Welcome to our modutrak Franksville, Wisconsin N scale module build story. Our plan here is to run this story in a multiple part series highlighting the construction of two modutrak modular layout sections. This project will be based on a prototype of the Milwaukee Road line that ran from Chicago, Illinois to Milwaukee, Wisconsin set in the 1950’s (or so). I’ll be working from a lot of black and white photos (and a few color) of the prototype in that period. The town of Franksville, Wisconsin still exists today, although the railroad siding is gone and the passing sidings have been removed. A number of the old structures along the industry siding are gone or changed, but a few still exist today.
First a little back history on Modutrak… A group of HO modelers in the Chicago-area that were a group of like-minded friends decided to build a modular HO layout that they called Midwest Mod-U-Trak. The idea being to create a group of modules set to a specific time period and general geographic area. All of the modules had to not only be built to a specific standard, all the track, scenery materials and everything else was also set to a standard 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 NTRAK, 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 – as if you could see this coming – the project got neck deep quickly in ideas, CAD drawings and experiments that went on for three to four years refining many new ideas.
So the general ideas here were to strive to have high prototypical fidelity as much as reasonable, model specific scenes or areas that would blend well with the other modules being built through detailed standards, and generally push each other a lot to try new techniques and new ideas. 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 that they have a cohesive look. The general setup is a two-track mainline and the whole thing runs on Digitrax DCC. A standard straight module is five feet long and 18″ wide:
There are a few of our modules that are modified n-trak modules and a few were started before the standards were completely ironed out, so if you see photos of something different or out of place, that is likely why. All new modules moving forward fit the new standard. There will always be exceptions (like slightly wider modules for a yard) where we have to deviate a bit, but all of these decisions are made as a group and transitions into and out of those special modules are accounted for.
It is also worth mentioning that I never ever intended to get involved in modular n-scale modeling. I always figured I’d build a basement empire at some point, but after tons of drawings, ideas and dreams, I decided the Mod-U-Trak stuff looked interesting and was far more manageable. I have to say this has been an incredible experience being able to pull resources from around the Internet to get historical photos, data, track plans and more and actually work to build something that, in many cases, doesn’t exist any longer. It has been a lot of fun and I’ve made some great friends along the way.
Enough of my rambling (and I do that, so hang in there)…
Here is the track plan for the two modules I’m going to be working on:
I’ll refer to the two modules as the north module (left-hand module above) and south module (right-hand module above). Here is what an aerial view of Franksville looks like today:
You’ll notice a number of buildings in my track plan that aren’t currently there. I’m basing those structures on this circa late 1950’s aerial photo of Franksville:
and this shot just south of the above:
The module lengths aren’t an issue, but the width limits things a bit, so I’ll have to try and work around that as much as possible and use a little selective compression.
In the next installment we’ll dive into how a basic modutrak module is constructed and laying down our spline roadbed. If you have any questions or comments on this story, click on the green button below to go to our discussion forums.
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Franksville Part 2 –>