Stepping up from Kragle to drilling, cutting, and sanding – a chat with Randy Sluder [Interview]

Purists look away now, as we go inside the mind of self-proclaimed LEGO outlaw Randy Sluder and see some of the innovative building he is doing around the LEGO monorail system. Randy calls himself an outlaw because he’s not afraid to cut, drill, sand, and glue to create shapes LEGO never made. However, even he has lines he won’t cross — he only uses genuine LEGO bricks and the same glue LEGO themselves use on their large display models!

TBB: So Randy, tell us a little about yourself…

Randy: I’m a graphic artist by trade and have always liked the Art Deco style, so I gravitated to the Streamliner period of trains between 1935-1955. It was a time when “form follows function” wasn’t in vogue, the emphasis was on great design. And many people don’t know that Art Deco train design was as important to the movement as the architecture.

TBB: Where does your interest in monorail trains come from?

Randy: All my life I’ve been able to hear the sound of a train, at night, no matter where I’ve lived, and because I’m a wannabe “rail fan”, and a LEGO geek! What started as a fun project for the grandkids has blossomed into a cottage industry. In building a track for them I thought it would be nice to have a few more monorails. In researching LEGO monorail designs I found most were childish, block-type designs with the better ones made from current LEGO train bodies. Nobody was designing alternate vehicles for the LEGO monorail system. So after a lot of interesting research, I started creating trains for the monorail track.

TBB: Are your trains built around the monorail power bricks?

Randy: Oh no, they have their own 9-volt battery nestled inside 2 rows of studs inside some of the locomotives. Some, but not all. Once I realized I could get a certain rechargeable 9-volt battery inside a 4-stud locomotive and NOT use the old LEGO battery brick, I was home free! I could design anything I liked!

TBB: So how did you get started?

Randy: My first locomotive prototype was over 8-studs tall and though it ran nicely, it was out of scale for the 20-stud chassis length. Eventually, I settled on a height between 6 and 7-studs with the 4×20 stud base. Once I had my dimensions correct, I set out to design as many different trains as possible. My first was the green, white, and gold Southern Railroad Crescent that I had seen growing up. After many prototypes, I was about to give up due to LEGO only making 9-volt battery packs in black, white, red, and yellow — I needed green! I thought about painting the battery box or covering it with green vinyl, but all attempts failed to match the LEGO green. Then it dawned on me — maybe I could get a battery inside the locomotive without the box itself. That process took over 3 weeks and a lot of different batteries until I found one that would fit a 2-stud space.

The models that have enough space are fitted with a rechargeable 9-volt battery, lights, a 4-stud LEGO monorail motor connector and an off/on switch. The switches are usually hidden behind a LEGO finish tile of some sort.

TBB: What about the engines that don’t offer the interior space?

Randy: I build a number of either locomotive “B Units” or freight cars that contain the battery. The reddish brown boxcar and the intermodal car both have batteries hidden inside. My Union Pacific car hauler and any of my hoppers would be good candidates as a battery car.

TBB: Tell us more about the 3D printed parts, lights, power, and remote control.

Randy:  The 3D prints are made by 4DBrix and they are truly responsible for my LEGO modelling endeavours today. It was the discovery of the 16-stud extension chassis that allows the train to be longer than just 2 cars. I also use their motor covers. I sent a photo of my first train to Tom at 4DBrix and he got excited, saying he had never seen anything like it before. He also noticed I was using 2×2 macaroni bricks for the front of my Streamliner locomotives, so we began discussing a round nose chassis. The lights, sound and remote control are all operated through SBrick‘s Bluetooth app using a smartphone or tablet.

Companies like 4dBrix and SBrick are ushering in a rebirth of the 30-year-old LEGO monorail system. My models replicate real life, which means I’m going to have to build real railroads, switch yards, freight yards, roundhouses, control towers, depots, and towns.

TBB: Thanks for your time Randy, it’s been a pleasure. I hope your models and creativity have inspired our readers as much as you have inspired us.