Welcome to CoffeeTableTrains.com

For your viewing pleasure, here is the link to a YouTube video of Coffee Table #3 in action.

Note: to find the latest interesting additions to the Web site, follow the “What's New With CT-3?” and “What's New With CT-4?” links on the left side of this page. Mundane changes (deletions, reworded stuff, reorganized material, etc.) will probably not be listed.

This Web site is where you will find a plethora of information about my adventures into the art of building computerized model railroads into coffee tables. Although the site discusses several coffee tables, the primary focus is on Coffee Table #3 (a.k.a., Model CT-3), which is still considered to be a work in progress, although it became operational on October 2, 2008.

Why Coffee Tables?

Why coffee tables? Good question, particularly since I don't drink coffee.

I began thinking about coffee table layouts in 1957 at the beginning of my long career with Honeywell's Computer Division. At the time, I was working on a large Lionel layout at the Fessenden School (see www.fessytrains.com), and I thought it would be fun to combine my model railroading interest with my computer engineering expertise. It also seemed logical to think small and portable, since space is often a problem for model railroaders. So, I decided to build a computerized layout that would fit into a piece of furniture. The result of that decision has been a series of coffee table model railroad designs.

Do the Coffee Tables really exist?

Yes, coffee tables #1, #2, and #3 do exist!

The first computerized coffee table train layout (i.e., Coffee Table #1) was finished in 1958, and it is still alive and well in San Carlos, California.

The layout is unique, because it was conceived and built at the dawn of the computer age when technology was anything but compact. Although the layout's complexity was limited (HO was the smallest available scale), and the computer was trivial by today's standards, viewers were mesmerized when they saw the layout in operation. For more than 55 years, Coffee Table #1 has been enjoyed by cats, kids, and those with child-like curiosity.

For more information about Coffee Table #1, visit the History page.

Computerized Coffee Table #1

Coffee Table #1
circa 1963

Coffee Table #2 was started in 1960, but was eventually abandoned. However, the actual coffee table furniture was eventually used for a manually controlled N-scale model railroad that is alive and well in Illinois.

For more information about Coffee Table #2, visit the History page.

Manually Controlled Coffee Table #2

Coffee Table #2
(no computer)

Coffee Table #3 was originally conceived in 1967, but had to be shelved for many years until technology caught up with my grand ideas for a complex computerized N-Scale layout housed in a piece of living room furniture.

After almost four decades, Coffee Table #3 came back to life. The first part of the development project—building a test track—was successfully completed in 2006. That is when serious coffee table design and construction began.

Coffee Table #3 is not an ordinary run-of-the-mill computerized coffee table railroad. Rather, it includes a sophisticated multilevel layout, capable of running two trains and a trolley simultaneously through a southwestern landscape that is full of surprises.

Earle Florence, Arizona architect and artist, is collaborating in the development of a truly unique visual adventure. Kerry Vesper, award-winning woodworking artist, has created a one-of-a-kind free-form sculptured table that complements the layout's scenery. A miniature TrainCam allows the viewer to travel through the layout, observing everything from the train engineer's point of view.

As you can see from the illustrations on the right, Coffee Table #3 has progressed from concept to reality. The layout can be raised to table top height or lowered into the table. When lowered, a glass or wooden top can be placed over the layout to protect it.

There is much more work to do on the layout; however, the table sculpture is finished, and the layout is operational. No doubt, work will continue on the controlling software and scenic details for years to come.

For more information about Coffee Table #3, visit the Model CT-3 pages.

Coffee Table #3
(early concept sketch)
Layout in raised position

Coffee Table #3
(finished table)
Layout in raised position

Coffee Table #3
(finished table)
Layout in lowered position
under glass top

About this Web site

The Web site is divided into four major sections. The first three sections (History, Test Track, and Model CT-3) discuss layouts that have actually been built. The fourth section (Model CT-4) discusses advanced studies into magnetic levitation (maglev) technology as it might be applied to model railroading:

  • History

    This is where you can read all about Coffee Table #1. You can also read about the failed bank robbery that brought construction of Coffee Table #2 to an abrupt end.

  • Test Track

    The test track was used to test train control hardware and software for Coffee Table #3. The test track was also used to test unique items such as fire engine flashing lights and the TrainCam. There is some interesting stuff in this section. Things that worked well in the test track generally ended up in the new coffee table. Things that didn't work well in the test track were never seen again.

  • Model CT-3

    This is where the action is. It is here that you can read about the finished product—the final design of the sculptured table, the layout, and all of the elements that control the layout, including the lift mechanism. Also, this is where you can see how the whole thing was constructed over a period of more than two and a half years. But the layout is not really complete, nor will it ever be, because there will always be interesting new things that can be added to it.

  • Model CT-4

    This section was originally included in the Web site just in case I decided to build another coffee table layout at some future time. It turns out that I am now looking at maglev technology to see if it can be applied to model railroading. I am particularly interested to see if the technology can be applied to a model railroad that is small enough to fit into a coffee table.

Be sure to check out the links on the left side of this page. They will take you directly to the latest developments.


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