This page is a re-creation of the "Groovy Track" article that appeared on the Rail Systems Company website, which no longer exits. Thanks goes to Archive.org for archiving this and many other websites full of treasure.
The title for "Groovy" track was first used by Jack Munson who began building several railroads using various methods back around 1972. It is called "groovy" due to the grooves in the ties. Remember the old hippy term "groovy"? This stuff really is groovy!
What is Groovy Track
Here is some info that should be found to be useful...Use it as you please. This info is furnished as a free service to you. We have no financial stake in track of any kind whatsoever.
Remember this is only the way we do "Groovy" track and you can do it any way you want or not at all.
Simply put, "Groovy" track is steel flat bar. What holds the bar to the ties?....Nothing!
The ties are notched to accept the rail and the bar is pressed into the notch. That's it! You've heard that flat bar is hard on wheels? Not if it is constructed correctly. Not only do we advocate the use of this type of track, many tracks around the world are operating on it. When installed properly, the "Groovy" track looks very nice and performs fantastically. It will also outlast the most commonly used aluminum rail many times over.
Using our handy Track Snapper the job of laying track is simplified and can be done easily by one person . Lay out the ties along the roadbed and go to work.
Do you need a Track Snapper. NO Use whatever you like. We sell the tool that was designed by Jack Munson for his own purposes and it works well in that it enables a person to apply the ties single handedly. Personally we don't care if we don't sell any Track Snappers at all. People just want them and we build them . That's it.
Switches can be fabricated easily from flat bar.
Here is a way to join the rail which eliminates the need for drilling and such.
We cut small plates from 3/16" steel flat bar through which two holes are drilled for screwing down to the ties. The rail is then formed and welded to the plates while maintaining the gauge. You will need to decide what radii you want through the switch. This is defined in terms of various numbers such as #4, #5 , #6 etc. Do we use these numbers? NO Just make the switch go where you want. Try to keep things simple. The guards and frogs are simply formed by bending the bar and welded to common plates The points are machined down in a mill but can be sawn or ground. Use what you have. The points on our switches are welded to common plates and pivot on a bolt which is installed through a common plate (See photo) The ties are cut from 2X2 wood or plastic. It is our practice to nail the ties in position to a 1X4 on the back side in order to hold the switch in position while fabricating. Leave the 1X4s on the underside when you lay the switch and the radii and other components won't change.
- See also
Groovy Track Specifications
Here are a few specifications if you want to try " Groovy "Track................
Ties...1-1/2" wood or plastic - Rail...3/8" X 1" steel flat bar
Please keep in mind... these are our own specifications.
1. Cut ties 14"
2. Cut slots 7-5/8" apart (or 7-3/8"....1/2" deep
3. Cut slots so as to hold the rail snug enough to hold it in during construction. The rail is not really held down by the ties anyway. Gravity and the constant rolling of trains and such keeps the rail down. (Don't let people walk on the track) We use an adjustable Dado blade in a table saw to notch the ties. If you want you can build a mandrill with two dado blades but we just use one. A radial arm saw also works very well for both cutting and notching the ties. We use this method exclusively for the Big ties (4X4s). With the radial saw both notches can be cut at the same time whereas the table saw requires two separate settings. In a week or so we'll try to show you a couple of photos of our tie making operation .
4. Ignore all the "experts" that will be happy to tell you all about something they don't have any first hand information on . Our advise is use recycled plastic ties if you can afford them. If not use plain old Douglas fir 2x4s (pressure treated) And please remember we have had some track down for many years and know of some that has been down for over 20 years. You should treat the part of the wood that has been exposed by cutting .
5. Don't notch any ties until you have the steel due to the fact that steel flat bar varies in thickness. It should also be understood that wood ties will change in size due to hydration or dehydration. This means that ties that were notched when the wood was wet will change when the wood dries out. Plastic ties don't change much except for the price. (Always goes up) Be sure to use only Hot Rolled steel. Cold rolled steel will rust heavily right away whereas the hot rolled steel lasts longer than you will be around (more than likely.)
6. Why not use that "real" looking track? If you've got the Big Bucks then go for it! Use what ever you want. We like this stuff.
Please keep in mind...there will always be some old sour mouthed individual who will say "that won't work.". I love to hear that because it is usually an indication that I am on the right track!
Big "Groovy" Track
Want to build a grand scale railroad? Here's how we built our 15" gauge "Groovy" track! As with our smaller "Groovy" track, this is a way to build a high quality railroad for a fraction of the cost of some other forms of trackage. As with the smaller stuff, the Big stuff is laid using notched ties and steel flat bar. Everything is just much bigger and heavier.
Over the next few months we will feature photos and other info on our 15" gauge railroad which we built for our park. Please keep in mind...We don't sell this stuff. We offer the ideas to be used as you wish. Why do we use this track system? Because it is within our track budget. Our cost including ties, rail and ballast averages $5.00/foot. Take a look at the cost of 12 lb or heavier rail and associated hardware. It should also be understood that regular rail must be pre-bent for tight radius curves whereas the flat bar can be bent easily without special tools or hassle.
Here's a great way to splice the rail. It's a nice alternative to all that drilling. Shown here is 1/2 inch schedule 40 pipe with 5/8 Inch cold rolled round bar for a pin. A little oil on the joint keeps loose for movement during expansion and contraction of the track.
A turnout made using Groovy Track, probably a #4 turnout. From Chaski.org
The 'Track Snapper' is our handy tool for the application of 'Groovy' track. Each tool is supplied with instructions for laying 'Groovy' track and , of course, our "No Excuses" warranty. Editors Note: If anyone can provide a copy of said instructions please contact Daris Nevil.
Do I need a Track Snapper?...........................................................No, use whatever method you like . This tool does make it easy to lay "Groovy" track by allowing one to do the job quickly and single handedly.
Tidbits from Chaski
- Should you make the choice to use flat bar, don't buy cold rolled material. It tends to be much better in the way of form, but that works against you. Corners on cold rolled material are often nearly sharp, where, by contrast, it is common for hot rolled material to have radiused edges. By being selective, you can choose which corner of the material is best suited to the wheel contour, saving you considerable effort in removing the sharp edge. You may also find that the material isn't dead square, so, once again, by being selective, you can approximate the detail of a proper rail head.
- Regards wheel wear, depending on the thickness of the bar, you can closely match a prototype rail head, but my limited experience indicates that 3/8" thick bar has been the choice (based on economics and ease of installation). It stands to reason that it will be somewhat more narrow than a proper rail head, but it isn't likely to make a significant difference overall in that prototype scale rail is crowned, so unless both wheels and rail have worn considerably, wheels won't know the difference.
- Hot rolled steel flat bar works but you need to see it first and see if the corner is rounded. The stuff we used had one sharp corner and one round corner so we had to watch how we laid it. We had iron wheels wear out in 5 years; went to steel wheels or tires.
- Our HRS bar comes well rounded but it is a pretty easy & quick operation to buzz down the edge with an angle grinder if need be. It can even be done with a cordless unit in place after the rail is installed.
- A few things I have learned about groovy track:
- 1. As compared to aluminum rail, the flat bar bends very easily in the horizontal direction, so there isn't as much need for pre-bending the rail for curves. However, after both rails are pressed into the ties, the track alignment is locked into place. With aluminum or steel conventional rail, if you don't pre-bend for curves, the track will try to straighten out after it is laid.
- 2. On the other hand, the flat bar resists bending in the vertical direction more than aluminum rail. This will help avoid dips and humps in the track, unless you force it.
- 3. If there are any scrapyards in your area that sell to the public, see what they have. I bought almost a ton of flat bar for rail several years ago for about $250.
- 4. You'll need to provide for expansion of the rail. I used two pieces of flat bar about 1/8 x 3/4 x 4 on each joint. (Since the rail is 1" high, the tops of the joint bars are below the flanges.) I put four 10-24 stainless screws in each joint with self-locking nuts. The joint bars have slots rather than holes so the rail can expand and contract a little, but still maintain the vertical alignment of the rails.
- 5. The spacing of the slots is very critical. If there is any variation in the spacing, you won't be able to get the rail pressed in. Better to gang-notch a bunch of ties with one pass on the saw so they are all the same. One thing I have done is to put two saw blades into a skillsaw with spacers between them to cut the notch, sort of like a dado blade. You can add or remove washers of various thickness until you get the notch just the right width, so the rail presses in, but without too much force. Operationally you place a line of ties about 10 feet long on a jig that keeps them lined up. Then cut the first notch. Then use a board as a guide for the saw to cut the second notch to the proper guage (I use 7 5/8 ). This way all the ties are notched the same.
- 6. The track looks better if you keep the ballast even with the tops of the ties. You really don't notice the non-prototypical cross-section when viewing the track from the standpoint of the engineer. In my opinion, it looks better than aluminum from that viewpoint.
According to this article the concept of Groovy Track has been around for more than half a century.
From The North American Live Steamer, Volume 1 Number 12.
If it is not convenient or possible to get scale rail, a realistic alternate can be used for laying the track for your live steamer. This type of construction has been used for years, during all seasons on a ground level track.
Rail consists of easily gotten 1/4 inch by 3/4 inch steel. Larger or smaller size steel has been used. It is laid in grooves in the ties to the desired gauge. The grooves can be made on a table saw equipped with a dado blade. A peg in the face of the bevel gauge engaging the first groove made assures the second groove will be at a uniform distance. The grooves can be made about half the depth of the rail and a light push fit. Fishplates are short pieces of rail material drilled matching holes in the ends of the rails all drilled with a jig. Drill 1/4 inch and bolt with stove bolts. Rigid fish plates enable the rail to be bent in uniform curves.
To lay track; first survey, then grade; dig and fill as needed. Grades will make interesting running. 2% and 3% grades have been used with complete success on 3-1/2 inch gauge track. Then spread about an inch of gravel on the finished grade. Start stringing out rail. Bolt several lengths together, and hold one rail in place with wooden pegs so that it follows the desired route. Place the other rail along side and start putting on ties by sliding them under the rails and pulling them upwards onto the rails as illustrated. The lever can be made from angle iron in a few minutes.
If the grooves in the ties are the right fit the ties will slip on with ease but their combined effect will hold the rail in thousands of little vices and the track will maintain a permanent alignment. Pour more fine gravel over rails and ties and tamp under and between with a stick. Low spots can be raised and curves elevated by tamping as in full size practice.
For those who strive for the thrill of full size railroading put in some switches and perhaps a scale trestle or bridge. Then equip your live steamer with a working headlight (penlight globe works fine) and run at night.