Planning

layout planning notes

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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The Matchbox

003_Welthölzer_anagoria

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.

Matchbox1

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.

Matchbox2

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.

Cheers,

Chris

All things must pass

allthingsmustpass v1-1

The model railroad, designed for operation, where you don’t model either end of the industrial process it is supposed to represent and really only provide enough stage to host an extract of the operating session. Just enough to model the bit I’m interested in:

  1. Engine enters the stage from “C” and moves through the scene to exit at “B”
  2. “B” represents a place where loaded hoppers are retreived. I’m not interested in modelling how they are loaded I just need them to come from somewhere to support the play. Further, by excluding this scene from the layout it can be greatly reduced to only a single track where I add or remove cars from the layout instead of a complex yard of tracks, cars, and scenery – all of which distracts from the purpose of the plan and the intent of the experience.
  3. With the engine shoving from the tail end, a string of hoppers is shoved through the scene. Even though only one motion in one direction, it’s a dance of delicate steps: feeding in enough throttle to maintain inertia but not so much as to break traction on the rails.
  4. Cars are fed into an unloader of some sort located at “A”. Again, not interested in building a model of this and don’t feel I need to.
  5. Repeat from step 1.

Just sawing back and forth through the scene and enjoying just how good it feels to watch and listen to well-made models in action. Not that it demands more detail, but from another page in the sketchbook, I found this page providing some additional detail for the typical operating session:

allthingsmustpass v2

The length of the operating session is determined by the amount of time I feel like attending. When retrieving hoppers, it is just running across the stage. When shoving them through the unloader though, even though the actual unload point is off-stage and not modelled the act of feeding cars through it one at a time is a very important part of the operating session.

  1. The train rests, all three cars and an engine of it, on stage
  2. Grab a notch on the throttle to shove the first hopper into the unloader.
  3. Pause while it’s unloaded and then shove the second into place…then the third. With
  4. With all three now unloaded move back to staging.
  5. Return with as many hoppers need to be unloaded next or if this is a day where we only received three hoppers, bring the engine home and go get on with life.

In terms of reference, the operating session looks one heck of a lot like the second half of this video:

And the sound and look of that little engine is a lot like this:

Leafing through the pages of a notebook I found some sketches of a little model railway layout I had on my mind a while ago. In terms of place, I had a vision of the sort of place that was only barely nimble enough to stay one stride ahead of a future that had already overtaken most of its neighbours.

morley_sask_plan_view

The simple layout plan consists of partial models of only three structures and a small amount of track. It can be “operated” by adding a staging area to each end. It isn’t the plan that fired my imagination but more the presentation of it that I still find rather attractive.

morley_sask_front_view

The entire layout should be built inside a shadow box. Rather than simply opening up the front completely, I wanted to use silhouettes based on the shape of the grain elevators to control the view into the scene. The colours on the layout would be golds and greens in the scenery and browns in the structures. A fading blue sky leads off across the background, far enough that “you could watch your dog running away for days”. The entire front fascia, including those structure silhouettes, is treated with the same finish. Something without texture and perhaps the whole face is painted grey. Grey for the way it doesn’t take away from the scene and further frames it as it each peeks around edges. When trains are moving, their movement isn’t always fully on display and we have to look around and in between those elevators to see the train. Perhaps an operating session isn’t made more “interesting” by adding more car moves but by exploring the different views of the train as it goes about its business?

The layout has its own integral lighting rig providing more than enough light to very comfortably see what you are doing while operating the layout. In between operating sessions this same light frames those silhouettes – even from across the room it’s easy to see what this scene is about: grain.

morley_sask_end_view

Just as the front of the box is cut out to create silhouette views of the grain elevators I played with ideas to similarly frame the view down the line and along the layout. An old tree growing by the station softens the left line of the frame and the right side might use the gable end profile from a grain bin. Peering down the line, our view is framed by the station and the rail-side of the elevators. Again, the hope is to create something that controls your view of the scene and relate it from the same perspectives that we’d enjoy if we were actually there.

In real life, a place like this wouldn’t have a train running every single time that I was there and neither would the layout. I wanted to play with a concept that used the layout fascia as more than just a rectangular picture frame. A fascia that was as interesting as the work it presents.

Llanastr

Iain Rice’s book Finescale in Small Spaces includes a reference to a 4mm scale layout titled LLanastr.

Iain describes the layout, praising it’s minimalist design and how well that works in the space. I was certainly interested in learning more about the layout but it never occurred to me to try a quick internet search to see what might be there. The Youtube video above was among what I found. The attraction is not the small size or the minimal track layout but the way it still looks so spacious. To me, it looks like a rural station surrounded by nothing.

I didn’t expect to find an actual website for the railway but here it is:

http://llanastr.webs.com/

Finally, the Scalefour Society’s site had a nice page on the layout including some terrific photos that really seem to showcase the layout:

http://www.scalefour.org/layouts/exhibllanastr/llanastr08.html

I’m glad I went looking for this layout online. I’m really quite surprised at just how much information on it was available. The layout is one of those I find quite inspirational for the way it really showcases just how much potential can be found in such a small space. This is certainly one of those I’ll return to again.

Riley Triggs’ DYNAMO

The first time I watched the above video it caught my attention but it’s taken some time to settle in before I really started to “get” just how very smart an idea it is. It’s unlikely I’m going to say much new or of value from here on out – not that it will dissuade me from writing anyway – so stop reading here and just watch the video. I’m sharing the video as I close out my thoughts on fitting big layouts into small or non-existent spaces as part of my More Than Micro series of posts.

We spend a lot of time discussing the art of “selective compression” in the hobby. We edit buildings deciding how much we can cut out to make them fit and we do the same to shorten lengths of track and even the trains themselves. The challenge is deciding how much fat we can trim before we’ve made the thing unrecognizable. Focussed on a set of standard module plans he describes how to model much more railway than could traditionally be placed in the room. Doing so allows us to stretch past the practical limits of the room’s walls.

That same dynamic nature also allows us to easily adapt the railway to various operating schemes too and the layout can always be the right size for the number of fellow operators we have at any time to help run the thing.

Armed with schedules and a plan of types of operations he’d like to model, Riley prioritizes the movements of the railway as the primary decisions guiding the design of the layout. We rely on that theatre metaphor a lot and I can’t help but wonder if what Riley describes isn’t the closest I’ve come to someone really finding a tangible interpretation.It feels like staging a ballet and I like it. Speaking of research, I find it’s been so much easier to find records of train movements and consists than it is to find a photo of the back wall of a station that burned to the ground twenty years ago. Riley’s approach really plays to the value and strength of this reality and might be a fun perspective to start from.

When we first set out to model a railway, we approach that design with a certain set of goals. As we lay track and run those first trains we are afforded a chance to test our understanding of the real thing in the miniature copy we’ve created. What happens when we learn that, in doing so, our interests mature and we’re left curious to explore something different from the same stretch of railway? Riley describes an opportunity to allow the layout to mature with our interests without having to start completely from scratch and the layout matures directly as our interests do.

Riley has clearly put a lot of thought into his idea. I’m quite grateful he produced the above video so he could share them with us. I think he’s developed something quite smart and I’m intrigued.

Thanks Riley!

You ONLY eat there?

Once upon a time we had neighbours who were passionate ballroom dancers. They were good too. They probably still are. I remember the stories of when they’d move all the living room furniture completely from the room so they could use the full floor to dance. I even remember, once, hearing a story of how they’d sold a pile of the furniture to make moving it out of the way easier – and therefore dancing too. It all seemed so wildly unconventional and was really the first time I had met someone who used their home as they needed to. This isn’t a story about prioritizing the use of space in the house but a vague attempt to say how, in terms of the home, I prefer a space that can be used for more than just one thing.

In my previous post I showed a couple of videos of FREMO modules built by the America-N club in Germany. I described renting a room in which to set up the modules. For that to work, I had to have somewhere to store railway between operating sessions. If I have the storage worked out, all that is really need is somewhere to set them up. That final space is really only something that you need when you’re actually using the layout. Could we just borrow that space from somewhere in the house while we’re between basements – so we can set up our miniature mainline and enjoy railroading on a bigger scale than just switching one town. To that end, I grabbed my trusty tape measure and went for a walk around the house.

LayoutSpace0002

Model Railroader magazine would often host a Layout of Month constructed in a spare bedroom. “Spare” either from a child who has just moved out or “spare” by design – we just bought one extra for the trains to grow up in. As often as I’ve read a great article about a nice layout created in this space I feel like I’ve read about how “something came up” and now the railroad was being dismantled and the owner was hoping he’d someday have the chance to build a new layout…if…and if…and if. We have a bedroom sort of like that right now. I’m reluctant to permanently install something there but the above drawing shows how a set of modules could be arranged to use the space around the perimeter of the room. Since the layout proposed is based on modules that can stand free of the walls and be moved or even put completely away between operating or work sessions it’s easier to propose something that blocks things like closet.

LayoutSpace0001Continuing to walk around the house, I arrived in the living room. We can’t offer to move the furniture from our living room but the next land of opportunity and promise I thought I could offer as a venue, in our home, was the dining room. With a bit of clever shifting to push tables and chairs to the walls, we could fill the biggest room in our house with FREMO modules.

Both layouts were proposed to host operating sessions with more than just one operator. Aisles become the great planning factors and it was those basic dimensions I laid out both of the above schemes. In the space not provided to the people, I placed the modules. Each concept might offer something for two to three operators. Unable to reach outside my comfort zone of small-scale railroading I proposed schemes where the operating session is focussed around the interplay between operators as they pass blocks of cars off between each other. I’ve shaded each operator’s territory in a distinct colour and then provided a bit more shading (in blue) to help show the room each operator might call his own without having to trip over the other guy. I was surprised by how much layout I could fit into these spaces. I tend to only think of my layouts as much smaller ones, in the more traditional and at least mostly-permanently installation style.

Have I found myself in this desire to build a large home layout? Not yet. This has been fun and I’m looking forward to where these thoughts could lead. It’s an enjoyable question.


 

This post is a part of a series of thoughts. Building a larger layout is still the dream of so many but I don’t believe we’re always blessed with the space to realise that dream. I started these posts as a means to work through some options. I never expect to break any innovative ground but just to think about it out loud. Read the other posts in this series by clicking on the “More than micro” category or, to the same effect, the link below:

https://princestreet.wordpress.com/category/model-railways/more-than-micro/