A bookshelf of an idea

So, in one of my last posts on modelling in apartments, I made a comment that as I talked, I was having an idea hatch.  I’ve spent a few days mulling on the idea, and looking at others who have done similar things.  I’ve for some time been trying to crack the code and find a way to be able to run trains in the apartment, nothing fancy, but something where I can do some simple switching, and have some of the large collection of equipment which is currently packed away out for use and display.  But, living in a two bedroom apartment, it needs to be compact, and theoretically easily taken down and safely packed away.

The answer to this, is something modular, whether is a single sceniced module and a staging/fiddle yard, or something else.  The idea that came into my head while talking about Ikea bookcases falls deep in the “something else” category.  One of the problems I have, is being indecisive in what i want to model.  I have interests in Canadian Railroads and modelling, and British Railways and modelling (to the point where instead of going prototype when i build a layout, i’ve contemplated a double deck freelance layout with Canada on one level and the UK on the other).  But, in a small space, you can’t have your cake and eat it to…or can I?  Realistically, the maximum space in our apartment that might become available when we replace the double bed in the office with a futon is 8′ long.  Width is a bit more flexible, but I don’t want something that’s so large its unwieldy to move or take down when people need to use the futon.

July 12 16 - Ikea Billy Module Concept 1Initial Concept of an Ikea Billy Layout with a replaceable scenic section on a Billy Shelf

Using the Ikea Billy bookcase system, the shelves on the wide unit are 30″ wide by 10″ deep, just enough room to be useful if you have off-scene fiddle yards or staging at either end.  The 3D sketch above shows a 3 part unit, two end units with a billy shelf on drawer rails that can align with tracks to be a fiddle yard, and a centre section with a permanent backdrop, that a shelf can be dropped into to create the visible trackwork and sceniced area.  The result, a layout where you can change the scene by popping out the bookcase shelf, and putting it back into the bookcase as a diorama, and putting in a different shelf for a different scene.  One day its a gritty inner city industrial area, next day, it’s the end of the platforms at a busy British station.  The day after that, it’s a wayside stop on a rural line and so on.

Plans1Early Concept Track Plans, 5 Track sliding fiddle yards, three fixed possible entrance points to the scene, then the removable scene on the Billy Shelf.

The initial concept as I’ve visualized it has a five track fiddle yard on either end, mounted on drawer sliders, that can align with one of three fixed points on either end of the central frame that holds a replaceable Billy shelf.  On the Billy Shelf, is a sceniced section, that aligns with one or more of the three fixed tracks.

Obviously, this is a very high level first conceptualization of this.  If I actually go with bringing it forward to be an actual thing, it will clearly evolve and change.  There are lots of technical challenges to make something like this work, from ensuring track alignments, making power routing work, and all kinds of other issues.  It would obviously need to have legs and be self-supporting, but that also offers opportunities to make provisions for a screen around the staging to take the layout to shows and run trains.  Take a Canadian Scene to the Barrie-Allandale Show, take a British scene to the Great British Train Show, take a prototype scene to Copetown and so on.

July 12 16 - Ikea Billy Module Concept 2Concept with a View Block around the staging/fiddle yard and a name board across the view window to create a portable/changeable exhibit layout.

There are some big limitations on making trackwork work in this space in HO, this may be better for my N-Scale or narrow gauge friends, but its an idea that I’m going to keep exploring and see where we wind up in the coming months.

16 thoughts on “A bookshelf of an idea

  1. Hi Stephen,

    Great post…love the idea a lot…hope you do something about it…would be very interesting to many….for me, if the centre section could be lengthened, it might be the cat’s meow, especially with respect to the portability and flexibility.


  2. Very interesting ideas, Stephen.
    Cyril Freezer used to say that any layout with more hidden than visible track has its proportions wrong (which suggests Heckmondwike was a failure!) My initial reaction was to quote him approvingly but a moment’s reflection showed me that such a rigid view fails to accept the cleverness of your idea. All the interesting action happens in your middle third. The bits either side serve the dual purposes of facilitating the operation and making the modelled section more obviously part of a bigger scene.


  3. Thanks Rick and Dunks,

    As i said, this is the initial conception of something. You both touched on the the thing that bothered me the most as i started to look at track plan, and then the post over the past couple of days, that it’s “too small” an operating window, the vignette is so small, that it becomes ineffective as you have to squeeze too hard to make the operations work. I think to create something truly functional, it needs to have double the length for the visible portion, which changes some of the initial conception of using the ikea shelfs for the insert, and doing something else using a base. You could create the same effect using a wooden panel at double the length, around say 60″ (5′) or so and take the opportunity to potentially widen the shelf a touch to be 12″. But, there is definitely lots of opportunity in the concept. One thing i think i would definitely stick with is that the sliders wouldn’t be longer than 30″, that forces short train lengths and thinking about tight operations. There is no reason for example that an inner city industrial area wouldn’t have had several short cuts of cars brought in rather than one long cut of cars through the course of a day.

    I’ll definitley keep working on this concept until i reach a point where if space in the apartment permits, it can possibly become a reality.


  4. Hi Stephen,
    I’m sure you thought if this already: how about a scene that terminates at one end, like a pier, stub-ended freight house, or engine terminal (….err, sorry) as the staging would only be needed at one end? I like the idea of packing this up and taking it to a show. The pieces could also be hung on a wall for storage in a laundry room/garage/spare condo bedroom closet.

  5. Hi Stephen,

    That’s a thoughtful concept and presentation. I believe that you’re correct in thinking a wider opening would enhance your enjoyment when operating. It’s an old idea but have you considered a narrow hollow core door as a base?

    Mike Cougill

  6. I like it.

    The idea of the interchangeable module in the center is neat. Between operating sessions those two fiddle yards could be stored completely out of sight (e.g. under a bed) leaving only the scenic section(s) proudly on display in one of those Billy bookshelves.


  7. When I read your concept I thought of another similar project that I’m a big fan that used a similar logic: BCNPete’s Scottish 2mm scale layouts.

    BCNPete maintains a set of blogs for his 2mm scale layouts on the RMWeb.co.uk forums. This particular post shows two layouts of similar size to what you’re proposing that share a common fiddle yard:

    The fiddle yard is a traverser style and in a similar box to what you’re proposing. What I really, dare I say it, love is the way the shelf itself is a clear acrylic instead of based on wood. Further instead of being completely hidden behind the valance it lives behind it actually breaks through that screen to tease the audience just a bit. This post shows the development and the end product:


  8. Thanks Mike, I hadn’t considered a door, because door sizes are starting to get too big for the space. The original concept was based around what Chris picked up on, that the core unit could still be displayable in the bookcase when the staging and supports and everything else needs to get packed away so the living space is usable.

    I appreciate the feedback and thoughts and other ideas to look at. Given the post is the First Iteration of the project, the ideas are great help in looking at how to possibly create something that will work for us in our apartment for a number of years to come.



  9. Stephen,

    Yes, of course. I appreciate that inches matter greatly in an apartment setting. One thought does occur that one could incorporate a modest fiddle/staging yard in addition to the visible scene on a door, thus creating a truly self-contained unit. I’m just thinking out loud, not pushing any agenda.


  10. Thanks Mike, that’s also an interesting thought worth investigating. As noted, the origin of this idea is what Chris picked up on, being able to use a bookcase to display several inserts when they aren’t in use, and when the layout isn’t out. The more i think, as I’d stated, i think that in HO scale, the Ikea shelves are too constraining. Probably perfect for apartment dwellers in N and smaller scales though.

    A self contained door unit would also be an option. At this point though, this is all academic until we get rid of the double bed in the spare room and determine what it’s replacement is going to be, and see what space is opened up, but i appreciate all the feedback and thoughts. The discussion is giving me all kinds of ideas to mull over on how to create something that works in our space!


  11. Stephen,
    Picking up an older post here… I’m on holiday and enjoying reading about your addiction that I have passively followed for the last decade or so. Just a thought: what about floating shelves? They have the smooth mount posts and the shelves can slide in and out off the posts. We picked up some on clearance for the office at CT. 24, 36 and 42″ lengths and about 10 or 11″ deep. You could move them around to mount posts attached elsewhere on the wall. Just a passing thought….

    Another (possibly with low wife acceptance factor) idea I had is a sheet of 3/4 inch plywood on top of the bed to make the bed a working surface to stand on. Then you could stand on the bed without point-load damaging your mattress coils. Build your layout 4′ over top of the bed. Slide the plywood under the bed when visitors need to sTay over… Enough space for guest snoozers to sit up without cranking their heads…

    Just some ideas rattling around in my mostly empty head.

  12. I should have also added that I *love* the concept in general. You have needed something like this to showcase your modelling for a long time.


  13. Thanks Gil, we actually made the first move last week in the office. The double bed that ate up all the space is gone (which our cat presently hates as that was mostly her bed). A new daybed frame that holds a twin mattress is en route, the mattress is in the room, but still wrapped in plastic. Just having the bed gone makes such a big difference, having a double bed we weren’t using was such a waste of limited space.

    Once that is setup and we see how the space looks, I’ll be revisiting ideas on how to build something easily moved in the space when someone does need to stay over.


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