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Tracking Wagons on a Budget

Discussion in 'Scenery, Props, and Rigging' started by StradivariusBone, Feb 7, 2017.

  1. StradivariusBone

    StradivariusBone Well-Known Member Fight Leukemia

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    I know that title is a red flag already, but hear me out!

    Trying to figure out scenery management for our spring musical and looking at upwards of 8 scenic wagons that have to somehow maneuver around our stage. We do a children's show as well and often times I'll use that to experiment with new ideas since the cost of failure is much, much lower. For one last year we tried out the bullnose moulding track idea that's presented in Bill Raoul's book. I used 1x2 and mitred 45 degrees off one side to create the track and screwed it into the deck to use with a knife-edge that was bolted to the side of a platform. It worked out quite well under tech power and I'm considering expanding this idea for the spring show.

    Things I noticed with our first try-
    • Swivel castered platform "worked", but required a slight wiggle when changing directions, something that stressed both the knife and the track material, cause at least one failure if I recall.
    • Pushing was pretty easy, but pulling we had to add a rope to the platform so they could bring it back.
    • The knives were on the upstage edge of the wagon, which didn't help stability much moving in one direction. Will try to center the knives in this design.
    • Overshooting the track end was a disaster. Need a stop of some sort to prevent that. Extensive spike marks helped (I work with HS kids).
    I'm wondering if a mix of fixed and swivel casters might help the stability a bit. I'm envisioning a platform with swivels on the ends and fixed in the middle to allow relatively easy turns. The problem with this design is that we don't have enough wingspace to accommodate wagons that can't turn 90 degrees on a relatively large dime in order to park. Even with the legs pulled in some there will be just enough room to be able to rotate through wagons on our SL wing.

    I've read through the forums and found that the push/pull stick seems to be the ticket with a vista moves (of which there will be at least one quick one).

    There are two scenes where it would be advantageous for the wagons to turn 60 degrees upstage as they hit their marks. For that I'm debating adding a second track that curves up and designing the wagon knives to allow swivel. It may also be possible to just mount the knives at the proper angle so the wagon comes on at 60 already and use one track.

    We debated for some time on building a raised deck and trying out true automation with a hand winch and kid power, but the cost of the deck alone would kill us. Maybe one day, but for now the bullnose should work. With the false deck I'm assuming that most designs including "parking" for wagons, meaning that you have to build out the deck anywhere you want a wagon to live. Just for my own curiosity- Is there any easy way to build a transition to the stage deck that works well?

    Looking through the threads I couldn't find any that really discussed surface-mounted tracks- hence why I started this one instead of adding to existing. I do realize on face value this may appear to create trip-hazards, but in the previous show we mitigated it through choreography and training of the actors and for this particular show the tracks will have wagons on them for at least 50% of the time. In the test run we had no issues with actors taking a dive (thankfully).
     
  2. RonHebbard

    RonHebbard Well-Known Member Premium Member

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    You might consider researching "triple swivel casters".
    Toodleoo!
    Ron Hebbard.
     
  3. DRU

    DRU Member

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    I would look into an omni-directional wheel. Rosebrand sells them under the name "Rotacasters", but you may find them other places for cheaper under omni-directional wheels. They allow for movement in every direction without the swivel caster's throw.

    Do you have enough money for a floor? I did a show once that needed a pair of tracked wagons for a school room. We put down a 1/4" maso floor and routed a groove in it (the track idea came after we completed the floor. If it had come earlier, we would have just made a gap in the floor layout). Two steel knives in each wagon rode in the grooves and it worked pretty well.
     
  4. TheaterEd

    TheaterEd Renaissance Man Fight Leukemia

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    Genuinely interested here, Why do you use tracking instead of just free range wagons that your crew places? Is it just so that the audience won't see the crew members moving things? It just seems like a lot of extra work and cost for a high school so I'm curious what the payoff is.
     
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  5. Amiers

    Amiers Well-Known Member

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    I agree, nothing says theatre like hands on deck. Only thing I can think of is you don't have enough hands.
     
  6. BillConnerFASTC

    BillConnerFASTC Well-Known Member

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    A long time ago I used a 3/4 x 3/4 x 1/8 steel angle as the track and a shoe with a slot that was attached to platform. Track was far downstage, upstage edge painted white, and shoes were on downstage edge of wagon. It was basically for a lot of "in one" scenes.

    If there was any chance of making it work, all fixed casters and consider guiding by a very taut wire rope that when not lifted a little would lie on floor. Wagon might vary a little in center of travel but be brought back to same place near ends. Maybe a 12' wagon has 4' at either end that fold up in the wings to be more compact. I'm guessing you have already thought about that.

    Good zero-throw (triple swivels or by other names) casters, the fewer the better (meaning strong wagons), and just a painted or laser guide for stage hands to follow wouldn't be bad.

    And don't rule out a tall guide, like the face of a platform or deck upstage of the wagon path - as a rigid guide with guide casters that runs against the face of the fixed deck. Maybe in combination with the angle downstage and a raised deck upstage (or just a ground row piece that's fixed to floor) you'd have two "tracks".

    Just some thoughts for fodder. Its one of those design challenges and factor that needs to be considered early - as in don't design a wagon stage and then say you have to guide them, but instead come up with a system of wagons based on a guide system that fits, and adjust scenes to fit that system.
     
  7. StradivariusBone

    StradivariusBone Well-Known Member Fight Leukemia

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    No. That's why I was looking to expand upon the bullnose idea. It worked quite well for the one scene we tested.

    So a few years back now we did "Pirates of Penzance" and built a beautiful 17' ship on a wagon. I had kid power lined up to move it in as the pirates triumphantly made their entrance and it all worked great. I felt genuinely confident in the ability of these kids to nail it time and time again. So I went and sat in the house, for the first time ever. Lights up and here comes the boat- crashing directly into the dock and dragging the dock wagon about 2 feet toward center stage.

    So when we toyed with the tracking for the kid's show it sort of dawned on all of us that this mistake could have been prevented. With this show having so many wagons and the choreography of the scenes it really lends itself to having control over movement across the deck. There's at least one a vista and the potential for a few others, but a large factor in this is to push the crew to the challenge. I like to use builds as teaching moments as much as possible and expose the kids to as many different techniques and strategies as I can. So in this case it's two-fold. I think it will help with scenery management on and backstage and it will be a good experience for the kids. Increased accuracy of spotting set pieces is also something I'm looking to gain.

    We do have the horsepower in stage hands, so the fall back is to go the old fashioned way and spike everything out, but a big part of this will be in the experiment and what we can learn from the process. As far as expense goes, the casters would be the most significant portion of that, and I have to justify whether it's worth replacing our stock for this as we do have more than enough swivels already. Outside of that, I don't see too much being expended. We can fabricate the track in house from 1x2 if necessary.


    That's a big motivator here too.


    The problem with all fixed is that they will have to make a right angle turn in the SL wings due to a lack of space. I've already designed one to hinge on one end to make it more compact, I will have to explore doing the same with the others.

    Good things to think about on your other points too, Bill. Still very early in the design, so I have the luxury to explore both sides of it as you mentioned. An upstage ground row of sorts might be possible.
     
  8. kicknargel

    kicknargel Well-Known Member

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    If the movement is linear on stage and curved offstage, you could use swivel-lock casters that switch between rigid and swivel with a locking device.
     

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