The Matchbox


Image from Anagoria and found in Wikipedia and used under Creative Commons.

Closed, the matchbox is a advertisement for a brand. It’s entire surface area is dedicated to that statement. We know that there are matches inside and we don’t need to see them to trust that they’re there waiting for us to use. I like this simplicity and have always thought the simple matchbox was among the more brilliant ideas we’ve presented as a means of packaging a product.

A model railway exists in two states: One where it’s a static diorama and tells a story by presentation of details alone and a second state where it comes alive as a piece of kinetic sculpture. How can its design favour the very different design criteria to better serve those very different demands, basically: That shelf isn’t going to get longer just because I need more track to run a train on.

Or could it? Presented above are a pair of pages I’ve taken from my sketchbook based on an idea that I’ve been thinking about, based on a classic matchbox.


The “scene” is the identify of the layout. In between uses, the entire available area is made available to casting the scene in which the railway is set. To create enough space for the scene I have truncated the plan just in front of the turnout. This isn’t a problem since, in this state, our ideal is presentation and not operation.


When it is time to use the model railway to support operation, the scene slides to reveal a tray that resides under the layout itself. That tray can be used to store extra rolling stock pre-loaded onto storage cassettes. Those cassettes could be added as a bridge over top of the tray that connects to the track on the layout to add to the available length of track in the scene and provide enough room for a train to reach into either of the sidings.

In truth, this isn’t an entirely revolutionary idea. Removable storage cassettes that clip onto the end of the scene feel as established an idea as the hobby of model railways itself. Their traditional design in fact would be simpler to engineer than what I’m presenting so what makes this idea intriguing to me?

We could divide the available room to provide a staging area aside the scenic section. However, we’re taking space we need simply to invest it for storing stuff we’re not using. Further, to the audience, I’m worried that we wind up telling both stories in the same voice. I think that can prove visually confusing.

By hiding the extra rolling stock within the layout’s envelope I don’t need more room than the layout occupies simply to store the cars. Also, they’re afforded a bit more protection from the world buried deep inside compared to being on a shelf mounted on the wall or in their factory boxes stored somewhere else.

This storage space itself could and should store more than just the trains. I’d place the layout’s control system in here and even the basic modelling tools required for typical modelmaking. I could easily see enough room in this hidden space for some knives, sanding sticks, tweezers, and the usual kit.

Matchbox Sketch5

In this plan the backdrop and lighting valance are static. They don’t move with the layout. This too is deliberate. When I’m operating a train on it my attention is on dividing cars between the various car spots indicated on the plan A-B-C-D-E but likely where I need light so I can see to couple and uncouple cars or read data from a car’s side I’m standing, fairly stationary, around F-D-E.

The local art store sells wooden trays intended to be used for painting in the same way we’d use a stretched canvas. I could see two of those, face each other to form the top and bottom halves of the layout with a set of simple drawer slides acting as the means of moving the layout for operation. (These trays come in sizes up to 12×48″).

I don’t know if this is an idea that I’ll tease out much further but it is something that I’ll refer back to. In a few weeks, we finally move into our apartment and it’ll be time to start seriously exploring some exciting new venues for the layout to live in. Having posts like this on hand will be fun to refer back to.



Categories: How I think, My Favourite Prince Street

12 replies


  2. Keep having those design conversations while driving with Krista!

    Box Street, Prof. Klyzlr, BCNPete, Mike Cougill’s original Richmond, Indiana, and yet all your own.

    Elaborate, please.

    • I’m having one of my over-thinking moments and your comment “Elaborate, please.” is intriguing. Now I’m curious… Chris

      From: Prince Street To: Sent: Friday, June 16, 2017 7:26 AM Subject: [Prince Street] Comment: “The Matchbox” #yiv0803767504 a:hover {color:red;}#yiv0803767504 a {text-decoration:none;color:#0088cc;}#yiv0803767504 a.yiv0803767504primaryactionlink:link, #yiv0803767504 a.yiv0803767504primaryactionlink:visited {background-color:#2585B2;color:#fff;}#yiv0803767504 a.yiv0803767504primaryactionlink:hover, #yiv0803767504 a.yiv0803767504primaryactionlink:active {background-color:#11729E;color:#fff;}#yiv0803767504 | | |

  3. Hi Chris,
    Apologies for my short reply last night….

    I think it is a brilliant concept; I wanted some time to consider it more. I like things that go into neat packages and this is very much so.

    One thing that is particularly attractive is how you show (in the sketches: 2 “ORIENTATION” and 3 “CRAZY IDEA”) the matchbox traversing into the hallway/room space. This, of course, is temporary; only for a short time during operations for staging. But the design cleverly takes advantage of this space, and very respectfully.

    A layout such as this could fit into a small space easily. By “fit”, I don’t mean dimensionally, but rather how it integrates with the rest of the décor of the room. In the static state (as you aptly describe) it could be viewed as an interesting object of three-dimensional art, like any other. But it also has a convenient and practical function like any other household appliance.

    Cassettes seem to always be an easy answer. However, I have not seen a design that truly captures the model(s) securely while the cassette is being handled while at the same time easily “frees” them when needed. But, this could be just another puzzle within the puzzle.

    This would make for a very interesting project.

  4. The concept is clear. What needs elaboration for me is the mechanical operation and the construction.

    In forming the extended version of the scene, does the diorama slide aside on a fixed base or does the base slide open from the fixed diorama like a drawer? Or to use the original metaphor, does the matchbox slide off the match drawer or does the match drawer slide out the end of the box?

    If the latter, how are the stock drawer and the top of the base articulated? Is the top hinged to the stock drawer or is it a “double drawer”, in which the stock drawer slides forward after the layout is extended?

    I am finding that even asking the questions is difficult because the concept is novel enough that I don’t quite have language to describe it. Perhaps I need a Rube Goldberg or Heath Robinson illustration: “When modeler “A” slides Extension “B” , it provides access to Stock Drawer “C” etc.

    How would you build it? Foamcore a la Prof. Klyzlr or BCN Pete seems logical at least for a first pass, but how would you hang the lighting valence? It would be easy enough if the whole thing sat on a shelf in a wall mount system because a higher shelf could support the valence, but I don’t know how to do it easily otherwise. You could do it as a shadow box like “Kyle” but that’s a lot more intrusive than you or your wife are likely to have in mind.

    Anyway, I love it the way I love Riley Triggs’ three dimensional staging or “Kyle.” They push the state of my thinking about the art.

  5. Great idea – and I really like what Rick De Candido has done in response to this post with his post on staging cassettes, here:
    – Trevor (Port Rowan in 1:64)


  1. STAGING CASSETTE – Fillmore Avenue Roundhouse
  2. Matchbox (part 2?) | Prince Street
  3. Back to the matchbox | Prince Street
  4. The broken view / the overlap | Prince Street

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