N Scale Radio Control
* Original model is not powered (Disney's 5$ pull-back spring powered toy)
* No beam is available
* 1/2 the size of Disney's HO model
* So, how do we make it run? - Easy, we build a powered chassis that fits inside the original model shell and we make lots of beam!
Update March 2016
Disneyland Mk I: I am working with another monorail enthusiast to make a (almost) N scale model of the monorail as it first appeared in 1959. The model will be slightly wider than true N scale but will still look good with N scale accessories and with Olszewski's Main Street. The downsized chassis is running and we are tweaking the body shell to fit, this one may be for real by Summer 2016!
Other models: I like Disney monorails but wondered about other models like Las Vegas, Seattle, or Dubai. A test model for 3D printing comes out to about $30 per shell so this is not likely to happen unless someone really wants it badly enough to shell out (pun intended) another $120 per train.
Lights! Deltang's receivers have extra outputs to control lights amd other auxiliary functions. I used two of these outputs to independently control the headlights and roof strobe for the powered cab. The rear cab lights are not under radio control (they could be by adding another receiver or a lot of additional wiring), they operate via a microcontoller to flash like strobes: 4 quick flashes each, alternating. This adds a lot to the realism of the model.
3D Printing! Machining is so last millennium. 3D printing is a great way to go for small models such as this. I am using chassis that I designed and have printed by Shapeways to save a lot of time in building the N scale monorail.
Deltang has the nicest radios I have seen yet. The 2.4 GHz receivers have short (< 2") antennas that easily fit inside the monorail shell and performance is excellent. The radios have motor control and some on/off outputs for lights and sound. Plus they run on one lithium cell and are tiny. Available from the manufacturer at Deltang,co.uk
Deltang also has transmitters or an eFlite (joystick type) will work for a lower cost solution.
I used to say development was done on the N scale monorail but as with any model railroad it is never finished. The basic architecture has remained the same for about 4 years but plenty of small improvements have contributed to a smoother running monorail. Advances in tooling resuted in more accurate beam, again improving smooth operation.
Disney makes a small model monorail spring pull-back toy, the idea is you pull it back to wind it up and it then runs forward, off the table and onto the floor. The model is close to N scale and looks about right with N scale accessories. The problem is the model is not electrically powered and has no beamway. It is also tiny and there is no drivetrain that will easily fit in the shell.
The basis for this project was a lack of space. I used to have plenty of room for a HO monorail layout but moved into a house where my wife wanted to use the dining room for ...dining! The answer was more space or less monorail and I didn't need to read the whole book to see how that story ended! Less monorail...hmm...
Could this little monorail be converted to run on a beam?
Walt Disney himself said "The way to get started is to quit talking and begin doing." and "It's kind of fun to do the impossible.", so in the spirit of Walt I started this project. It was not impossible, just very, very difficult.
Indoor flight is very big in Europe and Japan and has a growing market in the US. The development of tiny radio control gear, motors, and batteries for indoor flight just might make it possible to fit a full RC setup in the N scale monorail shell.
The first model (Mk I) used the smallest 75 MHz gear available and it just barely fit. There was no room for the 30" antenna and shortening it caused erratic operation. On top of that the motor was too large and geared too high, making the monorail much too fast and too difficult to build. Mark II was an attempt to correct the speed, Mark III would have been easier to build, but neither had it all and they never went beyond the design phase.
Plantraco's 900 MHz RC gear is certainly small, and it was no trouble to fit this into the monorail. This setup also only required one battery, again reducing the size. Finally, the antenna for 900 MHZ is only about 3" long and allows very good control of the monorail. The transmitter power is limited but the distance is only a few feet so it works well. Mark IV uses this radio gear and a heavily modified servo for the drive system to provide scale speed and ease of assembly (I hope).
Update January 2009 - Mark IV was also very difficult to build, modifying the servo took much too long. Amazingly, a new product came along, a tiny motor with an equally tiny gear drive. This greatly simplifies the monorail drive system but if this keeps up I will be into Mark VIII before Disney is!
Yes, those are 1" squares!
Underside, showing drive wheels and beam rollers.
Mark I, it runs well but is too difficult to build. The Mark IV will correct that!
...and so it has, that is corrected many of the issues with Mk I! The Mk IV is much easier to build, maintain, and operate, and costs less too. The speed is correct and this will be the end of N scale development (for now). Here are some photos of the finished monorail:
The radio is a Plantronics 900 MHz and the antenna (the thin wire in the first photo) is short enough to fit in the monorail shell. The receiver has two more outputs, one will be used for lights!
December 2012: Did I say development was done ?
Did I say the monorail could not get any smaller? What was I thinking?
A potential customer asked if the monorail could be made smaller, this big ol' thing needed shrinking! In the end the customer required longer run time than batteries could provide but the exercise produced a really small monorail. The receiver (not shown, on the left side) is Planraco's Butterfly unit, forward operation only (for now) and the battery may only provide about 30 minutes run time. Still, this is tiny!