How I Build My Model Railroad Modules

An interesting concept in the construction of layouts for model railroaders has been the advent of the "module".  The module started out with the simple home layout consisting of 2 or 3 modules, each one being 2'-3' wide and 4'-6' long.  In recent times, the concept has been stretched to "modular railroad clubs"  where members construct modules to a set of club standards.  When the members get together, they end up with layouts that are over 250' long.  Here's a photo of the HOTRAK setup at the 2007 OVAR Module Rally.  That's about 400 lineal feet of module.  And it's all connected together.  The layout varies from year-to-year and setup-to-setup (we meet about 6-8 times a year), all because the modules are built to a standard design, height and connectivity. 

The purpose of these next few pages is to outline the techniques I use in constructing my modules.

Our Objectives
When I first started, it took about 18 months of trial and error to develop the methods I use in constructing my modules.  As I've gained experience, I've refined, replaced, and improved these techniques.  My objectives when I developed these construction methods were: 
  • To use readily available materials that required a minimum amount of sawing, filing, and sanding. 
  • To use materials and techniques that would result in a relatively light but very rugged module that wouldn't warp.
  • To use cutting methods that were very simple straight cuts and didn't require a set of fancy power tools. 
  • To use assembly techniques that didn't require 5 pairs of hands, a dozen or so wood clamps, and a large carpenter's square - all at the same time. 
  • To use techniques that would keep the frustration level to a minimum and wouldn't take all winter to build.
  • And a few other criteria which I've forgotten. 
The Module Concept
Modules are typically 2' wide and 2', 4', or 6' long.  The width will depend on the standard for your MR Club.  The length will usually depend on the width of the back seat of your car or the size of your van or truck, and whether you transport your modules to club meets.  Obviously, a 6' module won't fit in the backseat of your sub-compact.  The module frame is usually constructed of 1"x 4", 1"x 5" or 1"x 6" dimensional lumber (which is usually 3/4" thick and 31/2", 41/2" or 51/2" wide) or plywood.  The surface of the module is typically 1½" - 2" Styrofoam (extruded polystyrene board which is blue, pink, or green in colour, depending on the brand).

Here's what my Bancroft & Irondale 6-foot modules (the first set of modules that I finished) look like today.
They originally started out looking something like this.

We're going to build a 4-foot module and, over the next few pages, we'll be doing the following steps:
  • Cutting the lumber (including corner gussets)
  • Laying out and drilling the holes for the T-nuts
  • Installing the T-nuts
  • Laying out and drilling the holes for the woodscrews
  • Cutting out and recessing some holes for some telephone jacks (we're going to use DCC)
  • Screwing and glueing the boards together into a square frame
  • Painting the module frame
  • Cutting, installing and glueing the Styrofoam into the module frame.
  • Installing a track power buss
  • Installing a DCC or LocoNet buss, including some plug-in telephone jacks or UTP panels
  • Fabricating and painting some legs.  
From time-to-time, for a change of pace, we'll throw in some handy-dandy tips that will help you in laying track, doing your scenery, or soldering in the track feeds.  

Let's get started with some construction.  Building A Module - The Bits And Pieces

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