What are End-Plates?
In building our modules, we installed two T-nuts into the end plates at each end of the module. Take two of your modules and put them together face-to-face (trackside and scenery facing each other). Now look at one end. The holes for four T-nuts are staring us in the face. These are located 2¼" and 1¾" in from the bottom and side of each module.
If we fabricate two pieces of plywood, we can bolt the plywood to each end of the module using the T-nuts we installed at each end. With the plywood bolted to the modules, we now have a "boxed-set" of modules. If we cut a hole in each piece of plywood, we can easily move the modules (we might need someone on the other end).
That's all an end-plate is - a piece of plywood with some holes cut in the middle to insert our hand, some holes drilled in each corner so that we can bolt two modules together. Here's what the boxed-set looks like. End-plates on each end of the modules, track and scenery facing inward, one rigid boxed-set, ready for transporting.
Simple, eh? Let's get started.
Bill of Materials
Getting the Plywood
First, we need some plywood. I regularly visit the saw-service area of my local building supply store(s) and keep an eye open for the "culls". With patience, I can usually pick up some ¼" or 3/8" plywood from the "cull" bin for about $5. The size of the sheet will typically be 48"x 36"-42". I like the 3/8" poplar/aspenite that is used for floor underlay because it is more rigid but lighter than regular ¼" fir plywood. What you use will depend on how much you want to spend, how patient you are, and what is readily available.
Before you leave the store, have the plywood cut into pieces that are 24"x 18" or 24"x 20". Remember that 24" is the width of our modules. The 18" or 20" will depend on how tall your scenery is and what size of lumber you've used to frame the module (1"x 4", 1"x 5", 1"x 6"). If you don't have a lot of scenery, go for the 18". If you've got a lot of scenery, then go for the 20". Or wider, if you've got a lot of mountains. Just remember that your vehicle will be the limiting factor on the width. For our purposes, we'll use 24"x 20"x 3/8" poplar plywood.
When you get the plywood home, sand the saw crumbs from the edges and lightly sand both sides. I like to file the sharp edges off each corner (it's not necessary to round the four corners).
We now need to locate a "carry-hole" in the middle of each sheet of plywood. We use the carry-hole to insert our fingers so that we can easily lift the boxed-set of modules.
From the 20" width, locate the middle (ie 10" from each end) and draw a short 3" line.
From the 24" width, locate the middle (ie 12" from each end) and draw a line that is 8" long (ie 4" on each side of that short 3" line. We should have an elongated "T" in the middle of the plywood that is 8"x 3" long. We now need to cut a hole that will be 4" long and 1½" wide and centred along this elongated "T". Or, to restate those dimensions, the hole will be 2" and ¾" on either side of this elongated "T".
The shape of this hole will depend on the tools you have to do the job. If all that you have is a hacksaw blade, you'll probably cut out a square hole. In my case, I have a 1½" Forstner bit so I was able to cut out a nice round hole at each end and cut out the plywood between the two holes. Once you've got the carry-hole cut out, round the edges of the hole with a file and sandpaper. Repeat the process for the second piece of plywood.
The next task is to locate and drill holes to insert 4 bolts that match up to the 4 T-nut holes at each end of the modules. If we measure our modules, we'll find that the T-nut holes are 2½" from the edge and 1¾" from the bottom. Measure those hole locations twice. You might have used different T-nut locations than I did.
Our T-nuts were 5/16". So, a 5/16" bolt should fit the thread of the T-nut. You'll find that a 5/16"x 1" bolt will be too short. A 5/16"x 1¼" bolt is just the right length but is very rare. If you can't find a 1¼", then use a 1½" bolt - actually 8 of them.
We don't want to splinter the plywood when we tighten the bolt, so select an equivalent number of washers that snugly fit over the bolt. Since they're so cheap, pick up a few extra bolts and washers and keep them in a small plastic jar (bolts tend to go astray).
On the plywood, measure 2½" and 1¾" from each corner. Drill a small pilot hole with a 1/8" bit in each corner. I usually find the modules won't align exactly with the holes in the carry-plates when I'm bolting them together. It usually helps if there's about 1/16" of slack with these holes. Enlarge the pilot hole with a ¼" drill and then a 3/8" drill (5/16"+ 1/16"= 3/8"). This will give me the slack I need when I bolt the carry-plates to the modules. Sand or cut off any wood burrs. Locate and drill the bolt holes for the other piece of plywood.
Fitting the End-Plates
Place the end-plate over one end of the two modules. Take four 5/16"x 1½" bolts, slide on a washer. In turn, thread a bolt and washer through the 4 holes in the end-plate and into the T-nut in the module until it is finger-tight. Repeat the process for the other end. Tighten each bolt with a ½" wrench or socket until the bolts are snug.
Voila! Another boxed-set of modules ready for transportation.
Paint the Carry Plates
Well not quite. Let's finish the job properly. Apply two coats of your favourite paint (or whatever colour is on sale) to the end-plates, put on some decals, your name, or whatever suits your fancy. Or just leave them painted.
Make sure you bring that ½" wrench or socket (and that plastic bottle of extra bolts and washers) to your module railroad meet so you can remove the end-plates. I've bought a couple of extra wrenches and sockets that I keep handy with the gear that I bring to our club meets.
If you use wooden legs, bring along 4 - 6 extra clamps. When you've set up your modules, clamp the end-plates to the bottom of the legs about 6" off the ground (clamp-handles on the inside) This adds extra stability to the module legs.