Advantages and Concerns
Advantage 1: Flexibility
With no fixed number of modules required (other than two balloons) and with countless different sizes, shapes, and configurations of modules being possible, there is an almost limitless variety of possible permutations and combinations to layout design. In fact, each operating session or show can yield a new variation in the design of how the modules are arranged. (We've never set ours up the same way at a show twice.) Also, since you don't need to match lengths of one part of a display with lengths of other parts as in traditional modular systems, you won't have to leave out anyone's modules just because the lengths don't work out to be equal.
Advantage 2: An Interactive Layout
The Bend Track system was created foremost with the idea that it could give a home or club layout the capacity for movement to a new or better location and second, that it could be used for shows. With the proper use of stanchions or guard rails at shows, we've found that you can walk around the layout while keeping an eye on your train and at the same time interact with the people who are viewing the trains. From earlier experiences with traditional modular layouts, it seemed almost as if the modules acted as a barrier between the club members and the public. We were perceived as being inside a sound proof control booth, not to be contacted unless we happened to stray outside the system.
Recalling our club's first Bend Track "show" setup, (see "A Branching Layout" diagram in the Bend Track Concept section) it seemed that the general public was more inclined to visit with our members and ask questions about model railroading as a whole. We found our Bend Track layout to be an excellent way for our club members to reach out and interact with spectators and train enthusiasts who might be thinking of getting into the hobby or perhaps joining a club.
Advantage 3: More Running Length in a Smaller Space
Since Bend Track does not have an operating pit, you can better make use of the space that the system occupies. Especially when using branching modules, the layout display can place modules into locations that would normally be left vacant with nothing for the club members to run on or the public to see. More modules can be used in the same square footage, meaning more mainline to run on and more trains running at once. This has allowed us not to have "running time" problems from lack of usable space in a given area.
Advantage 4: Minimal Startup Expense
Bend Track offers the possibility of using just two minimum balloon modules to be able to have an operating layout. The lesser amount of modules will reduce the cost of construction, so you might say that you get two for the price of one. For instance, a member who builds two balloon modules would accomplish the same end result as if they had built four traditional 90 degree corner modules, but with one half the time and expense. This minimal amount of modules to start a small system would fit nicely with a club who's membership is small but wishes to have a larger layout in the future.
Concern 1: No Operating Pit
The fact that the Bend Track system, in comparison with traditional modular layouts, has no enclosed operating pit might bring up the concern for adequate security during shows and ease of movement between different parts of the layout. Bend Track addresses these issues by recommending that the layout be constructed with a working height in the neighborhood of 50 inches, rather than the 36 or 40 inch heights that are prevalent in more traditional layouts. The use of an increased height results in not only the ability to move under the modules with ease, but also provides a much more realistic viewing angle for both operators and spectators. We have also found this height to be more comfortable in terms of working on scenery and rolling stock. As far as security goes, we have found that with shelving (which rests on the module leg cross pieces) and skirting (on each side of a module covering this shelving) there is ample room to store boxes and other rift raft out of view of the public. Naturally, stanchions and rope around the layout provide protection from young arms and hands that may want to touch the trains.
Concern 2: Tighter Turning Radius
While Bend Track does have a tighter minimum track radius (14-1/2") than usually affiliated with other modular systems, this does not mean that all of your curved track must stay at this minimum. Curves can be as broad as you wish and branch lines that curve off the two mainlines can be as tight as you find practical for the use of your branch line. On the original three modules that we built, the two balloons were built with the minimum radius allowed (a 29" diameter). We have consistently run trains with four locomotives and 65 to 70 cars with minimal problems. We've found that for the most part the problems have been wheel or car related, rather than track radius related. An occasional oblong or egg shaped wheel might be the culprit, or an old problem, a car with little or no weight or top heavy car was put in consist at the head of a long heavy train and would be more likely to tip over than if it was placed near the rear half where the drag was reduced.
Next we will get into the nitty gritty of Bend Track. We'll discuss the construction of the modules which includes the bench work and legs, brands of track and turnouts, mainline placement, mainline radius, scenery tracks, and the electrical wiring. The next section of the manual describes the bench work standards. Click on the "Next" link below to load that section.