Amazing Z Road Animates
1:220 Vehicular Movement

“Yeah, us Best coasters as we like to call ourselves to the frustration of our East coast friends do like to do strange things with Z”, said Loren Snyder describing the mechanics of his moving highway.

Loren’s Z Scale highway is built into a show module built on a wooden framework using pink Styrofoam and plaster cloth for the mountainous terrain. div style="float:left;margin:0 10px 5px 0;">

“I think that module represented about 5 trillion metric tons of solid rock......felt that way when I lifted it into the trailer.,” he said.

But considering that aside from the wood used to support the railroad tracks, he has another independent system with 17-feet of chain, magnets and pulleys and a 12 volt Dayton gear motor, the rock may not be all of the weight.

This is a shot of the chain with magnets glued to its side as it moves through separate channels going towards the return pulley beyond what will be the tunnel opening.

The chain with the magnets moves along, bringing the cars with magnets glued to their bottoms of the chassis just sticks to the Formica road surface. The magnetic attraction “bonds” the vehicle to the chain through the Formica. Where the chain goes, the car or truck goes “The magnets are the super powerful ones. I used Formica for the road surface as I want something strong, yet fairly thin. The thinner the better, explained Loren. He spray paints the surface, but the wheels or magnets do eventually rub the paint off the road surface.

“With weathering chalks you can make the road surface look pretty good. I will get some Formica next time with a gray pattern ant with very tiny spots to simulate concrete. I think the road surface appearance is for the most part the weak area in the whole set up. This is new to Z scale so we're in the learning curve” added Loren.

He started out using a plastic chain but found the plastic tends to stretch. Even with the steel chain, he needs some type of “tightener” to keep the “underground roadway” taught.

drive end of the highway

It is powered by a 12-volt Dayton gear motor under the toothed sprocket that moves the chain.
Once the road surface is glued down you can't access the drive chain except at the drive mechanism and the return sprocket.

As you can see in the pictures, Loren uses clear plastic plates as road surface inside the end pieces. Those are held in place by screws. The road really needs to disappear into a mountain for the best effect. Where road pieces come together you must have a smooth joint without a ledge or "catch" in order to keep the magnet from catching on the rough joint.

The Dayton gear motor is a real bear of a puller so the chain won't slow at all, but you still don't want any of the chain magnets or car magnets hanging up on the road joints, Loren cautioned.

This is the drive end of the roadway’s chain. The cam in the middle keeps the chain taught.

“I had a bit of trouble fastening the chain ends together as I didn't want to actually have a locking chain link holding the chain ends. Since the chain is on its side, the link can't fall out due to gravity. I don't put the chain link clip in place, but just use the link to hook the two chain ends together. It is kind of a trial and error type of set up” Loren explained.

He added, “This is why you must have removable end road surfaces so you can access the chain set up. The pulleys can lift up and off the sprocket shafts with a bit of prying to give you slack. I mounted solid blocks of wood in corners and the end pieces to give me a good solid surface to drill the sprocket shaft holes. I Used metal rod for the sprocket shafts.”

closeup of drive chain and magnets

This is a closeup of the magnets glued to sprockets of the drive chain. They are magnetically attracted to the magnets on th bottoms of the vehicles. As the drive chain moves it causes the cars to slide along the Formica roadway. Neat.

So the belt is really the chain. The magnets are the Neodymium disk magnets from K&J Magnets I got several different sizes and tried different ones to get the best results.

I find that the cars work best if you actually have the magnets just touching the road surface with very little contact with the wheels. The wheels on Z vehicles don't turn for the most part so the vehicle magnets are just sliding across the road surface.The "belt" magnets will stick to the drive chain because of the metal chain material. "I super glue them in place to insure they don't come loose. Once the road surface is glued down you can't access the drive chain except at the drive mechanism and the return sprocket as you can see in the pictures of the clear plastic plates used as road surface inside the end pieces," he explained. Those are held in place by screws. The road really needs to disappear into a mountain for the best effect.

"My next road project will be a 6' straight module with mountains in the middle and the two lane road hugging the mountain side. In this case, the road can just go around the end of the mountain and folks will have to go around to the other side to see the cars continue. But, there needs to be a removable road surface somewhere to access the chain so I guess there will be a short tunnel with removable mountain top again.