Free-moN Staging Yard - 2'x10'

MC Fujiwara Apr 23, 2012

  1. MC Fujiwara

    MC Fujiwara TrainBoard Member

    Free-moN Staging Yard - 16"x10'

    Had started posting some of this over on my "Shoofly" module construction thread, but then realized that there's going to be a whole bunch of photos & how-to's specific to staging yards & module construction (especially Free-moN), so thought our new staging yard module should get a thread of its own.

    The story begins on April, Friday the 13th (duh duh duh...) when the Silicon Valley Free-moN group set up for a week-long show at the Hiller Aviation Museum. With four main modules, a large turnback loop, and many small 45 deg. fillers, we were able to get a decent mainline going, with trains of 10-16 cars running through some nifty scenery.

    However, after operating Friday & Saturday we soon realized that, besides the turnback loop, Steve Williams' Lockhart, TX module was the only one with a passing siding, which soon became the passing / runaround / staging / terminus, as well as limiting us to about two trains at a time: one running out to the loop & back while the other loco did a runaround to get ready to leave when the first returned.

    We needed staging, and another runaround, and we needed it bad.
    Like an oreo needs milk bad.
    And by the next weekend when the whole group would be there to run trains.

    So Sunday, April 15, I looked at the sheets of wood in my garage and found two pieces of 16" x 4' 1/2" very nice ply (birch?) that my dad had used as center cross-supports when he built a queen-sized mattress box-frame for us when we moved back from Japan 10 years ago.

    That determined the size of the yard sections (4' is perfect for transport), but using #7 turnouts limited the tracks to 7 in just 12" of space (using 1 1/2" centers). What to do with the other 4" of width? Ah, hah!


    Free-moN module standards call for a minimum of 12" wide endplates (of 3/4" birch ply), so I centered the main at the 6" mark, offsetting the whole yard to one side. This left room for 1) a diesel service facility on one end and 2) a turntable for those of us who run steam and F-units. Later I realized I could squeeze in a MOW track for the wreck crane set I just got as well as a Machine Shop that could double as a programming track (something else we didn't have).

    Using the two sections, that'd give us a 6'+ main, two 52" and two 30" staging tracks plus runarounds on each side.
    Which would work fine as the passing siding on Steve's Lockhart, TX module is about 5'.

    Still, it seemed a bit short to me (can you ever have enough staging?) so I designed a 12"x24" insert that curved 15 deg.
    As it lines up with and extends the middle yard tracks, it can be inserted either way, bending the whole yard in either direction.
    And the extra 2' means plenty of room for long trains!

    So Sunday morning I went to the hardware store and got some 2'x4' 1/2" sanded ply handipanels, 1 1/2" sq fir for the legs, and bunches o' bolts n' washers. Also stopped by the LHS and got a bunch of Atlas C55 flex, but was heartbroken to find only 3 each of the L & R #7 turnouts! D'oh!

    Usually I handlay turnouts, but since I had less than a week to get something built & operational, I went with Atlas. Luckily I found a few more #7s at a shop down in San Jose, so had just enough for a main, two staging & one runaround.

    So Sunday, Monday and part of Tuesday, after appointments or being at the show, was all cutting (no tablesaw, only circular, chop & jig), gluing & screwing.
    Was moving so fast I took only one "progress" shot:


    That's my McGyver compass to get the 70+" radius of the insert (eyeballed it over a dot on the concrete)
    By Wednesday it looked like this:


    Thurday: finished track across gap & on insert


    Friday: feeder wires, handles

    Last edited by a moderator: Apr 23, 2012
  2. MC Fujiwara

    MC Fujiwara TrainBoard Member

    Saturday: installed temp Caboose Ind. ground throws and buswire


    And Sunday:


    We ran trains, using our new staging yard!

    And here it is in action:


    What was cool is that Steve's Lockhart, TX module, which use to be the end (though there was some single main after it), now became the "meet", so a train could go out to the loop while one entered staging and another left.
    Nice long runs with long trains!

    More important: both the Shoofly module and the staging yard fit in the back of my car with all their legs (and mine)!

    So the show is over, but there's another one coming up (hopefully) in June, so I have time to finish the yard.

    Installed the phone jacks at either end we use to connect the control buses between modules and UTP panels:


    Good ol' Gorilla Glue keep's em rock solid.
    Steve has a 6-pin crimper, so the wires are straight through.

    Got more turnouts, so I installed the rest of the ladders on both sides:


    Notice I don't run the track up to the edge: need to leave room for the track to "float" a little over the PC board ties (which are raised a little) but I explain all that in a video I should have edited tonight or tomorrow.

  3. MC Fujiwara

    MC Fujiwara TrainBoard Member

    For the feeders I've been soldering the wire "L" bent under the rails / joiners:


    Then I solder them to the buswires.
    At first I tried suitcase connectors, but 22 gauge to 12 gauge doesn't work too well.
    Luckily, I can just put the modules on their sides on my workbench. (yeay!)

    When laying the track over the middle section, I first put a sheet of 0.020 styrene between the sections before clamping:


    Even though I use a Ultra Thin Dedeco separating disc, the styrene makes sure that there's rail to file back flush with the endplate instead of wishing it'd grow a 1/32" to prevent a wheel-grabbing gap.

    I thought of this trick after I cut the first track (at bottom):


    As you can see, a wider gap than the other above it (when I used the styrene).
    [The styrene is in place in the photo above: normally there's barely a gap in the upper rails]

    Also, because the separating disc comes in at a slight angle:


    The styrene allows enough space for a flush file.
    By laying the rail over the PC board ties first, the solder helps create a smooth path over any little bumps or skewed PC boards / endplate top.
    Sometimes there's a little rise but hardly noticeable.

  4. MC Fujiwara

    MC Fujiwara TrainBoard Member

    Once you get ALL the yard tracks smooth & even, soldered / caulked down, & cut, then & ONLY then is it ok to release the clamps, remove the styrene and separate the sections so you can file the rail flush:


    Gorilla Glue is strong, but I still file only down, and I put my thumb over the rails to relieve any stress on the solder.
    Make sure you file flush + a smidge: if the rails touch each other when mating the pressure of the clamp will pop them off the solder.
    I also slightly camphor the head with a single light pass of the file.

    The most difficulty aspect of Free-moN is to get the tracks from different modules to line up: fortunately usually there are two people setting up: one to hold the two module endplates flush and the other to clamp.
    Usually it takes a bit of finessing and a lot of patience.
    And that with modules with a SINGLE track.
    This yard has SEVEN, and they all have to line up perfectly or it won't work (or only some will).
    Seems like the model railroad gods were on my side today, as all seven line up great between the two main sections:


    Now all I have to do is slip the 2' insert between them (with a sheet of styrene between each gap) and then lay the curved track on the insert so it matchs up with the established track on the main sections.

    My crate of unassembled Bullfrog turnout controls should show up soon, too, so I'll get to figure out how to do the double-actuated (one on each side) control rods.

    I'm also going to be building a sloped hardboard shelf & lip on each side that will hold our iPhone & NEC throttles as well as protect the Bullfrog knobs below it.

    Thanks for watching and hope to have a video up soon.
  5. RBrodzinsky

    RBrodzinsky Staff Member TrainBoard Supporter

    Very nice! Keep it up, and you just may have me thinking about a module. :we2-jimlad: What I've actually been pondering is how to put a nice passenger station, with multiple tracks and freight by-pass, together.
  6. MC Fujiwara

    MC Fujiwara TrainBoard Member

    Pretty much the same way as I've been building this yard, except I'd do at least 3 18"/24"x4' sections.

    I'll expect it done by next Tuesday ;)
  7. gregamer

    gregamer TrainBoard Supporter

    Very cool. It'll be nice to have some yard space at your meets. Great work.
  8. MC Fujiwara

    MC Fujiwara TrainBoard Member

    Thanks, Greg: I really dig your modules, too!

    Here's the last video of the Hiller show, showing steam & diesel running through the whole layout:


    Thanks for watching!
  9. SteamDonkey74

    SteamDonkey74 TrainBoard Supporter

    This is a really nice yard set up. I love the adaptability with that optional curved middle section.
  10. MC Fujiwara

    MC Fujiwara TrainBoard Member

    Thanks, SteamDonkey74.
    Not only is the slightly curved section keeping with the "free" of the Free-moN (and thus adaptability to various spaces), but it also helps structurally secure lateral movement.

    I might have over-emphasized the finickiness of aligning butt joints in the early posts.
    Yes, it's not a two-second snap together, but it's not that hard to get the modules aligned.
    Especially with two people: one to align, the other to clamp.
    And most modules have a single main, so all you have to align is two rails (no matter the off-chance of endplate warping or wacky floor).
    And what we've found is that even if there's a significant gap, trains will still run over it fine!
    It's pretty amazing what long trains are able to run over.
    Now, of course, it's better to get as close as possible to flush & smooth.
    But there's a lot of lee-way.

    Drop-in sections of track or even the pre-ballasted joints where you drop in two rails also have their place: we've found that those options actually have more variables than necessary (and the drop-in rails can get bent very quickly), and take longer to set up & take down.

    Bolts & pins are great between sections, but not between modules: it's just too hard to get people from all over to precision-machine-place pins in the correct spot to allow alignment on either side of the module in any combination with anyone else's module.
    Maybe if we machined endplates out of steel and then all used the same...
    Ugh: the weight!

    So butt-end joints over 6"-tall 3/4" birch ply have proved (for us) to be the most practical and repeatable.

    Just to prove a point: today I connected the 2-foot, 15 deg. insert between the two yard sections in less than a minute, all by myself:


    Perhaps having multiple tracks actually makes it easier to align, as (theoretically) just aligning the two outermost rails should line up all those in between.
    But sometimes the Free-moN gods are with you, and sometimes they give you the fumbly finger.

    You can see I also sprayed on the first layer of flat black along the sides.

    Once I got the insert aligned and clamped, I cut track to fit the three remaining curves, laid down some caulk, placed the track, eyeballed it to have a 2" straight off the sides and then a smooth curve (1 1/2" track centers).
    The caulk gives you plenty of time to adjust, test with a car, and then solder at the ends:


    The fun thing about this part is that there are no rail joiners and you don't have to put styrene between the sections.
    Just run the rails up to the ones already flush on the yard sections (ok, leave a slight gap, like hair-width).
    So no cutting with the Dremel or filing, either.
    And everything lines up lovely:


    Now I've only tried the insert in one direction: I'm really really really hoping that it all lines up when I flip it around (and there might be a slight bit of filing to be done).
    But as of now, we have all 7 yard tracks (a main with two staging tracks and a runaround on each side) up and running.
    Or will, once I drop feeders on the insert section after the caulk cures.

    So here it is:


    While I was working on this, my daughter was using her model railroading skills to build a diorama of the BFG's cave for a class project (many layers of carved pink foam caulked together, sculptamold slathered on top, now painting the blue rocks), and my son was... ??? dancing / practicing karate / painting water pictures on the driveway.

    So it was a good day.
    Thanks for looking, and for all your comments and suggestions.
  11. robert3985

    robert3985 TrainBoard Member

    I enjoy this thread a lot. Got a question. Why are you eliminating the ties so far back from the pcb ties at the ends of the modules? What I do on my own modular standard layout is cut the spacers between the ties (4 or 5) and slide them back, away from the pcb ties which will get soldered to the rails. After the soldering is done, I just slide the ties back into funky "spikeless" filler ties to slide under the rails.

    Lately, I've been using Proto87Stores code 40 N scale tie plates between the foot of my rails and the pcb ties. Gotta cut 'em in half and insert between the copper and rail-foot from either side on code 55. A resistance solderer is a big help as it both holds in place and applies quick local heat. However, the NS tie plates make the pcb ties almost indiscernible from my ME code 55. The big "spikeheads" on Atlas55 as compared to ME55 will make the Proto87Stores tie plates less effective, unless you drill a couple of holes in 'em and put a spike down on either side of the rail after they're soldered.

    Just thinkin'....

    Bob Gilmore
  12. MC Fujiwara

    MC Fujiwara TrainBoard Member

    Thanks for sharing your technique, Bob.
    I cut the ties so far back because there are slight elevation changes and uneven-ness along the endplates (didn't sand the tops: oops) so the PC board ties aren't perfectly flat.
    Also, the PC board ties themselves are a little thinner than the Atlas flextrack ties, so I raised the endplate up a smidge.
    By having the ties a bit farther back it allows for a more gradual rise / fall of the rail from over the Atlas ties to over the PC board ties and back.
    It's not much but it's smoother the way I do it.
    (Having the Atlas ties right up against the PC board ties would result is a sharper rise/dip)
    The tie plates are a good idea: I'll have to look into that.

    Here's a video I made on how I make the butt joints over a Free-moN module section:


    Again, I apologize for the length & rambling, but I wanted to take the mystery out of a potential deal-breaker for anyone wanting to build a Free-moN module.
    This is for 7 tracks on plywood, but can also be used for 1 or 2 tracks on foam / cork.
    The same technique can be used for other modules, or swing-out / lift-up sections.
    (At the single-main endplate of a module you can just solder the rails so they stick out & file back flush)

    Hope this helps spread the Free-moN flow, and thanks for watching (and for all comments / suggestions!)
  13. timwatson

    timwatson New Member

    Dude I love it when you get your tutorial on ...
    Thanks for always being willing to share.

  14. BoxcabE50

    BoxcabE50 Staff Member TrainBoard Supporter

    He does do it very well. :thumbs_up:
  15. robert3985

    robert3985 TrainBoard Member

    It's probably a little late to mention it now, but...on my Echo Yard modules (24 own modular standards) I used one strip of HO cork for the two mainlines and N-scale cork for the rest of the roadbed in the yard and sidings. I realized that there might be a little height difference between modules and I wanted the track in my yard to not have ski-jumps at the joints, so I laid the cork roadbed down, let it dry...then I sanded it with an 8" sanding block w/220 grit sandpaper to make sure it was all even. I checked it with a lamp and my metal 3' level...seeing if any light was leaking between the metal of my level and the sanded cork roadbed. I then cut the cork at the module joints with a #11 scalpel blade and metal straight edge.

    I then laid my track in and did the pcb tie thing over the module joints. Using Proto87Stores NS tie plates, the pcb ties actually are about the same height as the Delrin ties on my ME55. I sock the pcb ties down using gap-filling CA, and tack my flex down with runny CA and accelerator about every 4 inches. It is smelly, but it goes really quick. To speed up the curing (even with accelerator) I use a 1200W hair dryer set on "medium" to evaporate the accelerator.

    What really makes the flex permanent after painting and weathering the rail and ties is the ballast.

    When I separate the modules, I soak the cork under the pcb ties with runny CA...which really hardens it up...and lightly sand it, being careful to not rip the rails off!

    No ski jumps or dips as long as the modules are level. I've resorted to a water-level with an electronic buzzer that's accurate to 1/16th of an inch for setup. Goes much quicker than using a bubble level since I can level each module end in the club's whole setup using the first module as a reference because the water tube can be extended to over 70 feet. This means..."no cumulative errors".

    I admire your work, but Free-mo's not for me. I gotta have a skyboard to deepen the scene.


    Bob Gilmore
  16. MRL

    MRL TrainBoard Member

    One question how heavy are the modules roughly, also how rigid are they. trying to decide between this and modutrak type layout.
  17. MC Fujiwara

    MC Fujiwara TrainBoard Member

    Good tip, Bob.
    The CA is an interesting choice, given it's tendancy to become brittle.
    But I guess soaking it helps ;)

    Next time I make a yard module and I'm not scrambling to get it up & operational in less than a week then I'm definitely going to take the time to sand the endplate tops and raise them the hair to allow for the thinner PC board ties.
    (This time I did raise the endplates but forgot to sand all the endplate tops).
    As is, there is barely a rise and fall, and definitely no "ski jumps": all wheels stay on the rails at all times ;)
    The water level w/ buzzer is a good idea: we just take tape measure from the highest spot on the floor and set the rails at 50".

    MRL: the modules themselves are not that heavy.
    I can easily pick up both sections of the Shoofly or both sections of the yard with each hand.
    I put handles on the yard modules and built a box for the Shoofly to protect it in storage / transport:


    [I added a lid since that photo, and I stack the yard on top in the car]

    It also has handles on the sides of the box, but I found I just left the box in the back of the car during the show and carried each section of the Shoofly in.
    The box is heavier than the two module sections put together.

    As for Free-moN or Modutrak, it's really a win-win.
    Modutrak is 3" higher up and has (usually) a double main, while Free-moN has a single at 50".
    Both focus on realistic scenery and operations.
    So the main factor in your decision should be: "What do people use near where I live, and do I like those people?"

    A module in itself is just a diorama.
    The point is to bring them together and run longer trains together.
    Most Silicon Valley Free-moN dudes live about 40-60 minutes away from me, but they are groovy guys who are worth it.
    (Plus, we set up at shows, not at each others' homes, and those are all over the SF Bay Area)

    There are also N-Trak clubs closer to my home, but I like the single main & flowing scenery.
    If there was a Modutrak club nearby, maybe I'd be doing that.
    Would depend on the people ;)

    Either way you go, I'm looking forward to seeing your module come to life!
  18. MC Fujiwara

    MC Fujiwara TrainBoard Member

    Built a couple of Bullfrogs and started figuring out how to install them.
    While I could just screw them into the 1/2" ply, that wouldn't leave much room for the control rods to drop 4" to the sides, especially when install right next to the edge.
    So I'll probably mount the Bullfrogs on some 1 1/2" square blocks (leftover leg material), but we'll see.

    First, though, I have to deal with another issue thrown my way, specifically this:


    The Atlas C55 turnouts, while nice for their power routing & easy-to-wire frog set up, have a weakass plastic throwbar / point rail clip that actually pushes the point rail up over the stock rail when thrown to the far side.
    "You're throwing too hard!" you might say.
    Well, so does the Bullfrog, so I gotta work with that.
    And I have no problems with the Bullfrog working my handlaid turnout with PC board throwbar on the Shoofly.

    So, before I started butchering the turnouts already installed on the staging module, I practiced with an Atlas C55 turnout I'm saving for another project (muhahahaha):


    Just cut the point rail clips with rail nippers and soldered.
    I use HO scale PC board ties for throwbars as I'll be drilling holes for the Bullfrog wire & the N scale ones are a little thin.
    [Note to self: remember to cut the gap on the throwbar before installing & soldering ;)]
    Seemed to work out pretty well, so now it's on to performing surgery on the 17 Atlas turnouts already installed!
    Thanks for looking.
  19. jhn_plsn

    jhn_plsn TrainBoard Supporter

    One question I have is why did you build a narrow module to go into the middle of the yard? It breaks up the continuity of the scenery in my opinion. I would have kept the same width, although it is likely easier to transport and store.
  20. MC Fujiwara

    MC Fujiwara TrainBoard Member

    While the main sections are 16" x 4' each, the mainline is centered at 6" from one side (Free-moN minimum width: 12").
    This is because with #7 turnouts the track geometry of 7 tracks at 1.5" centers doesn't go beyond 9" (4.5" on both sides of the main).
    So really this is a 1' x 10' module with an extra 4" of width tacked on to one side.
    Why 16"?
    Because that's the size wood I had & I wanted as few cuts as possible.
    Plus I thought I could fit some engine service & a turntable in there (which, it turns out, I can ;) )

    So the 12"-wide insert extends only the yard tracks and (theoretically) can be inserted in either direction and so bend the yard either which way.
    The great thing is I can build a bunch o' different inserts (including one that branches off to a classification / storage yard or interchange line) in many different shapes and sizes.
    I can even drop the insert, have a shorter straight yard, or split the sections into two stub-ended staging sections that could book-end any layout (i.e. if we don't have the return loop, or when I run at home).
    Detachable runaround extensions are in the works ;)

    As for breaking up the continuity, I can always build a 2' diorama that fits over the 4" x 24" curved "hole".
    Hey! That's a great idea!
    Thanks, John!

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