Monday, November 26, 2012

Dirty Thirty On30 Module Standards

1.0 Module Dimensions
1.1 The objective of these "standards" is to ensure that the important parts of your module (dimensions at the module ends, module construction materials, leg height, module deck, track power buss, etc) are compatible with other modules.  What you do with the rest (track plan, scenery, structures, etc) is up to you so long as it has similar features (and that can be widely interpreted) as the other modules.  Remember, the objective of the Dirty Thirty On30 Module Gang is to showcase our modeling skills, maybe do some operations, run some trains, learn new skills, make new friends, enjoy ourselves, and.........  above all.............  have some fun!!!  So, let's get started. 

1.2 The height of the module from the floor to the top of the rail (including the travel of the leg leveller) is 45” at the module interface.
(This is to ensure that, when we get together, we don't have any discrepancies in height between modules where you're height is 37 1/2" and my height is 60".  Make sure you write it down.  Module height from the floor to the top of the rail is 45" at the module interface.)
(BTW, for track-planning purposes, a set of modules that go together as a set are considered to be "one" module.)

1.3 Modules are built on a wooden frame with a 11/2" or 2" Styrofoam deck.
(There's two reasons for this.  The first is to provide uniformity of look amongst our group's modules.  You might want to build your modules on door cores with a sheet of Styrofoam on top.  Then I come along with my module built out of a sheet of 3/4" plywood.  Not exactly "uniform in look", eh!?  But we aren't going to do that.) 

1.4 The width of the framing materials can range from 31/2" (1"x 4" nominal) to 41/2" (1"x 5" nominal) using knotty pine or plywood.
(And here's the second reason.  Lightness of weight is a major criteria as you're the one who's got to lug the modules in-and-out of your basement, up-and-down the stairs, and into-and-out-of your car.  You don't want to be lifting a set of modules that weighs 40-60 pounds!  Guaranteed hernia!)

1.5 The ends of each module are built of dimensional lumber or plywood so that the end of the module is 24" wide, 3/4" thick, and 31/2" to 41/2" deep so as to be compatible with neighbouring modules.  The 3/4" thickness is to allow for a clamping surface that will rigidly hold the two mating modules together without bending the module frame.  The 24" width is made up of an end-plate that is usually 221/2" wide with two side frames that are each 3/4" wide (221/2"+ 3/4"+ 3/4" = 24").  If the side frames are less than 3/4" thick, the length of the end-plate is adjusted accordingly to allow for a 24" width.

1.6 To allow room for C-clamps, keep the inner surface of end plate clear of obstructions (electrical wires, LocoNet, etc.).

1.7 The length of a module is limited by what you can fit into the back seat or trunk of your car.  A 6' long module will obviously NOT fit into the back seat of a sub-compact.  

1.8 A 3/4"x 11/2" middle cross member is recommended for the underside so as to provide additional support.  It also serves to keep track buss and LocoNet wires  from drooping down.

1.9 All surfaces of the module frame must be painted flat black so as to prevent moisture absorption, and to have uniformity of look amongst gang modules.
(A flat black paint ensures the viewer's focus is on the top of the model railroad.  Flat black serves to "punch out" the features of the railroad - trackwork, structures, scenery and other features.  Most other colours end up competing for the viewer's attention rather than directing the focus towards the modeller's work.) 

2.0 Module Deck
2.1 Modules have a complete deck made from 1 1/2" or 2" Styrofoam.

2.2 There are no gaps in the deck that are open to the floor.

2.3 The Styrofoam is glued to the module frame using either polyurethane (Gorilla) glue or wood glue.  (Polyurethane glue is recommended as it does a better job than wood glue.  Some of the steps for gluing are shown below.  For more details, go to this post.) 

2.4 When the Styrofoam has been glued to the module frame, the gaps on the top of the deck between the frame and the Styrofoam should be filled with Spackling compound, sanded and smoothed so as to provide a seam-free deck.  The top of the deck should then be painted brown so that none of the pink, blue, or green of the Styrofoam is visible.
(Alkyd or oil-based paints will MELT Styrofoam!  Only use latex paint on Styrofoam!.)
(It may be several weeks or months (but hopefully not years) before we get the track laid, the structures installed, the roadbed ballasted (if you're going to use ballast), and the scenery laid down on the module(s).  In the meantime, we don't want that pink Styrofoam staring us in the face and detracting from the creative work we've done so far, eh!?)

3.0 Module Legs
3.1 Module legs are 11/2" x 11/2" lumber (2"x 2" nominal spruce).

3.2 A standalone module should have 4 legs so as to be able to stand on its own during set-up and take-down. 

3.3 Legs are fastened to the module by a 5/16" threaded bolt that is inserted into a 5/16" T-nut that is glued to the corner gusset(s) of the module frame

3.4 Leg levellers are installed on the bottom of the leg via T-nuts so as to provide a travel of +/- 1".  (The module height in 1.2 above includes the travel of the leg leveller.)

3.5 Legs are painted flat black with the top of each leg marked with the owner's and/or module name.
(It's easier to mass-produce a batch of legs than to do 4-8 legs at a time.  I usually do them in batches of 16 or more.  Makes life a lot easier and less messier.)  

4.0 Track Power Buss
4.1  Power needs to be distributed from module-to-module from a central command station/booster and into the tracks in a very reliable manner.  Nothing is worse than having a train go through fits-and-starts because of poor wiring.  Therefore power distribution between modules and the tracks is of the utmost importance.

4.2  A 2-wire central track power buss should run from one end of the module to the other end of the module.  The buss should terminate in the middle of the module ends, clear of the clamping area referred to in 1.6 above.

4.3   The two-wire track power buss must use 14 AWG wire, preferably in 2 different colours so as to ensure that the wiring is done properly.  Select two contrasting colours (eg white-and-black, or red-and-yellow, etc) and use this "colour code' throughout your modules.
(Suggestion - Wire comes in 7 basic colours - white, black, red, green, yellow, blue, brown.  Pick any combination where there's a drastic colour contrast.  For example, red contrasts nicely with yellow.  However, there's hardly any contrast between brown and black, particularly when you're underneath a module trying to figure out why there might be a short in your module.)

4.4  The two track power buss wires must be twisted together.  No exceptions!   One twist every 6"-8" is sufficient. 
(A bunch of modules together constitutes a long run of buss wire.  Where there are long runs of buss wire, the DCC signal starts to "ring".  That is, the DCC waveform starts to peak, rather than be a square wave, at which point, we start to get runaway locomotives, locomotives that won't respond to the throttle commands, and a whole lot of weird consequences.  By twisting the buss wires around each other every 8"- 10", we can reduce that "ringing".)

4.5  Solder all wire connections!  Terminal blocks, suitcase connectors, brass-screws-in-the-ends-of-the-module are not allowed!  We want 110% reliability so that voltage drop within and between modules is minimal - zero!!
(Suggestion - Ask some of our members to help you with this part of the module construction.  They've got the tools, the wire, and the know-how to make it easy for you.)

4.6 We don't want any loose wires hanging down underneath the modules.  Make sure the track power buss is anchored at each end (use "Bell wire" staples), in the middle (run it through a notch in the middle cross-member, and throughout (use gobs of polyurethane glue to glue the wires to the underside of the module).
(Suggestion - Solder in a couple of pigtails into the track power buss every couple of feet.  To connect the track feeds, it's a simple matter of soldering the track feeds to the ends of the pigtails and covering the solder joint with some shrink tubing.)  

4.7 In order to pass power from one module to the next, 30-amp Red/Black Anderson Powerpole connectors are crimped on to the ends of the track power buss.  When you are facing the endplate of your module, the Red connector should be connected to the Right hand rail as seen facing the end plate.  The PowerPole must hang down at least 6" below the module so as to connect with the adjacent module. 

4.8  This means that, when you plug your module into the next one, your Red connector will plug into the Black connector of the adjacent module and your Black connector will plug into the Red connector.  

4.9  Connectors MUST ALWAYS be connected Red-to-black, and black-to-red.
Red Plastic Connector Is Connected To The Black Plastic Connector.
Black Plastic Connector Is Connected To The Red Plastic Connector.
Paint The Tops Of The Connectors White - It Helps in Connecting The Modules!

4.10 (PowerPoles require a special crimper.  We also carry a supply of Anderson PowerPoles.  Just ask for PowerPoles and "The Crimper"!)

4.11  When you're fumbling around trying to connect the Anderson PowerPoles to the next module, wondering which side is up, down, or sideways, it helps to paint the tops of the plastic connectors white. Paint the tops of the plastic connectors white.  It will reduce the frustration immensely.

Paint The Tops White - It Reduces The Frustration.  

5.0 Track Feeds
5.1  Track feeds should be no smaller than 22 AWG.
(Again, select two contrasting colours (eg white-and-red, blue-and-green, etc))
(As the AWG (American Wire Gauge) number increases, the thickness of the wire decreases.  Thus 22 AWG wire is thinner than 14 AWG wire). 

5.2  Track feeds should be dropped every 2-3 feet.  As a minimum, separate track feeds should be dropped from each end of the module.
(This implies that each module has a minimum of two (2) track feeds.  But then again, the more track feeds..........  the merrier!  You can never have too many track feeds.) 

5.3  Track feeds must be soldered to their respective rail and to the track power buss.  Again - no mechanical connections (no terminal blocks, suitcase connectors, brass-screws-in-the-ends-of-the-module).
(Next to perfectly laid track, electrical connections are the most important aspect of model railroading.  If the electrical connections aren't good, the running ain't good.  Take your time and do the job properly the first time.  If you need help, ask some of the guys.  We've laid hundreds of feet of track power buss and soldered 12-or-more dozen track feeds.) 
(Use shrink-tubing to cover the soldered joints between the track power buss, the track feeds and other track feeds.  Incorporate pigtails into the track power buss as shown in 4.4 above.  It makes the job of connecting the track feeds to the buss that much easier!)

5.4  "What's a pigtail?", you ask.  For the answer, check out this post on module construction.

5.5 For every turnout, there has to be a track feed no less than 2' before the point rails, a track feed within 2' of the mainline track beyond the frog, and a track feed within 2' of the diverging track beyond the frog.

5.6 Insulated gaps must be incorporated into the turnout on the mainline and diverging rails or the frog must be insulated.   

6.0 LocoNet (or DCC) Buss
6.1  An important part of Digital Command Control (DCC) is the data communications system between throttles, radio and infrared transceivers, and the command station.  While this part refers to the Digitrax LocoNet system, this standard is also applicable to other systems such as North Coast Engineering (NCE), Lenz, and others.

6.2  Commands between throttles and the command station are carried over a physical data network that is comprised of 6-wire RJ12 telephone cable and components.  We will refer to this as the "LocoNet".  LocoNet uses 6 coloured wires (white, black, red, green, yellow, blue) in telephone cables, jacks, plugs and other components.  Each wire performs a different function in the LocoNet system.  While each manufacturer's protocol may vary, further details of these functions and the data communications protocol can be found in the document "LocoNet Personal Edition".  This will provide the reader with an appreciation of the sophistication of a DCC system and its relationship to computer data communication standards.
6.3  A 6-wire telephone cable runs from one end of the module to the other end of the module along the shortest possible route.  A minimum of 6" of cable extends from the end of the module.  The cable at each end of the module terminates in an RJ12 6-wire male plug.  The cable hanging from the end of the module is kept in place with a Bell-wire staple.

6.4 The LocoNet buss is connected between modules with an RJ12 6-wire female-female "gender bender" plug.  (Wherever possible, these should be "data style" plugs where Pin 1 at one end connects to Pin 1 at the other end, Pin 2 connects to Pin 2, etc.)  These plugs will be supplied by the the gang. 

6.5  A 6-wire telephone jack can be installed in one or both sides of the module so as to provide a plug-in for throttles.  In such a case, the telephone cable referred to in 6.3 above runs from one end of the module directly to the nearest telephone jack, (then directly over to the other telephone jack) and then directly to the other end of the module.  All connections must be soldered and covered with shrink tubing.  Colour coding is maintained for all connections - that is, white-to-white, black-to-black, red-to-red, green-to-green, yellow-to-yellow, blue-to-blue.
(To ensure that the wires don't get snagged or subjected to stress when being moved about and transported, add a strain relief to the cables by using a Bell-wire staple)

6.6  Digitrax components such as UP3/5 panels, UR90 infrared receivers, UR91/92 radio transceivers, Loconet Repeater Modules, and other such devices are NOT to be installed in the module!
(While some On30 module groups use Digitrax DCC, there are others that use NCE, Lenz, etc.  In the event that we participate in meets with these latter On30 module groups, it is very important that no Digitrax components are installed in the modules as these specific components are NOT compatible with NCE, Lenz, etc.  Telco jack wiring is compatible!)

6.7  Telco jacks, right out of the box, will take a big chunk of thickness out of our side frames - as much as one-third of the thickness - ie 1/4".  In addition, the full size will detract from the look of our module.  To learn how to trim the telco jack so that it's slim and trim and looks like the photo below, click on this link.
7.0 Track
7.1  Track is centred in the middle of the module at the module ends (ie 12" from the edge of the module to the middle of the track) and 2" from the end.

7.2  The 4" gap between modules (2" on your module and 2" on my module = 4") is bridged by a joiner track.  The rail joiners to connect the joiner track to the mainline track on the module slide completely underneath the mainline track.  This means that you may have to snip the plastic "track spikes" and "tie plates" for one of the plastic ties so that the rail joiner slides completely underneath the plastic tie and isn't protruding from the ends of the rails. (For tips on how to do this so that the rail doesn't pop out of the plastic tie, take a look at this post.)

7.3  We'd also like you to ballast right up to the edge of the module and ballast the joiner track.  It greatly adds to the look of the module.
(Thinly spread some epoxy on a piece of white paper so that you can place several joiner tracks on the paper.  Leave enough space between the joiner tracks so that you can cut apart the paper when the epoxy has set.  Voila!  You now have a base on which to apply ballast to the joiner track. 

7.4  For the last 6" before the end of the module, your track should be nice and level.  After that, your track can rise and fall as you wish.  Just make sure there are no "ski-jumps" or "S-curves" as you transition from the straight and level to the beginning of the grade.  

7.5  From one end of your module(s) to the other, the track is free to meander up-and-down and from side-to-side in order to create the scene that you wish to make.  Mainline track should be no closer than 4" from the edge of the module.  Grades should be constructed so that uncoupling doesn't happen when you go over the top of the hill or when you come down at the bottom of the hill. 

7.6  Mainline rails should be Code 83 flex-track or handlaid track; Micro-Engineering, Peco or other brands.  The choice is yours.  Tie spacing, however, must be On30.  Code 70 may be used but you are responsible for supplying a 4" joiner track that will connect your module to my module. 

7.7  Minimum radius is 26" but broader curves are desired with appropriate easements.  12" of straight track is required between reverse curve sections on the mainline.
(While we aren't specifying a minimum radius on sidings, there is the practicality of the matter.  Experience has shown that you are asking for problems in operations if you use a radius smaller than 20" on curves in sidings.)  

7.8  Mainline turnouts shall be no smaller than #5s.  #4 turnouts may be used if the primary route takes the straight leg of the turnout.  If commercial turnouts are used, see Section 5.6 above for the wiring standards.  Handlaid turnouts must have insulated frogs that are powered.
(To power the frog, take a look at the Tam Valley frog juicer.  It makes powering a frog very easy - one wire from the juicer to the frog and two wires from the juicer to the track power buss.  Available from Fast Tracks in Mono, Dual, and Hex (6).) 

7.9  NMRA On30 clearances must be used for all trackwork.

For online details of our standards, visit
To join in on the discussion on our Facebook Group, click on this link.

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