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Author Topic: Garden Railroad Track Issue. Need Help.  (Read 2578 times)
Steam Freak

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« on: June 15, 2008, 09:25:48 PM »

I've run into a little bit of a problem with our Garden Railroad. About half way on my Garden Railroad, it doesn't seem to be getting any power. Me and my friend looked at the track, and didn't notice any problems. The jointers seem connected fine, but they must be causing the problem. The engine will get to a certain point and just stop dead. We checked it with a volt meter and sure enough, one side of the jointers is normal power, and the other side is almost nothing.

We tried doing squirting some conductive lube on the jointers, but that didn't do anything. Is it possible that corrosion can get to the jointers after a while? It would be near to impossible to replace the jointers now. The track is firmly in the ground. Replacing the jointers now would probably rip up the track a little due to the pressure of having a complete loop.

Do you have any suggestions on what would be causing this or how to fix this?

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« Reply #1 on: June 15, 2008, 10:16:58 PM »

Areyou using brass track? Sometimes you can 'squeez' the joiners with a pair of pliers. I solder a short wire 'jumper' across the joiner that workds great.

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« Reply #2 on: June 15, 2008, 10:22:00 PM »

If you can't fix the joiners, how about adding a jumper wire?


If your parents never had children, chances are you won't either.

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« Reply #3 on: June 15, 2008, 11:30:09 PM »

Steam Freak.

The first order of business is to crimp the railjoiner at the position you found the open. This means pulling the track loose and re inserting. That should get continuity re-established.
The joiners do corrode, especially wi5th fertilizer and sprinklers. I would solder the connectors using a 250 wat soldering iron as the size of the rail is a heat sink. Jumper wires will work. I am assuming you have brass track here. If you have aluminum, you will not be able to solder the rail. Use Split-Jaw mechanical rail joiners.

When you solder, use Electrical solder with rosin core, also use solder paste to remove the rail oxidation. You may want to put separate jumpers from your power sourcce to a number of locations on your railroad.

I covered all of this in 1990-91 for Garden Railway magazine when i did a column for them on electricity in the garden.
Greg Elmassian

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« Reply #4 on: June 16, 2008, 12:22:06 AM »

Squeezing a corroded / oxidized / dirty joiner to get it to work seems like a very short term fix, and not really solving the reason why you had poor conductivity in the first place.


1. Dump the bad joiners where you find them and use rail clamps, slowly replacing all your joiners with clamps.

2. If you do not want the expense of clamps, and you have brass, solder jumpers.

3. failing this, remove the joiners, clean them, grease them (any grease) and put them back on and make sure they fit the rail closely.

Regards, Greg

Visit my site: lots of tips and techniques:

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« Reply #5 on: June 16, 2008, 01:26:48 PM »

You didn't say what material your rail is, but assuming brass or stainless steel, here are some thoughts. If you have stainless steel rail, ignore the parts about soldered jumper wires: You will definitely need rail clamps for a long term solution.

As you have found, slip joiners are not a very good long-term solution to track powered outdoor LS RRing. If you just clean and re-crimp the joiner, you will at least need to take up enough track to get to the offending joiner. There is usually enough flexibility in the track structure to move half the joint the inch or so that is required to disconnect that one joint. Cleaning off any oxidation (with steel wool) tightening the joiner (with needle nose pliers) and putting it back together will get your RR running, but you have found a problem that is just waiting to happen all over your RR. Putting a little conductive grease in the joint will help delay future corrosion, but the joiners can still come loose over time, especially with heavy operation.

Many folks who use track power either use rail clamps from Hillman Rail Clamps or from Splitjaw Products or they bond the track joints using a small piece of wire soldered on each side of the joint with the joint held mechanically by the slip joiner.

The rail clamps tend to be expensive, but provide a mechanically strong, electrically conductive solution that will last a long time. Another significant advantage of rail clamps is the ability to unbolt a joint and remove a section of track without moving the adjoining track.

Even though I don't use track power, I do use rail clamps in many places. One example is both rails on each leg of a turnout, where I want to be able to remove the turnout for maintenance. I use the three piece rail clamps there. Another example is on the outside of curves where I want to prevent the slip joiners from working apart during normal operations. I usually use the two piece rail clamps for their strength in that application. On the curves, I use a slip joiner on the inside rail with the clamp on the outside. This saves money. I use the Hillman joiners, but both brands have good reviews and excellent support.

Electrically bonding the track joints by using a small piece of bare wire soldered across the joint is another good solution. This is probably the best solution where you absolutely don't want to take up any of the existing track structure, but it does involve soldering in place on the ground. Not too difficult after a little practice. And you can remove the joint in the future by just cutting the jumper wire. Note that this method leaves the slip joiner in place.

It only requires some small wire (IMO, bare 16Ga. or 18Ga solid copper is best), a medium sized soldering gun, some rosin type flux ("NoCorrode" is one brand) and some small diameter soft solder. Just clean the outside web of the rail with some steel wool, then solder the wire adjacent to the joint, leaving a small loop. Solder one end down, cut off enough wire to provide a slight loop and solder the other end down. Pre-tinning each part helps by reducing the amount of heat required and thus the amount of time the ties are exposed to heating. Be certain to use a wet rag or other heat sinking device to avoid melting the plastic ties.

The folks who recommend soldering the rails together usually have not tried butt soldering two pieces of heavy brass rail in the great outdoors while laying on their stomach. This almost guarantees melting of the adjacent ties plus making future removal of the component very difficult. If you decide to go that route, leave the existing slip joiner in place, as the soldered joint will be too weak to last. Definitely not recommended here.

An alternative to the above is to drill and tap the rail, then use jumper wires under a small screw. Some folks use this method, but it still depends on friction contacts and is subject corrosion and thus failure. Of course a failure is easy to repair, but this method is not totally permanent.

Hope this helps.

Happy RRing,


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Greg Elmassian

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« Reply #6 on: June 16, 2008, 02:16:04 PM »

On small addition to Jerry's excellent post:

I do not recommend steel wool to be used anywhere. The small bits of it will rust, and get everywhere. I use a stainless steel brush in a dremel tool to clean rail ends, works great.

If you must use "wool", use bronze wool, it won't rust. You can get it at most hardware stores, paint stores, and marine supply stores.

Regards, Greg

Visit my site: lots of tips and techniques:

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« Reply #7 on: June 16, 2008, 09:14:17 PM »

Jumper wires.  No other thing.  Get a coil of bare copper wire at the hardware store.  Shine up the base of the rail, use N0-Ko-Rode flux and rosin-core solder.  Make sort of an "omega" loop to allow for expansion.  I use a Weller D-550 (325-watt) soldering gun.  You might want to solder a piece of wire at esch end of each rail, at the bench--then twist and solder them when in place.  gj
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