Matchbox (part 2?)

I wanted to revisit my earlier post that introduced a model railway design that I had named “The Matchbox”. The vision for that design remains clear in my head but as I re-read that post I wonder if I could have done a better job of explaining the basic idea?

Hopefully, the following illustrations and text will be helpful.

matchbox2-1

Above is the basic idea. Borrowing a dimension inherited from a wall in our apartment, it’s footprint is six feet in length and nine inches deep. I’ve shaded in the major construction components to provide some initial bearings. For the sake of this exercise, let’s not get too bogged down in details like the size of individual elements and focus instead on how the design works.

“layout” (red)

As the name implies this is our diorama representing the complete scene; track, trains, and all. The complete area is scenicked and finished to a presentation standard.

“staging drawer” (brown)

Equal in area to the complete footprint of the layout, the staging drawer is deep enough to store rolling stock inside and is open along the top.

“fascia” (grey)

Wrapping around the exposed faces of the layout, the fascia covers the complete front expanse of the layout. When the layout is in the closed position, this completely hides the horizontal seam between the two layers and the secret buried deep inside.

matchbox2-2

“backdrop” (blue)

Equal in length to the layout and reaching to about twenty-four inches above the finished scene.

“valance” (black)

The valance frames the top of the layout and also contains the lighting rig.

“cassette style switching lead” (white)

Instead of storing the cars loose, they are pre-loaded onto cassette-style staging units. Complete cassettes are stored inside the staging area within this matchbox’s envelope.

The staging drawers, valance, and the backdrop remain fixed (e.g. “to the wall”). They do not move. So, in terms of how the layout changes during an operating session:

  1. The layout is opened up by sliding it out into the hallway
  2. A cassette (containing a train) is selected and lifted out of the staging drawer
  3. The cassette is attached to the end of the layout and left in place until the end of the operating session
  4. Once in place, the cassette bridges over the staging area
  5. At the end of the operating session, the cassette is returned to the staging drawing
  6. The layout is slid back into the original closed position

It’s really that simple.

Traditionally, a model railway remains fixed in place. If we need that extra length of track, we achieve it by adding to the layout by attaching staging to a free end like a pier jutting from the land out into the sea. In this case, I propose moving the layout out of the way to make room for the extra track we need. This is made easy by mounting the layout on a set of drawer slides built onto the top of the integral storage unit. It slides open and closed like a matchbox and in doing so, both reveals the trains stored inside and also evolves the plan from static diorama to operating model railway.

matchbox2-3 end drawer

As I noted, I based this idea around a plan that was six feet in length. At most, I would expect to only need to open it up to add about two feet of additional length (i.e. where that staging cassette is attached). That leaves a space at the other end of the board where a second drawer could be incorporated. It could be used to store more trains but I suspect it would be better utilized as a placed to store those tools I use most often.

matchbox2-4 front drawer

Instead of the drawer opening from the end, it could just as easily open from the front of the layout. If I were storing tools inside, this might actually be the better idea since it could open directly over my work table.

I find the idea of sliding the model railway around novel and amusing. What I find attractive about the plan isn’t so much borne of this amusement as it is the way that the design provides places to store extra models, tools, and materials. Typically these find places on shelving near the layout but they often look cluttered. In this design, they are tucked cleanly, invisibly inside. Between uses, all that is shown to the casual viewer is the model set.

Rick de Candido has written two really neat blog posts in which he presents some terrific suggestions on how staging cassettes could be built. He presents an idea that not only makes it easy to move an entire train but to do so in a way where the cars are protected while in flight. Even my modest cassettes are in the range of twenty-four inches in length and I feel that is approaching about as long a cassette I could safely maneuver without accidentally dumping everything on the floor. Check out Rick’s blog posts by clicking on this link: https://fillmoreavenueroundhouse.wordpress.com/2017/06/21/staging-cassette-mk2/

I’ve had a lot of fun playing around with these sketches. I hope this article has been useful in helping to further explain the idea.

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4 comments

  1. Terrific, Chris. You answered all y questions and a couple i didn’t ask. The graphics are extremely useful, and know where the drawer slides go completes the picture. If I have enough Foamcore lying around, I may mock it up in simplified form over the weekend.

    1. Boy, I’d sure like to see this mocked up Marshall.

      We get really busy with closing up the house and the big parts of the move in the couple of weeks. Otherwise I’d love to try a mockup of this myself.

      If you do, send pictures!

      Chris

  2. Hello Chris,

    Yes, this IS Brilliant!
    I have very much enjoyed reading your posts – I love stuff like this!

    I took one thing, though, entirely differently than you clarify in this post.
    It isn’t a design feature, but how one would operate with “The Matchbox”…

    Here you wrote that the staging cassette would remain in place during the whole operating session. Having read your first post only, I took the sliding matchbox feature to be more dynamic – once the train is on the layout, the cassette would be quickly dismounted, stored inside and the matchbox closed. This way the intrusion into the hallway would be minimized and the layout re-aligned to the backdrop scenery to continue ops. Then, when it was time for the train to depart: zip – open, mount the cassette, operate off-stage, dismount, zip-closed.

    Of course, if the cassette is needed as a drill track/switching lead, then having it in place is critical.

    In any case, I do love this idea and I think this would make a very successful design.
    At the very least, it would garner a lot of interest every time you operated it with guests.

    Many Thanks for taking the time to document it for us.

    With Very Best Wishes
    Rick

    1. Oh my gosh Rick, now that’s a cool interpretation of the idea: Only have the layout open long enough to bring stock onto or off the layout.

      Now that’s the power of sharing these ideas. It’s something I didn’t see in this idea. I like it.

      Thanks!

      Chris

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