FAQ: Transfer Tables (Traversers)

Q. I wonder if you can point me to design details of a transfer table. Of course it’s fun to reinvent the wheel, but I enjoy seeing what others have done.

A. Your question about transfer tables (traversers in Britain) is often asked. In fact page 20 of my book, Creating Micro Layouts, is devoted to answering that question, if you can find a copy. Basically a transfer table (traverser) is a track that slides sideways to reach more than one adjacent track without using a turnout. It’s extremely useful behind the scenes in fiddle yards and also can serve “out front” as a space-conserving replacement for a number of track switches.

As you can imagine, transfer tables are very finicky devices to build, requiring accurate square cuts, parallel alignments of many tracks, etc. As a result, I used to advise people to go commercial and buy a cost-effective Walthers HO or N scale unit (search their site for “transfer table”), where all the tough parts were already engineered for you. As of 2006, however, Walthers appears to have discontinued these excellent products. There are several more-expensive European traversers available that you might investigate, or perhaps you can find a Walthers unit offered on eBay.

The alternative is to make your own traverser. A variety of approaches are available, and they need not be difficult. One good printed reference is a two-part article in the Model Railroader magazine for March and April 1959, “A Transfer Table that Works” by John Gascoyne. You can get copies of these back issues — or photo copies of just the articles — very inexpensively from the Kalmbach Memorial Library at NMRA Headquarters. You don’t have to be an NMRA member to use this service, although members do get a small discount. Back issue MR’s (and most other mags) are also available from Railpub.

For a collection of cutting-edge modeling techniques, see the Gnatterbox discussion forum. Although this forum is dedicated to Gn15 scale, the modeling techniques can be used in any scale and are among the most creative and interesting ideas I’ve found anywhere. Some of the most interesting answers are found in the very long “bodge traverser” thread. And a bunch of highly unconventional approaches were entered in the 2006 Christmas Traverser Competition. Also search “traversers” on that site to see a variety of additional good ideas.

Some more good methods are shown in this site’s Small Layout Scrapbook #26, with individual photos that illustrate still other approaches in #53a (using drawer slides in Innhafen) and #10 (the “sliding panel” in Grumblewick Coombe).

In addition  “Shortliner” Jack Trollope has posted details of his version of my “Poor Man’s Traverser” in the Small Layout Design discussion forum. It’s a simple, manual table that is easy to make and costs virtually nothing.

(You will probably need to join the sldfiles group in order to reach this page. The membership is free, requires almost no time to complete, and involves no obligations on your part — and you can resign immediately after grabbing the traverser information, if you wish. However, it’s worth a look around — the Small Layout Design group has a lot of excellent small layouts on file! Look for “Shortliner’s” folders especially. You might also want to join and explore the group’s home page … there are lots of excellent designs on file there as well.)

—Carl Arendt

This FAQ is an experiment in Participative Documentation. If you have an update or addition to this document, please share it with your fellow modelers by sending it to me. The e-mail address is on my Home Page. Your contribution wil be posted as rapidly as possible
and fully credited.  Thanks in advance! — Carl Arendt