Tieplates are rather simple. The problem is you need them in large quantities. Let’s do the math: 48 scale feet of track (12 real inches) with ties spaced every 21″ results in about 27 ties per actual foot. Twenty-seven ties require 54 tieplates. Grandt Line plastic tieplates are sold 100 for $3.50, or 3.5 cents each. Right O’ Way plastic tieplates are 200 for $5.50, or 2.75 cents each. Old Pullman Model Railroads offers tieplates in quantities of 1000 for $32, or 3.2 cents each. You can see how tieplates can become a very expensive detail to add to track. Of course, you can cut your own from styrene. A ten-strip pack of 0.020″ x 0.156″ styrene will yield 560 tieplates for about $3 or 0.5 cents each.** While inexpensive, they will lack the nice detailing of the others. Tieplates can also be laser cut from cardboard, or styrene, and also photo etched from thin metal. As of this writing some of these are in development but not yet commercially available. If you happen to be using commercial flextrack in any scale, the tieplate detail in usually molded into the ties. For those working in HO Scale, tieplates are available from the P87 Stores [www.Proto87.com]
Laying rail at last
This was the first time I used individual tieplates in handlaying track, and I freely admit that they do require a degree of patience to work with. They probably won’t be everyone’s cup of tea regardless of how much the track is enhanced in appearance. However, with a bit of forethought, the job can be less stressful. It is tempting to just place a bunch of tieplates, lay a piece of rail on top and start spiking away. I quickly found that the loose tieplates would go everywhere, especially down between the ties, where they are fun to retrieve. I’ve learned that in the past, lots of people glued the tieplates in place before laying rail. That never once dawned on me, and in this case, ignorance was truly bliss. How would you correct any errors in alignment of the rails or gauge if the tieplates are glued down?
What worked for me was to place five or so tieplates under each rail and spike the one in the middle (photo above). This secured the rail enough to hold the others in place, yet allowed me to place a few more tieplates along the track’s length. I placed spikes every third or fourth tie just as you would normally, and added tieplates as I moved down the length of rail. I used a heavy metal track gage that sits on the rails, which allows me to lay both rails at once. The nice thing about my gage is that it is the same width as the ties. I can just line it up with the tie ends and know the rails are centered on the ties.
Sprue cutters make easy work of cutting the tieplates from their sprues. I simply pinch three or four between my fingers as shown, and nip away. This keeps them from flying off everywhere. As I add plates and spike the rails, I also check the rail’s alignment to be certain it isn’t getting too wavy. Sometimes I had to make adjustments where the gauge was off. I used a wide bladed screwdriver placed near the base of the offending rail, and tapped it gently with a small hammer to nudge things into alignment. Any serious errors may need to be taken up and redone. Once a length of rail is partially spiked in place, I can continue laying rail or go back and fill in the remaining spikes. Typically, I filled in the remaining spikes until a rail was solidly in place, and then moved on to the next section. I like to see some finished effect right away, so doing it this way was a personal choice. It also cut what could be a mind-numbing chore into manageable chunks. You can do what pleases you.
In addition to four spikes per tie, I also added joint bars every 39-scale feet at this time (above). Prototype practice will offset the spacing of them on the opposite rails for a smoother ride. An offset of ten ties is typical, though this can vary (photo below). One thing to be aware of is any spikes in the ties under the bars will have to be removed for them to seat properly. I had to do this numerous times, because I didn’t add the joint bars until after a stretch of track was down, however it was a fairly simple task to pull the spikes and slip in the joint bars.
You’ll notice in the photos that I didn’t bother to pre-paint the tieplates or joint bars. I felt that they would get scratched in the spiking process and have to be touched up afterwards. Therefore, I left them unpainted until I was ready to weather the track.
Prototype turnouts have a host of special hardware and tieplates that perform specific functions. Under the points are long tieplates called slide plates. These allow the points to slide back and forth, while protecting the cross ties from abrasion and wear. Longer tieplates are also used where the closure and running rails are too close together to permit using regular tieplates. The frog and guardrails are also areas of special interest. Offset tieplates or hook tieplates are used here to help spread the load of the frog casting and forces of passing trains. In the photo below, I used commercial plates from Right-O-Way under the guard rails and scratchbuilt the offset plates under the frog from 0.020″ x 0.080″ styrene. Our book, Detailing Track has more information about these special tieplates in Chapter Five.
While there are some standards from the ARA and individual railroad company engineering departments for placement of these plates, field conditions will often vary considerably. Reasons include older track that hasn’t been upgraded yet; track from a merged line that has different standards and many others. The bottom line is that prototype track can vary widely in appearance. It isn’t as uniform as we often model it. Questions or comments anyone?
** Update 2021 Please be aware the prices in this post are hopelessly out of date. I left the breakdown in place to show how quickly costs in this scale can add up.