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Track choice questions (HO vs On30) -and- Ballasting

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  • Track choice questions (HO vs On30) -and- Ballasting

    Dear all,

    After a long time due to obligations and HO scale, I am back into making considerations for the small On30 layout i want to build. I am still undecided on what tracks to actually use.

    As a reminder, I am planning something freelance (yet plausible) 1870s-1880s, somewhere near Arizona/Utah/CA, think canyons & rivers (and BTM).

    So i fully appreciate that ME and/or handlaying might be the optimal choice visually given that all of my choices have too short ties (vs the typical Colorado NG). But ME is not available here and I would rather use something easily/readily available in Europe.

    What I have available locally is Peco, Atlas, and all of the European brands (Roco, Trix, etc...)

    I realize that from the above options, all of them have fish-plates with the exception of Peco On30. If i am not mistaken this is sort of a no-go for early rail right? Perhaps ballasting and weathering will offset this...

    My original plan was to use leftover Peco code 83 tracks and sort of replace ties semi-handlay tracks. I am having second thoughts here since I am now looking something that can be more time-efficient if possible.

    So anyhow, after having seen that some people use Atlas or Peco HO tracks instead in On30 layouts, what would be your advice for a sort of best-compromise?

    Peco Code 75? (easily available, ties less dense than code 83)

    Peco Code 100?

    Atlas Code 100?

    Some European alternative?

    Peco Code 83 modified? (already at hand, ties too dense as-is in my opinion)

    Peco On30? (ties not dense, but a tad short? not as easily available as Code 75).

    On a different note, do you have any advice on ballasting for my era? (1870s).

    Thank you in advance for your time and replies!


  • #2
    I think the PECO code 83 would be the one. Just my opinion.

    "And in the end, it's not the years in your life that count. It's the life in your years." A. Lincoln


    • #3
      Yannis you certainly ask the tough questions. Being that this is my first layout in On30 I can only tell you what I've used and why.

      I went with Atlas HO scale code 100 track which would give me about a code 55 rail in On30 and the ties are a little short. By the time I get the track painted, weathered and ballasted I didn't feel the ties would be that noticeable.

      Probably the best person to ask would be Michael Hohn since he models in your time period and scale. I'm sure he could give you some valuable information. Good luck.
      Owner, General Manager, and all around "chief cook and bottle washer" of the Caz Coal-and-Wood Railroad


      • #4
        I think it boils down to how picky you are about appearances. I'm a track nerd, and so if it doesn't look "right" to me, I'm never happy with it. For me, handlaying is the way to go. You get more realistic-looking track with respect to tie-length and spacing, plus you can customize curved turnouts to fit particular spaces, and get a nice flowing rail line. If you want to get fancy, given the era you're modeling, you can also do stub switches.

        If it doesn't bother you, well-ballasted and heavily-weathered HO track will do just fine. Look at Troel's Kirk's Coast Line RR, for example. To be fair, is structures and scenery are such amazing eye-candy that you don't really notice the track (which I believe is Peco HO Code 100, IIRC). I find that even though it scales to a light rail, code 100 looks too heavy for On30, so I think code 83 or 75 would be good choices too.


        • #5

          I use code 70 ME track and most of my turnouts are Shinohara and Peco. It's what was available. After I paint the sides of the rails and the ties I don't think most people would notice that turnouts have tie plates and the rest of the track does not. More important is using a small rail such as the Peco code 75. Rail in the 1870's looks unbelievably light in the old photos.

          Railway journals in the 1880's were still publishing the recommendation that ballast be used rather than setting ties on the ground. That indicates to me that track at that time was not always ballasted if budgets were tight.


          Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced. James Baldwin


          • #6
            Thank you all for the valuable replies.

            LarryC: Your recent thread was an inspiration for me to revisit the track choice issue.

            Jerry: Are you referring to Peco code 83 as-is or modified?

            Marcus: Ideally i would like to handlay but time and availability are a negative factor for me. Troel's work is indeed amazing and it got me thinking originally on "why not using HO tracks instead of On30".

            Michael: Thank you for chiming in, given the references of fellow members. Are you using code 70 for O scale or for HO scale? Your suggestion would be to go for unmodified Peco code 75 for the On30?

            I wonder if Bachmann rolling stock would have any tracking issues over Peco code 75.

            As far as ballasting goes. If i opt for no ballast, does this equate to having sort of buried ties into the ground? Or did ties stood proud on the ground?

            Are we talking about ballast as seen in the 20th century (contour wise)?

            Many thanks again in advance for your time and replies