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Portable Four Lane HO Track

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  • Portable Four Lane HO Track

    I made a small portable four lane HO track. I wanted a track that I could manage to set up by myself quickly. It would have two purposes. The first would be to test refurbished vintage HO cars mostly Aurora Thunder Jets. In addition I wanted a four lane track that would be really fun for novices, specifically youngsters. The challenge would be making it light enough and small enough while still allowing four racers to have fun. Now that it’s done I’m pleased with the result. I can stash it out of the way and set it up in an instant plus it’s easily portable. I’ve already used it extensively for testing revived vintage cars while also being fun for both novices and experienced racers.

    I knew that it would be primarily for vintage Aurora Thunder Jets - maybe I should add a sign that says 1970 stops here - but that’s ok because there’s a reason t-jets are still so popular after a half a century. Pushing a nice running Thunder Jet to their limit is a treat that puts a smile on your face. If you are accustomed to magnetic enhanced traction these vintage cars are different and may take some time to become accustomed to them. The top speed and handling limits are relatively low but still require skill. A deft tough on the throttle is required to power slide your car through each turn and running down the straight trying to out brake the other racers is challenging every lap, each smooth lap provides as sense of accomplishment.

    I started with a light folding table that was six feet long and thirty inches wide. I did try an eight foot table, even though I could manage moving it and put it up by myself it was just a bit too awkward. For track I used Lionel and Atlas from the sixties. This is a bit of nostalgia for me as my first track was a Lionel set I received from my older cousin. It was never as prevalent as Aurora track but surprisingly it is still relatively affordable and has four different size curves ( 6”, 9”, 12’ & 15” radius), this is important for making four or more lanes or just interesting race tracks. A nice feature of this track that other HO tracks lack is equal lane spacing with four lanes. I was pretty limited on what the track would look like with four lanes on such a small table. I chose a simple rectangular design using six inch and nine inch curves which leaves enough space for a 51” straight. The track layout looks simple but it has a nice rhythm to driving it. I installed wiggle sections on one side of the table but these can be taken at almost full speed, the vintage Thunder Jets are narrow cars so they touch but don’t knock each other out of the slot. In other words the Lionel chicanes aren’t as treacherous as the Aurora version which most racers are familiar with.

    Because it’s great fun power sliding the old vintage cars I wanted borders for the curves, so I used Aurora “Speed Curves” which are not flat, there’s a slight bank. They work well but the problem was Aurora never made a straight border to go with these and I needed something after the curve ends and the car enters a straight section. When you are in the outside lane hanging the tail out trying to keep up with everyone your car will fall off the the edge of the track before it straightens out which is rather frustrating. To solve this problem I hacked some of these borders to fit on the straight sections. I cut into these from the inside to the outside leaving the outer edge intact, then I just flexed them to fit. I found it best to cut close to the tabs of the borders. I filled in the gaps with silicone. It is not very elegant but it works well. The batch of borders I purchased on eBay were already painted in red and white which looks better than the normal yellow color but I would refer grey or maybe green. Another bonus was some of these already had a home made retaining wall attached, this works exceptionally well at keeping the cars on the table when there’s a racing incident.

    Power and control is always an important factor. Instead of using an adjustable power supply and high ohm Parma controllers or better yet some electronic controllers (aka the right way) I wanted to keep this very simple and basic (aka the cheap way). I always liked the Aurora “Russkit” controllers; they have good ergonomics so they feel right at home in your hand, are light, have light spring pressure on the throttle trigger, are rather robust and they were produced in huge numbers so are still easily available at an affordable cost. But they were not created equal; various resistances were made which is identified by the various colors of the handles. I also found out Aurora power supplies are not created equal with output voltages ranging from 14 to 22 volts. So I tested different power packs and old controllers. The combination of dark blue (80ohm I believe) controllers and AFX (16 volt) “C” “wall wart” power supplies provided reasonable top speed and good throttle response with vintage Aurora T-Jets. This combination allowed the cars to run at a very slow speed on initial throttle application and have a linear increase in velocity as more throttle is applied. The cars seem quick, responsive with controllable acceleration and a good top speed.

    Everything is attached to the table; the track, power supplies and controllers are fixed so that it is a one piece assembly which means I only have to plug it into the wall to be racing. I must have used two pounds of silicone adhesive, it works well and can be removed easily, the track is attached directly to the table in this way. Everything else is on the underside of the table but even though the power packs are mounted securely it is not very elegant; tie wraps and more silicone adhesive. The wiring was routed primarily underneath the table and had to be routed to avoid the folding table legs in both extended and stowed positions. I thought I was clever by making the controller wires as long as possible but not allowing the controllers to hit the floor, nobody wants to hear the clunk of a controller bouncing off the ground. However it’s not perfect as the controllers occasionally come in contact with the metal table legs. I also spray painted the controller handles to so they are colored to their lanes; red, white, blue and yellow.

    Overall I figure the track expenses add up to under $300 including the table and materials, I most likely spent a bit more because I bought items to evaluate such as power packs and controllers that I didn’t use. There are 48 sections of used track, the table was about $60, the four power supplies and four controllers were approximately $10 each and I bought all the borders already painted red & white on eBay for $30.

    I don’t really want to know what the real expense was for the cars. I knew I needed more than one set of nice running cars that would be dedicated to this track. I already had some good running cars but not enough that I was willing to sacrifice for this project. So while I was evaluating various layouts and refining the track I was also using it to test cars. Aurora made tens of millions of Thunder Jets but they went out of production in 1973. Today most need some sort of maintenance; at the very least cleaning and lubrication. I wanted to avoid “hopping up” the cars so I did not want to install upgraded parts. So the cars I use are pretty much stock except for easily mounted Rocket Science Road Monkey silicone slip-on tires for a bit of additional traction (In my opinion silicone tires transform the experience with these old cars, the extra traction has always been needed even when they were new cars). I bought whatever t-jets I could obtain; projects and parts and batches of junk to get numerous sets of nice running t-jet chassis. But even with a thorough cleaning, lubrication, maybe some new brushes, a short break-in and some fine tuning these cars can still have significant differences in performance. So I’d test them and look for cars that ran smooth and were responsive without being too twitchy or so slow they circulated at full throttle. It may sound like work but it was a wonderful diversion to have during our pandemic quarantine, it was very fun and entertaining. And when I’m running cars by myself the simple driving pattern or rhythm of the track seems metitative. I ended up selling more cars than I kept, for every car I have now I probably got rid of two others, oddly enough some were just too fast for my small track. Luckily the demand for these vintage t-jets chassis in almost any condition is very high, maybe the highest it has ever been, so it was not too much of a problem getting my “investment’ back on any car I sold. I wonder if anyone here ended up buying some of my faster cars.

    I used the track quite a lot by myself track testing cars but I wasn’t sure how it would be to race on with all four lanes filled. I was hoping that the performance of the cars would be similar enough that the driving skill would be the key factor when racing but was expecting a lot of car to car variation. Surprisingly the performance of all the cars was very similar, actually the biggest difference could be attributed to how dirty the tires were. I was also concerned that with such a small track there would be a difference between the inner and outer lane, this also turned out to not be an issue. Racing on this track is surprisingly fun, it’s great for novices because it isn’t too complex of a layout and veteran racers enjoy it also, it demonstrates that you don’t need to take up a lot of space with a huge track or even a lot of curves to have fun racing. And racing with four lanes is ten times better than only two lanes.

    This very modest track is just a lot of fun and convenient too. I can stow it away and set it up by myself quickly and I can even transport it in a minivan. For running in and evaluating restored Thunder Jets chassis it’s great. It is surprising how entertaining and challenging it is to race these old and, let’s be honest, slow HO slot cars on this track. For novices and youngsters it works well too.

  • #2
    Look at you with the squeezer tracks also! Looks like a fun ride. Spell check suggested squeezer and I left it!

    Why doesn't my car run like that?



    • #3
      Great looking track!!
      Humboldt ,out in the country in west Tn...


      • #4
        Vintage old school...AWESOME!!!!!
        Warren, Ohio


        • #5
          I liked your write-up. Well-organized, informative and entertaining. I suspect you took some time both creating it and polishing it.

          Please find a reason to post again!

          Ed Bianchi
          Ed Bianchi
          York Pennsylvania USA


          • #6
            Who would have thought that T-Jets would still be popular 58 years after they were first introduced? Clubs that formerly only ran modern high magnetic downforce HO cars now run them as well. Aurora had sold 35 million T-Jets by 1966! I have never seen any figures for the total production, but a lot of rolling chassis were left over when Aurora finally packed it in. REH ended up with the bulk of those and continued to sell them until a couple of years ago. Along the way T-Jet clones have been offered by Model Motoring, Johnny Lightning/Auto World, Dash and now Wizzard.
            If you have never seen a well tuned Fray or T-Jet SS car run you would be surprised by how fast they can be. If I took one of those left over Aurora rolling chassis and put a body on it the car might turn my 50 foot MaxTrax road course in 10-11 seconds at best. In T-Jet SS trim it could do 5.5 seconds. Cars of that sort can be very expensive, ready to run cars from an experienced builder can cost as much as $200 and have around $120 in parts alone. My fastest car uses a Dash chassis and cost a total of $65, still more than a person would want to pay for a car that would just be used for casual running. The JL/AW cars now sell for $20-30. Dash rolling chassis are assembled in batches, when they are available the price is $20.
            Last edited by REL13; January 21, 2022, 09:01 AM.