Clickity Clack

Railroad tracks! Wide or narrow gauge, these steel highways transport people and cargo across continents. Railroad tracks can be as narrow as 15 inches, as wide as 7.25 feet, and are normally 4 ft 8.5" wide. Tracks have been constructed in the same manner for a long time. Flag bottom steel rails are laid on timber or concrete ties and then placed atop crushed stone.

"Section through railway track and foundation" by Bermicourt - Own diagram. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

"Section through railway track and foundation" by Bermicourt - Own diagram. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Wooden tracks were originally laid in the 17th century in mines. Tracks have also been used in large construction projects, like the Panama Canal. Over time, different techniques have been employed to reduce maintenance requirements due to wear and the environment. For example, in the photo below, the yellow oilers lubricate wheel flanges to reduce rail wear.

Other methods include expansion joints (to help with heat), welds, epoxy, "tamping" the ballast (hammering into crushed stone), and more. Sound fancy? Breaking through the jargon only takes a quick internet search, not to worry.

ACTIVITIES

Make a track snack! Wash and peel two long pieces of celery. Line them with peanut butter. Connect the "rails" using pretzel sticks as the ties. For the sake of cleanliness and your sanity, we will ignore the fact that our tracks are upside-down. Keep it clean with the ties on top! Add ballast around your tracks by sprinkling raisins all around your celery…then enjoy!

For older kids, consider a starter model railroad set if they're really excited by trains. I grew up with HO scale trains. It allows both children and adults to participate in a hobby together, expressing their creativity and having fun with a shared interest.

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