Yes indeed, this post has been a long time coming for a couple of reasons:
1 Research. I wanted to make sure I've got my facts straight.
2 I didn't want to unduly offend any of my readers who are modular model railroaders. Believe me, some earlier incarnations of this post were quite offensive...
So here we go.
I wouldn't say I hate modular layouts but there are certain things that every time I see a layout really annoy me. So in no particular order they are:
a) Size and shape of modules. Now I know this is a big selling point of Free-mo modules. That they can be any size and shape the builder so desires so to creating a "free form" layout when joined to other modellers sections. So what happens when you join a 2' deep module to a 15" deep module? You either get a step back in the front fascia or the rear edge. Or both. That to my mind looks really bad, shoddy in fact. Standardize on your module sizes so that front and rear edges are flush. It looks much better, more professional.
b) No backscenes. Really? Come on here. In the free-mo standards guide it says that modules should emphasize "realistic plausible scenery" there is nothing realistic or plausible about looking across a 2' deep section of scenery watching a train to have your view destroyed by the fat "beer belly" of an operator just over the horizon watching his train go around the layout.
"But modules have to be viewable from both sides" I hear proponents say. Fine, then have a backdrop that can be moved from one side to the other depending on its location in the grand scheme. The purpose of a backscene is to keep distractions like beer bellies or cheeto-munching operators out of the view so heightening the reality of the scene.
c) Overall layout size. At one show I saw a layout that proudly claimed to be over 100 feet long on all sides. It was the most boring layout I had ever seen in my life. I walked all along the entire length of a side before I saw a train. I suppose this is a very realistic experience for some rail lines. But not good for a show. The Free-mo standards mention realistic operation. Then put together a operating sequence that you can run properly and realistically.
d) The content of the modules. Many modules that I see are a stretch of countryside with no features. How boring is that? Stick half a dozen 4' modules like that together at a show and you're well on the way to killing any good work you did with an interesting operations sequence. Pick a subject that has operating potential. Something that can be operated after a train has passed through the scene. How about a Scrapyard for example? Or a power station to run big long coal trains to and from.e) This is my absolute favourite pet hate. Baseboard joins. You can create the most exquisite module, perfect in every detail, yet one inch of railroad at each end has to have the track lifted for "joining sections" (bridge rails) of track to link to track on the next module. This looks shoddy beyond belief. Absolutely no consideration is given to joining baseboard in the free-mo standards apart from a clear area on the end board to facilitate clamping to the next section at a show.
Clamping? What in the blistering blue blazes is that about? I know. If the modules are all different sizes then clamps are the obvious choice for joining baseboards together. But once again it's another shoddy approach. The clamping zone is directly in the middle of the end panel of the baseboard side. A rudimentary knowledge of physics and things like turning moments tells you that that is not too great an idea. Any clamping zone should be set nearer the edges of the baseboard.
Here a leaf can be taken out of the books of British railway modellers who have been building layouts for exhibitions for decades and have a whole range of systems and schemes to ensure perfect alignment of track and continuity of electrical contact through countless baseboard joins. A google search will yeild loads of ideas. It can be done.
So there you go a handful of reasons as to why I don't like modular model railroading. All personal and you can disagree all you like. Especially modular model railroaders...
I welcome your comments.