EasyTrolley / EasyTram is a concept to enable more people to enjoy scale model streetcar operation at home or together. I have developed it because of several observations:
1. Someone can not simply buy a working streetcar model and suitable street trackage, in most (if not all) scales. You can buy a trolley, but you have to run it on model railroad track with railroad appearance and railroad-sized curves, and it just does not capture the feel of a street railway or urban tram.
2. As a member of the large East Penn Traction Club (www.eastpenn.org/), I have seen numerous new members show up with a Bachmann trolley, a piece of flex track and a gleam in their eyes, looking to enjoy the hobby in the company of others. Club members, trying to be helpful, explain in great detail how to repower the car for better operation, how to hand lay track and pave streets, how to assemble and solder overhead trolley wire in mid-air, how to add a working trolley pole and rewire the car to suit. They go on, explaining how to build a module and even wire it for automated operation. The new prospect goes away overwhelmed and discouraged. He or she never returns, daunted by the steep learning curve and the belief that he or she could never understand or actually do all of the things that seem to be required. As a result, the club loses someone with interest in the hobby, and the new person misses out on the chance to share the hobby with others. This is a bad situation for both the club and the interested person.
3. I also see people who build a layout-in-a-suitcase or a loop-on-a-board layout. They bring it to a convention or "meet," hoping others will enjoy it and share their interest. Unfortunately, the other people can not take an active part in it. Watching a model chase its tail around a small loop quickly loses its appeal for both the observer and the operator. It also offers no advantage over just doing the same thing at home. Our club, along with many others, has gotten past this with the concept of modules, permitting participation in huge collective layouts, but you have to be an accomplished modeler to build them.
What can be done to open up the model trolley hobby to more people? What about the interested people who do not believe that they have the skills to build an operable module, or a car that runs off an overhead wire? What about the people who really do not have those abilities? What about the people who do not have the time, the desire or the living condition to do it?
While struggling with this issue, I discovered a number of developments in other hobby areas. One is T-Trak, an off-shoot of the popular N-Trak modular concept. T-Trak involves very small table-top "modules" literally the size of a sheet of paper, with N-scale double track laid to tramway or light railway proportions. It is based on Kato Unitrack, a track with a ballast base designed to be repetitively snapped together and unsnapped. The small T-Trak modules are assembled on top of tables simply by this track joining system. When done as intended it is fascinating, but it seems to me that in the USA it has gone off course from its original intent to become just "cute railroads" instead of tramways.
I also discovered the N-gauge Mini Rail track series produced by Tomix (a competitor to the internationally better-known Kato) in Japan. Mini Curve and Super Mini Curve, introduced in August 2005, consist of curved tracks in three smaller radius sizes (103mm/4in, 140mm/5.5in and 177mm/7in) suitable to streetcar/tram operation, along with small radius (140mm/5.5in) track points/turnouts. After offering Mini Rail, Tomix followed up in June 2006 by offering a ready-made street pavement accessory package that easily clips to the curves, straights and points/turnouts. I also learned about the Japanese concepts of temporary layouts and "suggestive" rather than permanent scenery.
The basics of EasyTrolley / EasyTram then began to come together in my mind:
1. A street railway/tram based modeling system that is easily achievable by anyone having the interest and funds to participate, offering maximum fun while requiring minimal modeling skills. The goal was to come as close as possible to the "buy it and run it" simplicity that makes "toy trains" so popular compared to "model railroads."
2. A commercially-available trackage and street surface system requiring little or no construction to use, without overhead wire, for use with ready-to-run streetcar or tram models. T-Trak type boxes could be used to mount the track as modules, but since you have to put these on tables anyway, and in the spirit of suggestive scenery, why not just assemble the layout from street railway sections and design "elements" right on the table top? Why even build little module boxes and carry them around? Pre-built or kit buildings and vehicles can be added easily as suggestive scenery to create an appropriate urban environment.
3. These basic street sections and elements can be used flexibly as an ever-changing layout at home, and also collectively at a convention or meet where a much bigger cooperative layout and the resulting camaraderie can be enjoyed. A modeler can bring everything that is needed in a box to a convention or show, or even in a suitcase if flying.
I decided to try a "proof of concept" layout in N-gauge for the following reasons:
1. the availability of the Tomix Mini Rail products.
2. the number of interesting N-gauge tram and streetcar models offered internationally -- I think modern rolling stock will appeal to younger potential modelers).
3. the East Penn Traction Club has been unable to foster a sustained interest and activity in N-scale trolley modeling.
After the above Internet research, my first step was to start up the old Generic CADD program that I use to design the East Penn club's large O-scale module layouts. I designed a library of Tomix track components. The goal was to see how the pieces could be used to create basic, true-to-life double-track streetcar design elements, including realistic return loops, intermediate cut-back loops, and other classic street railway track arrangements. I chose double-track, because the club uses it in HO and O scales and it offers easy and frequent car operation. For EasyTrolley / EasyTram it also avoids the reverse-loop track polarity conflict common in 2-rail model trains.
Basic curve and straight street sections, along with yard and oval track elements are straightforward (see Figure 1 through 3 in the "Drawings" section). The return loops took a little more work (Figures 4 through 6). Two-track junctions are harder to make work with existing Tomix track pieces, but there are interesting possibilities (Figures 7 through 9). The drawings as originally produced are printed at 1:3 of full size N gauge.
With the concept looking very achievable, I purchased the track pieces and street kits. Since Tomix does not export as Kato does, the "hard" part seemed to be buying the products. The Internet, however, including Google search, the eBay site and PayPal, made it fairly simple.
I assembled and glued together the basic EasyTrolley street sections, including a pair of return loops, to display and operate at the East Penn Traction Club's National Trolley Meet on May 4-6, 2007 at Villanova University. The club holds a trolley meet every two years, with over 500 attendees. Other interested members and I snapped the EasyTrolley elements together on a few tables, quickly and easily. We marked our street pieces with our initials on the underside before combining them into the layout. Other attendees brought trolleys to run. We actually set up on the morning of the meet, and did not make use of the previous set-up day. We were up and running in under 15 minutes, including the scenery.