Small Layout Challenge 2020

One of my favorite layout designs by Carl Arendt is Carl’s Imports. Carl designed the micro layout to fit in a shoebox. Using what he referred to as an “intercontinental research project”, Carl determined that the optimum sized shoebox (male variety) was determined to be 13 x 7 x 5 inches (33 x 18 x 12 cm). He then designed Carl’s Imports to fit such a box. The first article about the layout can be found at his December 12, 2013 article “Layouts in Boxes”.

Carl’s Imports
Carl’s Imports

It did not take long for several others to create their own designs based on Carl’s 13 x 7 x 5 inches (33 x 18 x 12 cm) dimensions. Carl added a unique area to his website just for this phenomena called Shoebox Madness.

Even though I like the idea of such a small layout, I was never impressed by the idea of keeping my hard work in a cardboard box. I had saved a few shoeboxes of the right dimension but never really got one going. I just did not like the box. They all had branding and were just ugly. I want to display my layouts if I can, and that means I want a certain level of cleanliness to the thing holding my layout.

Shoeboxes can be a bit ugly

As part of wanting to display my finished work, I also have the problem of unwanted guests. Specifically a couple cats my family has an emotional attachment with. The layout will need full protection as I have found these “fur-balls of destruction” can (and will) reach every spot I select. What ever happened to curiosity killing the cat?

Here is reason #1 for a display case
Here is reason #2

Over the recent holiday, I made several trips to the local craft stores with my family to support several holiday “projects”. While there I perused the aisle ways for ideas to support my model railroad addiction/hobby, I soon came across display cases for sports memorabilia. Now I had seen these before, but they were always on the expensive side. I admit, I am a bit of a penny pincher (my wife prefers the term cheapskate). On this particular day I noticed that these cases were 60% off, bringing the to around $25. A bargain in my book!

Football Display Case as purchased

I soon found two cases that could work as a stand-in for the old shoebox. They were a football display case and a basketball display case. On the package these cases only supplied the external dimensions which were close to the shoebox size. I took the dive with the helmet case and was soon home examining the exact internal dimensions of the box. It turns out the inside of the case was exactly 13 x 9 x 9 inches ( 33 x 23 x 23 cm ) slightly over shoebox dimensions but close enough (IMHO).

The case has a platform base that as a hole for the football to rest in. This ideal for wiring or other items that need to be below the viewing level. The glass top has a wood frame with a 3/4 inch (19 mm) trim height. This allow for a foam or wood scenery base that will not stick up into the viewing area.

My initial plan is model a industrial tram in the copper mining region of Michigan. The tram will deliver finished copper bars to the dock and transport other materials to a few other locations. My initial thought is to replicate the track arrangement of Carl’s Import but in reverse. The dock area will be stacked with copper bars much like the prototype. The tram will enter a warehouse through one door and use a sector plate to transfer the train to a second track that will run along the back. The rear track will have a turnout to provide additional spotting possibilities.

Loading Copper, Houghton, MI

Now as far as a challenge, I want to invite anyone reading this to challenge themselves to build a layout in a table top display case. The only limit I am putting on this is the case must be table top and fit the micro layout parameters set forth by Carl Arendt; “Micro layouts are small model railroads, usually less than three or four square feet in area, that nonetheless have a clear purpose and excellent operating capability.”

I have seen these cases in all shapes and sizes. Some are very long, and some are larger than what I choose. One football helmet case I found has outside dimensions of 11.5 x 15.6 x 11.6 inch (29.2 x 39.6 x 29.4 cm). It would be very interesting to see if someone could design a functional layout within the confines of a baseball bat case.

Baseball Display Case – 39.25 x 5.7 x 2.7 inch (997 x 144.8 x 68.6 cm)
Football Helmet Display Case – 11.5 x 15.6 x 11.6 inch (29.2 x 39.6 x 29.4 cm)

I am not placing any other limits on what you can do. I will continue to post updates on this website of my progress and I would welcome anyone to post what they are doing. If we get enough feedback, I will open a page dedicated to this challenge. Please make sure to provide where you found your case and its dimensions for any layout design posts. I will close the challenge at the end of 2020, so there is time, but time flies when you are having fun!!

I look forward to hearing other peoples ideas on this challenge.

Author: Marshall Stull

21 thoughts on “Small Layout Challenge 2020

  1. That’s an interesting concept, and challenge.
    Also, reason #2 doesn’t happy to have its picture taken.

  2. Aw, my two orange tabby rescue fellows are pretty good about leaving my hobby stuff alone. The glass cases would be very useful here for dust diversion, for some reason these apartments get really dusty really fast; this is a little county seat farm burg, maybe that is a factor?
    A trio of useful scale/gauge combinations which come to mind for these cases are Gn15, Gnine, and O9. The Baseball bat case could hold something of pretty respectable size in HOn30.

      1. Oh, hadn’t though about that with the bat case at eye level.
        Wait a minute … batcase … hmm … what could Batman and Robin do with HOn30 … what would they be transporting by rail from the Batmine to the Batcave …?

  3. ,Although I’m not a model railroader, a wanna be maybe, I always enjoy seeing the ingenuity and creativity of railroaders. This shoebox layout post is outstanding.

    1. Why not take a shot? This small challenge is great for trying out a model, very small scenery and is not overwhelming. You are more than welcome to come over some day and we can go over the basics.

      1. Thanks, Marshall, for your generous offer. I have a bunch of
        things on my plate but I won’t forget the offer.

        Thanks again!


      1. Hi Marshall, because IKEA force you to use a local web site (so you go to their local stores) I can’t give you a link for your region (I’m in Australia) but here are the 2 sizes of Knagglig storage crates they have available. I am not sure which one Jeff is referring to so which size do you think might work best? Suit your criteria?

        50292360 KNAGGLIG Box, pine, 23x31x15 cm

        90292358 KNAGGLIG Box, pine, 46x31x25 cm

        Interesting project. Might be fun to try.

          1. Thanks, Marshall. My thought was to take out the front slats, build up a foam base, put in the industrial card scene from, and put the whole lot on a T-TRAK module.
            Or do that in a real shoe tipped on a side, fitted on top of a module.
            See what happens.
            First step is to fire up XTrkCAD and template a shoe box then start playing 😉

  4. Already posted the info on the FB group, 6th Almost Annual Small Layout Meet is on for Saturday, July 11 at Northwest Ohio Rail Preservation in Findlay.

  5. Marshall,
    I’m going to accept your challenge and build an Inglenook Sidings layout in the baseball and bat display case you showed above. I have obtained the case, track, switches and Beer Can tank cars in N scale, and have built the styrofoam and wood base..

    The layout is of a wharf with the two small (3 car) sidings on the dock and the large (5 car) siding on a car barge in the water.

    Bill Byrnes
    Palm Bay, FL

    P.S. How do I upload pictures?

    1. Bill,

      Sounds great! I really glad someone is trying the baseball case.

      I am afraid due to the large number of hack attempts, I have not been able to allow uploading files directly to the website. I will happily post them for you if you send them to me via e-mail. I will send my address in a separate e-mail.


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