Articles - Equipment Storage
08/05/2012
When you buy a ready-to-run (R-T-R) engine, or freight or passenger car, it comes with a good, sturdy box. However, if you want to transport an engine or car that you built from a kit or from scratch, you have to come up with your own solution. Since I participate in local model railroad shows, I want to safely transport my equipment, so I decided to build my own simple boxes. I describe two solutions in this article. Note that for HO- and N-scale equipment commercial boxes are readily available from several manufacturers. For S-scale, not so much.

My first solution is the quickest and simplest. This photo shows the tools and materials needed to build a box. From the front to the back they are, a long ruler (long enough for the width of the foam material), a board (to keep from cutting into the desk), a pen, a tape-measure, a T-square (for the smaller cuts), packing tape dispenser, new razor blade, new cardboard box, and 1-inch thick foam. The most expensive part is the foam, at $16 per yard of material (2 feet wide) at Jo-Ann's Fabrics & Crafts (made by Airtex).
Equipment Storage
The first step is to build the cardboard box. Since I model in S-scale, I measured the average engine and car size that I have (or will have) and bought a bunch of 12x6x6 cardboard boxes at a local box store. Most of these types of stores will sell you whatever you need without requiring a minimum. Look for stores that sell moving boxes. Since I did a lot of selling on eBay, I have my local sources identified. Size the box so that you have about 2 inches of clearance on all six sides of the car or engine. I folded the box into its shape and used clear tape to hold the bottom together. Cardboard boxes like these are about 75 cents a piece, and when they wear out, you can easily replace them.
Equipment Storage
I put tape on the inside as well for extra strength, but that is not required.
Equipment Storage
Now we start the foam inserts. I use the tape measure, ruler, and razor blade to size and cut the bottom piece of foam. The friction of the foam is enough to hold the parts in place; no need for glue. This also makes it easy to replace the box and re-use the rather expensive foam.
Equipment Storage
Next I measured and cut the two sides.
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Using the car that is supposed to fit in this particular box, I cut two smaller inserts with cut-outs for the couplers. There is about two inches of space between the inside edge of the box and the car.
Equipment Storage
I then cut some strips that protect the car from moving up or down. These kind of "float" and are squeezed in between the side pieces.
Equipment Storage
Now the car is placed in the box. You see how the delicate couplers and air hoses are protected by the cut-outs in the smaller side pieces, and how the "floating" pieces on the top and bottom keep the car from moving around and potentially damaging the couplers.
Equipment Storage
I then cut a foam piece to go over the car, which fits in between the outer side pieces.
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A final piece completes the interior of the box. This is only needed if there is any void space above the last piece installed, which depends on the size of the box, of course. The car is now well packaged and protected. I can now close the box, label it for the car that is supposed to go inside of it, and put my name on the box.
Equipment Storage
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Update: I used the above-mentioned solution for a year (5 shows). It works great, especially for scratchbuilt and kit-built equipment. However, the 12x6x6 boxes I used are quite large. The boxes take up a lot of space and are a bit hard to carry around (their tops aren't flat, so they don't stack on top of each other well). Also, I used rubber bands to hold them closed, but that is kind of a pain once you have more than just a few cars to pack. Also, I have found that, since the ready-to-run cars and engines, which have their own boxes, have all sorts of different sized boxes, stacking all of them is awkward or inefficient (when you're carrying modules, tools, etc. to the show, you need to be efficient with what little space you have).

So, I concluded that I wanted a smaller, self-closing box, and one that could be used for all my equipment, including ready-to-run. I spent some evenings looking online for alternatives. I eventually discovered the term "die cut mailers". These are common boxes, but unless you know the industry's name, they are hard to find online. I finally settled on a 10"x4"x4" die cut mailer box from Mr Box Online, a Florida-based company that manufacturers these boxes in the U.S. Their minimum order is 50 boxes. I searched online for other companies with similar products, but none matched that size. A ten-inch interior length is perfect for 40-foot S-scale freight cars, while still allowing for some padding space. The only piece of equipment that I have that does not fit is my 57-foot, coupler-to-coupler, RS-1, which will have to continue to be packed in the above-mentioned larger box. Shipping for 50 boxes costs almost as much as the boxes themselves, but the total comes out to under a dollar a piece, a small price to pay for protecting your investment.
Equipment Storage
Some assembly required! There are no instructions on how to put these boxes together, but it is rather straight-forward once you've done one. The big advantage of these boxes is that they are smaller, and they have a self-closing, stay-shut lid. The tops are flat, so it is easy to store three or more boxes on top of each other. Another idea I pursued was to find a box like this but one that could hold maybe three cars. I did find them, but they either were much more expensive ($7 a piece) or you needed to buy 100 of them. I don't plan on bringing three hundred cars to a show any time soon!
Equipment Storage
I am re-using the foam from the previous boxes in the new boxes. These smaller boxes are also easier to store in a cabinet in between shows.
Equipment Storage