I started modeling in N scale in 70’s and never become a home layout guy. In the 90’s I helped establish a club in Australia that built modules made from timber and plywood based on the N-Trak standard and in the 00’s I joined a club in the Denver/Boulder area that built modules to their own Foamrail standard using pink or blue insulation foam. So the mold had been set in the belief that one guy could build a good scene around the 2’x4’ module and it didn’t necessarily have to be wood. With the kids grown up and starting to move out we sold the big house and moved to a 2 bedroom apartment which happened to have an active N and T-Trak group around the corner. Having recently downsized, I wanted to match that downsizing with the module size and started a T-Trak module in August. I was in the midst of moving and didn’t have a lot of tools available to me. I was also intrigued by the small layout design website which also looks at creative techniques for layouts. Kieran Ryan’s $100 module (without the back and top) demonstrated the technique and Prof Klyzlr built it using foam core from the local Hobby Lobby or Michaels so I wanted to have a go at making my first T-Trak module out of this material. The thinking was that if it turned into a gluey mess after liberal applications of soap water and runny wood glue, the buildings could be transferred to something more traditional made of wood and screws.
Foam core is available in 5mm (3/8”) thicknesses. I had an idea that if I bought a brown colored finish that it would hide any missed scenery spots. This later proved to be unnecessary.
My tools were fairly basic, 3ft straight edge/ruler, 1ft/300mm ruler, single edged razor blade, wood glue, and Shellac. I cut the top deck to the standard T-Trak dimension of 308 x 210mm and the front and back sides to 75mm by 308mm. The end pieces were 75mm x 200mm (210mm – 2x5mm) to fit within the sides. This was glued together with wood glue and I had the basis for a T-Trak module.
But I was not finished yet. Prof Klyzlr demonstrated his foam board module holding heavy O Narrow Gauge or HO models on his much larger layout. Not wanting the deck to sink in anyway, I cut two additional end pieces (75mm x 200mm) and a side piece (75mm x 298mm) to fit within the basic outside box. These pieces were cut to interlock with each other forming a grid structure underneath the deck. See Kieran’s example and explanation of this and my diagram below of the internal underside pieces. This structure was glued into the base of the module.
For adjustable legs, I picked up some half inch square wood and cut these just a little longer than the depth of the module sides so it would protect the foam board while I was working on it. I found smaller t-nuts than the standard sized I read used and these fitted nicely in the half-inch square wood block I used. These were drilled down the middle to allow the screw to fit inside.
To deal with the water based paint, soap water spray, and watered down wood glue for scenery application, I put a coat of Shellac over the entire module, top, bottom, sides, underneath, everywhere. I even made a couple of extra coats on the edges of the exposed foam, paper edges, and glue joints to seal it all up. The top deck also got some extra coats given its exposure to water.
Scenery and Display
The module was setup in its scenery less form for a Northern Virginia T-Trak layout in October and worked great. I have since added a styrene road, building foundations, and scenery material using basic scenery application techniques without concerning myself with the fact I was working on what was essentially paper and foam. It has stayed square and the deck has remained flat.
I am concerned over time if it will survive the rigors of storage, travel, setup, take down, etc. however, the only loss is the module base, paint and scenery material as all the buildings could be easily transferred to something more durable.
I found the technique a quick way to get into T-Trak without any wood working tools. The materials are readily available and the only skill required is being able to measure (twice), cut accurately, and keeping the knife 90deg to the cutting surface. I think the bracing of the decks underside was important to keep the base square and rigid and the shellac has sealed the glue and paper based material from the watery scenery techniques. Other than, I have treated it like any other module I built in the past and look forward to operating on it for years to come.
Right now the module is 5 months old and has had scenery on it for a month. It has a number of displays scheduled through 2014 and the real question will be how it handles the scenery, travel and setup.
I will provide updates as to how it fares! - Click Here