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Make Your Own Five-Rail Tinplate Track

by Charles Grover

Multi-gauge track fascinates me, whether in the real world or our miniature railways. I had been experimenting with making five rail track for Standard Gauge and 0 Gauge, using ready made track sections, when Kirk Lindvig acquired the means to manufacture tinplate track and its components. As he was setting up USA Track we were in correspondence and Kirk furnished me parts from his first batch of stock.

I began with a circle of Lionel 0-72 track and some 40” straight sections. I then purchased from Kirk the Standard Gauge ties, insulators and rails needed to convert the track to five rails.

The components for a curved section include the Lionel 0 gauge section, five Standard Gauge ties to fit between the six 0 gauge ties, along with their insulators, and the specially manufactured curved rails. Because ready made 0-72 track and Standard Gauge 72 inch diameter track do not have the same diameter at the center rail, Kirk’s special rails are bent to slightly different radii compared to the outer rail of the ready made Standard Gauge track I have from MTH.

Disassembling and re-assembling ready made track resulted in sections with rail lengths that did not match. They required using curved rails where the curvature and length were not quite right. When I lined up the pin ends, the other ends presented a ragged appearance. Long rails can be shortened, but short rails allow wheels to drop onto the pin for a short distance between sections.

Making straight sections required cutting and fitting. Lionel’s 0 Gauge straights are based on 10” increments and Standard Gauge straights are of two different lengths, 14” to match 42” diameter curves with widely spaced ties and 14-3/8” to match 72”diameter curves with extra ties. Moreover, extra long Lionel 0 Gauge sections measure 40” and the long Standard Gauge sections measure 36.”

Kirk supplied me with straight rails cut to the lengths I wanted to use, 40” and 60.” The single length of outer Standard Gauge rails from Kirk give stability and strength to my 60” straights that use one and one-half pieces of Lionel 40” long 0 Gauge straight track.

It is far easier and much quicker to use Lionel’s 0 Gauge track and Kirk’s custom parts than to disassemble 3 rail track and reassemble parts to make five rail track. It is far less wasteful, also.

The first step in assembly is to open the center tabs on the ties to accept dropping in the insulators and rails from above.

Insulators are then inserted into the ties. Note, if you wish, you may also use insulators on both outer rails to control one Standard Gauge locomotive and one 0 Gauge locomotive separately. Similarly you can fabricate short sections with insulating pins for special control purposes.

Using needle nose pliers, I bent the tabs to the rails on the center and new outer rails.

To make the tabs sufficiently tight they need to be driven home with a hammer blow. I tried a straight ended punch, a screwdriver, and finally settled on a large center punch to transmit the force of the hammer to the tabs. Note the anvil under the tie being crimped. Mine is made of a scrap of wood. A suitable metal bar would work well. Without an anvil the tie would deflect around the tabs when the hammer strikes.

Lionel’s track may vary in length from one production run to another. Kirk’s outer rails are long enough to leave no gaps. They can be trimmed with a saw, a cutting disk in a rotary tool, or using a disk sander. My straight sections required no trimming.

I have a combination belt and disk sander with a platform to hold material square against the sanding disk. I chose to use that method. The rail being shortened did heat enough to discolor slightly and the disk was worn out by the time the circle of track was complete.

At first I placed the new ties evenly between the 0 Gauge ties. Later I shifted to placing the first and last Standard Gauge ties snuggly against the 0 gauge ties to shorten the unsupported length of rail between sections and make a stiffer product.

A friend, Dick Gordon, gave me a tool made of a track pin held tightly in a Kobalt hobby knife handle. I used that to open out the ends of rails to make it easier to push together sections of track. It is a great help.

The Standard Gauge Module Association uses tab wiring connectors inserted into the bottom of rails with wires passed through holes in the module table tops to the main feeders hidden below the surface. Because I made my track for portable use, I left out a new Standard Gauge tie on a curved section and inserted a Lionel or MTH multi gauge lock-on. The old Lionel variety should work well also.

I used the lock-on in place of one Standard Gauge tie, the center punch to seat tabs, and the Kobalt hobby knife with track pin inserted for flaring new rails. The center punch was also used to fasten new pins in new rails before assembly, by striking a blow against the rail where the narrower part of the inserted pin was located.

An 0 Gauge 256 meets Standard Gauge 408 on my multi-gauge layout. Both are MTH reproductions.

At a train shows I have set up a loop of five rail track either on a group of tables of the kind supplied to vendors or on plain SGMA module tops with no legs. At one show I ran the 0-gauge 256 with standard gauge gondolas on either end to make a Candy Train, stopping the train for kids as they arrived and inviting them to have candy. It was a great hit, and was featured in local newspaper coverage.

Max Champion, SGMA Inc. Treasurer, took this photo of his sons Alex and Thomas with my 408 pulling another Candy Train on a five-rail layout at a Family Train Day show.

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