Back in the summer of 1981, while visiting family in Chanhassen, Minnesota, I got away and went over to the old Hub Hobby Shop for an afternoon of looking at model trains. I liked going to Hub because there were some serious modelers there and they liked to talk about prototype modeling, and they always seemed to have some cutting edge products. Anyway, after talking to the guys there for an hour they took me downstairs to show me a layout they were building in the basement.
They were using a new type of flex track. It was Code 55 flex by Rail Craft and it looked great. I had never seen Code 55 before, but I was hooked. 35 or so years later I’m still hooked.
On the current Ackley layout being built at my home in Germany, I’m using Code 55 almost exclusively on the visible portion of the layout. The single-track main line through town is Code 70, but everything else is Code 55. The Code 55 track I’m using is—you guessed it—Micro Engineering Code 55 flex. Today’s Micro Engineering Code 55 is a direct descendant of the beautiful Rail Craft stuff I saw all those years ago. It is still Top Shelf.
As most of you know ME Code 55 is available again from the manufacturer. It was not available for years due to production issues, and during those years getting the stuff wasn’t easy. That explains why I have a mis-match of weathered and non-weathered Code 55 on the new layout. It was hard to get, and I bought every scrap I could get my hands on.
In 2009, when I lived in Indiana, I built a small diorama of Ackley to test tracklaying and ballasting and so forth, hoping to incorporate that diorama into a future layout. A photo of the Code 55 flex I used is shown below. The Code 55 flex is in the foreground. To make the sidings appear a little more worn, I used a technique describe by Tony Koester on the Proto-Layouts list where a few ties are removed from the flex track and the remaining ties are spread out unevenly. That technique greatly improves the appearance of the Code 55. In addition I placed a few wood ties among the flex ties and that seemed to break up the “flex track look” even more. What do you think?
Here’s how to spread the ties. Turn the track over on a hard surface and cut off all the little plastic connections underneath the ties. Then remove “every fifth or sixth tie” as Tony wrote years ago, and spread the ties apart randomly. I skew a few to one side or the other to break up the perfect 90-degree look.
Below. And here’s what the modified track looks like. It should have a slightly uneven look—but not too uneven, because we still want to convey the look of a busy transportation company. Yes, it takes a little extra time, but it’s worth it.
On the Ackley 2.0 layout, I am using the same technique and spreading the ties out on all Code 55 track. I also laid all the Code 55 on N scale roadbed to lower the railhead height to simulate prototype track profiles.
Here is a photo, below, of some of the Code 55 track on the Ackley 1.0 layout. It looks okay but I need to weather the ties a little better on the new layout. I was able to lay grass between the rails easily with a Noch Grassmaster 2.
The photo below of the joint M&StL-RI line through Norwood, Minnesota, shows the look I’m after on my customer sidings. The roadbed is well-worn and grass and weeds surround the ties, and there is spillage around, but the track is in good enough shape to carry heavy loads daily. The dirt roads and tire tracks tell the story that this area is well-used. ME Code 55 track can convey this image perfectly, as long as color or ties and ballast is controlled and static grass is carefully applied.
What a simple scene. But look at all the little details that blend in naturally. Note the different types of road crossings, the different line poles, the different sizes of tanks in the oil jobber, standing water in the low spots on the road, the lumber on the ground—probably for unloading poles or lumber—and the grass and litter between the rails on the siding. Can you spot the light fixture on the telephone pole? Look at that tree out by itself on the left. If I did that on my layout the prototype police would give me a citation.