An aspect of car flow on any layout is the handling of cars which are not on the layout at all times. This can of course arise from just having too many cars, but a good reason to rotate cars on and off the layout is to increase the apparent fleet size encountered in trains and on sidings. In addition, unusual cars like 65-foot mill gondolas or depressed-center flat cars usually need to spend more time off-layout than on.
Given that many and maybe most cars in a fleet will cycle on and off the layout, a couple of practical issues arise. An important one is, when cars are off the layout, how are they handled and stored? I want to describe in this post an experiment I’m currently trying. But first, I will outline my existing system.
I discovered some time back that the bottom sections of cartons for canned beverages (cut about two inches high for supermarket display), usually available in supermarket discards, are mostly a slip fit into a standard 10-ream paper box, which conveniently has a lid, too (and is readily available empty at any local copy shop). Since these can-carton bottoms are deeper than an HO freight car lying on its side, they can serve as storage trays, and I have stored “extra” cars in these trays for some years. Below is a photo of one such tray (foreground), inside a paper box, with lid behind, and on the second paper box in the background is a second tray (actually the top tray from the foreground box). I have used soft rags and facial tissue to provide a cushioned setting for the cars.
Usually five trays fit in a paper box, the bottom of each one resting on the top of the walls of the tray below, and around ten to a dozen cars fit per tray. This isn’t bad for storage or transportation, but falls down badly when it comes to quick and easy access. I’ve made up a location tally sheet or inventory, listed by box and tray number, for individual cars, but access remains slow even if I can go right to the correct tray for retrieval.
My new experiment is to try using open shelves for at least the most-used cars. Here is a photo of a recent status of these shelves:
The intermediate shelves are quarter-inch plywood, with a strip of molding glued to the edge to prevent rolling outward. In this photo, some of the car sleeves and waybills are standing alongside the cars, but I’ve since moved this paperwork out of the shelves, because it tends to get in the way of car retrieval.
This amount of shelving can only accommodate my most-needed cars. As can be seen, about a dozen cars is the practical limit for these 26-inch wide shelves, if 1:1 scale fingers are to be able to reach between cars to pick one up. This shelving is thus only the equivalent of about one paper box. The shelf spacing is about 5 inches, also mostly to accommodate 1:1 hands and fingers reaching in to place or retrieve cars.
This system seems to work well, as long as I make sure that only the most active cars are here, and I will continue to experiment with this arrangement and see if it keeps meeting my needs.