Model railroading is a ridiculously expensive hobby.
I'm sure that's true for many other hobbies, too. As a result, making do, finding cheaper alternatives, and reusing go a long way in keeping costs down. For example, many expensive items found in a hobby store often cost significantly less at places like Michael's, a do-it-yourself craftshop.
Remember though, they are a craft shop, so sometimes the overpriced hobby shop is the only place you can go. Case in point, tracks.
Points — the pieces of tracks with a diverging route — are not exactly cheap. When you consider the amount of material involved or that the engineering behind making them can't be that complex, it becomes hard to justify the cost. But if there is one thing that's consistent with the hobby, even simple, minute items cost way more than they probably should.
A whole TEN? What a bargain! #FirstWorldProblems
As I was not in the mood to pay a model railroading tax, I recycled my old European-made track. While it looks good and is in excellent working order, throw any North American model at it and as soon as it hits the frogs, it flies right off the tracks.
It turns out that European track is designed to work with the generously sized wheels and flanges of European models. Meanwhile, North American trains have fairly realistic flanges and wheels which, while they look nice, also means that they don't go very far on tracks not designed for them. Who knew?
In the cover photo of this article you'll see little bits of 0.5mm styrene strips carefully glued to the guardrails of the point work. That's right, 0.5mm is all that was needed in most cases to thicken things out just enough to keep the Europeans happy and the Americans rolling. On the left is a test bogie equipped with fine-scale wheels (which roughly translates to: very finicky behaviour) and on the right is an old Roco-made European tanker that, albeit bashed and battered by my kid, has found new life as a track tester.
I could have probably just bought all new tracks — Peco sure makes some nice stuff! — but that is some serious cash. Meanwhile, FIVE DOLLARS worth of plastic solved the problem.
There is something to be said about the satisfaction of fixing it yourself, and that's something you can't buy at the hobby store, even at inflated prices.
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