Coffee Table #3 Design


Note: The links on the left side of this page and the other Model CT-3 pages will take you to detailed information about the new coffee table's design and construction.

After years of planning, design, and construction, Coffee Table #3 is operational!

What is Coffee Table #3?

Coffee Table #3 (shown below with the layout in the “lowered” position under glass) is the third in a series of computerized model railroads packaged in coffee tables. Information about the first two coffee tables can be found on the History page.

Coffee Table #3

Coffee Table #3 was originally conceived in the late 1960s. A complex 3-level N-scale layout was designed, and many of the algorithms for controlling the layout were developed and partially documented. Unfortunately, computer technology had not advanced to the point where it was feasible to build the layout. Nor were N-scale trains very reliable at the time.

During the 1970s, a full-scale mock-up of the proposed layout was built, and some N-scale rolling stock and scenery were acquired in the hopes that the project could get back on track. But there was little if any off-the-shelf model railroad electronics, and reasonable computer technology was still not available. By 1980, the project had been shelved, and it remained inactive for more than 20 years.

During the summer of 2003, the Coffee Table #3 project came alive again. By then, N-scale trains, model railroad electronics, and computer technology had evolved to the point where it made sense to consider building a new computerized coffee table train layout.

The starting point for the new project was the construction of a test track to determine the capabilities and limitations of the new technologies. Experiments with the test track proved that a truly magnificent layout, powered by modern technology, could be built into a coffee table.

The track plan for the new coffee table was finalized during 2005, and detailed design of the controlling electronics began in April 2006. Several alternative furniture designs were considered during the spring of 2006 before selecting a pedestal design. The pedestal is particularly important, because it allows the layout in Coffee Table #3 to be operated "outside of the box." An electric lift mechanism located in the center of the pedestal can raise the layout 6.5 inches so that it appears to be sitting on top of the coffee table (photo below).

Completion of Coffee Table #3 had been targeted for November 15, 2007, which was the 40th anniversary of the original track layout drawing from the 1960s. In fact, much of the layout was operational by that date, but the overall project was far from being completed. Keep in mind that this was just a hobby, and schedules were based on the assumption that real work won't get in the way. By early October 2008, the table sculpture was complete, and all of the pieces of the train table were ready for final assembly. By mid-November, everything was assembled, and the layout was running reasonably well.

Although the layout looks good and is operational, there is much more to do before the software and scenery can really be considered complete. Presently, the software only supports a single train, but the electronics is capable of running two trains simultaneously. As for the scenery, much of the fine detail work is still being worked on. In fact, three new scenic elements were under construction as recently as August 2014, and new ceiling lights were being added to the tunnel to enhance the TrainCam experience.

Over time, the software and scenery will evolve, but I hope that Coffee Table #3 will never really be finished. There will always be room for improvement.

To download a test video of Coffee Table #3 in operation, click here. Note that the download file size is about 100MB.

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