HO Scale Module Construction Journal

Vernon Yard (free-mo)

Wesley Steiner

Last Updated: 21 Jan 2006

This document attempts to capture the on-going design, construction and development of my two-module Vernon Yard free-mo set.


Vernon is a small town in south central British Columbia where I grew up as a child in the 70s. The terrain is very similar to southern California, dry and desert like. I passed the CP branch line freight yard everyday on my walk to and from school. This yard served a number of local industries including fruit packing, an ice plant and a cement factory.


I began construction of this module set at the first free-mo LA work session in June of 2002. At the time I did not yet own a digital camera so I don't have many pictures of the construction phase but I'll do my best to describe it here. The frame is constructed of ¾" x 6" birch plywood ripped from a 4x8 sheet. The sub-roadbed surface is 2" blue foam inset into the frame. The legs were cut to length from 2x2 fir and attached to the underframe using folding leg brackets from Lee Valley Tools.


17-Jan-03: This photo shows the north end module with the cork roadbed glued in place. I used 1/8" sheet cork for the yard area. The 1/4" cork roadbed coming off the main has been tapered down to meet the 1/8" cork in the yard area. Here the track has been placed loosely on the cork for display.


I use Micro Engineering Code 83 track and turnouts on the main and code 70 turnouts in the yard. Since I don't use turnout motors I prefer the positive snap-action points in the ME turnouts. For the yard tracks I chose to use CVT branchline track and ME code 70 rail. The CVT track has wider tie spacing which more closely matches the prototype. I first glue the track onto the cork using Liquid Nails for foamboard then I add spikes about every 4 or 5 inches along the edge of the ties to hold it in place until I ballast.


Here the mainline track and passing siding is completed for the full 14 ft. length of the two modules. At home these modules are supported along the wall using heavy duty 24" wide shelf brackets on adjustable rails mounted to the walls. I've adjusted the shelf brackets so that the rail height is approximately 56" from the floor. This is a great height for viewing and also allows me to use the area under the modules for work and storage.


This photo shows the completed track bus wiring for the north end module. I use bare 12 gauge copper wire running the entire length of the module directly under the track. This photo also shows the folding legs and support structure of the module. Also visible here are the 24" shelf brackets supporting the module. Working on the underside of the module is a simple matter of flipping the module up in place (remembering to first remove any expensive rolling stock from the track).


This close-up shows the track bus wires attached securely to a terminal strip at one end of the module. Pigtail connectors will be attached here. Also visible are the track feeder wires soldered to the bus. I use rubber washered roofing nails inserted into the foam as a strain relief.


Track laying on the two module set is complete with the addition of the north yard. Yard and branch track are CVT Branchline tie strips with ME code 70 rail. Yard turnouts are ME code 70. The rail on the CVT ties strips is held in place temporarily with spikes. The plan is to hold them in place for painting then remove them for ballasting.


This view shows the entire 14' length of the two module set with the approach track in the foreground and the fiddle yard in the distance. Here the track and rail has been spray painted with grimmy black and rail brown in preparation for scenery and ballasting.


Building up the foam base for final landscape on the yard approach module. The prototype had a wooden highway overpass in this area. I plan to add the overpass later if I can dig up some photos. I use Liquid Nails for foam board to glue the sections of foam together. The bottom layers have been roughly shaped with a foam rasp tool.


Here I cut a 1"x2" slot within 1 ft. of the module end to accept a UP5 connector from Digitrax. I installed one UP5 at opposite ends on each side of the module allowing the most flexible access for the least expense. By mounting the UP5 near the module endplate, connecting the Loconet between the modules requires only a short 6-pin cable between the opposing UP5s.


Here 1/8" fascia material is being attached to the sides of one module. The fascia is cut on the top-side to match the contours of the foam landscape and is even with the bottom of the side rail. This results in a clean finished appearance.


I decided to replace the common terminal strip wiring method, see photo above, with this simpler and cheaper method that I have used successfully on my free-mo N scale modules. Thanks to Steve Branton for showing me this method. The two empty connectors on the right will be used to terminate the accessory bus wires.


Final steps for shaping of the terrain includes shaving the cork surface around the yard tracks to create a more gentle transition to the fascia.

Any unnatural creases and joints in the foam scenery base have been filled with a light-weight wood putty and sanded smooth in preperation for priming.

Here the entire yard approach module, including foam, fascia and endplates, has been painted with a primer in preparation for surface scenery work.


I covered all the track and turnouts with masking tape before painting the entire surface with a wash of Woodland Scenics water-based scenery colors. This acts as a base color for the final ground cover.


The base ground cover has been sprinkled over the painted foam. It actually helps to start sprinkling while the base color is still wet as it absorbs the powders into the wash color.





I have decided to use Tortoise switch machines to control all my turnouts. To mount a Tortoise machine I begin by cutting the foam out under the throwbar from the bottom of the module leaving approximately 1/4" of foam under the sub-roadbed.


I then glue a precut piece of 1/4" plywood to the foam using Liquid Nails for Foam Projects (the same stuff I used to glue the track down). This gives me a solid base on which to attach the Tortoise.


... stay tuned here for progress updates ...


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