Coursemarker Guidelines

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(Duct Tape Loops on Metal Poles: what worked for Happy Birthday, Louis Braille!)
(duct tape brand(s))
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The adhesives also deteriorate with age, so it probably isn't worth using that roll of duct tape that's been sitting in your garage for a decade or two.
The adhesives also deteriorate with age, so it probably isn't worth using that roll of duct tape that's been sitting in your garage for a decade or two.
A new roll of good duct tape is cheap insurance against problems with coursemarkers coming down during the rallye.
A new roll of good duct tape is cheap insurance against problems with coursemarkers coming down during the rallye.
We have had good results with the following brands of duct tape:
* ???
We have had poor results with the following brands of duct tape:
* Nashua (sticks well to itself, but not to CM or to pole)
==== Alternate Technique for Metal Poles ====
==== Alternate Technique for Metal Poles ====

Revision as of 08:29, 26 February 2008


Rallye Preparation

During preparation (writing) of the rallye, as you drive the route, select exactly which poles will be used for CMs. It matters a lot whether the CM will be beyond an intersection or not, as the SUPP (or SI) may need to refer to the 1st OPP or the 2nd OPP.

Consider whether the pole will be lit by a street light (generally a good thing), whether it is obscured by trees or other landscaping (generally a bad thing), and from which directions the coursemarker will be visible. Coursemarkers should be visible when driving by (of course), but usually not visible from the other side (telegraphs its existence) or from the intersection at which a decision should be made. Normally, a rallyist should have to decide what to do before seeing the CM(s). Although sometimes, negative CMs are left more visible to sucker rallyists (a "big, juicy" CM).

Note that some types of poles are known to cause problems. It may be best to avoid using neighborhoods with these kinds of poles:

  • concrete poles, which make it difficult to attach coursemarkers reliably
  • light poles with the light straight up above the pole (rather than offset from the pole by a horizontal support), because at night the light will be so bright that the nearby coursemarker won't be easily read.

Record what kind of pole it is, so you know how you'll need to attach the coursemarker.

Making Coursemarkers

Page Size and Layout

TRC coursemarkers are normally printed on 8½ × 11-inch card stock. You may wish to trim CMs to make them narrower. Narrower CMs are less visible from the back of the pole, and they may blow down less often in storms because they catch less of the wind. If you trim some, but not all, of your CMs, then clarify in the GIs that a narrower or wider CM is not a gimmick. Trained to be suspicous, rallyists will question any deviation from the sample CM(s) at the start.

Use a laser printer. Coursemarkers printed on inkjet printers become illegible when they get wet and the ink runs.

Set the font size "huge". Something in the range of 300 points is a good starting place, but then you'll need to tweak because the best font size varies with the font. (A standard 8½ × 11-inch page is 612 × 792 points.) Get as large as you can. Most people don't realize how large street signs really are.

Set the margins very small, and be prepared to fiddle with the paragraph/line spacing. Adjusting the letter spacing can help make double letters (especially "VV") easier to read.

Font Choices

Feel free to play around and come up with thematic fonts on your CMs. It will add a nice touch. Some important criteria are:

  • Legible at a distance
    • Wide stroke helps
    • Serif fonts may help
    • Busy display fonts (e.g., Old English) are hard to read
  • Double-letters (especially WW, MM, OO, etc.) fit the page width
  • Similar letters/numbers are easily differentiated
    • 1, I and J (serif fonts may help)
    • 0, O and Q
    • VV and W (an extra space in "V V" helps, but shouldn't be necessary)

These fonts have worked well:

  • Swiss 721 BT
  • Goudy Extra Bold
  • OCR-A Extended
  • Copperplate

These fonts have worked OK, but not great:

  • New Century Schoolbook (strokes are too light, VV runs into W space)
  • Helvetica (strokes again too light, no serifs make distinguishing some letters harder)
  • Helvetica Narrow Bold (VV and II look better with a space between the letters, I has no serifs and could be a 1; however WW fits the page even at 360pt)
  • Comic Sans (some characters came out funny, but I don't remember what)

Some fonts that give trouble:

  • Gill Sans (1, I indistinguishable in some larger sizes)
  • Arial (ditto)
  • Various weird titling fonts for various reasons

Open Office Spreadsheet

Using StarOffice or free OpenOffice software, Dean used an OpenDocument Spreadsheet (ODS) file with two columns: one for the the letters and one for the numbers. Both were in 96-point (the largest available) bold and both used Vertical orientation Middle, and both used text direction 90 degrees (so V looked like >). The letters used Horizontal orientation right. The numbers used Horizontal orientation left. Ideally, the CMs are produced in marker visitation order.

Dean then set the Page Format (Sheet Tab) to Scale choice "reduce/enlarge printout" at the maximum size that fit on the page (about 300%). Enabling View->Page Break Preview allows easy confirmation that only one marker will print on each page.

Open Office Text Document

Using free OpenOffice software, Darin used an OpenDocument Text (ODT) file. He centered everything horizontally, set the font to Arial Narrow, bold, and 360pt (5in), and then set the Line Spacing (right-click > Paragraph... > Indents & Spacing) to Proportional of 90%. He then used a paper cutter to trim ¾" off each side of the CMs, making them 1½" narrower overall.

The line breaks and page breaks may work out automatically, so the letter(s) are above the number on each page. Or you may need to insert a few newlines to keep single letters and single-digit numbers from ending up on the same line, which throws off the breaks for later CMs.


Before laser printers, TRC coursemarkers used paper plates. Lettering was applied by hand using permanent markers. Markers were used with stencils to avoid problems with illegible handwriting. Using paper plates still works, and gives a rallye a "retro" feeling.

Other theme-related designs (e.g., giant playing cards) can work, too.

Reflective Tape

By TRC convention, every rallye-posted sign includes reflective tape. The reflective tape on coursemarkers is usually red, but other colors are available. Note that some rallyemasters find that in neighborhoods with yellow street lights, white or yellow reflective tape shows up better than blue or red reflective tape.

If the General Instructions specify that coursemarkers must have red reflective tape, then other colors of reflective tape could be a gimmick.

If the rallye will be run entirely during the day, TRC's board might waive this requirement upon request.

Posting Coursemarkers

Before the rallye, the RM and an assistant normally drive the route erecting all the CMs. It is helpful to have a list of CMs in visitation order, which typically differs a bit from rallye (critique) order. The non-driver normally applies duct tape to the back of markers prior to arrival at the pole. Using the list of pole types, the non-driver can avoid taping CMs destined for wooden poles, as they are easily stapled.

Staples on Wooden Poles

On a wooden pole, staple the marker using a staple gun "marker parker". Though there is a small piece of metal strap that could hold the marker during stapling, you may want a small loop of duct tape to stick the marker first, and then staple it. Stapling requires a forceful blow with the staple gun, which can make it difficult to simultaneously accurately place the marker.

Duct Tape Loops on Metal Poles

Duct tape loops work well on most metal poles. Orient the loops so the open ends are at the top and bottom, to ease removal (with the weed puller tool). A narrow duct tape loop in the center of the marker fits over the weed puller. Orient the marker so the duct tape loops are away from the paint roller. Use the weed puller to stick the marker in the correct place. If necessary, adjust its angle a little. Then turn the marker parker around and roll the CM firmly against the pole. Work from the center out or from one side to the other, so the CM will lie flat against the pole. The dual-roller tool presses markers better. The gap between the rollers helps keep the tool centered on the pole, rather than slipping to the side of the pole, as the single-roller does.

Darin has wrapped an old towel around the end of an extension pole, and used it to wipe dust/dirt/rain off the utility pole before attempting to stick the marker. Another (untested) alternative might be to use a dry sponge mop.

Note that the quality of the duct tape will make a big difference. The adhesives in cheap duct tape don't hold coursemarkers as securely as the adhesives in good duct tape. The adhesives also deteriorate with age, so it probably isn't worth using that roll of duct tape that's been sitting in your garage for a decade or two. A new roll of good duct tape is cheap insurance against problems with coursemarkers coming down during the rallye.

We have had good results with the following brands of duct tape:

  •  ???

We have had poor results with the following brands of duct tape:

  • Nashua (sticks well to itself, but not to CM or to pole)

Alternate Technique for Metal Poles

An alternate technique that Darin has used reliably in adverse conditions (metal poles wet from rain, strong winds, and cheap duct tape) is to wrap a strip of duct tape around the pole at the top of the CM, and another strip of duct tape around the pole at the bottom of the CM. This technique has the unfortunate side-effect of wrapping the CM around the pole, and the curved CM surface is harder for rallyists to read. However, the CMs do stay up. It also requires using a ladder, which isn't as slow as you might expect once you figure out a routine. Also, you should probably narrow the CMs so they match the diameter of the poles better (Darin's CMs were 7" wide).

Start with a strip of duct tape that is long enough to wrap the entire circumference of the pole with a few inches overlap. Stick the duct tape to the top of the CM, roughly centered. Be careful not to obscure the writing on the CM. Climb the ladder and position the CM. Wrap one end of the duct tape around the pole, then wrap the other end of the duct tape around the pole and stick it to the first end of the duct tape. Use a second strip of duct tape at the bottom of the CM.

Even when the duct tape won't stick to the wet pole, it should stick to itself. The duct tape may not stick to the CM material very well either, but the CM will be held between the duct tape and the pole, and the duct tape will stick to the CM well enough to keep it from sliding out. If you are posting two CMs on a pole (one facing each direction), then you can use a longer strip of duct tape and post both CMs at the same time.

Good Luck on Concrete Poles

On concrete poles, duct tape is not reliable. If you try using duct tape on concrete poles anyway, then cover the entire back of the coursemarker with loops of duct tape. Press the coursemarker against the pole with the roller only once; rerolling seems to work the duct tape loose, rather than sticking it more firmly. Then check the CM after mounting all CMs, and assure someone (with equipment to handle a failure) will recheck the CM at the start of the rallye. It often helps to have the duct tape loops run in alternate directions; horizontally at top and bottom, and vertically in the center.

More reliable techniques wrap something all the way around the concrete pole:

  • wrap clear packing tape around the coursemarker and the pole (both at the top of the CM and at the bottom)
  • apply a few loops of duct tape to the back of the coursemarker (as with metal poles), but wrap a long cable tie (aka "zip tie") around both the CM and the pole to keep the CM from peeling away from the pole
  • staple the coursemarker to a wooden paint stirrer (or similar inexpensive stick), then secure the stick to the pole with tape or a cable tie

Note that these techniques require a step stool or ladder, otherwise you will not be able to mount the coursemarkers out of reach of passers-by. Using a ladder is slower than using our normal coursemarker tools on extension poles.

In theory, the cable tie could be looped around the pole, then raised into place using a pole, then pulled tight (perhaps with a binder clip or vice grips on a pole?). Has this theory been tested? (Suggestions for improved coursemarker tools are welcome!)

Coursemarker Posting Technology

Periodically, the idea surfaces to manufacture some manner of device for holding CMs to poles. The basic requirements for such a device make it quite a challenge to design:

  • It should work with poles from 8" diameter to about 16", including tapered and scalloped poles
  • It should be easily placed and removed
  • It should not "walk down" the pole by itself
  • The unit must be reasonably cheap
  • Preferably reusable (if not reusable, must be < $1 each)

Ideas that have been floated:

  • Large over-center spring clamps with rubber inside the clamps and some manner of release mechanism, perhaps requiring a special device for removal.
  • A rope and sharp stick design that can be walked up the pole with the marker parker and removable by simply lifting the sharp stick.
  • Huge, chained-together tie-wraps

Each of these has its advantages and disadvantages, and may have been prototyped at one time or another.

Steve has been known to completely wrap clear tape around the pole, up at the end of the extensions, using both the parker tool and the ripper. It's time-consuming, but does work.

Removing Coursemarkers

Most markers can be removed with the narrow weed puller tool. Angled away from the pole (to avoid scratching the pole or scraping its paint), you can usually get the weed puller through the center of the duct tape loops, and pry them away from the pole.

The weed puller, angled toward the pole, will probably remove staples and stapled markers.

The cultivator (claw) is the last resort for pulling down reluctant markers. Some think it works better for quickly removing taped-on markers, as you don't need to get underneath the tape loops at all -- grab the top and yank.

Obviously, TRC wants no markers or shreds of markers left behind as litter, nor loops of tape left stuck to poles. A disposable box is a good waste receptacle in the car for the paper shreds and duct tape mess. A garbage bag works well, also.

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