Wouldn’t it be great if, under the layout, some shallow drawers were incorporated to house the “stuff” for the railway? I’ve been thinking about something like an artists toolbox with a pair of shallow drawers: one for control equipment and  some basic tools, and the other for storing stock not needed on the layout at this time.

If the railway is portable, this simple cabinet could be the base for the layout. This way when the railway is brought out to be worked on or operated the rest of the gear required for that time is ready. More importantly, I don’t want this same “stuff” scattered around our house.

Rene Gourley touched on this in a comment he made earlier and it bears establishing for good.



  1. If you can lay your hands on copies of the May, June and July 1976 issues of the Railway Modeller, you will see ideas for layouts on bookcases, with removable/ fold up lids, and such things as corner cupboards (with a 90degree curve on top) used for stock holding, etc.

    1. Thank you for the suggestions Simon. I will keep an eye our for those and wonder if they might be available digitally where I could buy copies?

      I do have one issue from a series of articles Paul Lunn wrote for RM in 2008 discussing similar locations for layouts. As that article shared space in the same issue as an Ian Futers article on a personal favourite layout (Victoria Street) I still have the issue and have it out to leaf through again.



  2. Chris this series of posts has been wonderful. There’s so much food for thought here.

    I think each of us has to answer the question of how are we willing to invest in this craft? People say it means a great to them, yet treat it casually. We let mediocrity slip in under the rationale that we have an “empire” to build and not everything can be done to a high standard. We further excuse it saying we’ll go back and upgrade later but seldom do.

    We’re more than happy to spend money on more rolling stock we don’t need but won’t spend money on the aesthetics that would greatly enhance the appearance or functionality of our modeling space.

    We’re happy to tolerate working in chaos, to spend precious modeling time searching for tools or supplies, when just a little time spent organizing or putting things away would enhance our sense of satisfaction with every work session. “Sorry, excuse the mess.” is a common refrain when visitors arrive to see our work.

    This craft involves work that is inherently messy at times, but the question is: does it have to be this way, or do we let ourselves off the hook by saying this is the norm?


    1. “Does it have to be this way” sounds like a classic line from an IKEA commercial. I wish I could say something like “I don’t think it has to be” and then cite an example from my life but I’m just as guilty on many counts including:
      – no fascia (because the exposed edge of a sheet of pink foam and some butt-joined plywood framing is every bit as pleasant to look at as some nice, clear-finished walnut or cherry…right?)
      – I was so excited to buy that kit and then got distracted…now it’s a part of the built environment of the layout.
      – I can see the scene in my head and now you can too…right?

      I guess the parallel to this goal is my kitchen. I like to cook about as much as I like model railways. Cooking is every bit as messy with sometimes irreversible consequences when things go wrong. I insist that I’ll never make anything worth eating in a place that’s a mess. My tools cost good money and deserved to be left in a place where they’ll be easy to find and, in between uses, will be protected from damage. It does take work to clean the place between uses but it looks like a kitchen from which you might like to eat and it smells like somewhere that good things happened, once, and maybe could again. If a guy like me can do this in the kitchen why can’t I on a small shelf layout?

      Back to the layout though.

      Certainly preparing the layout’s environs creates a nicer presentation for the guest but I think it offers something to the builder too. If the room looks inviting we’ll be among those that want to be in that place and stay long enough to become a part of it. This order might be as much to our own benefit as the guest’s.

      Perhaps all of these thoughts are in line with creating a place in which we can communicate the value of our work, to ourselves, and at the same time by taking care of the place we create somewhere where we give ourselves a chance to do some good too.



      1. To take the analogy a little further, what I see is a lot of people who effectively never clean up after a (modelling) meal. Indeed, they have several years’ worth of meals half-prepared around their modelling kitchens. They decide that the meal wasn’t going to be good after all, or they didn’t have all the ingredients, or something tastier came along; rather than putting it back in the fridge, they push everything to the end of the counter and start on another.

        Then, they post photos of their messy kitchens online in some sort of macho messy workbench contest! Strange.

        Everyone should define a meal size that works for them. For me, it is driven by my postings on my blog, which are kind of points in time when I’m shifting from one activity to another. When I post, I also clean up.

      2. That’s neat. I like the forced clean up to get the post ready. Not only does the posting schedule keep the pace of the project (I really enjoy following along on your build threads) but also the space is tidy since it just makes for a more professional view.


  3. I’ve been thinking really hard about under layout storage, including drawers. Right now I have a bunch of cheap bookshelves – some Ikea, some others – and they don’t look good and in many cases they aren’t appropriate anyway. I need somewhere to put the rolling stock not in use and drawers seem like the right solution.

    1. It occurred to me that storage incorporated in the layout serves not only to contain all the “stuff” that is a part of this hobby but also ensure (I hope!) that it’s all handy when I need it too.

      For example: fixing broken coupler springs might happen more frequently if they were right there when I needed them.



      1. When I find a defect like a drooping coupler I bad order it with a little form, then it gets parked and later forwarded for maintenance. More opportunities for operation!

      2. Chris, you may want to think about levels of storage. The things you use every day should be right there. The things that are used only occasionally can be in storage elsewhere in the house.

        Think about the kitchen. The toaster is on the counter, but the food processor (ours anyway) is shoved back under the cabinets. The cake pop maker (which only got used twice because it takes too much effort) is down in the basement.

        Back to the trains, most of my tools are in the drawers under my workbench, but the NWSL Chopper and Duplicutter are in a nearby drawer. My riveter lives in the cabinets above the layout (requires a stool). The rolling road that I use for working on engine mechanisms is actually in the attic.

      3. And again, I completely agree.

        At or near the layout I need the kind of tools I’d use for a 20 minute project. Sometimes I want to work on something (often, actually) but I just can’t be bothered to dig out the tools and stuff. If a basic kit could be more readily available I’d probably use it. Those sorts of tools are the ones that should be trackside. The rest can be far away and that’ll be okay.

        What we found, in the kitchen, was that it made so much sense when we managed that space according to how often we used the tools for convenience’s sake. In doing so we started to build some strong cases for just getting rid of those that we always thought we’d use and never did.


  4. Chris, I will go you one better.

    I purchased some storage racks from the Container Store. Mine are made of parts manufactured by ELFA. The racks can be in varying heights, and you can get mesh drawers in three depths. But it gets even better. You can get a small laminate top for the rack, and you can get casters for them too.

    So, I now have three racks. One is larger than the other two. The larger one serves as a rolling workbench for me. I can place it under one of the room lights, and work comfortably at a slightly higher level than my workbench, staining strip wood, for example. Also, when building projects get too large for the workbench, they go to the rolling table.

    ELFA makes labels for the drawers, and the racks have helped me organize 30 years of modeling stuff. Now when I need something for a project, it is SO much easier to hunt down a tool or a part. I hate to think how much time I used to waste doing this in the past.

    The smaller ones are handy during operating sessions. They provide a place to set down paperwork and place your throttle. I can move them about with me and the train as a rolling desk.

    If you wait until January, The Container Store has a sale on these items, making them much more affordable.

    Keith Hayes
    Leadville in Sn3

    1. These sound fantastic. Thanks for the tip.

      When you described using one as a portable workbench I thought of its potential for use, in that capacity, but also out in the public. Currently, I’m among the dining room table crowd of modelmakers so I’m not completely removed from the family if they’re in the living room but that extra measure of portability these offer would be quite neat.

      I keep referencing IKEA in these posts recently and I sure didn’t intend to but they had a cart that reminded me a lot of the ones I’d seen at a hospital where it was designed to fit under and over something, such as a bed. One they had, had a drawer just below the table surface and I’d thought it might work as well as the ones you’re describing.

      Using one of the carts during an operating session sounds really useful too. In that cart could live the basic tools to support running repairs on the line (fix a coupler, replace a wheelset) or carry some coffee or whatever the crew run on.

      These sound neat. Thanks Keith.


      1. Hmm, back to the location question again, I think you should think about how the elfa system works in the context of your home decorating. Would you buy it as a piece of furniture if it didn’t come with a layout? In my home, it would not fly, except in a closet.

        There are definitely systems that provide the flexibility you would want in a self-contained layout, but look more like finished furniture than a storage system.

        The nice thing about elfa, though, is that it is rack-mounted. That means you have a ready-made way to build cabinets above the layout as well as below. I put a bunch of infrequently-accessed stuff up there (like detail parts), and retain the lower cabinets for the stuff I use every day.

        One thing to watch out for: you want the top of the storage system to be open so that you can get at the underside of the layout from beneath (perhaps by pulling out some drawers or taking books off shelves).

      2. I’m wondering how others with smaller (to micro) sized layouts in equally small spaces manage the extra stuff of the hobby.

        When we have a full basement at our disposal it’s easy to hang on to ties after track-laying is done or those extra detail parts after the project is complete but if you’re living in a small space finding the room anywhere might not be a possibility at all.

        I have attic space that I can stuff things into but it’s a pain to get to and in reality we have started to equate putting something up there with just getting rid of it since things that go into that space just never come out and if we’re never going to use it why keep it?

        In considering a storage system, like the ELFA example Keith suggested, it would have to work with the room it’s in long before I assess its viability as potential layout ready.

        I had the luxury of trying a couple of different benchwork studies and placing them in either our living or dining room. Doing this provided some really tactile examples of how well an idea did or didn’t look and it’s based on that experience I know that I want something more more initimately integrated than what I’d created.


      3. It’s interesting how this series of questions interrelate, including the one about scale. The space required by unbuilt kits in O scale is greater than that required by similar kits in N scale. Even the tools may be larger for O scale, and the space required to wield them is certainly bigger.

        Having said that, small spaces require discipline. You can’t live in one of those Tiny Houses if you’re not ruthless about your possessions. Similarly, modelling in a small house means that you have to be disciplined about tool and model purchases. Where, oh where is the lathe going to live?

        Personally, I’m not especially good at this. I have a box of unbuilt kits just like everyone else (it lives in the attic). It’s even worse, because the unbuilt kits aren’t even useful for my current endeavour; they mostly represent moments when I wish I could just open a box and get something running with minimal effort. I have a box of unbuilt kits awaiting minimal effort. Maybe it is time for a garage sale.

      4. I’m gaining so much from this series and I’m equally fascinated with both the directions it takes and also the way it overlaps. I hoped I could help define the layout by its environs and my own expectations regarding its use. To that end, I feel I’m making progress in ways I can really appreciate. If everything works out, traditional questions about the track design and where the station goes just fall naturally out of these truly bigger thoughts…I hope.

        It’s almost too obvious to even delve into but the choice of scale is certainly threaded throughout this discussion. If I can draw on observations and use them to fuel an assumption, many of us are making the choice of scale based on a survey of the hobby shop shelves or the Walthers catalogue instead of how well it works for their goals, needs..realities. Naturally, my eyes don’t get better or worse or the selection of a certain type of model does not change in direct relation to how much space I have to offer for a layout, time to build models, or what presentation style appeals most to me; I’m curious to map the space between these considerations at least for my own interests.

        Krista and I have been thinking a lot about our approach to housing and our future with regard to that question. We’re certainly on the road to something smaller and smaller still. How small is a function of how well we understand the trappings of our lives. We’re both quite passionate and committed to that trajectory so while there are times when purging one thing or another feels ruthless I can understand “why” and see the choice and the value of my response to it. It’s been hard, at times, to part with some models but my memory of them remains and maybe was always of more value than the model was ever going to be.



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