Construction soapbox derby


A soapbox derby on the Märklin model railway system – of course that is a special eye-catcher. So let's see what the members of the model railway work group of the Thomas Mann grammar school in Stutensee are building.
It really requires some courage to race down the valley sitting in a soapbox. These simple vehicles can reach high speeds. The official limit is 60 kilometres per hour. This is higher than the speed allowed for cars, trucks, busses and motorcycles when driving through the city. Fortunately, the races take place only on short distances. They are normally 250 to 500 metres long. The track should be dry to. In case of wet conditions, races must be stopped.
The vehicles used to be made almost exclusively from wood. Today, modern plastics are added, as for example, glass fibre reinforced hydrocarbons, in short GRP. These materials are also used in Formula 1, because the are solid and very light. Before the race, it has to be checked if the brakes and the steering work properly. The drivers have to use a safety helmet. Nevertheless, all this is not really harmless.
The first races already took place in 1904 in Oberursel near Frankfurt am Main. Several events are documented for the years until 1907. However, children and youths may have built similar vehicles, probably with the help with their fathers – in the beginning, only boys participated in soapbox derbies. The word "Soapbox" was coined in 1933 by Myron E. Scott. Scott used to live in the United States and worked as a journalist and photographer for the daily press.
Then, the soapbox derbies became real events in the United States. In the first big race taking place on 19 March 1933 in Dayton, also girls were allowed to take place. Already in 1935 there were US-American championships that at the same time were regarded as world championships. The most important sponsor was the car manufacturer General Motors.

Until 2017 it owned the German manufacturer Opel. After the Second World War it was above all Opel to organize the soapbox derbies in Germany. German championships took place, the winners of which could go to the world championships in Akron. The heyday of the soapbox derbies ended as soon as Opel stopped paying for it in 1972. Today, every year a big tournament takes place in Klüsserath. Klüsserath is located next to the river Moselle. The soapboxes start on the third weekend of May. Sometimes, you can see soapbox derbies also at sports festivals, town festivals an other events.


Now, these rustic vehicles also roll across the Märklin model railway system. The accessory manufacturer Busch offers many attractive models. The soapbox derby doesn't need much space on your model railway layout. As you have already read, the tracks are only 250 to 500 metres long.
In Stutensee Niklas created the track and the landscape around. In order to do so, he took two big Styrodur blocks. Both fitted well on a lath framework that replaces the base plate. In this way, the module gets lighter. While the wood glue used for fixing the laths dried, Niklas processed the Styrodur with the sharp tinker knife. Of course, he was worked extremely cautiously. Please, always watch your fingers when building your model railway! Work slowly and carefully! In this way, nothing will happen.
After cutting out the race track from the Styrodur, he fixed both blocks onto the model railway layout using tile glue. An asphalted road is best suited for the soapbox derby. Therefore, Niklas painted it with grey colour. Niklas created green meadows with the grass master and grass fibres. Then, he put up some trees.


He decorated the finishing area very in a very diversified way. At first, he laid out straw bales. If a racer brakes too late, he well crash with his soapbox into the straw. That shouldn't be very harmful. As a precaution, however, also the paramedics and firefighters are present. Between the races some soapboxes are parked under baldachins. Some of them just stop on the road. However, the most important thing is the podium for the award ceremony. Finally, every participant is racing to stand there at least once. In the end, Niklas placed a small ramp in the start area. The soapboxes don't have an own drive but need to be set in motion. Now, the scenery is ready and the race can start. The courageous drivers race downhill.


Styrodur for creating the landscape. You will find it among the packaging waste. It won't cost you a cent. Maybe you already have some wooden slats in your junk box. Otherwise you will find them in the do-it-yourself store. The wooden slats don't cost much. You can buy grass fibres at your Märklin store, there will be a vast assortment of them. There you can also find the soapboxes from Busch, the lighting from Viessmann and the figures from Noch and Preiser as well as other accessories from Noch and Auhagen. You already have the necessary tools, the tinker knife, the screw clamps for fixing the laths while they are drying and a saw for cutting everything to length.


Model-making and photographs: Niklas and Marius from the Model railway workgroup at the Thomas Mann grammar school, led by Matthias Wagner