As someone who is just beginning Model Railroading, I made several mistakes, and several decisions that led to a lot of frustration on my part, that I will tell you about, and hopefully you will avoid.
So, it started when I wanted to put a grade on my Layout. The grade was cut with a Woodland Scenics Wire Foam cutter, but it went down too sharply at the end, and was breaking the couplers off of the cars that went up the grade. So I dismantled the track, and then leveled off the part that was too steep, and made the grade a little more shallow. I glued the track down, but was very eager to keep working, so I cut more of the grade, and laid more track, running a few cars over the track to test it. Unknowingly, I picked up a little bit of glue on the wheels of the first and second cars. I noticed the glue on the tracks, and wiped it up, but not on the wheels. As they were rolled along, they picked up the grime from the tracks and the table, which turned the glue black, hiding it from visibility. So the next day, when I tested some track, I rolled the test cars up the track, and they derailed. I figured that it was an imperfection in the track, so I dismantled that section of track, and relaid it with different track. The same problem occurred, and I tried with different track and different roadbed. But the cars still jumped off the track. I figured it had something to do with the Grade, so I dismantled the entire grade, along with all the track I’d laid along the grade, and laid new track. Imagine my frustration when I rolled the test cars along the curve, and they still jumped the tracks. I took a break for a few days, and came back, determined to find the source of the problem. I brought in more light, and rolled the cars along the track very slowly, and eventually saw that one side of the wheel truck was higher than the other, and I finally figured out the problem. After going over the wheels meticulously with a knife, I finally got all of the glue off, and then rolled it over a pad of diluted rubbing alcohol.
My point here is that when you are a beginner, sometimes you need to take it slow, and that sometimes rushing (even if you are doing a good job) can cause you problems. Having since removed the grade, I don’t think I’m going to put another one in, unless it’s a professional one. (Woodland scenics makes some wonderful grade starters and grade maintainers.)
The last thing i’ll divulge is about sanding, and soldering. Early in my plan for my layout, I was going to have a European-style staging area, beneath the table. I laid the track going up to the top, and soldered the gaps. I then sanded them down so that they were flat, and tested them by running cars up and down. I then hooked up my DC system to the end-rails, and tried running some engines to the top. But they would stop at places where i’d soldered. This puzzled me, so I relaid more of the track, but then after going to Eastside Trains (Down in Kirkland Washington, one of the largest Model Railroading stores in the Pacific Northwest) I talked to the guy who deals with HO, and he explained that sanding the places where i’d soldered had likely rubbed some of the top part of the rail away; the part that conducts electricity, and runs it to the wheels of the engine. This failure was enough to make me scrap the idea of the European-style staging area, and put in a small staging area in the corner of my layout.
I hope that you beginners who have read this article know a little bit more about what to avoid when laying track.