk about building turnouts, I want to do it but I am down to needing just 5 double slips for my layout.
May be for my next layout ...
Well, OK - I really wouldn't recommend starting out by building a double-slip!