About us

In response to many requests for information about how and when this site got started and what it’s for, here is a FAQ with more details than you really wanted to know. Here’s an inside peek at Micro/Small Layouts for Model Railroads (M/SLMR).

When did the site start, and why?

From the Introduction to my first book, 52 Micro Layouts You Can Build (2002):

“[In early 2001] I launched a project to see how small a model railroad layout could shrink and still be fun to operate. I designed and built the Squarefoot Estate Railway, a working G scale line in less than one square foot. I described it on the Internet and began to hear from people who also wanted to try their hands at building an ultra-small operating layout. Interest snowballed almost immediately.

“We dubbed them ‘micro layouts,’ and I started adding examples — both my own and other peoples’ — to my website [in January 2002]. I reckoned there would be maybe 10 or 15 layout possibilities in these extremely small sizes. I was astounded when the total collection passed 25 … then 50 … 75 … and grew beyond 100 different layouts! It’s still growing, and I’m still amazed and delighted at the ingenuity and imagination of model railroaders worldwide.”

Why is the site now called “Micro/Small Layouts”?

[This section added November 2006]

There are lots of good layout ideas that don’t fit into a four-square-foot format. To include them, the site’s emphasis has been shifting from the canonical micro layout to more generally “small” layouts, loosely defined as up to about 4×6 feet (1200x1800mm) in size. My monthly e-magazine, Small Layout Scrapbook, covers all small layouts and has become the principal growth area on the site. It often comes out twice a month in order to present the wealth of material that continues to pour in from all over the world.

As a result, in November 2006 I changed the name of the site from Micro Layouts for Model Railroads to Micro/Small Layouts for Model Railroads.

How big is the site?

[This section updated December 2009]

The website continues to grow. As of 12 December 2005 there were 543 individual layouts on the site, by actual count. By early 2008, there were more than 1,000 layouts in all, and in December 2009 the total number is about 1,500.

This number includes the 250 plans in the completed Micro Layout Design Gallery and the entire, continually-growing archive of Small Layout Scrapbook (monthly e-zine) issues since May 2002, plus a number of in-depth Small Layout Articles.

Because we were seeing so many good ideas that required a space larger than four square feet, the Micro Layout Design Gallery was topped out and frozen at 250 plans in June 2004. There are 65 contributors from 14 countries on five continents represented in this amazing collection, which someone described as “full of exceedingly creative concepts for getting the most bang out of the least space.”

What’s with “Carl Arendt at His Peek™”?

[This section added December 2009]

The “Peek” line dates from the very beginnings of my website, in 1996. Originally the site was a collection of “things” that I thought interesting or amusing. A series of peeks, so to speak. Gradually model railroads, especially micro layouts, crept in, until in 2001 they took over! But the tag line remained as a remembrance of the site’s origins… and because it fits with the theme of a Scrapbook.

The photo is not a fake… it really is my eye, peering through the door of a 7/8-inch scale boxcar that I built back in ’01. The figure is one of Carlo Spirito’s wonderful 7/8″ scale (1:13.7) figures.

What is a “micro layout”?

From the beginning, “micro layouts” have been defined as “small model railroads, usually less than three or four square feet in area, that nonetheless have a clear purpose and excellent operating capability.”

The prescribed layout size is more a state of mind than a rigid dimension, although “four square feet or less” (“under 3600 square centimeters”) has become the canonical size for a micro, regardless of scale. What distinguishes these layouts from simple dioramas is the requirement for “excellent operating capability”. These are working railroads, not just display scenes or tail-chaser loops.

Note that, in addition to micro layouts, this site now covers all minimum-space layouts up to 4x6ft (120x180cm) in area.

Why would anyone want to build a small layout?

Advantages of micro/small layouts include:

  • They’re small enough to complete in a reasonable period of time;
  • They’re small enough to be reasonable in cost;
  • They’re small enough to permit detailing to the nth degree;
  • They’re often small enough to take with you to train meets and parties;
  • They need very little space and are easy to store;
  • And last but not least, they’re a lot of fun!

Is publishing the site a big job?

Yes. I’m the only M/SLMR employee, and I spend several hours every day on correspondence dealing with the website, often in several languages. Preparing and posting the material also takes considerable additional time and effort.

But it’s well worth it. Many people have been involved in “spreading the word” about small layouts, but I’m proud that this site has acted as a headquarters, storm center, and above all a source of inspiration for people who find new hobby enjoyment in building and operating small layouts.

How do you know the site’s a success?

[This section edited December 2009]

First, our statistics measure our success in attracting and holding readers. The site is currently receiving over 2000 unique visitors a day (around 70,000 per month). During a typical month, visitors come from 70 or more countries around the world. We welcomed our two-millionth visitor in October 2009.

Increasingly the site is being cited in the model press:

In Railroad Model Craftsman (July 2009) Jim Martin wrote, “If you want to be inspired, amused and amazed, visit Carl’s huge website at www.carendt.com. Carl has become the doyen of micro layouts.”

Also in RMC for August 2009, Vince Pugliese wrote, “Anyone interested in the fascinating world of micro layouts (complete layouts in as small a space as possible) is strongly urged to visit Carl Arendt’s website (www.carendt.com)—the place to learn about this fascinating subject.”

In Model Railroader (September 2009) Brian Rudko wrote, “Carl has gathered together a worldwide community that shares track plans and ideas.”

And of course, in Model Railroader (April 2005) Lionel Strang listed this site as one of the “Top 10 web sites in model railroading.”

This site has also shown an influence around the world. For example the largest British narrow-gauge exhibition, ExpoNG held in Kent in October 2004, featured a contest for shoebox layouts overtly inspired by this website.

Our influence has also crept into Expométrique, the French narrow-gauge and secondary-line show held in Paris in December (now called Railexpo as of 2007). In 2005 the shoebox entries were dubbed “Arendtiennes”, and one French correspondent told me, referring to this website, “Vous êtes une référence en France.” (I think he meant that the site is now a recognized authority in the field.)

More important, magazine coverage of small layouts has generally increased significantly over the past few years, a trend that I hope will grow and prosper in the years ahead. As an example, during 2009 at least three major articles about layouts 4x2ft or smaller appeared in the two major U.S. modeling publications, RMC and MR.

Three articles of mine about micro layouts appeared in 2005 and 2006 issues of Scale Rails/NMRA Bulletin magazine, published by the U.S. National Model Railroad Association (NMRA). The articles attracted many favorable comments.

But my most important gauge of success is the e-mail I receive from model railroaders around the world, who report they have found new ways to enjoy their hobby with very small layouts. A good example of this sentiment, representative of hundreds of messages I receive, came from R.P. in Connecticut USA:

“Keep up the great work. You have put
a lot of the fun back in model railroading!”

That’s the stuff that keeps me going and makes it all worthwhile! Thank you all!

Carl Arendt

Olympia, Washington, USA

December 2009