A little history…
Many moons ago, a group of HO modelers in the Chicago-area decided to build a modular HO layout that they called Midwest Mod-U-Trak. The idea being to create a group of HO scale modules set to a specific time period and general geographic area. All of the modules had to not only be built to a specific dimensional standard, but all the track, scenery materials and more were also standardized so there was continuity between the modules. The height of the layout was also around 54 inches tall which allowed for more of a direct railfan view. The layout went on to be featured in Model Railroader and was a fixture at shows around the midwest changing the perception of what a modular layout could be.
Two refugees from an N scale NTRAK group, Bill Denton and Mike Skibbe were at one of the shows looking at the HO Mod-U-Trak layout thinking it would be cool to build something similar in n scale. After talking it over with a group of other local n scalers, Mike and Bill decided to explore the idea further and talked to the HO Mod-U-Trak group which spawned a detailed discussion about an all-new version 2.0 of modutrak using a light-weight construction method. There are a number of mechanical and civil engineers involved in this group and the project quickly got neck deep in ideas, CAD drawings and experiments that went on for three to four years fine tuning a new type of modular model railroad.
The n scale group is comprised of a number of top-shelf modelers and friends, many of whom have been published multiple times – Keith Kohlman, Bill Denton, Mike Skibbe and others. The core group heralds from the Midwest (mostly Chicago and Milwaukee-area) so the modeling focus is more midwest centric with Millwaukee Road (MILW), Chicago and Northwestern (CNW) and Chicago, Burlington & Quincy (CB&Q) being the main model focus. The primary time period being modeled is the 50-60’s. All that said, you’ll still see a California Zephyr or Sante Fe Super Chief on the layout since they steamed out of Chicago’s Union Station. Likewise you’ll see some equipment outside of the time period on occasion depending on the type of show the layout is displaying at. The group is laid-back but the peer pressure is definitely there to step up the modeling realism and strive to build everything as realistic as possible.
So the idea is to model specific scenes or areas (usually based on real locations scattered around the Midwest) that blend well with the other modules being built through detailed standards and high prototypical (model-speak for real life) fidelity. We are fortunate that we are all fairly like minded when it comes to modeling and have been able to agree on standards for even the smallest stuff across the modules so they have a cohesive look. Our group isn’t afraid to push each other a lot to try new techniques and new ideas – thus our unofficial motto/joke: “Better modeling through peer pressure”.
We hope you enjoy our website, check out our layout at one of the shows we display at and generally take something worthwhile away from our obsessive passions. N scale often suffers from the perception that you can’t do “real” modeling with it. We disagree and will continue to do our best to try and carry the n scale flag proudly at shows where we hope the public, manufactures and other modelers come away with a different viewpoint on n scale.
We get a lot of questions so here are a few of them with some answers…
Q – What shows will you be attending?
A – You can check our front page of the website for a listing of shows we will be displaying at.
Q – Do you have a standards quide?
A – Not yet, but we are working on an online version. Modutrak has been constantly evolving as some ideas work well and others less so. We make improvements and/or changes and adapt them into the current layout. That said, we are working on assembling some general specifications into a reference that people can use for reference. Check back here on the website from time to time as we will post it online.
Q – What are the basic modutrak specs?
A – We use a two-track mainline that runs on Digitrax Digital Command Control. Track spacing is 1.25″ inches. All of our track is Atlas Code 55 flex track, #7 and #10 turnouts with a few handlaid turnouts sprinkled here and there. The main wiring bus utilizes a terminal block and molex connectors at each end of the module. We do not use rail joiners or small track joints between modules – the modules are flush against each other with flex track running all the way to the end of the module where it meets up with the opposite module. This requires a very consistent track alignment jig that we use during construction to ensure the modules line up properly.
Q – How are the modules constructed?
A – We use a lightweight construction of cross-drilled 3/4 baltic birch for the end plates and center reinforcement. 1/4 baltic birch is laid across the top and sides to form the base. We use 1/8 inch Masonite in a modified spline as a track base. We also use 1/8 inch Masonite for the final end plates and sides of the module.
Q – What scenery materials do you use on the modules?
A – Our scenery materials are a mix of Woodland Scenics and Silflor products for the most part. The static grass is mostly Silflor product with some Woodland Scenics mixed in from time to time to add some variation. Most trees are Super Trees material that are painted and hand flocked. The dirt is Smith and Sons fine dirt. Our ballast is Pennsylvania Railroad grey from Arizona Rock and Mineral. This is consistent across the modules so there is a cohesive look regardless of where they are built.
Q – Is modutrak recruiting new members?
A – Not at this point. The group started as a close group of friends and the current size is just about perfect. This isn’t meant as a slight on anyone that would like to be involved, just more of a realistic determination base on our past involvement in other clubs and groups where critical mass can take things out of control quickly. Our ability to work together with few issues is a tribute to the size and similar goals we have and we really want to try and preserve that spirit. That said, we occasionally have “guest” operators at our layout at the various shows we go to running a train or two, so don’t be afraid to ask. Likewise if you are looking to get a group of people together locally to build some modutrak modules let us know and we’ll do what we can to help. Who knows, maybe we’ll get together at a show and put all the modules together.