The NEW monorail website, click HERE!
Update February 2015 - I just converted a Disneyland monorail with (white) front lights, flashing red roof beacon, rear lights that flash in the proper pattern, sound, and fwd/rev, all under radio control. The monorail still uses the 2xAA batteries and runs for over an hour on a charge. The model also has three microprocessors on board to help control all this. Yep, the radios have gotten better!
The following information on this page is over 10 years old, a lot has changed and converting a monorail to radio control is a lot easier now! All new information is posted on the new site, monorail.suzieandbob.com.
Why would anyone want to take apart a perfectly good monorail?
..and who would do it again? boB, who else? Here's Episode II...
The monorail as delivered.
Because it gets pretty lame after the first five minutes, that's why. Now I love WDW's monorails as much as anyone but lets face it, running at a constant speed round and round in circles just doesn't really 'transport' me to Walt Disney World. The # 1 icon of WDW deserves better, like maybe a little animatronics of it's own. If we could get the monorail to stop at MK station, start again and stop at the Contemporary, etc., then we would really have something! Well, consider it done! ;)
What's it take?
Model trains have it easy, two metal rails carry the electricity and allow control of the train. The monorail runs on a plastic track so remote control is about the only answer. A modified TV-style remote for faster/slower was one idea (and may be tried yet) but radio control is available and (relatively) easy to adapt. At least that's how it was supposed to go...
Is it time for the disclaimer yet? I have been building models for almost 40 years and have acquired many tools and (maybe) some skills. This is one of the more difficult model projects I have done, mostly because there is just no room for all the parts! Well, maybe there is, just barely.
What will I have to give up?
Just some time and money. I vowed to keep *all* monorail features intact. The conversion would have been easier had I removed the sound function but it would have been easier had I just sat in front of the television instead. At the end of the day I had to disable the constant-speed-in-reverse function, not too bad since the monorail will run in reverse with the speed control anyway. The headlights, sound, strobe, and constant-speed-in-forward are all intact.
What's inside the monorail?
Parts, lots of them! The 'engine' has the batteries, motor, geartrain, speaker, and sound board. The 'tender' has nothing, yet.
***In keeping with railroad terminology I will refer to the front unit as the engine and the unit following it as the tender.
The 'engine' and 'tender' with the internal braces partially removed.
Parts required (besides the monorail kit).
*** I used Futaba r/c equipment because I'm familiar with it. Other brands may work better, see below in the "rich folks" section. One exception is the HiTec HS-300 servo board, it is somewhat smaller than the Futaba and about the same cost. The motor is the same.
Futaba Attack series radio set, includes transmitter, receiver, and two servos for about $55.
Futaba aileron extender (6") to connect receiver (in tender) to servo (in engine), about $4.
Two single AA battery holders, Radio Shack.
shrink tubing, double sided foam tape, sheet styrene (for mounting battery holders).
Dremel or equivalent, ball-end cutter, cylindrical cutter (to remove excess plastic from inside monorail engine and tender)
Soldering iron and solder
various small files and drills
Xacto knife or equivalent
What modifications are necessary?
Lots! The servo must be dissasembled to remove the potentiometer, motor, and circuit board. The engine wiring must be slightly changed and some grinding must be done to fit the servo board. The tender must have most of the internal braces and two mounting posts removed to fit the batteries and receiver. That's it in a nutshell but the work will probably take at least two evenings if you're good!
Servo modifications are mostly detailed (and quite well) on other websites. One of the best is http://www.rcmicroflight.com/library/ESC2_01.asp. All I can add is I use different resistor values than called out in the article. I prefer 2K and 3.7K for better trim operation. A potentiometer is even easier and ones that fit can be found at DigiKey for about $1. Be sure to lock it in place with some glue once you get it set.
A servo has a 'deadband' where it will stay still. For r/c use the deadband is kept as small as practical which means our monorail will almost never stay still. The deadband can be increased by adding a 0.001 to 0.002 uF capacitor from pin 5 of the larger IC to ground. If you don't understand this you probably are not ready to do it. ;) A photo may follow, for now email me if you're serious enough to try this.
The board holding the 'F-Off-R' switch must be modified. The motor can be directly connected to the engine batteries only when the switch is in 'F' position. This allows constant-speed running. Switching to 'R' connects the engine batteries to the tender batteries and powers the r/c receiver. Showing the modification is easier than describing it but I do not have a photo, so... run the wires from the motor to the forward contacts of the switch. Cut the traces that carry power to the rearward set of switch contacts. The negative conductor is the switch body and this must be isolated from the batteries. Wire the rearward contacts to wires that run to the batteries in the tender.
With this mod the monorail will run constantly when the switch is in Forward and will be under radio control when the switch is in Reverse.
The r/c receiver (in it's case) will not fit in the tender. I used only the bottom half of the case and filed it to fit. It's secured to the battery holder with foam double-sided tape.
"Tender" with two mounting posts and braces removed, batteries and receiver installed.
*Optional* The motor in the stock monorail was selected to meet a cost target. That's a nice way of saying it is cheap. I work for a company that sells a product in a tough market so I realize meeting a cost target is not an inherently evil thing, it just tends to limit the performance of the product. The motor provided in the servo is a much better motor and it was already free with the servo so I decided to use it to power the monorail. This is not absolutely necessary and was the most difficult part of the conversion so I won't go into details here. If you *really* want to go this route email me for the details but be prepared for some serious work.
05 Oct 2000, I found a motor that fits with less work, see "updates" at the bottom of the page.
"Engine" and closeup of servo board.
This photo shows the new motor, servo board, and wiring. The motor pictured is the Futaba servo motor, shorter but slightly larger diameter than original.
In my conversion five wires run from the engine to the tender, two for power and three for the servo. If you can put the servo board in the tender you can get by with only four wires. In the engine two wires run from the servo board to the motor. Don't forget a 0.01 uF capacitor across the motor terminals for (electrical) noise reduction.
The r/c receiver wire is coiled around the roof of the tender. I expect to hear from r/c folks about how bad this is but the distance from the transmitter to the receiver is small and I don't expect reception problems.
This is a toy, not a fine scale model. It's humble origins show. The moving parts will work a lot more smoothly with a little cleaning up of flashing. I also had to true up the drive wheels and this helped the engine to sit more realistically on the track.
For Rich Folks...
There *are* easier ways to do this. I wanted to use only the Futaba equipment that came in the kit to cut costs for those who follow (like anyone really will) but some other, more expensive parts could make the job easier. Novak makes a smaller receiver than Futaba for about $50, this will make fitting the parts into the tender much easier. MicroMo makes a really fine motor with better operating characteristics and longer life for $61.
I visited this website and found lots of tiny, expensive r/c stuff. Most will probably work great in the monorail but not on my budget. http://www.rcmicroflight.com/
The r/c transmitter has two channels. The second one could be used to control a second monorail on the same track. Just remember to add MAPO. ;) I am designing a track switch to allow parking the monorail in the car barn, adding a passing track, or changing to another line. As with some of my other projects, it will eventually happen but don't hold your breath waiting. ;)
I found a motor which is easier to adapt and fits better than the Futaba servo motor. The motor is (was) available from Marlin P Jones, it's a Mabuchi FF-030 for about $2 each. I haven't tested this motor but it looks good.
Is it all worth it?Monorail Red (model) at Epcot entrance (real).
Once I told too many people I was going to do this there was no backing out. The conversion takes a lot of work, but when the r/c monorail glides gracefully into my Animal Kingdom station it will all be worthwhile!
boB obviously has too much time on his hands (not), send him some email ;)