Model railroad blogging is a very small universe.  At least, this is the impression I have from doing it the past 20 months.  Most know and enjoy Chris Mears’ blog, PRINCE STREET.  His posts are very thoughtful and focus in on, usually, modeling in small spaces.  Dropping in for a look is worthwhile.

Last week Chris presented a clever concept for a functional layout design that is very interesting.  Here is a link to what he calls “The Matchbox”.  I like this neat little idea!  Staging is managed with cassettes, which Chris acknowledges is nothing new.  We’ve seen them offered as staging solutions for a long time.  But I’ve never been entirely sold on them.

Oh, there is nothing wrong with the traditional staging cassette – I speak of the ones made very simply as just an open-topped box, with or without a removable door at one end and a track down the length.  They may include a stationary coupler at the blind end for the rolling stock mounted inside.  For me, I have always been concerned about handling a cassette and keeping its contents upright, undamaged, and on the track.  This is particularly true for longer cassettes that may hold a locomotive and a pair or more of cars.

I haven’t seen a design that can capture the models securely for handling the cassette (that is: taking it from storage place, mounting it on the layout, removing it, etc), yet easily allow the models to be freed to move onto the layout.  After reading Chris’s post, I thought this over.

Now, I am not an expert railroad modeller and I happily admit this.  The very rough concept below is how I may approach the design of a staging cassette that I feel would offer safer handling (I can be a bit clumsy at times).  One of my first thoughts was to use cassette sidewalls that open – this would free the models for operation.  The lead photo of this post shows the cassette with the sidewalls vertical (closed) and below is a photo of the cassette in the open configuration.  The dark grey areas are soft-foam strips that would squeeze into the models and hold them in place.


Another early thought would be to make these cassettes stackable, to further save on space.  Additionally, securely holding them onto the layout was another concern as I could easily see one being knocked down inadvertently.  I decided to make a separate carrier (“tray”) for the cassettes – it is mounted to the layout.

Simplicity of construction was another thought.  I have designed my theoretical example using available materials from Home Depot.  All dimensional lumber (I would use poplar) is used as-supplied to minimize on cutting.  This would be just to the length and could be made using a hand mitre saw.  This explains why the overall look of the design isn’t as streamlined as it could be.

The piano hinge is commercially available (also from Home Depot).  The sidewalls are mounted to the piano hinge using small bolts, washers, and nuts as the thickness of the wall is only 1/4″.  There are some small parts made of 1/4″x1/4″ square section poplar – we have a chain of stores here called Canadian Tire and they sell this in many sizes (I think Home Depot used to sell similar here, but no longer for quite some time).  The soft-foam may be a little more difficult to get.  I show it as 3/4″ (19mm) thick; if this is not available, I would simply make up the difference by using some wood strip(s) as spacers glued in between the foam and sidewall.

Although I do not show it, track power can be supplied rather elegantly by having the track feeder wires go through the base of the cassette to brass tacks nailed underneath it (one tack for each drop).  Spring contacts (meaning flat stock with a bend put into it, rather than a coil) could be placed on the seating face of the tray matching the tack positions, and the wiring from there going to the layout power buss.  Between the tray and the layout buss, a quick-connector like a Cinch-Jones (one that maintains polarity for DCC) would allow for the dismounting of the tray from the layout.  A toggle switch (in an angle mounting bracket) to turn the power on/off to the tray would finish things off.

Here are the details…


The wire lock is just 1/16″ brass wire bent into an elongated “U” shape.  These keep the sidewalls from flopping open.  To open the cassette, these are simply pulled out and stored in provided holes on top of the back wall.  The placement of these on the sidewall ends needs to be carefully considered so as to not interfere with the stacking feature.




The 1/4″x1/4″ stops (above) prevent the walls from traveling too far inward.


The tray assembly can be bolted to the layout – wing nuts might be helpful if it is dismounted often.  Leaving enough clearance at the mount holes would provide some small adjustment to obtain the correct rail-height.  Alternatively, this unit can be fixed using a “C” clamp.


Above, there is a 1/16″ gap at the open end.  The rails would be flush with the cassette base at this end (1/16″ away from the matching layout rails).  Soldering them to brass screws beneath is highly recommended for security.  Likewise, the rails on the layout end would also have the same treatment.



I may never use cassettes, but this was a fun exercise in design.