PAGE 81a – January 2009


One irresistible urge for designers of small layouts is the excitement of building working railways in small, enclosed

containers. Here are a group of splendid examples — ranging from coffee tables to cake safes, cookie tins and more!




Will Vale, from Wellington, New Zealand, built Bahnhof Igelfeld in an old guitar case, as a birthday

present for his father, Robert (above left). It’s a Z scale line, measuring 1020x320mm (40×12½in), just wide

enough for the smallest Märklin curves at 145mm (5.7in) radius. The track plan is a scenic oval with one siding.

Will comments, “I tried to create a Nebenbahn (branch line) feel rather than cram in lots of trackage as seems sometimes

to be the trend with suitcase layouts. It was fun trying to get sensible scenery into the relatively limited vertical

space though. To test this aspect I installed all the trees, closed the lid, opened it and removed any which were bent

over at the top!”

The layout was first displayed to the public at Railex 2008 in Wellington last September (see Scrapbook #80)… Will is shown in the large

photo, at the far left behind Gavin Sowry’s right elbow, engrossed in operating Bahnhof Igelfeld). Believe it

or not, this was the first layout Will had ever completed! “I think building something which you can carry with one

hand and having a deadline completely fixed in stone were big helps in completing this,” he declares. For more, see

his Photo Gallery.




Portable Stage

Henrik Laurell, from Gothenburg, Sweden, has created an unusual container. His original vision was to design a

“box with just lights and a blue background. In this box I will then put replaceable layout sheets for each new layout

I want to build. By doing so I can have as many layouts as I want, but each extra layout will only take up storage

space needed for a sheet standing up on its side. I think it’s a great idea for anyone who has space problems but

wants more than one layout.” In effect, Henrik has developed a portable stage for model layouts!

He continues, “One rather simple box contains only lights and a blue background. Then different ‘cassette’ layouts are

built to put inside. The big advantage is that each new layout will occupy only a few square inches of storage space.

Also, since construction is mostly thin plywood, the box is very light and easy to transport. If you have no room for

extras, store them on top of the lightbox. Each building-flat, tree or other scenic object should be loose, so you can

pile them up until you reach the roof.

“My example (below) is huge because I build in 7/8n18 scale (1:13.7), but your scale and layout size can be

whatever meets your needs. Finally, be sure to use Daylight fluorescent lamps, they are as close to outdoor light as

you can get.” (See Scrapbook #60 for

more lighting tips.)
Portable Stage Portable Stage

HO Russian layout HO Russian layout

HO Russian layout

Alexander Shustov, from Puchino in the Moscow Region of Russia, has built two “pizza” layouts that fit into

cookie tins. The HO scale layout measures 26cm (10¼in) in diameter and features a

working semaphor signal. The scenery depicts a “Russian little country railroad”, and the cookie tin is from Denmark.

Track is Roco flex track. Pub habitués wlll have no trouble translating the sign identifying the contents of the

barrel car!

Alexander’s Z scale layout (photos below) is 13cm (5.1in) in diameter. The locomotive and track are Märklin,

and the water tower is made from cardboard. A versatile modeler, Alexander also works in TT scale, along with HO and

Russian Z layout Russian Z layout

trolley in a knitting case wild1

trolley line in knitting case wild4

Meanwhile in the U.K. an old knitting machine case (bottom right), found at a garage sale, became the container

for a tram (trolley) layout built by Brian Wild. He writes, “The case is 39 inches long by 9 inches wide so I

limited things to just a a single track. The aim was to see if I could build a working trolley reverser… I made a

simple backscene based on photos of terraced houses near where I live here in the UK and added some accessories to

show a small street market. I normally model my trams in OO (4mm to the foot) scale, but I had to make this layout HO

scale so as to get the traction poles short enough that the case would actually shut. As my tram models were all OO

scale I had to motorise a Matchbox Preston Tram which is actually HO scale.

“After much fiddling with the overhead wires I managed to get a tram to shuttle back and forth along the layout using

an automatic timer with the poles reversing themselves at each end.” The (enhanced) close-up view of the overhead

wires at one end of Brian’s layout shows how the automatic pole reversal works. The key is the

triangle of wires reaching left from the main line wire. The tram pulls to the end of the line, then backs through the

assembly, with the pole moving through the frog and veering to the left as the tram continues forward. The pole

follows the wires through the rear frog, and then is pulled forward, back to the main line, as the tram continues on

its way. This is a considerable modeling feat… congratulations, Brian!

Cake safe layout cake safe layout

William Baldwin, from Los Osos, California, USA, was inspired by the interest in his trains shown by his

visiting daughter-in-law, Sally. William explains, “She has a new grandson who visits here often so Sallyville

Transit Co. serving the Mt. Aidan Wildlife Area came into being. Hopefully the cake cover will allow the layout to

survive for at least a little while. It is powered by a D cell battery pack for both safety and portability. A few

train swap meets produced the trolley, and a garage sale provided the cake safe.” The layout is 10½in in diameter, N


Tiny HOn30 micro Tiny HOn30 micro

Laid up with a hip injury, Joshua Wolfe, from Shippensburg, Pennsylvania, USA, passed some of the time by

building this tiny HOn30/HOe layout, Northpoint Yard. It measures 3x8in (76x203mm) and fits into an HO track

box. The setting is rural New England. The tiny HOn30 steam engine enters from the hidden fiddle yard, is fueled at

the tank and departs back into the fiddle yard.

hughes1Box file layout

The ever-inventive Bob Hughes, from Sandbach, Cheshire UK, has produced Foxbaile, an anagramatic version

of the “boxfile” in which it’s made. At right, the diagrams show the evolution of the OO plan, which started as a

full-fledged station layout and was gradually cut shorter and shorter until the smaller plan (far right)

resulted, with the remainder consigned to our imaginations and represented by a fiddle yard.

The fiddle yard itself is somewhat unorthodox, in that it’s basically a Peco Loco Lift supported at each end by a

section of track (right photos)—one end being part of the layout, protruding slightly from the boxfile, and the

other a simple length of track with electric power attached. The power is relayed to the layout by the Loco Lift,

which bridges the gap. For more information about this railway, see its thread at RMWeb.


box file layout box file layout

box file layout
Pleased with the results of squeezing a station into a boxfile, Bob proceeded to raise the ante and tried out an O

scale layout in a video cassette box! Granted, it’s an O9 layout, representing an 18-inch gauge prototype by using 9mm

track, but it actually is 7mm scale in a pint-sized container! The VHS box measures approximately 7x4in (18x10cm).
Video Box layout Video Box layout

Apparently the game of squeezing ever-larger scales into increasingly smaller containers is spreading beyond Mr.

Hughes. Shown below on exhibition are Foxbaile (at the right and described above) beside a 7mm standard-gauge

layout using the same plan in the same sized boxfile! The (unnamed) O scale model was built by Jordan Foster,

Cradley Heath, West Midlands, England.
Side by side box file layouts

Said Jordan, “I’m going to try and use the lid as a loading dock, for vehicles to back up to wagons and tip their

loads (scrap or coal/ore/ballast) into the wagons on the straight track… I’ve finished the sides of the boxfile with

‘brick walls’ taken from a free Internet ‘Textures’ site,

printed onto ordinary paper and laminated to keep out the damp. These will be matt-varnished when the glue has dried

fully… I need to make a small cassette ‘fiddle siding’, which will have the power supply… It’s certainly taken off

rather more than I anticipated when I first stuck those bits of track inside it for a laugh!”
O scale box file layout foster2

[Note to U.S. Modelers: Box Files are cardboard boxes measuring roughly 12x9x3in (30x23x7.6cm), used in British

and European offices to store correspondence and other documents written on A4 sheets of paper. They are virtually

unknown in the U.S. where file drawers have traditionally been used for this purpose, and more recently, digital


Clark's shoebox layout cockburn-clark2

Clark’s Yard is an N scale layout built in a shoebox by Andrew Cockburn, from Tyne & Wear, England.

The name derives from the fact that the old box was from Clark’s shoes. It measures just 23×8½in (58x22cm), including

a small shunting spur/fiddle siding, which makes the layout completely self-contained.

Andrew comments, “The track plan is very similar to the Inglenook Sidings design. The layout is freelance industrial

shunting, with a private siding serving a small factory and warehouse, while a small goods/coal yard adds to

operational interest. Most of the buildings are scratch built from balsa, plastikard and brick/stone sheet, while one

or two kit-built structures are also in evidence along with essential small details such as people, cars, and the


“The layout took about a month to build, and despite its diminutive stature and simple track plan, some basic but

interesting shunting operations are possible. It is also of course very portable, and makes an ideal space-filler, and

also perhaps a good ‘desktop toy.’ It may also serve as a source of inspiration for the modeller who is really space-

Box File N layout cockburn-filey2

Andrew’s next attempt (his third) at a self-contained N scale shunting layout is Filey Yard, built in two

boxfiles joined together in a wooden framework and measuring about 2x1ft (60x30cm). The track plan is similar to

Clark’s Yard, but adds a kick-back siding at the front edge, to make operations more complex and interesting.

Andrew declares, “The layout features a private siding serving a factory, a small goods/coal yard and also a small

steam-turned-diesel shed to add a bit more operational interest… As with Clark’s Yard the setting is the BR

blue period of about late 70’s-early 80’s. Filey Yard took about six months to construct, and I have to say it

has given me a lot of pleasure both in construction and operation, and I also hope to exhibit it in the not-too-

distant future.”

Coffee table railway Coffee Table Layout

Darren Baker, who lives in Ettalong Beach, New South Wales, Australia, built this “double eight” N-scale layout

in a 1200x600mm (47.2×23.6in) coffee table. And yes, that is one very long freight train you can see in the photos!

There’s lots more pictures of Darren’s layout on his Flickr page and in his YouTube video.

Another coffee table layout

Coffee-table layouts seem to be in vogue again this year—here’s another good example from Johnny Bakane, in

Louisville, Kentucky, USA. Pine Ridge portrays the D&RGW in Colorado’s Pinecliff area and Moffat Tunnel

district. As Johnny puts it, “My layout is 18x39in [45x100cm], complete with a blasted rock wall, a pass through a

valley, tunnel through a mountain, coal mine, two switches, a diamond crossing and a truck terminal.” And there’s also

a YouTube video to be seen.

Sideboard layout

Sideboard layout

Martin Akehurst, who lives in Henley-on-Thames, Oxfordshire, England, was faced with the common problem of lack

of space. He decided to make some “specialist furniture” to handle the issue. The result is pictured here. Martin

decribes it this way: “The two sideboard (cabinet) tops convert into a running track and fiddle yard, with a cutout to

enable me to sit when in use. The whole is made out of 3/8in hardwood veneer faced chipboard. The top hinges back on

two long ‘piano hinges’—so far so good.” Martin plans a UK Great Western and London Undergound layout in EM gauge to

be housed in this grand container. Watch for developments!

Braces Box layout Braces Box layout

Frequent contributor Richard Glover, a long-time active member of the Greenwich & District Narrow Gauge

Railway Society in England, can tell the unlikely story of the braces-box layout better than anyone: “In 2004 I

decided to make a very small layout to take to Expométrique [an annual, narrow-gauge exhibition in France]. Other

G&D members had built layouts in shoeboxes, so I looked for something smaller and chose a box which had contained

braces (for trousers). [Americans call them ‘suspenders’.]

“The available space was 24.5×13.5×4.5cm [9½x5x1¾in]. I built the OO9 model on a rectangle of thin MDF, using Peco N

Gauge Set Track with alternate sleepers removed to represent the lightweight ‘tinplate style’ track often used on

simple narrow gauge lines.

“I ran out of time to complete the model, which is why some buildings are still card mock-ups and only a part of the

ground is covered with stone setts. I named the model O’Donoghue’s Superior Sanitary Ware after my good friend

Chris O’Donoghue, who was a potter at the time. [Chris is now a prize-winning garden designer and also a contributor

to these pages.]

“The little Ruston loco shunted back and forth and coupled and uncoupled the wagon for all three days of Expométrique.

I attempted to provide suitable loads by modelling sinks and other ceramic products in modelling clay. However, on the

final day the loco gave a puff of smoke and expired with a burntout motor. I was able to keep on running with a spare

loco, but this one was too tall to pass through the doors on either side. So it would only have been of limited use in

real life!

“Sadly, I never did finish the model, so it exists today just as you can see it in these photos.” Thank you, Richard,

for flushing out some information about this little-known chapter of micro layout history!



Empire State Engineeringcortes2

Jorge Cortes, from the Bronx, New York City, USA, has just started building the Empire State Engineering

Co., but as you can tell by the name, he has great plans for it. Jorge comments, “The layout represents part of an

engineering works that manufactures heavy equipment, silos for industrial plants and structural steel parts. Its being

built in a shoebox that I found in the trash, and it measures 13½x7½in [34x19cm].

“Traffic on the layout will move from the bottom left hand interchange track to the upper left siding for spotting,

via a Peco Loco Lift on the right side of the layout. The fiddle yard on the left will be foldable so it fits in the

box for storage and travel. The tracks on top will extend through the building on the left and out the box for more

spots. The time frame for the layout will be the 1950’s to the early 1980’s, so a wide variety of locomotives and cars

can be used.”

Watch for further progress.



Chris Coetzer, who lives in South Africa’s Gauteng province and is a member of the local N Scale Guild of South

Africa, built his first Z scale layout after he found an old pneumatic-instrument calibrator case while cleaning out

his workshop. It was perfect for a Z scale set up, measuring 445x320x150mm [17.5×12.6×5.9in]. He named the layout

Tassenberg, which in his home language means case or suitcase (‘tas’) and mountain (‘berg’).

Chris reports, “I spent about 60 hours altogether on the project. The track is Märklin, and so are the locomotive and

rolling stock. I bought a Zthek Snail Speed Controller on

E-bay for the layout and must commend them, because it is a great little controller. A 9v battery lasts amazingly long

and you can really run a loco at a snail’s pace.”
Briefcase layout Briefcase layout

Guitar box layout

Guitar box layout Guitar box layout box

We started this page with an excellent layout built in a guitar box, and we’ll end with another. Mike Allred, from

Norco, California, USA, built the Lydia Branch in a guitar shipping box that measures 41×15½in (104x39cm). According

to Mike, “This N scale micro-layout represents the end point of a small branch line which serves the town of Lydia;

hence ‘The Lydia Branch.’ The era is sometime in the autumn of 1972… My layout is a switching layout. After being so

used to larger layouts with long main line runs, I was surprised to learn how much time I could spend just switching

cars. If there are more than three cars ‘in the box’ at any one time, engine movements require some advance thought!

“I’ve been pleasantly surprised to learn just how much detail I can place in a micro layout without looking overly

busy. All it takes is a little planning and a little thinking ‘outside the box’ (pardon the pun…I just couldn’t

resist!). Another plus: all these photos were taken with the advantage of outdoor sunlight, something I was never able

to achieve with large pikes. Photography is greatly simplified with a micro-layout.

” Finally, the layout is covered and slid under the bed when not in use.” For more information and photos of this

delightful little line, see Mike’s website.
Guitar box layout Guitar box layout allred4

Carl Arendt

Webmaster Carl Arendt died on March 4, 2011 in Olympia, Washington. Carl came to Pittsburgh to attend Carnegie Mellon where he graduated with a degree in physics and met Sheila, his wife of 49 years. Carl started work for Westinghouse Electric Corporation where he spent his entire career. During this time, he and Sheila raised their three sons. Following retirement from Westinghouse, Carl threw himself into the world of micro-railroading. In 2002 he started this web site, and authored three books on the subject. This web site attracted a large worldwide following, and Carl built up a collection of friends who came to know and respect him even though most had never met him in person. Such was his personality that it shone through across the ether. He and Sheila moved to Olympia in 2009 to be close to their son Giles and his family, where Carl enjoyed time with his three grandchildren. His wit, erudition, and creativity made this true gentleman a joy to be with, in both the real and the virtual world. This site is a trove of microlayout ideas and examples, and so long as it continues will keep Carl's memory alive and further the hobby he loved.

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