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Thursday, 24 November 2011 09:42

Club Modular Layout Tutorial

The above is a plan of the club modular layout, with a summary of it's details.

The following material is intended to help familiarize club members with the club layout, its features, assembly, and operation. With better knowledge of the layout details, members should be able to help in any aspect of our educational displays of the layout at regional venues.
Before serving as an Ambassador (greet and meet the visitors) or Operator (keep trains running, etc.) club members should familiarize themselves with our Guidelines for representing the club at shows.

Tutorial Index:

A. The Layout Components
B. Transporting the Modules
C. Assembly
     1. Module Setup
     2. Intermodular Track Joints
     3. Placing Structures and Scenery
D. Preparing for Operation
     1. Electrical Connections
     2. The Zephyr DCC Controls
     3. The Club Motive Power
     4. Wheel and Track Cleaning
     5. Club Table and Surroundings
E. Final Details
F. Securing the Layout Overnight
G. Disassembly

The Layout Components


The layout is composed of seven lightweight modules, identified by letters as shown. Each module is 30 inches by 60 inches in size, composed of a 1/2 inch plywood frame into which is inset a 3/4 inch Gatorboard®. The legs are removable and attached with special bolts through the corners using large knobs which minimize the need for tools to assemble and disassemble the layout.

Transporting the Modules


We have three carrying carts specifically built to hold the seven modules. One cart contains the three modules with the smallest height (without structures), and two carry only two modules each. Simple bolts and knobs are used to secure the modules onto their carts.


There are small wheels on one end of each cart with handholds on the other end which allow easy movement of the carts on normal floors by a single individual.


The size of the carts with their modules is small enough to fit into normal minivans as well as most SUVs and other covered cars. Thus the modules can be transported by 3 vehicles.


In addition to the modules, there are a number of other items which accompany the modules and are important in assembling the layout at a show. Most of the material is organized into large plastic tubs, as shown, including the structures, tools, documentation, and throttles. Other items include the center backdrop, a display table, stanchions, and other necessities. A pdf file of the inventory is available for inspection or downloading.


The layout assembly involves putting the modules on their feet, locking them together, connecting the track at each interface, and putting all the structures in place


Module Setup

Here is shown the material at a show site, ready for layout assembly.

Before setup, and even before the club commits to attending a show, it must be determined that there is enough space for the layout, plus surrounding space for viewing, including a safety barrier formed by stanchions and ropes, and space for the club display table. The table contains our literature, a display of model scales, and a TV monitor for the small camera in the F7A locomotive (see below ).

The module racks should be placed in a position which is convenient for extracting the modules, while not in the way of the assembled layout.

Modules are removed from their racks by removing the bolts holding them to the racks, and withdrawing them so as not to damage any scenery by scraping the ledges on the racks which hold up the rack above.

The special leg bolts are shown in the center of this photo. They and other hardware are kept in a small plastic box labelled "assembly". The box is here resting on the cloth-covered central backdrop (which will be inserted later during layout assembly).

The modules do not all have or need 4 legs each: Some of them are locked on to adjacent modules by cabinet hangers (shown below). This requires a deliberate order of assembly, so that the module onto which a module must lock is ready to receive it. The process starts with putting legs on module A, as shown here.

Legs are attached with their bolts and knobs on one end, and then the other. Two persons are sufficient for this task. The knobs are the same as those used to hold the modules onto their racks.


When module A is on legs and correctly positioned, modules B and C can be set up, by attaching legs to the end opposite module A, and sliding the other end carefully into the cabinet hangers.

This is a closeup of one of the hangers, two of which are used for each interface. They hold one module against its neighbor and hold the surfaces precisely at the same level. Thus the two modules must be carefully positioned for joining.

Here module B has had its two legs attached, and it has just been attached to one side of module A.

Likewise module C is set up. As seen here, to achieve a correct position, there are assistance handles inside each matching face that aid in "docking" the two modules.

No floor has yet been found to be very flat, and provision is made for this in our layout by having leveling screws at the foot of each leg. Because the mating of the modules with the cabinet hangers is reasonably precise, the surface of the assembled layout needs to be flat (not the same as "level"). This can be achieved by adjusting the leveling feet to compensate for floor irregularities, and should be done as the layout is assembled. A screwdriver can be used in a slot at the top of the adjustable foot bolt. A flat surface can be determined by eye, as shown here, sighting along the module sides as they are put in place.

A screwdriver can be used to adjust leg length, using a slot at the top of the adjustable foot bolt. To achieve reasonable flatness, high points can be reduced by shortening a leg, IF the foot bolt is already extended sufficiently. Otherwise, other legs can be lengthened to make a relatively straight line along the module sides.

Here is the view along a side with two modules in place. It is nearly flat, but the joint is slightly lower than the ends, as can be seen. This is the general method by which a flat surface on the layout can be achieved.

For floors that are more severely uneven, the layout material includes small plywood shims which can be placed under the legs (the foot bolts have a limited adjustment length).

With modules A, B, and C in place, it is necessary to add four legs to module F and place it in position, because it receives modules D and E, which themselves do not need legs.

Either module D or E can be placed first. The placement of these modules requires at least three people: two to hold the module and another to adjust the position of module F so that the cabinet hangers will dock properly at each end. The second module is then assured to be very closely in the right position.

At this point all but one of the modules is in place, and it is again useful to check the flatness of the layout surface and adjust legs if necessary.

Module G is attached in the same manner as were B and C, by installing two legs and mating the interfacing side using the two cabinet hangers.

At this point the general assembly can be finished by installing the central backdrop board. The backdrop is in two parts. It slips between modules as shown by the red line here.

Intermodular Track Joints

Tub number 1 contains the track segments (liftout sections) that are used to connect the track wherever it crosses module boundaries. Each track segment is numbered underneath, and the corresponding locations are also numbered.

The layout surface underneath the segment must be free of loose material, and the segment is carefully slid into place.

When in position, the track joints, kept on the segment rails at each end, are slid into position making mechanical and electrical continuity for the rails.


Placing Structures and Scenery

The layout structures are kept in several large tubs whose interiors are subdivided with foam-core board into spaces shaped for each particular building.

Inside or on the bottom of each building are written the building name, the number of the tub where it is stored, and the letter of the module on which it is placed. The latter helps those who are setting up the layout. The tub number helps when the layout is disassembled.

Each building name is written on the layout in the place where it belongs.

The layout supplies incllude a set of "placecards" that can be put on the layout during structure placement to aid helpers to locate the modules by letter when searching for building locations.

Preparing for Operation

Several more things need to be done before the layout is ready for operation.

Electrical Connections

There is a buss line around the entire circumference of the layout carrying the DCC power, plus power for any auxiliary equipment. It must be connected after module assembly using the plugs and sockets under each module as illustrated here.

This photo of the underside of a module shows the buss plugs and sockets built into one side of adjoining module faces. The buss cable on the left is connected, the one on the right is hanging down prior to connection. During transport and storage, the cables are stowed with hooks provided under the modules.

The crossing signals on Module F are inserted into sockets by the road on each side of the rail line, as shown. When removing these during disassembly, make sure not to try unplugging by holding the pole, which is merely glued to its base -- grasp the base itself to unplug.

The sign on each signal should face oncoming traffic. The controls for these working crossing lights are automatic, and should come on without aid when the layout is powered up. There is a good instruction manual, if needed, in the documentation binder.

The town buildings include two that have animated signs. These are powered through contacts under the building which mate with contact plates on the layout surface. The power supply for these is on when the layout is on, and the signs go on when they are put in their proper place. The controls on the electronics inside these building units should NOT be changed in any way.


The sugarbeet factory on module B has a light to warn low-flying aircraft. The power to this light is from a plug in the base, which is illustrated below. Make sure this plug is connected when setting up, and carefully unplugged when removing stack :


The Zephyr DCC Controls

As illustrated here, the DCC main control box is covered by the engine house on Module G, the yard module.
This picture also shows the combination digital volt and amp-meter, installed on the side of this module under the control box. This displays the DCC voltage and current in use by the layout at any time.

Before starting operation, and after power is connected (the layout power cord is found under this module) the command station can be used to clear the memory of any list of locomotive numbers previously used. Instructions are on the front of the station. This clearing prevents the limited number (10) from being exceeded in any session.

The handheld "cabs" are shown here, front and back. On the back of each cab are instructions for clearing the systems memory of the locomotive address after it is removed from the layout (as when, for example, an operator brings his own loco).

The radio cabs operate similarly to the tethered cabs. In order to acquire a loco or to dispatch one, the radio cabs must be plugged into a cab socket on the layout. The procedure for this is the same as for the tethered cabs. During setup, batteries should be installed in radio cabs for use, and the batteries should be removed during packing up.

There are two loose leaf folders of system and locomotive decoder manuals which operators should not hesitate to consult in case of questions. They should be kept in the Assembly and MOW #3 tub.

The Club Motive Power

The club owns these DCC-equipped diesel locomotive models for use on the layout. The PRR SD-7 is equipped with sound, but is not a match for the northern Colorado region that the layout represents.

The F7A-B set consists of an unpowered A unit with a camera in one of the two front headlight openings, and a powered B unit with a Tsunami sound decoder.

Wheel and Track Cleaning

The first operation with a locomotive after the layout is powered up should be to run the track cleaning car around the main line, and if time permits, on the major sidings and the yard. The pad under the track cleaning car can be wet with a cleaning oil such as LPS-1 or with alcohol (which dries rather rapidly).

The front panel of the F7-B has a socket that accepts the plug from a harness that is kept with the F7 units, and allows easy cleaning of the locomotive wheels as shown in this picture. We have found that regular cleaning is necessary and important in keeping the locomotive running well throughout a layout show of several hours.

Club Table and Surroundings

The club table is an important part of our layout at shows, and contains literature and two other important items, as shown below.

A club billboard is held up by the table, using poles that are held by blocks at the rear feet and extend through holes in the back of the table.

The billboard is then mounted on the support poles.

On the table we place the television receiver and monitor for display of the picture captured by the camera in the nose of the F7. The gear consists of a receiver (left) with its power supply, and the monitor with its power supply on the right. This equipment requires a power cord, from the extension supplying the layout, with two outlets. These are part of the equipment which goes with the layout. The receiver should be placed in a position to have good access to the camera signals, and the monitor should be positioned for good public viewing. The tuner has multiple channels, and it needs to be set for channel 1 (to match the camera channel).

Also on the table we place the "pyramid" displaying the major scales found in our hobby. This has its own case and also is part of the layout equipment.

Final Details

During a show, the tubs are stored under the layout. Two important tubs should be placed under the G module so that all operators know where to find them: The mainenance tub and the reference material tub.

When tubs are stored under the layout, the skirting curtain is attached using Velcro® found inside the leg tops and along the inside of the module sides. This skirting is stored in a dedicated tub of its own.

The stanchions which delineate operating space around the layout perimeter are assembled by screwing the poles into the bases and placing them at uniform intervals around the layout. Then the yellow rope is threaded through.

Securing the Layout Overnight

When a show lasts more than one day, or when the layout is setup on the evening before a show, all rolling stock and locomotives should be stored in their respective tubs by the last crew of the day. These are normally stored under the yard module. In addition, all controller cabs should be put away. The layout will not be taken to any show that does not have basic security during periods closed to public, so other security measures should not be required. If it is felt to be necessary, the television monitor and receiver and other material on the display table may be temporarily stored under the layout. Finally, all power should be turned off. This is done by simply disconnecting the power strip.


Disassembly of the layout is exactly the reverse of the setup described above. There are only a few things to note:
Most importantly, DO NOT rush the job. There has been more confusion, damage, and misplacement of materials during disassembly than any other time, mostly due to members being in a hurry to pack up and leave. The crew should be careful to put everything in its correct container to prevent loss or confusion at the next layout setup. Many items thought lost were later found in the wrong container. It may be helpful to use the list of equipment to be sure everything is packed in its correct tub or box.
When removing the legs from the modules, take the time to turn the height adjustment screws back to their recessed position, so that the next setup doesn't start with legs of different lengths. Also, make sure the cables that interconnect the modules and the power cord are disconnected and safely tucked into their holding hooks so that damage does not occur during transport.


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