Because of the ending of the Central Jersey S Scalers Get Togethers and I have my home layout running now, in February 2013 I decided to sell my beloved 8 track wide S-Mod yard I started building in 1989. It was a tough decision but it had not been used in 4 years. It was too much rework to somehow use it with my home layout. For the first time since 1989 I have NO S-Mod modules.
I still like and believe in S-Mod. With the ending of the CJSS Get Togethers I will not be building more though. The hosting clubs for the NASG Conventions get layouts set up from regional members. I am sure I would not be driving 1000+ miles with S-Mod sections to set up a layout at a convention.
The History Of S Scale Modules
S Scale to go!
Don DeWitt was very active as the NASG S-Mod module coordinator in the late 1980s to the early 1990s. He was instrumental in forming the S-Mod Standards. He has written a history of S-Mod, S Scale modules, and a comparison of S-Mod vs. S FreeMo here. There is also a great reference on the NASG S-Mod page here.
When I first got into S Scale most of the running I did was on S Scale Modules because there were no permanent S layouts in my area. I initially went to the Central Jersey S Scalers meetings. Their annual Fall Get Together is where I discovered S Scale in the first place in 1987. I really looked forward to those early meets because it was the only place I could run my then new S Scale trains.
In the late 1980s I co-founded the South Jersey S Scalers with the intention of stirring interest in S Scale in the South Jersey area and making our own S Scale modular layout. I started my own 2’ x 20’ long double ended yard module with the idea that you could be at a public show and bring one train in for a rest while sending another one out without a break in the action. The module interest never blossomed. The South Jersey S Scalers became the South Jersey S Gaugers. They built their own Sectional Hi Rail portable layout, and are in the process of building another much larger Hi Rail portable layout.
Much of the below information is a little outdated. The S-Mod electrical standards are in a slow process of being updated for DCC. These modules were built well before DCC and were designed for Cab Control. But the construction ideas are the same for the modules and legs etc.
Setting up a layout was a careful time consuming process that included the loadout, the bolting on of many loose legs and the hours of fitting many loose bridge rails that were supposed to all be exactly 4” long but never were. The module tear down on a cold drizzly October Sunday at 4:00 at the Jersey City NJ Communipaw Train Show got downright ugly. Everyone wanted to get home. Luckily no major damage happened but there were some accidents and bruised modules. After spending a few years helping CJSS set up and tear down their modules, I knew that my own modules would have to be designed better.
Bill’s rules for designing better S Scale modules
Rule 1. Life is too short to put on and take legs off of modules.
Rule 2. It MUST be easy to transport, set up and break down.
Rule 3. Avoid using the 4” loose bridge rails wherever possible. Other scales sectional track like Atlas Snap Track and use a straight section for this instead of loose 4“ rails. S still does not have a straight section comparable to Snap Track. Only use the bridge rails where the modules interface with another “unknown” module. Captive module sections should use bridge rail sections as you will see below in Design Features item 2 and on S Scale Modules page 2.
Rule 4. All equipment must be able to run on it. All turnouts are on my yard module are #6 except the crossovers which are #8.
Pine = BAD Cabinet Grade Plywood = GOOD
I cannot say enough about using cabinet grade plywood. I have been around wood all my life. My father took his apprenticeship and was essentially a professional woodworker (Industrial Patternmaker) for much of his life. He has woodworking tools that most would not know how to use. I simply will NOT make a module frame or benchwork from pine or similar. I have seen it do too many bad things over time. My frames for my original yard are getting on 20 years old now. They have not moved at all.
Back when the South Jersey S Gaugers started their first layout they bought pine frames from a club member that was a wood shop teacher. They were about 3/4 x 2 1/2, had dovetail joints, were screwed glued and tattooed made from the clearest pine you would find. The frames were extremely light. I was the only one with ANY module experience. I was the only one that said don’t buy them. Of course they did not listen - why should they, I don’t know what I am talking about. I washed my hands of the whole thing. About a year later I was invited to see their progress which was extensive. There was track down with some scenery started. The first thing I noticed was the custom bent STEEL angles that were heavily bolted to all the sides of the "lightweight" frames. No one even acknowledged that I "might" have been right.
By the time you cut a sheet of plywood into 3” wide strips, the yield is great. If you contract with a cabinet making shop that has a panel saw, chances are you can buy the wood perfectly cut right from them in ready to use strips. There is no sawdust (from that) to contend with.
Again, I simply will NOT use pine (or similar) for benchwork or module frames
The NASG S-Mod standards are very flexible with track placement in comparison to other standards such as N-Trak.
The 4 big standards are:
Rule 1. You must have 2 ¾” track centers on double track mainlines.
Rule 2. You must have 42” from the floor to the top of the railhead with ½” + - adjustment bolts on the bottom of your legs.
Rule 3. You must have a 2” section of roadbed without rails at the ends where your modules connect to other’s modules. You can do whatever you want if your module will always connect to another one of your modules.
Rule 4. You must have modules that are multiples of 4’ long total.
(Ex. You cannot come to a meet with 18’ of modules, but 16’ or 20’ is good)
Note – S Free Mo does not subscribe to the making of modules in increments of 4’ in length rule. I do not practice the S Free Mo philosophy.
The S-Mod Gurus have strongly suggested that I add this disclaimer….
"If you are going to want your module to be used in a loop layout, then you probably need to make your module a multiple of 4 ft in length. Anything other than a multiple of 4 ft, may need a spacer module which may or may not be available. If you bring your own spacer module to place at the end of your module, or elsewhere on the opposite side of the loop, then there should be less of a problem.
If you do not build a module that is a multiple of 4 ft, then you may not be allowed in a loop layout with your module. You could be added to a branchline, IF the branchline exists in the proposed layout.
If you NEVER want to be in a loop, then the length of your module does not matter, except in the case where space is limited for the layout."
That is it! It is very flexible it you asked me.
Recent on line conversations promoting S “Free Mo” modules get completely lost on me as we already have a flexible established module standard. What more could you possibly want or what part of S-Mod is too restricting? Most of the other S-Mod standards have to do with the wiring for multiple cabs that are really not necessary now since we are now mostly using DCC. If I were to make a new module today I would wire it for DCC only.
I thought that I would hand lay all the track because at that time the flex track available was on the delicate side. If you snagged a rail in transit, it could be ripped off without a chance of it ever being repaired. I had a Kadee Spiker at the time. I will never hand lay track again! I estimate that I glued 5000+ ties down by hand one at a time.
Here is the track plan for my yard.
Public viewing area
6’ section 4’ section 4’ section 6’ section
If I could do it again, I would only make it 6 tracks wide. 8 tracks are too much in 2’ wide. The outside tracks are very close to the edge. Luckily no accidents have happened because of this.
1. I went to great to great lengths to design legs that not removable and fold up under the modules. I custom made bolts with wing nuts welded on the heads so a wrench is not needed to put the bolts in. The bolts run through custom made ¼” pipe bushings so the bolts never wear the wood. One bolt is set permanently in place with a stop nut as the pivot. The other bolt has the wing nut on it for a head. These bolts are then inserted through the legs to lock them in place for storage. 3 of the 4 sections have 4 legs. The one 4’ section only has 2 legs.
2. Somewhat as an afterthought, I thought of how to connect the tracks without using 24) 4” long bridge rails. I routed the plywood deck down about 1/32” x 1 1/2” wide. I then cut 3 aluminum strips 3” x 24” that I mounted 3” long custom made wood roadbed sections that matched the Homabed profile. Next I mounted rails that are 4” long so they stick out ½” on each side to join the modules roadbed. All you need is a small straight blade screwdriver and sometimes needle nose pliers to slide the rail joiners out. When setting the modules up all I do is set the bridge rail section in place, slide the rail joiners out and I am done. There are NO loose 4” bridge rails!
3. The control panel folds up into a suitcase. I wanted it to be self sustaining because there was always the fear that someone would forget to bring a transformer to power the layout for a show. Even from the beginning the control panel housed a powerful transformer. It has 12 “break before make” 4 button push button cab block switches. As you push a button to change from one cab to another it disengages the current block before engaging the new black stopping any shorts of cross cab interference. They also fit the S-Mod standard of having 2 main and 2 local cabs. They are kind of like the push buttons on the radios in 1960s cars. I don’t remember who made them or where I got them now. I may have bought them here http://www.allelectronics.com as I found an old credit card bill from when I was buying electrical supplies for it. They were a bit pricey at about $25.00 each. Now that we are running DCC, we just put all the cabs to red. I also put my NCE DCC Power Booster in there as well. The control panel bolts onto the main 4’ control section. There is a diagonal brace that bolts on and supports that panel without needing an additional leg.
4. I thought that I could make the module so that you could use 12 feet, or 16 feet of if you did not have room for all 20 feet. It is not possible to run 8 tracks perfectly parallel for that distance, so I now a have a single module that is 20’ long.
5. ALL of the turnouts are powered! This comes from the public show concept. With the modules currently stored unused for all but 1 weekend per year the turnout machines don’t snap like they should at times. I will use this yard as part of my layout until I get something more permanent started. The NJ International twin coil switch machines have to be replaced with stall motors. They will not reliably throw in both directions, mostly because the modules currently sit unused for all but 1 weekend a year. This means a major revision of the wiring and control panel. Perhaps once I get the module set up on a more permanent basis as my layout the machines will perform better, but I really doubt it.
6. The sections are electrically connected together with 20+ conductor industrial plugs. Everything is plugged in with just 2 plugs per module. The turnouts are powered by 2 custom made patch cords. As above, I may have bought the connectors here http://www.allelectronics.com
7. The modules are completely constructed from shop grade birch plywood used mostly in cabinet making. It is very stable, and have has a nice outside finish. The sections are 15 years old now. They have spent their entire existence being stored in a basement and show no signs of warping.
8. I laminated 1/2” blue foam board to the underside to help with stability and sound deadening. I would not do this again as I spent more time cutting though the foam to mount components to the plywood then I feel it was worth.
9. I used Homabed as the roadbed for all of the track. I completely painted the lengths before use as recommended to me as they are very susceptible to warping. I should have used Homasote sheets, at least on the 4’ center sections because the rail is about all that is visible above the mud in most yard situations instead of the individual ballasted roadbeds that I have. I will probably try to fill some of that in with something when I do scenery.
10. I used “elevator bolts’ for leg levelers. I used Tee nuts where I had to thread a bolt into the wood. I sometimes drilled the Tee nuts and added extra nails to hold them in place.
11. I built a 6 tier “bakers rack” to transport them to the meets in my then 1988 Ford Bronco II and now my 2003 Ford Escape. Everything just fits without a passenger. You will not have a problem if all your sections are 4’ long.
With the above design features and criteria met I can walk into a show and with less then 5 minutes of additional assistance get trains running in 1 hour flat! The ONLY tools needed are the previously discussed small straight blade screwdriver and occasionally needed needle nose pliers.
This has been the usual layout for the CJSS Get Together for the past 6 or so years. My yard is the straight section on the left. Earlier CJSS Get Togethers had the church hall filled with the layout including a wye section and a branch line. The straight section on the right is thought to be the worlds first S Scale module. They are owned by Mike Ferraro, and are about 30 years old now. It features 3 levels of switching and 3 different code rails.
This is the control panel before we added DCC on the left. It view also shows the hinged lid. On the right is after DCC was added. You can see the red panel light in the upper left that is wired hot to the track power. If there is a short, the light goes out. You can see this from across the room. You can see the 4 wire plugs on the front for the local cabs. We only used them for 1 or 2 shows. I also added a nice fold down tray to hold the DCC handles and DCC cab port in the front.
Here are 4 views of the control panel. The upper left shows the power supply in the center. The DCC power booster gets mounted to the left of the power supply. The upper right shows the panel back side with all the wiring. This was the bulk of the work to make this module to the S-Mod standards. Again, DCC makes this wiring all but obsolete. The bottom left show what it looks like when folded up. At the bottom right you can see the large plugs to connect the control panel to the modules.
(See next page)
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