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Author Topic: Newbie Track Question  (Read 11837 times)

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« on: January 23, 2013, 05:23:39 PM »

I searched the forums to see if there was an answer to my question but I need to some specifics as I am brand new to this, plus I'm a woman, so I need technical things spelled out, after that I am pretty handy. Smiley I bought a beginner's kit, the Woodland Scenics Scenic Ridge and it is a 3x6 layout.  They suggested an Atlas track pack that a beginner could assemble.  My train set is the Bachmann Empire Builder Santa Fe set and the engine is a Northern 4/8/4 steam locomotive.  I have laid the track inside my tunnel areas and run the locomotive (without tender) back and forth to make sure there are no problems before I build the tunnels.  The train will bog down somewhat at a few junctures of the track.  When I run my fingers along the tops of the tracks, I can feel the slightest snags.  I have checked to make sure the tracks are inside the rail connectors and they are.  These are very miniscule deviations but the little train feels them regardless.  It does not derail but I fear it will not pull a load at all or maybe derail or stall altogether once a load is attached.  Is there any thing that can be done about these snags and/or should I run more power to the other parts of the track.  I currently have just the one power attachment that came with the track pack.  Thank you for your help as I really want to enjoy my new hobby.  
ETA: here are the track contents so you can see the radii involved.  (32) 5" Straights, (7) 2-1/2" Straights, (12) 1-1/4" Straights, (4) 5/8" Straights, (14) 9-3/4" Radius, (2) Half 9-3/4" Radius, (11) 11" Radius, (3) Half 11" Radius, (5) 19" Radius, (1) Bumper, (3) Manual Standard Left Switches, (1) Warren Truss Bridge, (1) Terminal Joiner.  Don't know if that makes a difference for this particular engine but I know radius is a key factor by reading other posts.
« Last Edit: January 23, 2013, 05:57:31 PM by juhrich » Logged
James in FL

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« Reply #1 on: January 23, 2013, 07:51:18 PM »

Hi juhrich,

One power feed on your Scenic Ridge should be sufficient.
I don’t think your 4-8-4 is going to be happy on the 9¾r, I’ve never tried mine on less than 11¼r and it slows considerably.
That said;

It is normal for your lokie to slow slightly on both your 9¾ and 11r curves. This is because although the axels turns at a constant rate, the distance each wheel on either side has to travel is not equal (inner rail/outer rail), forcing the inner wheels to slip, and also because of the long ridged wheel base of the loco. Slightly under gauged wheels and drivers will help some with flange binding on tight radii.
Not to worry, again this is normal for long wheelbase lokies on tight radius curves.

As to burrs on top of the end of the track pieces… these should be removed. Some call this “dressing the rails”.
Burrs on the top of your curve pieces are hard on rubber traction tires.
If you drag your fingernail along the top of the rail toward the end, and you feel it “catch” you have a burr. It is good practice to check for this before you lay the track as it is much easier to remove before they are joined.

The way I do it… I use a fine hone stone (whetstone) held at a very low angle <20° to the top of the rail. Usually one very light pass is enough, and check again with your fingernail after each pass. You just want to remove the burr not the base material Try not to chamfer the end to much. It’s easy, using a file, to remove too much material so I don’t use those. If you do, be careful here and use a very light touch.
The ends of the rail should be burr free and square.

Welcome to the hobby and the forum.

Good luck
« Last Edit: January 23, 2013, 07:53:24 PM by James in FL » Logged

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« Reply #2 on: January 23, 2013, 08:21:14 PM »

Thanks James, that really helps.  Once I got the train and did some more reading in this forum I kind of figured that the engine might be too long for the turns, which is too bad as I really like the set and all the cars that came with it.  Plus, I got a great deal on it.  Smiley  What configuration of locomotive would you suggest for my layout? I am looking for a steam engine.  I am still trying to decipher the 3 number sequence and how that relates to length, speed, pulling power and less derailment propensity (if there is such a thing).  I'm assuming that last wish has more to do with radii and a properly dressed and laid track.  My set up does have two grades on it, one up and one down.  I used the risers and inclines that came with the kit so I assume they are calculated correctly. Smiley   Thanks again, Jeri

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« Reply #3 on: January 24, 2013, 07:29:47 AM »


The number sequence for a steam engine is called the Whyte system (see: ). It is simply a way of identifying a locomotive based on the number of wheels it has under the boiler portion of locomotive. You say you have a 4-8-4, which means that there are 4 wheels on the leading truck, 8 driving wheels, and 4 wheels on the trailing truck. When writing it out, dashes are used between the numbers, and when saying it out loud it's pronounced "four eight four".

These numbers don't directly correspond to pulling power or whatnot - especially on a model. However, they can be used for certain generalizations of both the prototype and the model.

Engines without lead or trailing trucks (0-4-0, 0-6-0, 0-8-0) are switchers. The can be found all over a railroad's system, switching in fright yards and major passenger terminals, and occasionally venturing out onto the mainline to switch nearby industrial areas.

Engines with a 2-wheel lead truck tended to be freight locomotives, designed for slower speeds and more pulling power. While 4-wheel lead truck locomotives tended to be passenger power. They would have slightly larger driver diameters for higher speed at the sacrifice of pulling power. For both of these generalizations, there are a couple of thousand exceptions to the rule, because any steam engine can (in theory) be used for any kind of work. The Boston & Maine, for example, used their 2-6-0 locomotives for both freight and passenger runs. The New York, Ontario & Western had 4-8-2 locomotives that were bought specifically to haul freight trains. And on and on I could go.

Looking at Bachmann's online catalog, the 2-6-2 Prairie might be better suited to your tight radius tracks, but as I've not ventured into N-scale steam (yet), I'll defer to others with more experience on the subject.

BTW, you'll frequently see a name after a wheel arrangement (2-6-2 Prairie, 4-8-4 Northern, etc.) In addition to the Whyte system, there were also common names given to certain wheel arrangements. The link I gave you above lists these names. Some, like the 4-8-4 have more than one name for colorful and historic reasons. Sometimes learning railroad history is as much fun as model railroading!  Grin

~AJ Kleipass~
Actively modeling in N, HO, and 2-rail O scales.

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« Reply #4 on: January 24, 2013, 08:48:17 AM »

The 4-8-4 probably does not like the nine and three quarter curves.  You should stick to smaller power.  B-mann sells a 4-6-0 and 2-6-0 that run very nicely and will take the nine and three quarter curves without too much complaint.  B-mann also sells a 2-8-0 that is one of the standards by which N scale steam is measured (the SPECTRUM 2-8-0, mind you, not the older 2-8-0 that comes in a cardboard box. The SPECTRUM 2-8-0 comes in  a plastic box).  The SPECTRUM 2-8-0 will sometimes climb a nine and three quarter curve which could cause it to derail.  The 2-8-0 would probably be the best to get the train  up the grades on that layout.  What I would do is find someone in your area who has a SPECTRUM 2-8-0 and attempt to operate it on the pike.  If it will run in all directions without derailing, buy one.  This is an excellent locomotive, but it requires extensive break-in.  If you buy one from the earlier runs, do try it before you buy it.  If you order on-line, be sure of your e-tailer's return policy.  The Favorite Spot of e-Bay sells many of the B-mann offerings and he does stand behind the product.  I have dealt with him numerous times and have no complaints.  M.B. Klein is another good place to go.

Kato sells a USRA heavy mikado that is the other standard by which N scale steam is measured.  Be sure that you get one with a traction tyre or know someone who can show you how to make the addition of it.  It is a swap in/out change, but a novice should have some guidance on it.  It will take a nine and three quarter curve, but it will not like  it.

Athearn sells  an 1880s 2-8-0 and an 1880s 2-6-0.  Both are nice locomotives an are very small, so they will take the nine and three quarter curves.  If you see MDC nineteenth century rolling stock and power at a show, you can buy those as the Athearns are copies of the MDCs.

Model Power sells USRA light 2-8-2 and 4-6-2.  Due to the drawbar, I have never managed to get them to operate on anything less than a thirteen inch radius curve.  MP also sells a 4-4-0 and 2-6-0 that are based on a VERY late 1890s/early 1900s SP design. Both of these will take a nine and three quarter curve.   The 4-4-0 lacks a traction tyre, thus it is not the best puller.  The 2-6-0 has one, and is an excellent puller.  All  of the MPs suffer from 1970s construction methods.  If you swap the  stock tender for a SPECTRUM USRA switcher or standard tender, that will correct the slow speed stalling problem and improve the pulling power. Also, the stock tender shell on the MP locomotive will fit the chassis of the B-mann SPECTRUM slopeback tender.  The B-mann SPECTRUM tenders have all wheel pick up, a necessity on N scale steam.

The latest version of the B-mann USRA 0-6-0 is another good candidate for a tender upgrade.  The design of the stock tender limits the electrical pick up and creates drag on the locomotive.  The swap in of the SPECTRUM slopeback tender is not difficult, it involves flipping over the drawbar.  Adding the  SPECTRUM USRA switcher tender is a bit more involved, but not hard.  The Standard Line 2-6-2 is simply the USRA 0-6-0 with idler trucks added.

It is important here to remember Miranda's Maxim as explicated by ke:  'The poor performance of many N scale steam locomotives is directly attributable to poor electrical contact.'

I may have omitted a few.  Spookshow's website is a great resource for learning what locomotives are good and what ain't so good.
« Last Edit: January 24, 2013, 08:53:53 AM by brokemoto » Logged
James in FL

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« Reply #5 on: January 24, 2013, 11:07:30 AM »

You have a couple of things to consider here with the Scenic Ridge layout.
First, the tight radius curves and which steam lokies will handle them.
While any number of small steamers may handle the curves, keep in mind the tighter the radii, the more your pony trucks will try to climb the rail.
A couple of solutions for that are adding weight to the pony truck or inside the front of the shell if room permits.
Some lokies may have a spring on the pony truck and removing it may be beneficial.

Second is the grade.
IIRC the scenic ridge is right at about 4%.
This is considered steep and limits the number of cars that can be hauled up it.
The loads being pulling up it will also add to the pony truck climbing effect, add in the tight radius and you have some challenges.
Another thing which will help is free rolling wheels in all your rolling stock trucks, check for this.

Check out some YouTube videos and see what others are using regarding steam power on the scenic ridge.
Others here may have some experience with it or at least tell you which lokies would be good candidates for the 4% and 9¾r in combination.
Folks are successfully running steam on the scenic ridge, don’t despair.

Good luck

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« Reply #6 on: January 24, 2013, 06:36:53 PM »

Wow, you guys are so helpful.  I have learned more in one day than I could imagine.  And you are right the RR history is very interesting.  I live in Cheyenne, WY so we have a lot of UP history here.  We have a spectacular Big Boy in a park here and I grew up admiring it's vastness.  I guess that is why I am drawn to steam.  Anyway, here is my quandry.  I got a great deal on my set from Amazon.  It was listed as "used-like new" and was sealed when it arrived so I am pretty sure it is brand new.  I got it for 114 and it retails for 250.  Should I return it and buy all separate cars to go with a different engine.  It seems I would spend 114 pretty easy just on rolling stock.  Maybe I should keep the kit for the cars and park the 4-8-4 on the side track, and maybe once in a while, run it by itself. Smiley  Another stupid question, when you buy a single engine, does it come with a transformer or do you need to buy a separate one.  Thanks for all your help!
ETA:I just watched a Youtube video of the scenic ridge layout and he was running a diesel engine that was pulling a lot of stock and it didn't miss a beat.  *jealous*  I am not 100% sure it was a diesel but he mentioned adding diesel smoke effects to the tunnels.  It looks as long as my steam engine but it sure was smooth.  It would even go over the switch and on to the side track.  My engine won't even contemplate that, stalls or derails everytime.  If I need to give up the steam dream and go with something different altogether, please be blunt.  Smiley 
« Last Edit: January 24, 2013, 07:18:44 PM by juhrich » Logged
Mike C

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« Reply #7 on: January 24, 2013, 06:58:52 PM »

I would just keep the set, as long as you like it. Sometime later you may have a different layout and be able to run the larger locomotive. I would also recommend  the Spectrum 2-8-0,  2-6-0 or the 4-6-0. as they are all very good locos, and should run on you're track with no problem.

This is a link to a site that will tell you everything you will ever want to know about N scale locomotives...Mike

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« Reply #8 on: January 24, 2013, 07:41:31 PM »

Thanks Mike.  I searched the Bachmann site for spectrum but the only 2-6-0 that I am finding is Alco. I found one of those that I like, the 2-6-0, UP, product number 51755. The only Spectrums I saw were 4-8-2 and they suggested a min radius of 19 and I am not even close to that.  So many choices. 
Franz T

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« Reply #9 on: January 24, 2013, 08:07:48 PM »

Here are some Spectrum 2-8-0's...

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« Reply #10 on: January 24, 2013, 10:32:02 PM »

The ALCo 2-6-0 is the one that you want to buy.  It and the 4-6-0 are Standard Line locomotives, not SPECTRUM.  Bachpersonn has made some major  improvements to its Standard Line power in recent years.

The 4-8-2 will take an eleven inch radius curve.  It does not like it, but it will go.  I do  not know if will take a nine and three quarter; I have never tried it.

The recent issue 2-8-0  is a SPECTRUM.

Another hint:  get away from the trainset power pack as quickly as possible.  B-mann, Kato Atlas and Model Rectifier sell better grade DC power packs.  Most of us prefer MRC, but the others do have their fans.  Personally, I prefer the TECH II MRC packs.  I suspect that most of these are out of production, but they are everywhere at shows and stores.  My two favourites are the 2400 and 2800.

The best thing for those nasty grades would probably be a modified Model Power 2-6-0.  See if there is someone in your area who knows how to do the tender swap.  The Favorite Spot on FeePay and M.B.Klein do have the SPECTRUM tenders lettered for the Borg.  Although it was not the 'Borg'  in the days when it ran steam in revenue service, since its historic Locomotives Department (which, at least used to be in Cheyenne, if it is not still there) still operates steam (including two that were never retired), it is still the 'Borg' when it comes to steam.

Another thing to  look for, if you can find it, is a Rivarossi 2-8-8-0.  It will take a nine and three quarter curve, despite its size, although it does look pretty  silly doing it.  It is also a good puller:  something that you need for those nasty grades.  It has its problems, especially the older issues.  The power chassis is made of a Zirmac casting that gets brittle with age.  If the running gear suddenly binds when you are running it, be prepared to have the thing come to pieces in your hand.  Still, if you can find a good one, spend the hours to break it in and it will pull well.  Rivarossi/Con-Cor did sell it lettered for the Borg.  The Borg did run many 2-8-8-0s before the challengr and big boy, although its 2-8-8-0s did not look like the one that RR made..  Still, if it is the Borg that you must have, you can get it.
« Last Edit: January 24, 2013, 10:38:15 PM by brokemoto » Logged
Old John

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« Reply #11 on: January 25, 2013, 01:14:29 PM »

I have 3  of the 2-6-0's,  I bought the first one and it ran so well that I bought 2 more and I'm thinking about buying a 4th.  The 2-6-0 is a great running locomotive and hasn't any problems with the 9 inch curves. I have a couple of the MDC/Roundhouse/Athearn 2-6-0's (all the same locomotive), they are good runners but don't lend themselves very well to lubrication and maintenance. As mentioned before a good source of information is the N-Scale Encyclopedia at

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« Reply #12 on: January 25, 2013, 05:57:02 PM »

Thanks again everyone for your help.  I checked out the spookshow link and both the Alco and Spectrums are A rated so it looks like I'll be deciding which one is prettier.  Smiley  I am going to keep my set with the 4-8-4 as I priced out rolling stock separately and what I paid for the kit is about the same to buy all those cars so I am just going to use them with my new engine.  I am also going to upgrade my power pack as suggested.  I figured this wasn't as easy as throwing a track together and slapping any old train on it.  Learning and overcoming the challenges is making this more fun than I thought.  It is also a little more expensive than I thought but what the heck, you only live once.   Smiley

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« Reply #13 on: January 28, 2013, 03:44:37 PM »

I ordered the Alco 2-6-0 and it should be here Thursday.  *excited*.  I have decided to return the Bachmann set as I have laid and secured the entire track and the engine absolutley hates it.  Either the engine derails or the tender derails all the time on the curves.  Also, the front set of wheels hate going through the turnouts, they seem to bounce around a lot.    I am sure it has a lot to do with my track laying skills but I am hoping the 2-6-0 is more forgiving.  I have checked all the connections and all of the tracks are in the connectors properly.  I do have a question on rolling stock as I will be ordering some now.  How many cars would you guys suggest and does it make a difference what brand?  And is there a length on rolling stock that I should stay under? I am thinking that is a yes but I want to be sure.   
Mike C

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« Reply #14 on: January 28, 2013, 06:51:44 PM »

With that loco I would probably stay with the 40' boxcars as the longest cars.  The Bachmann Silver Line of cars are good ( The single dome tank cars are great ) . And the Atlas line of cars are also real good. Try to get cars that have the Microtrains style of coupler, and they will all work with you're locomotive. What kind of track are you using ? ...Mike
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