I’ve long suggested that how we define things shapes our view of what’s possible. If I say that my O scale layout occupies the same space as 1-1/2 sheets of plywood, it’s likely a definite image comes to mind. That’s not a lot of space yet at 2′ x 24′, my layout is only 48 square feet in area, the same as 1-1/2 sheets of plywood.

As you recall I began planning and construction of a quarter-inch scale display some weeks ago and things progressed nicely, until I took a critical look at where it was going. As those with design experience know, things change when 2D design ideas hit the 3D real world. It was time to lay track and finalize the scene on the module and this is where the story takes an abrupt turn. A turn for the better I think.P48 Experience_13s

You may think that 21 inches is pretty narrow for a quarter-inch scale scene. However, for a single track there is a lot of room left over. I could have brought the track forward but that would leave a lot of empty space behind it that serves no purpose, so why have that space in the first place?

One thing I know for certain is that I have a very strong preference for narrow scenes. I reaffirmed this when I saw how far back the track was going to be on the module and how hard it would be to view the things I wanted people to see. As a result, my enthusiasm was fading fast, so I considered a new direction.

TMC_013_Display Module

I built this display box a couple of years ago. It’s designed to sit on a table top and has three built-in LED lights so people can actually see what’s inside. The interior dimensions of the box are 10 inches deep x 48 inches wide with a 24.25 inch high opening. My thinking was to make the unit as flexible as possible to host a variety of themed book displays. The back wall is covered with outdoor carpeting that I can stick photos and signage to with velcro strips. I had pieces of sheet cork on the side walls but the spray adhesive didn’t stick and they started to come loose, so I removed them and will try something else. In addition to the box, I also made a pedestal to hold a book and can fit my No.10 turnout display into the bottom.

I road tested it at the St. Louis RPM meet in 2014 and that went well. Since it’s proven and ready to go, I’m going to fit the new scene in it rather than create another standalone configuration that I don’t want to store or deal with between shows.

I have the roadbed cut to size and have started spiking the rails. The background will be a large building flat as planned that is secured in place with more velcro tape. This shallow ten inch depth will place the track and rolling stock front and center where both can be appreciated. Nothing of the scene will be permanently attached and that will leave the box open for a different theme in the future.

I’m looking forward to the design exercise of creating a viable quarter-inch scale composition within the constraints of 480 square inches of space. In fact, my enthusiasm for the whole project has been reinvigorated because of the challenges involved. As a bonus, it may open a few eyes as to what is possible with quarter-inch scale modeling in less than ideal spaces.

I think there’s a lesson here regardless of the size or style of layout you’re working with: do what works for you. I know many enjoy the social aspects of brainstorming over a layout design and that an objective insight can be quite valuable. However, I’m also saddened by how quickly people will adopt someone else’s layout agenda at the expense of their own instincts. Such a lack of faith leads to wasted time and resources, not to mention the sense of frustration one can experience. You know something feels off but can’t pinpoint what it is exactly.

I truly enjoy the focus a shallow depth scene provides and understand the unique aspects I’m dealing with in this work. My criteria remain the same as I outlined in the previous posts in this series. This will be a static non-operating display and that will contribute toward keeping things simple. I know myself and know that if I over complicate this work, I won’t be enthusiastic about it and, if I’m not enthusiastic about taking it on the road, well, what’s the point of having it?



  1. Simon


    I have been musing over this slight change of tack. For the reasons you have stated – and above all the fact you need to bring the track to the front to show that even without a turnout, P:48 looks so much better – then this is definitely the way to go, but I also liked the idea of the track sneaking across the scene, almost incidental to the setting, in the manner of the work of Dave Rowe’s Axminster. Another time, perhaps?


  2. mike

    Hi Simon,

    Thank you for the comments. Based on the comments from the earlier posts in this series, I’m certain a few of you are disappointed about the change. I’m sorry about that but the farther along that first path I went the less interested I became with it. I knew it was getting too complicated and cumbersome and that would have a direct impact on how I presented it. I’m very happy to answer questions about my modeling but dealing with the expectations (my own mostly) of “putting on a show” with an operating layout for two days by myself isn’t something I wanted to pursue as much as I thought I did.

    In the end, a modest static diorama is something I can handle and be enthusiastic about. Sharing something I’m excited about and eager to share with others is the point of doing the project in the first place.