TRACK CAR SET OFFS
BY LARRY "RAZOR SAW" ROSE
DO YOU HAVE handcars, gang cars, speeders, or push cars for the track workers on your outdoor railroad? Of course you do! All railroads have small four wheeled maintenance equipment. So how do your section hands get their equipment out of the way of the afternoon fast mail? If you have no track car set offs at regular intervals on your line, your section gang's "pop car" might end up on the pilot of ol' Number Nine! Shame! But not to worry. Before you fire your roadmaster, read the rest of this article.
SIMPLE, NO-SKILL DETAILS
Track car set offs are an easy and cheap detail to add to your railroad. You may build most kinds from scrap rail or second-hand ties. All you do is place a few ties or old rails at right angles to the mainline and to a point about twelve feet off the end of the ties. You also must build a heavy plank center section between, and level with, the top of the mainline rails. That will make it easy for your trackmen to drag their gang car or speeder off the rails and onto the set off planks.
Once old Number Nine thunders by, the boys might place their pop car back on the tracks facing the other direction. That makes an X-shaped groove in the center section planks, an important detail for an old, well-used set off. I noticed that on many set offs along the San Diego and Arizona Eastern. The beveled edges on each end of the planks deflect dragging equipment.
Crews often used old rail, much smaller than the mainline rail, for track car set offs. Old ties also are common, especially on weed grown branch lines and at locations out in the boonies. Long switch ties, twelve feet or better, are preferable. Set them in a ballast bed and use a couple of cross ties to hold them in gauge.
Spike the old rail set offs to ties on four foot centers. The tops of set offs are level with the mainline rail and slope slightly away from it. If your mainline uses code 332 track, use code 250 for set offs. If you use code 250 for the mainline, code 197, 172, or 125 rail is best for the set offs.
Some railroads built solid plank set offs without rails or even grooves for track car wheels. The Santa Fe adapted such a design and specified one at each milepost and at each one-third of a mile through the system. Set off locations varied widely but one at each milepost is the most common. For an outdoor railroad, a set off about every thirty feet would look right. A set off at each end of a long cut is standard and also at either end of a long series of bridges. Think of the safety of your track workers when you choose locations. More is better than fewer.
BUILDINGS AND VEHICLES
Remember to include a section house and a nearby speeder shed for your track gang to park its buggy. The track at a handcar shed is similar to a regular set off only longer, depending on the size of the shed. A large railroad is an excuse for several set offs together and a large shed big enough for several pop cars. Group set offs always used old, lightweight rail so they would hold up under daily use.
Modern railroad track maintenance departments use pickup trucks with hydraulic "hi rail" wheels. They can get on or off the tracks anywhere. Other types of vehicles, such as dump trucks and backhoes, also now have "hi rail" gear.
Old style track cars are almost a memory. Railroads are letting speeder set offs return to nature. Fortunately, we have museums, hobbyists, and large scale model railroading to preserve the tradition. Also, the major manufacturer of track cars, Fairmont, in Minnesota, is still in business and still stocks parts for collectors and restorers.
Where do you get large scale track cars for your model maintenance crew? Bachmann, Model Die Casting, and Ozark Miniatures produce models begging for kitbashing. Delton produced a good looking track car a few years ago but it is now hard to find. Bashing speeders and push cars is a lot of fun. Scratchbuilding small motor cars is a good first project for folks new to the hobby but that's another story.
Besides, before you get too many track cars you will have to build a place to store them and places along the line to drag them out of the way of Number Nine on short notice. Better give your section boss a copy of this article with instructions to get cracking!