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Small Layout Scrapbook by Carl Arendt: A Review

The author has been enjoying model trains for decades and enjoys helping others with his hobby and introducing newbies to it.

Model railroaders like to use the lack of space as the prime reason they don’t have a layout. Carl Arendt shatters that excuse with layouts that can literally fit anywhere. If you have room for a pizza, you have room for a layout.


Why I Bought The Book

I stumbled onto Carl Arendt’s website while searching for ideas on how to squeeze the maximum amount of model railroading into a minimum amount of space. He was devoted to advancing the concept of micro/mini-layouts, which are defined as being less than eight square feet in area. He had pioneered the concept in 1966, when basement-sized layouts were the rule of the day. Judging from the current audience of his website, the concept is now popular in 13 countries, especially in modern homes that are increasingly strapped for space.

His website features at least 1,500 micro-layouts and I enjoyed visiting it every day, not only for its innovative designs but for Carl’s always-supportive commentary.

And then suddenly, the website was gone. Disappeared. Kaput. I typed in its URL, constantly hoping it would yield more than an error. Nobody on the model train boards seemed to know why the site was non-functional. We all mourned the loss of a valuable model railroading resource and its excellent pikes.

And then I remembered a small ad on Carl’s site with information about this book. I found Carl Arendt’s Small Layout Scrapbook still for sale on Amazon and bought it immediately. At least some of the layout jewels were preserved forever in printed form.


The Book

This self-published paperback runs 64 pages that each measure 8-1/2” x 11”. That would seem to be too little book for the price, until you realize that each page has three columns of text and as many as half-a-dozen color pictures and diagrams. The book’s only flaw is that some photos of highly detailed layouts are less than two inches wide, making it hard to appreciate the workmanship of the models.


Carl divides the topics into three main parts: designing, building and operating. They describe about 100 layouts in N, HO, HOn3, O, On3 and G. He also has examples from international scales such as OO, OO9 and Gn15.


This part of the book consists of 32 pages. It classifies the smallest categories as pizza layouts, which are no larger than a pizza box, and shoebox layouts, that fit inside a standard shoebox. Advantages of these tiny constructs include their storage anywhere, the speed in which they can be built, and the high, close-up detailing that is possible. The smallest layout is an HOn3 oval built on top of a can of spam.

The author showcases some innovative techniques to make small layouts possible. One is the sector plate, a piece of track that hinges from side to side on one end of the layout. This allows a train to exit on one track to the sector plate. The plate then swings to another track, so the train can re-enter the scene on a second rail.

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For me, the most useful permanent track layouts are those built for bookshelves, which are narrow and long. Complex industrial switching is possible with some plans, granting many hours of activity in a small area. Those who travel often will be delighted to discover portable constructions that fold up or fit in the size of an airline hand-carry.


The second five pages show complete building instructions for creating Peek’s Pike, an On3 layouts in 8 x 39 inches. Three industries provide switching activity on this pike: a brewery, cooperage and electrical goods dealer. A decorative frame in the front makes the effort look like a moving picture. Instructions for the Squarefoot Estate Railway are also included. Fitting in an 11” x 14” space, this Gn15 layout details the building of a gravel railway with a sector plate.

A page from the book.

A page from the book.


The final pages describe the operating possibilities on micro-layouts so they provide as much interest as larger pikes. My favorite are the switching games, which only require track with several switches and can dispense with scenery if needed. In these games, cars are randomly placed on the layout, and then randomly assigned to other places. The operator must then move the cars from one location to the other using a switcher in the limited space. This is precisely what modern engineers have to do, if they are assigned to industrial yards.

The book ends with an index of all the layouts arranged by scale. This makes it easy to find a favorite.


A week of so after it’s disappearance, the micro-layout website suddenly appeared with some very sad news. Carl Arendt had passed away on March 4, 2011 in Olympia, Washington. His much loved website was in danger of being lost in cyberspace. Fortunately, some concerned model railroaders have taken up the cause and resurrected the site. You can enter your email address to subscribe to their newsletter, although it has not been sent out for a while.

Your Micro-layout

© 2020 Aurelio Locsin


Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on June 10, 2020:

May Carl Arendt rest in peace. It is excellent that some interested parties have resurrected his website. Owning micro layouts that can be on view year-round is great for model train enthusiasts.

Liz Westwood from UK on June 04, 2020:

This sounds like a fascinating book for model railway enthusiasts.

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