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Modular Display Layout -How to Build

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  • Modular Display Layout -How to Build

    I, like many of the other Forum readers have enjoyed the pictures of the "Muskrat Ramble" and other fine modular display layouts.

    I have been thinking about building a modular layout unit so I have been looking around for ideas of how to build and the materials needed to build modules like the "Muskrat Ramble" is displayed in.

    My interest is how to build the table, backdrop, top/roof, valence, and installation of lighting, electrical for the lighting, turnouts, and DCC control. Materials should be available from the big hardware stores not the one of made 20 years ago that I have no hope of finding.

    Mine would not be constructed for shows but rather I would like to move the unit from room to room if required. Solid yet portable.

    I have read the many find topic / threads here of the Forum and they are very useful, however I would like read any recent step by step articles that may be out there.

    I don't think I am alone in these thoughts. Any help would be appreciated.
    Tom M.

  • #2

    A lot of the gentlemen in Australia use Square aluminum tubing to build their modules.

    Mario gives a description here,

    It took me a while, but I finally found a US supplier for the connectors that they use.

    If you want another variation, try The Sipping & Switching Society of N.C.

    I believe there was an article recently about their construction methods in RMC. (Someone will have to help me with that.)

    I have seen this layout several times & have pics stashed someplace. I can vouch for their reliability claims.

    Hope this helps.

    -david j


    • #3

      Thanks .. lots of reading and viewing of some interesting modules .....
      Tom M.


      • #4
        Here's a site that has all you need to build the aluminum modules like Dan and Mario. They have distributors all over the States and Canada. I got mine shipped from Aldergrove BC, only 3 1/2 hours from home.

        6' x 3' high by 2.5 ft deep with all connectors ran around $140.00 US. not a bad deal at all! Now I have to find a free Saturday to build it[:-censored]

        Steve 8D


        • #5

          We use the aluminium because it is quick, and obviously light weight, one of the main factors we consider when buiilding a portable layout. As well as being easy to move, it also translate to lower fuel costs between shows. Incidently, Muskrat Ramble actually had a welded steel frame of similar design to the aluminium boxes used by others. Not sure of their preference to that, maybe just materials at hand and someone good with a welder. If you have no plan to move the layout to exhibition, weight obviously isn't as big an issue, but the basic shape and idea of the layout casing can still be used. There have definatley been all timber versions of the shadow box style framing (thats how they were built before aluminium was utilised), just ripped down from ply.

          I guess there is no real limits to how you want to build the frame, but there are a few things to consider with them...

          I base the roof height of the layout on my standing height. With a covered lighting valance at the front, I usually want that to be slightly above eye height. That way, the light source is shielded from the eyeline, and there is no viewing glare. I have used a variety of light sources, from fluorescent tubes, daylight incandescent globes, and 12v halogens. The actual light type is entirely up to the builders prefered finish. The roof height set at that level also seems to "picture frame" the layout well.

          As far as the actual roof section goes, build it as light weight as possible. Unless you are planning on storing heaps of stuff on top of the layout, why does it need to be so strong? The roof can be made of foamcore if needed...weighs nothing. Its purpose is the support the lighting system, and block ambient light, creating the "shadow box". A heavy roof is generally unneccessary, and likely to sag. Not sure what type of scenery you plan to put in you layout, but tall trees can help support a roof. The roof can easily be supported by a timber end profile spine at the end of each module.

          When building it modular, consider that more modules means more joins. Build the modules as big as is reasonable to still be movable. Modules for Dolly Varden were on average 2m long. They could be that big because all material used for scenery and the likes was kept very light weight. Think about where they have to be moved too as well (ie door ways, around corners etc). I have seen one layout built at home, for exhibition, but had to cancel its show because when it arrived, it couldn't fit through the venue doors!

          Thats a start for you at least. Do you get to many shows in your area, and do any of those exhibition layouts use that shadow box principle? If so, take a tape measure, notepad etc, ask nicely of the exhibitors and I'm sure they'd happily take you around the back to check the nuts and bolts of how this type of layout actually goes together.

          Dan Pickard

          Oh, and Steve, whats the deal with the price of aluminium in the States? Is that the cost for 1 module? If so, the cost for a same size module, boxed up aluminium with a hanging lighting valance, including all the connectors, would be around $70-80, aluminium at about $22 Australian/6.5m length. Our Dolly Varden, at 28' long, 2' deep, and about 2.5' high was framed for just under $300 Australian.


          • #6
            Steve: thanks for the link to the supplier

            Dan: I appreciated the time you have taken to write the detail of designing the shadow boxes. Some of the points like the height of valence and top to cover the lighting are important as how to hold the top steady and securely ...

            The first modules would not be for public display but for ease of moving in our basement. We are in the process of some medium design changes in the layout of our basement. I will still have a nice area for a train room however the current layout, far from complete, will have to be removed. For the "next time" I would like the option of moving what I have rather than taking it all apart.

            I have lots of time to plan, design and acquire the needed material. I appreciate any suggestions or directions you and others may give.
            Tom M.


            • #7
              The price for the single 6' module around $140 US. plus 20% exchange when I purchased it PLUS 12.5% for provincial and Fed. taxes. I didn't think it was too bad since I couldn't find a manufacturer in Canada. The tubing, corner and end pieces for the module with a 2' wide by 9" dropped section (for the waterfall, of course!) and I will have to cut all to the desired lengths.

              Maybe it's not such a good deal after all.....[:-bigeyes2] but, that's what you get when you have to order from out of the country.

              It seems that everything is going up and up every time you turn around, from the cost of stamps to the $4.00 a gal for gas, and then to top it off, there's pewter and resin costs going up. Just makes it a little tougher to buy those craftsman kits year after year! :crazy:

              but I'm not done buying yet

              Steve 8D