Switchman Sharpener Module Overview

Switchman's Sharpener

1'x4' N Scale oNeTRAK Module

Module At A Glance

Module Theme: Factory
Size: 12"x48"
Scale: N Scale (oNeTRAK)
Era: 1950s-1960s
Track: Code 80
Turnouts: No. 4
Min. Radius: N/A

Article by: Jim Spavins
Published: January 12, 2017

For some people, one of their favorite parts of operating a model railroad is switching. One way to get a concentrated dose of this activity is with a switching game.  A switching game usually is a small point-to-point layout that features a problem that needs to be solved. There are a variety of different trackplans and scenarios which have been developed into switching games.  Generally, the fit and finish of these small layout vary with some being highly detailed with completed scenery and structures while others are just track on an unscenicked board. Some may have a complete control panel while others only have an on-off switch. The difference can vary greatly while the end use is still the same.

The rules of the switching game can vary from layout to layout. For example, some are based on how quickly the desired solution can be reached while others are based on who can complete the process in the fewest number of moves.   One of the classic examples of a switching game was developed by well-known modeler John Allen called the "Timesaver." The track plan has been published in many publications over the years. The rules can vary slightly but typically it is played with six cars and a locomotive and based on who can switch the designated cars to the various locations in the quickest amount of time. John Allen recommended using a controller that when turned on was only set to one speed. This means that the speed of the trains would be kept slow and not at a jackrabbit pace. This game can be found everywhere. Some people have even used the design in their home or club layouts. (Our club built a modular version which can be found here.)

The concept of a switching game is perfect for a module.  Back in 2001, I built a small switching game in N-scale. It has provided a unique experience in that it was my first attempt at N-scale and it gave me an opportunity to practice my switching skills. The plan came from the Kalmbach book How to Operate Your Model Railroad and is called the "Switchman's Sharpener." The idea is that a single industry has five car spots and need to be re-arranged into a particular order.  The design worked out well for a oNeTRAK module and kept the dimensions to a minimal 1'x4'. Having never worked in N-scale before, the investment in building a module was small but still allowed a chance to give the scale a try.

The setting for the module is in the Green Mountains of Vermont and features a factory as the main industry being served.  Presumably, the factory would require several different types of railroad cars to make the switching game more interesting.  The module also features a built in backdrop and a simple carrier that holds everything from the module to all the removable pieces to allow for easy transportation.  The benchwork was built from birch plywood and all track are Atlas code 80 components to meet the oNeTRAK standards. For scenic interest a hill and overpass was added to the left side of the module and a stream with a stone bridge added to the right side of the module.

Module Photo Gallery


Switchman Sharpener Module Overview

Factory View

A Rutland RS-1 switches box cars on the Switchman Sharpener oNeTRAK module.


Switchman Sharpener Carry Case

Carry Case

The module slides into a carry case which allows the modules and accessories - like trains - to be easily carried from place to place.