T-TRAK History

T-TRAK conceptualized in 2000 by Lee Monaco-FitzGerald
First modules displayed July 2001 in St. Louis
T-TRAK website announced July 2002
Yahoo T-TRAK Forum created October 2002
By 2003 multiple clubs were building T-TRAK modules
As of 2014, there are 70 known T-TRAK clubs around the world

History of T-TRAK

Origins of the Concept

T-TRAK is an American invention of Lee Monaco-FitzGerald; however, the origins of the concept of T-TRAK are certainly derived from the many modeling ideas that she and Jim FitzGerald were exposed to during their visits to Japan in 2000 and 2001. The origins of the concept discussed here are drawn in large part from a review of NTRAK Newsletter articles dating back to July 2000.

The July 2000 NTRAK Newsletter include a notice of the Japan Association of Model Railroaders (JAM) International Model Railroad Convention to be held in Tokyo on the week starting with Sunday, August 13, 2000. Jim FitzGerald was asked to speak at the convention and the interactions that took place at this convention are closely linked with the concept that would become T-TRAK. The September issue of the NTRAK Newsletter included a detailed write-up of the JAM convention where the Hino N Club's layout was discussed. This club's layout featured modules that sit atop tables on bases that are about 4" high. The Hino N Club layout included a 2-track mainline and in the caption to photos in the newsletter, the track is identified as Kato Unitrack. The track on these modules is apparently set back from the end of the modules by about ¼" and expansion tracks are used to connect the modules to each other. A photo of a corner module shows that the scale of these modules is closer to that of NTRAK with wider sweeping corners with the examples shown including North American prototype themes.

In March 2001, Lee wrote an article in the newsletter where she expressed concern about getting new people into the model railroading hobby. She pointed out that we, as modelers, need to reach out to folks who come to our shows and talk to them about their interest in the hobby. She encourages us to all look for ways to include every man, woman, and child in the hobby. She discusses some of her whimsical efforts including her "Dimensional Murals" that hang to the floor on the front of her NTRAK modules as well as her table-top layouts like Castle TRAKula.

In July 2001, Lee published some photos of the detailed work by some Japanese modelers as a way to draw interest in the second JAM convention that was held in August 2001. She discussed how the Japanese modelers are inclined to build dioramas to showcase highly detailed building models by mounting the buildings on boards with scenery around them. Following the second JAM convention, the September 2001 NTRAK newsletter introduced T-TRAK modules for the first time in an article by Lee. The introduction states that the T-TRAK modules are based on a Tram Module design by RM Models of Japan. Lee says that Jim and she had been shown the module concept at a meeting in Japan the previous summer in August 2000. The concept seemed to pull together many of the topics that she had been writing about in her Newsletter contributions since August 2000: table top modules, Kato Unitrack, and most importantly, getting new modelers involved in the hobby. T-TRAK seemed to be the perfect way to bring all of these ideas together, but clearly it didn't happen in a vacuum and didn't happen overnight.

The First T-TRAK Modules

First Three T-TRAK Modules Lee built the first three T-TRAK modules and displayed them sitting atop an NTRAK module at the Gateway 2001 National Convention and National Train Show in St. Louis, Missouri in July 2001. The initial modules were built using art boards that Jim and Lee acquired in Japan. The boards are the size of A4 paper (the standard paper size in Japan) and are about an inch thick with end plates, providing the structure needed to hold up the track and scenery. In the article, Lee indicated that she and Jim were looking for a US supplier for the art boards and would provide additional information as it was available.

The Blue-White-White-Blue Wiring Standard

When looking at a T-TRAK module from either the front or back, the rails are colored blue-white-white-blue (often abbreviated b-w-w-b). This concept is a bit of a departure for folks who would have expected some consistency between the two rails to allow for movement between the two main lines. In an email to the T-TRAK Yahoo group in May 2012, Jim FitzGerald provided some clarification of how this standard came to be. He said that when Lee came up with the concept, he became involved to help with the mechanics of making it happen. This was back in 2001. The Kato #20-041 62mm (2 7/16") Feeder Track provides an electrical connection to the rails and it is compatible with the rest of the Kato electrical accessories. Jim wanted to use these on the module and recognized that in order to be able to provide access to the bottom of the track in case the connection were to come loose, he was going to need to drill a ¾ hole 1¾" from the end of the module. He decided to put one of these holes and each end with the front track being on the right end of the module and the back track located on the left end of the module. When the feeder tracks were installed with the plugs oriented towards the center of the module, the result was the b-w-w-b wiring. At the time the wiring standard was created, Kato had not released the #20-210 Double Crossover Turnout and DCC was not as common in model railroading.

T-TRAK Hits the Road

The November 2001 Newsletter provided details on how Lee was able to take her first three T-TRAK modules over to Japan for the August 2001 JAM convention and that there were two T-TRAK-compatible layouts in which her modules were included. There are several photos of the T-TRAK modules in the newsletter. The November 2001 newsletter also includes an article on how to build a T-TRAK straight and corner module. Note that these early modules still use the 25mm (aka "standard") track spacing that included abutting the tracks next to each other. In the January 2002 newsletter, Lee provided an update on T-TRAK including photos of her Center City set of three singles that featured a siding and dense urban modeling. A photo of Center City was located in the newsletter centerfold.

The Concept Starts to Grow

By early 2002, the T-TRAK concept was clearly growing. The March 2002 newsletter included a notice that T-TRAK module kits were first available through Richard Hein in Glen Arbor, Michigan. The black and white version of the T-TRAK logo made its first appearance in the March issue while the May issue, using the T-TRAK logo as a banner, featured the beginning of the T-TRAK feature in the NTRAK Newsletter. The May issue featured pictures of Paul Musselman's early modules including the first photos of a double module. Paul was a very early T-TRAK adopter and is the author and maintainer of the Unofficial T-TRAK Handbook.

The Community Starts to Grow

In addition to Paul, many other modelers began to pop up across the globe and use the Internet to share ideas and photos. The T-TRAK feature in the July 2002 newsletter introduced the www.T-TRAK.org web site while the September issue highlighted the creation of the Australian T-TRAK web site. A Yahoo Forum was created for T-TRAK in October 2002. The Yahoo Forum continues to be a very active presence in T-TRAK. The Yahoo Forum has been instrumental in the growth and spread of T-TRAK because it provides a place for modelers from across the globe to share their ideas and work furthering Lee's vision of spreading model railroading. In January 2003, a new Shapemaster pre-molded module kit was released. These kits, which were featured in a layout in the July 2003 newsletter, were available in many different shapes and sizes and allowed modelers to build T-TRAK modules without having to do any carpentry. These module kits were very popular and helped spread the idea of T-TRAK to modelers who were unable to complete the woodworking aspects of the hobby.
Dave Halloran's "Wabash Crossing" on a Shapemaster kit

The January 2003 Newsletter featured the introduction of the T-TRAK logo in color as well as an overview of the 3rd Annual JAM convention in Japan where interest in T-TRAK-compatible modules continued to grow. The May issue featured the modules built by Cub Scout Pack 306 which highlighted Lee's desire to get modelers of all ages involved in T-TRAK.

The Birth of 33mm "Alternate" Track Spacing

The September 2003 newsletter introduced the "alternate" track spacing which uses the 33mm spacing built into the Kato Unitrack system design. Specifications for 33mm straight and corner modules were included. The module size for the straight module is the same as that for the 25mm spacing, but the corner modules increased in size to account for the larger radius curves used in that format. Because the 33mm track spacing allowed modelers to run larger locomotives and rolling stock and the track spacing was compatible with the large selection of Kato Unitrack items on the market, it was quickly adopted by many T-TRAKers and has become the predominant standard used by modelers today in the US; however, modelers in Japan in particular continue to use the 25mm spacing on their trolley layouts. After all of the development that had taken place in the first three years, the November 2003 newsletter featured an overview of the history of T-TRAK to that point. The January 2004 newsletter introduced the inside corner for both 25mm and 33mm track spacing.

In May 2004, the newsletter announced that T-TRAK kits were being made available at www.T-TRAK.org. While Shapemaster is no longer in business and the www.T-TRAK.org site no longer sells module kits, T-Kits is currently a provider of high-quality T-TRAK kits in an assortment of sizes.

Big T-TRAK Layouts

An announcement in the May 2004 newsletter told readers that a T-TRAK layout would be included in the layout space at the Capitol Limited 2004 Convention in Chantilly, Virginia. The Chantilly show ended up being the First T-TRAK Convention and consisted of 114ft of T-TRAK modules in five layouts. Modules in the show were presented with a plaque which can be seen in the September newsletter along with several photos from the show. The T-TRAK Junction module was introduced at that show and these junctions have allowed modelers to build larger multi-loop layouts and layouts have grown in size since that time.

The September 2008 NTRAK newsletter featured a write-up of the Derby City Express convention that took place in Louisville, Kentucky; however, the article did not include many details on the layout itself aside from a nice selection of photos of modules that were present. It is considered to be the largest T-TRAK layout assembled to date with 188 modules and 10.08 scale miles of mainline track. T-TRAK layouts were first displayed at the Southern Plains N-Scale Convention in Oklahoma City in December 2005 and have been every year since. The largest T-Trak layout to date at that convention occurred in 2010 and included 128 modules contributed by four clubs with 9.78 scale miles of track. In August 2014, the Capitol Limited 2014 was the 10th anniversary of the introduction of the junction module and featured a large T-TRAK layout. The layout featured 129 modules with 6.82 scale miles of mainline track that were provided by 25 different modelers from six different clubs.

The Future

The adoption of T-TRAK modeling continues to grow, in both the US and internationally, with over 80 known clubs actively supporting T-TRAK. To see if there is a club near you, look at the T-TRAK Wiki club page or the Google Maps T-TRAK Gallery. You can also get involved in the Yahoo T-TRAK Forum or the Facebook T-TRAK Group and share your ideas and experiences.