Monthly Archives: May 2005

An Experimental Module

Several weeks ago I commited to build a module. No big news there right? After all if I write about portability then building a module should be expected. There are a few wrinkles with this particular committment however.

First the module standard I am building to is as-yet unpublished. It is a new standard with a few sections still under final review within the group that is developing it.

Second, since I won’t have any modules to connect with it, it will be shipped to Canada for testing (I live in Arizona). This means it must be light and extra rugged. It also must have dimensions that take into account shipping tariffs.

I am in the process of designing a modular railroad named the Tombstone and Guaymas Railroad so I decided to build a piece of that layout for this module. So far I have decided that the module will center around a bridge across the San Pedro River at the site of (now a Ghost Town) Fairbank, AZ. Since my layout is in the 1880s era, Fairbank will still be a thriving town.

I’ll keep you posted as it progresses (or doesn’t).

Un-OOPS?

Well, it appears that the RSS feeds are working again, although I don’t have a clue what I did to fix them. I remember finding a missing semicolon in some script I was working on but I don’t remember which script it was or if it was even associated with the problem. I just saw a mistake and fixed it without really thinking about it.

Just to make it interesting, I went to the WordPress site a few minutes ago and discovered that there was a problem with the RSS feeds in 1.5.1 and that 1.5.1.1 is now available that fixes the feeds and a few other problems.

I guess I will install the upgrade but I think I’ll wait a few days.

WordPress is great software with a terrific team developing and maintaining the code. I love it and don’t mind the occasional blooper in the least. If this was commercial software, we wouldn’t see the fix for months, if ever.

New On30 group formed in the Mid-Atlantic states

There are new modular groups forming all of the time.

One of the newest is
On30modules-Mid_Atlantic
.

I know several of the members and you would have a hard time finding a better and more diversified group of On30 modelers. Stop by their Yahoo! Group and take a look around. If you live anywhere in the Mid-Atlantic states and even mildly interested in building modular group layouts, join this group!

OOPS

When I started Trains of Thought, I set it up on a test server at home. It was designed using WordPress 1.50 and the theme Jakarta by Jose Mulia. I decided to take the site live the same day that WordPress 1.5.1 was released.

Instead of taking the site live and then upgrading it, I decided to build the site with 1.51 and then load up the data.

Anyway, during testing the RSS feeds worked fine. Yesterday I was going to tell a friend how to use the RSS feeds only to discover they are broken.

I will fix them as soon as possible and let you know when they work again. Sorry for the inconvenience.

Train Shows

Today I was discussing leg design for portable layouts with a few friends and one of them showed me a diagram of a very interesting design. One of the features of the leg assembly was an integral stanchion.

I don’t know why but this got me thinking about train shows. In particular, thinking about the various modular groups and train clubs that set up at the shows. Now I enjoy looking at the layouts and talking with the owners/operators but if you asked me two days later which groups were at the show, I could not tell you.

Last night I watched “The Apprentice” and one of the contestants was given the task of setting up a video game championship show.

Whenever a group of modelers discuss modules one of the areas that frequently come up is attracting young people to the groups. They want simple standards so that young people won’t feel intimidated. Side Note: Young people do not intimidate nearly as easily as some older people think they do. Just because you do not understand something does not mean that most kids wouldn’t understand it.

What do these two things have in common?

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On Interface Plates

As long as I’m thinking about module designs in a general way I should pay some attention to the interface plates that serve as the mating surface between two modules.

Interface plates should provide a way to roughly align one module with another. They should also either provide the clamping mechanism that securely joins one module to the next or it should provide a suitable surface for an external clamping device.

Probably the most common way of fastening one module to another is the use of C-clamps on the interface plate. Now C-clamps are probably not the ideal choice of fasteners for a number of reasons. If we assume for now though that the fastener of choice is the C-clamp then you do not want to use a soft wood for the clamping surface. Pine and even most hardwoods would soon begin to have clamp marks that begin to interfere with proper clamping after awhile. For this reason, a good birch or mahogany plywood is the first choice for wood interfaces.

The interface plate needs to be sturdy but the main reason to use plywood is to hold up against the ravages of C-clamps.

The obvious question. Is there a better fastener than a C-clamp?

More later.

On Legs

Most modules are designed with four legs, one in each corner. A few designs use two legs on one end and rely on the legs on the next module to support the other end. These modules, without the addition of optional legs, do not stand on their own. There is even an innovative design with one leg per module that relies on the entire assembly of modules to provide stability. Obviously these modules do not stand on their own.

So how many legs should a module have?

Why three of course. Oh, and they should not be at the ends either.

Why three legs? For the same reason a tripod uses three legs. Three legs always touch the ground. How many times have you gone to eat and ended up at a table that wobbled? Tripods never wobble they merely tilt. Put a module on an uneven floor; on a module with a very sturdy frame, it will wobble just like a table; on a flexible frame, which is the vast majority of modules, the frame will flex to compensate for small variances and only wobble for large variances. Avoiding flex is the first step in maintaining solid and reliable modules.

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On Frames

The most basic part of a modular standard is the frame that supports the track work and scenery.

There are two basic designs that predominate in the design of frames for modules.

The first one is a simple box with a top and no bottom. The sides of the box are wood and the top used to be plywood but now is most likely foamboard. This is what Linn Westcott in his book How to Build Model Railroad Benchwork refers to as butt-joint benchwork.

The other design is two end plates attatched to a top plate and conformable side plates usually of masonite. It is also a simple box but has more free-flowing design capabilities.

What they share in common is that the frame is supposed to be fairly rigid to keep the track work at the proper angle to the floor and to other track work. The old frames with plywood tops were fairly rigid because you had a five sided wooden box with a lot of nails and/ or screws holding it together. The new style box is only four sided since the top is usually just plopped on. I see this all the time. The builder may put braces around the outside edge to keep the foam in place (and they think from sagging–but they are wrong) but rarely do you see any real cross-bracing or even “bed slats” to keep the foam from sagging. They flex and flop like a dead herring.

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Something a Little Different

For a long time now I’ve been thinking about a different approach to modular railroading.

I keep envisioning something like sectional track only in module form. Kind of like Kato Uni-track gone awry. The module would be track, roadbed, and a little scenery as standard but balloon out for scenes like a station, mine, what ever.

What I like about this idea is that it would be easier to transport the modules and because there is less scenery per module, the modules cost less to build, they would be lighter, and they should fit together with other modules with less obvious difference from module to module.

The problem I keep running into with this idea is that unless there is some control you also end up with all of the problems of sectional track: no easements (horizontal or vertical), possiblity of introducing S-curves, and easy to introduce wiring issues like hidden reverse loops.

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Materials

Most modules use wood as the primary framing material. The obvious advantages of wood are:

  • Cost
  • Availability
  • Familiarity
  • Ease of fabrication

It also has two disadvantages that I find overwhelming:

  • Environmental stability
  • Weight

While wood is readily available, easy to work with, and affordable my feeling is that wood is too heavy to be an ideal material for module construction and its environmental stability can cause issues. I live in Arizona, which is a semi-arid and warm (some would say hot) environment. Many of the friends I have in the modular world live in Ontario, an environment that is both wetter and cooler than Arizona.

If we built interface plates for our modules out of wood, me in Arizona, and them in Ontario, even if we were exact in our measurements, our interface plates would not be exactly the same when we met to build a temporary layout. Wood expands, contracts, warps, dries out, and is attacked by insects.

Because of this, I am looking into alternative materials and methods of constructing the frame work for modules.

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