Our Modular Layout

The Society developed a modular layout in the mid 1980s with 44 modules that were taken to various shows many times each year. The idea was to show the purpose of railroads throughout history as trains travel through various scenes. In the early 90's  the entire modular layout was able to be set up in a vacant store at a local mall, and stayed there for several years. The store was large enough for it to be setup in an "E" formation with the yard (18 ft long) coming out the middle. The layout being setup this way required 8 corners, was folded in on itself to conserve space, but still occupied a 34 X 38ft area. Once the permanent layout was well under way, the modular layout was largely ignored, except for setting up several times a year at shows. It received very little attention otherwise. Now revamped, some older modules were retired, others received a facelift, and new modules built. The current layout has 42 modules. Not all of them are used at every show, as there are four basic configurations used, with several variations off of them. That gives us the flexibility to accommodate most any space.

The modular layout as set up at the mall in 1992. It was an E shape with a 12 track yard coming out of the middle. At 34 X 38 with eight corners, there was plenty of room to run. It was strictly DC at this point.

The modules were originally constructed to the NMRA modular standard established more than 20 years ago, measuring 2.5 X 4ft with three mainlines, AC outlets and cords on each module, and the standard Cinch-Jones color coded plugs and jacks for the mainline buss. 

In 2004, the layout began it's transformation to bring it to the 21st century. Having converted the permanent layout to DCC, it was only natural that this layout receive the same treatment. The initial conversion was pretty basic, but in 2007, it was completely rewired, module by module, with all the features that were on the permanent layout. Block detection and ABS signaling were added, with 60 blocks and 44 signals, all monitored or controlled by a computer. The block detectors used are BDl168s, eight of them in all, along with two SE8Cs and Team Digital SHD2s for signaling, along with 11 DS64s for turnout control. A total of 42 turnouts have Tortoises mounted under them. This was the first modular layout in the country with all of these features, and as of July 2013, still the only one. Some of the pictures below were taken at Titletown 2014 and the National Train Show, part of NMRA 75. The layout, with its advanced features, drew a lot of attention from other modelers. In addition, each module received a facelift, as many of them were showing their age. 

The layout can run fully automated using Train Controller software. This leaves members free to answer questions.

Unpacking the modules is a team effort. It takes about three hours to unpack, setup, and make the layout operational. Everyone knows what needs to be done, so assembly goes very smoothly. The modules are boxed for transport and to protect the contents.

In the past five years, every module has received a complete makeover, from track maintenance, to wiring, scenery, backdrops,  and details. They no longer look their age, and can be operated manually with throttles, totally automatic with a computer, or a combination of the two.

 This is a multi-level ore mine module set making it's re-debut in April 2010 (above left). The three modules were originally started in the late 80s, but never got past the initial track laying stage and laid dormant for nearly 20 years. These modules received a great deal of additional treatment before the next show (as seen above right, in a photo taken at the National Train Show). Their contour was designed to blend with another set of three modules adjacent to them.

Another one of our newest module sets is an automotive plant on crossover modules that flank the entrance to the 12 track staging yard. All the turnouts in the yard, as is elsewhere, are using Tortoises controlled by DS64s. The crossovers allow access from any of the three mainlines to get to and from any of the yard tracks in either direction.


Our members enjoy talking to guests about trains in general, with questions ranging from "How do I get started" to "How do I do what you did?"

The modular layout , now employing things previously thought not feasible on a modular layout,  required a whole new approach to how it was wired, still keeping the modular concept. The purpose was to show what could be done, and explain how various DCC components can work together. We get a lot of comments about the operating signals, along with the many other features added.

Here is one of the SE8C signal boards mounted under a module. Cables plugged into it after assembly are run to signal positions elsewhere. There are several of these boards, each handling part of the layout. Each ribbon cable can handle up to four signals. It's powered with a PS12. Additional signals added are driven by Team Digital SHD2s.


A roundhouse

Another one of the newest additions was a gate module to allow easy access in and out of the layout. It has an interlock to kill track power on both sides when the gate is not closed. A throttle jack panel is included on the outside panel. It includes all the usual plug connections to interface with other modules.


A fast C&NW passenger train passes an industrial area. Each area of the layout has something different to look at as it changes from urban to country to mountain.


Engines were being made ready at the fueling station, while other were busy hauling their load. Lots of lights around the layout added interest, in buildings as well as outside.


A switcher is working a meat packing plant. It's sequence of moves, including turnouts, is controlled entirely by a computer running an automation program. As it crosses the road, the crossing signal activates, also commanded by the computer. The working grade crossing signals were a novelty for many onlookers. 


The computer is running Railroad & Co. Train Controller® and Decoder Pro, using two Locobuffer interfaces to allow both programs to communicate with the layout simultaneously.

This modular layout gets set up at least six times each year at various shows. The layout can be run manually with throttles, totally automatic with a computer running everything, or a combination of both. There are also switching areas that are totally run by the computer, switching cars back and forth at random.

We wish to thank the people at for their engineering assistance.

Photos and text on this site are © 1977 - 2018 Sheboygan Society Of Scale Model Railroad Engineers, Ltd. All rights reserved.

Last Updated: Saturday, October 6, 2018