A history of some modules.

by John Johnson

Many years ago a small model railroad club in Marin County, CA was faced with a problem. The club layout based on Marin County railroads was coming along, but it’s location in an old dairy barn was not much of a public venue nor was it portable. It was decided to emulate the new group NTRAK and build a modular HO scale layout primarily to display at the county fair. The effort resulted in a real crowd pleaser at the fair and much publicity for the club and model railroading in general.

These early efforts were constructed of dimensional lumber or ripped down 1/2” or 3/4” plywood with more plywood for the surface. Construction followed conventional layout techniques for the time. They were sturdy, but heavy! Young bodies can overcome many obstacles.

Many of these modules found themselves the foundation for permanent layouts in later years. But they were far from an ideal solution as they took much labor and time to set up, limiting themselves to venues of several days or weeks rather than just a few hours.

More modules were built, each iteration lighter and easier to handle. Today we have a 4′ long module that can fit in 99% of vehicles and weights less than 10# complete with scenery. Setup or breakdown of a 9’x35′ layout consisting of 16 sections takes one person about an hour.




The current design uses readily available materials and simple hand tools. Modules built to this design have appeared at many train shows in the Front Range area over the last 15 years. They started out as an F scale effort, but have been converted to O scale without any structural changes. The use of the sawhorse style supports and spring clamps address the issue of setup time. Once assembled, the layout is as sturdy and stable as any.

For ease of handling and storage the modules are transported in crates. These too are of lightweight construction. The whole affair fits in a standard cargo van with room to spare. A small U-Haul trailer would also do if a van not available. Cost of a 4′ module using all new materials is less than $50 including the basic single track. It is possible to stand on a base module without inflicting damage, although jumping has not been tested.


Current 9’x35′ configuration has 54” radius curves and is intended to portray a branch line on our Front Range prairie. Two modules can have a siding for an on line industry. Passing sidings are built into the ends. Current projects include wiring modifications to allow DC in addition to DCC permitting multiple train operation.