Briefcase Construction & Wiring
The first step I had to take when building the briefcase layout is to fine a suitable briefcase. I had an idea of what I wanted the layout to look like and looked for a briefcase that's on the larger size. I settled on a briefcase designed to hold a 17" screen laptop which also had room for some papers and items like the power cord.
Once I received the briefcase the first job was to gut it out. I removed all of the padding and fabric material so all I was left with was the shell. From there I was able to measure and cut my foam board down to size and start working on it independently.
I then put all of my time into working on the layout. Once I was getting close to the point where I was ready for wiring I started drilling an area on the side of the briefcase where I would insert a stereo wire connector for the lights and track power. This was a lot more difficult than I anticipated. The sides are metal, but that wasn't the problem. The manufacturer had a honeycomb metal weave in between the inner and outer layer of metal. Once the drill bit hit that it stopped instantly. I spent the next few hours with wire cutters, pliers, my Dremel, and various drill bits. My determination paid off and I had a hole that was slightly larger than the stereo connectors.
Since the hole was pretty nasty and the stereo connector didn't cover it all I decided to cut a rectangular piece of styrene that would cover the hole with an opening so the metal contacts for the stereo connector would pass through. I put labels on the outside to identify the track and light connections and soldered wires to the metal contacts.
Note: Normally briefcase layouts run off of batteries and have the controls inside the briefcase. I decided I would use an external controller due to the amount of power the lights and trains would use. This layout is basically a briefcase layout on steroids and would drain batteries within an hours runtime.
I wanted to be able to connect and disconnect the layout from the briefcase so I could do electric work or so I could easily add detail to the back. I made this possible by purchasing 2 Rokuhan RKA004 Extension Cables for Turnouts. I cut each one in half and wired one to the layout and one to the stereo terminal. These pieces the could connect together and be disconnected easily.
Here you can see the cables connected together. To avoid miss-wiring I soldered 1 make and 1 female connector to the layout and the same with the stereo connector. This makes it impossible for me to accidentally connect the lights from the layout to the train connection on the stereo connector. The wires to the left of the connectors are going to the layout and the wires on the right hand side are coming from the stereo connector.
I decided to secure the layout to the briefcase by placing 4 pieces of Velcro on 4 supports. I had to make sure that the Velcro on the supports matched up with the Velcro on the layout so I separated the Velcro pieces, placed them back on lightly, gently lowered the layout onto the sticky back of the Velcro, and lifted it back out. Then I flipped the layout over and pressed the Velcro into place. I put some glasses on top of the pieces and let that sit overnight
The Velcro worked well. Almost too well.. I had trouble getting the layout out of the briefcase and I was afraid I'd break it. Thinking ahead to wiring, I knew I'd need a way to manage the wires and thought of a good solution to both issues. I bought a roll of Velcro at Staples.
First I identified and marked off where the supports would hit the bottom of the layout.
Then I unrolled the long strip of Velcro and cut 2 pieces just long enough to run the length of the board. I removed the backing on the 2 strips and pressed them into place where they wouldn't interfere with the supports.
Next I took the fuzzy side of the Velcro and cut 2 pieces longer then the width of the board that would stick out over the top of the layout. I left the backing on those strips and placed them over the two strips that had adhered to the board.
Now when I place the layout in the briefcase, I can lift it up by the longer strips. This applies even force across the board which will decrease the possibility of breaking it as I lift it out.
Here you can see 3 of the 4 strips that are used to safely lift the layout out of the briefcase. Click on the pictures to enlarge them.
The end result is a layout held securely in place that has been in ever position (including upside down) that can easily be removed.