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Portable toy train carrying case and track layout

Title: Portable toy train carrying case and track layout.
Abstract: A toy carrying case, preferably for a toy train, is provided wherein the case may provide storage for various components of a game or other activity. The case may be unfolded to provide a playing surface. The unfolded case may be designed to be of a standard height and which may be linked to other cases or other accessory components. ...

USPTO Applicaton #: #20060021905 - Class: 206736000 (USPTO) - Class 206 

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Related Patent Categories: Special Receptacle Or Package, Convertible To Or From Display Configuration (e.g., From Or To Shipping Configuration)
The Patent Description & Claims data below is from USPTO Patent Application 20060021905, Portable toy train carrying case and track layout.


[0001] This application claims the benefit of U.S. Provisional Application No. 60/545,104, entitled "Portable Toy Train Carrying Case And Track Layout", filed Feb. 16, 2004.


[0002] This application relates generally to toy trains. More particularly, this invention is directed at a carrying case for a toy train, the case being unfoldable from its storage configuration to form a flat playing surface for the train. The outer surfaces of the case include the track and other features consistent with the activity theme.


[0003] In the world of toy trains, there are two primary play scenarios. The first consists of "Free Play", where a train set-up is created from scratch, piece-by-piece to create a layout, and the second is "Fixed Play", where a train set-up is glued or otherwise affixed to a train table or other surface.

[0004] Free Play typically takes place on an open floor space, but may also take place on a train table. Because boys, the overwhelming users, are most interested in trains between the ages of 11/2 and 4, for much of that period they lack the motor skills and patience to create a satisfying set-up by themselves. In addition, boys in this age group are also very destructive and are largely incapable of preserving a train set-up for any period of time. So, when parents help their children create a great layout, it may not be long before the children intentionally, or accidentally, wreck it and become very frustrated. However, this is also the age when parents want to encourage creativity and help develop motor skills for their young children. Consequently, there is a dilemma--the very activity of setting up a piece-by-piece layout, one which promotes spatial reasoning, motor skills and creativity, is at odds with what children of that age group find satisfying-immediate play that can stand up to tough play. Free Play has a number of advantages and disadvantages. TABLE-US-00001 Advantages Disadvantages Encourages spatial reasoning Requires a large floor space Promotes motor skill Very difficult to do on train table Promotes creativity Set-up is easily wrecked; frustration for children Provides unlimited configurations Requires a lot of time for set-up Train set may be stored or Children can't play independently transported in pieces

[0005] Fixed Play consists of a single train layout glued or otherwise attached to a train table surface. This may frequently be found in retail stores, where trains are set up for children to play with. This may also be found in some households, where the drawbacks of free play drove a parent to more permanently affix the tracks. Children absolutely love a fixed train table. They can focus on maintaining the trains and not be concerned with wrecking the tracks. This may provide immediate satisfaction, with no waiting and more than one child can play at a time, where "traffic" and sharing may be the only problems. However, there are few parents that resort to gluing down tracks, in fear that they may be fundamentally destroying the educational, creative and developmental value of a train set. And, for many families who don't have room for a train table, Fixed Play is not an option.

[0006] Fixed Play has a number of advantages and disadvantages. TABLE-US-00002 Advantages Disadvantages Immediate interaction, no set-up Requires a train table and generally a required large space Can't easily be wrecked May limit creativity Fosters independent play May limit motor skill development Only one configuration is generally available No portability, set-up is "permanent"

[0007] What is needed is a configuration for a toy train set which provides ease of storage and transport for the various components, yet may easily be set up, preferably in multiple configurations that allow interacting with other children as well as creativity, development of motor skills and spatial reasoning.

[0008] What is needed is a carrying case for a toy train which may be unfolded and laid out to form a semi-permanent train table capable of reconfiguration, expansion and/or interconnecting to other like train tables.


[0009] In a first summary exemplary embodiment the present invention is directed at a case suitable for use as a play surface, comprising a first portion and a second portion, each portion having a plurality of peripheral walls and a side wall, the side walls having an outer playing surface. The first and second portions are connected along one of the peripheral walls by at least one pivotable connection and the case can be configured in a first closed configuration and in a second open configuration. The peripheral walls of the second portion are capable of fitting within the first portion when in a closed position. The pivotable connection is positioned so that the case when in an open position is capable of positioning the outer playing surfaces of the first portion and second portion at substantially the same height when the open case is placed on a support surface.

[0010] In a second summary exemplary embodiment, the present invention is directed at a case for a toy train including a first portion and a second portion to configure in open and closed positions, the case including a storage compartment. The first portion and the second portions each include a plurality of peripheral walls and a side wall connected thereto, the side walls having an outer surface. The first and second portion are pivotably connected along one of the peripheral walls and an inner cover is provided for the second portion, the cover adapted to be located opposite the side wall of the second portion to cooperate with the peripheral walls to form a storage area in the second portion. The inner cover is pivotably connected to the second portion peripheral wall wherein the inner cover is capable of pivoting and engaging with the first portion to secure the case in an open position. Additionally, in a first closed position the peripheral walls of the second portion are capable of fitting within the first portion and the pivotable connection between the first and second portions is capable of positioning the outer playing surfaces of the first portion and second portion at substantially the same height when the open case is placed on a support surface.

[0011] In a third exemplary summary embodiment, the present invention relates to a method for forming a case that provides a playing surface including supplying a first portion and a second portion, each portion having a plurality of peripheral walls and a side wall having an outer playing surface. This may be followed by connecting the first and second portions along one of said peripheral walls by a pivot connection wherein the case can be configured in a first closed position and a second open position. In addition, the second portion is capable of fitting within said first portion when in a closed position and the pivot connection is positioned so that the case, when in an open position, and resting upon a supporting surface, positions the outer playing surfaces of the first portion and second portion at substantially the same height.


[0012] To better understand and appreciate the invention, refer to the following detailed description in connection with the accompanying drawings wherein:

[0013] FIG. 1 is a perspective view of the present invention is a collapsed configuration for transport and storage of the toy train set.

[0014] FIG. 1A is another perspective view of the present invention.

[0015] FIG. 2 is a perspective view of the present invention as it is being unfolded for set-up and for play.

[0016] FIGS. 3 and 3A are perspective views of the present invention at the second stage of unfolding and set-up from different angles.

[0017] FIG. 3B provides a cross-sectional view of the present invention.

[0018] FIG. 3C provides an additional cross-sectional view of the present invention.

[0019] FIG. 4 is a perspective view of the present invention in a third stage of set-up for play.

[0020] FIG. 5 is a perspective view of the present invention inverted from the set-up stages to the unfolded final play configuration.

[0021] FIG. 6 is a perspective view of a link for connecting other tracks to the present invention.

[0022] FIG. 7 is a view illustrating the use of the universal connectors in FIG. 6 allowing linking of the cases.

[0023] FIG. 7A is a view illustrating how the present invention may be integrated with other structures to provide an overall playing environment.

[0024] FIG. 8 is a perspective view illustrating the optional incorporation of hinge flexure.

[0025] FIG. 8A is a cross-sectional view illustrating further details of the optional feature of hinge flexure.

[0026] FIG. 9 is a cross-sectional view at the hinge location illustrating how hinge flexure would accommodate an inadvertently placed finger.

[0027] FIGS. 10A and 10B illustrate a cross-sectional view of an optional springe-hinge which would also accommodate an inadvertently placed finger.


[0028] The present invention, entitled a "Portable Toy Train Carrying Case and Track Layout" may herein create a new category of play, called "Hub Play." However, the present invention is not limited to a toy train as the basic concept and its configuration may be extendable to a wide variety of other play scenarios for children, including but not limited to, a construction site or rock quarry, a circus, a farm, a village, an airport, and even combinations thereof to form a town or city.

[0029] Hub Play consists of a central, self-contained, effectively indestructible element, which can be used independently or added to in any variety of configurations. It allows for all the advantages of both Fixed and Free Play while largely eliminating their negative aspects. Although the concept of Hub Play can be applied to any number of play categories, for instance toy trains, as well as construction sites, farms, villages, etc., Hub Play is described herein as only a preferred embodiment. The present invention therefore may provide a means for rapidly setting up a play scenario so that play may begin virtually immediately. The central layout or hub is sturdy and not easily damaged. It may be comprised on any of a variety of materials, including, but not limited to, cardboard, wood, plastic, foam, metal or combinations thereof. The carrying case is portable and may easily be converted to the playing surface of table top even by young children. A single child may play independently and enjoy a creative experience developing their motor skills, or a number of children may interact with one or more of the cases linked together. The carrying case may be unfolded onto the floor, a table or any flat surface for use. The case includes an area for storing the various pieces of, in one embodiment, a toy train set; spare track, engines, cars, caboose, ramps, human figures, trees and other decorative or functional components. The track may be used for directing the movement of a hand propelled train or may be constructed to allow electric trains to be used. As will be explained below, the toy train set of the present invention may be set up in a wide variety of configurations. It may be further constructed to interface with the current major brands of wooden trains (Brio, Thomas Tank, Imaginarium (TRU) etc.) or built to match the scale of other toy trains popular with children (e.g., 1/ (Z), 1/160 (N), 1/ (HO), etc.). In addition, it may be constructed to provide a platform for electric trains, and the case when opened can be configured such that electrical connection can be made across the entirety of the playing surface. The case is further constructed such that when it is unfolded the top surface of both portions of the track may be at an even height and may be easily connected to other versions of the invention whether toy train sets, or other venues.

[0030] Turning to the figures, FIG. 1 illustrates a perspective view of the present invention, configured in a preferred embodiment as a toy train carrying case and track layout 10. The case 10 comprises a first (preferably multi-level) portion 12 and a second (preferably storage) portion 14 connected by at least one hinge 16 (see FIG. 3A).

[0031] The outer surfaces 22 and 24 of portions 12 and 14 of case 10 each include, in a preferred embodiment, a set of tracks 32, 34 for a toy train. The case may further include an opening 40 for access inside portion 12 such that the train may ride along tracks at two different levels. Also shown are tunnel openings 50, 52, 54 which are accessed form the outer surface 22 of portion 12 by a ramp 60 (see FIG. 5) which allows the toy trains to operate through tunnels on a lower, submerged level, Tunnel opening 54 in addition may serve as a grasping or carrying handle for the case 10. A separate carrying handle may be added to any of the peripheral walls. With attention to FIG. 1A, the case 10 may further include one or more protrusions or feet 13 which are located on the outside of the peripheral walls to provide stability when standing the case in upright position. In addition, such feet may be configured to be accommodated in openings 15 when the case is in an open position.

[0032] FIG. 2 shows a first stage of the unfolding of the carrying case 10 in the process of setting up the toy train set for play. Here, it can be seen that the second portion 14 of the case 10 is covered with a hinged inner cover 18. This creates a convenient storage compartment for the various small components that make up the toy set. Portion 14 has wall 42 around its periphery which forms the storage area along with hinged cover 18 and outer surface 24.

[0033] In addition, it can be seen that peripheral wall 42 is preferably connected at a location within the perimeter of wall portion 43. Portion 12 has a peripheral wall 44 which may therefore be conveniently dimensioned to configure over wall 42 when the case is folded up. This creates a design which when unfolded may form an open and substantially flat playing surface positioning the surfaces 22 and 24 (see FIG. 5) in the same general horizontal plane and at a standard or equal height elevation when the unfolded case is placed on a floor, table, or other suitable supporting surface. Or, stated another way, the outer surfaces 22 and 24 (FIG. 5) are such that the surfaces 22 and 24 may be aligned so that surfaces 22 and 24 come together to provide an overall playing surface made up of surfaces 22 and 24.

[0034] Tracks may be formed on or applied to the outer surfaces 22, 24. Both portions 12 and 14 are dimensioned in height so that when they are unfolded (see FIG. 5), the outer surfaces 22 and 24 are at the same height allowing for a smooth transition of the toy train from portion 12 to portion 14. Tracks 36 may be located on the outer surface of cover 18 which align with the tunnel openings 50, 52 of portion 12 when the cover 18 is flipped over to form the floor of the lower level of portion 12. (see FIG. 5). Alternatively, the cover may be a separate piece and be removed from one side and placed on the other, accomplishing a similar function.

[0035] FIG. 3 shows the hinged cover 18 partially transitioned from covering the storage area 70 to forming the tracks which cooperate with tunnel openings 50, 52. The cover is positioned by one or more hinges 18 which allow the cover to tightly fit into portion 12 forming a base thereby adding structural reinforcement to portion 12, and in particular, the peripheral walls of portion 12 such as wall 44.

[0036] FIG. 3A shows the inner cover 18 pivoting at 19 and in the process of advancing towards portion 12. The unique location of pivot 19 enables 18 to completely cover side 12 and engage the furthest wall, as shown in greater detail in FIG. 3B. Opening 48 allows hinge 16 to protrude through the hinge wall of side 12 when the case is in the closed position. The slots 48 shown in FIG. 3A can accommodate the pivot or hinge 19 when the case is in a closed condition. This feature, among others, is elaborated upon in connection with the ensuing discussion of FIG. 3B.

[0037] Turning then to FIG. 3B, which provides a cross-sectional view, and a sequence of travel for cover section 18 about the indicated arrow, it can be seen that the pivot location 19 for the inner cover is preferably offset an amount "X" which allows the cover to completely cover portion 12 and engage wall 44 which as illustrated may contain tunnel opening 50. It should be noted that storage portion 14 may be smaller than portion 12 so that it fits inside portion 14. Therefore, it can be appreciated that pivot 19 may actually fall outside the case when closed and as a consequence, slot 48 may be provided.

[0038] In addition, also illustrated in FIG. 3B, it can be seen that hinge or pivot location 16 is offset a vertical distance amount "Y". Preferably, the offset "Y" is set so that it may ensure that both portions 12 and 14, when in an opened position, and when resting on a support surface, will align the outer surfaces 22 and 24. By "align" it should be understood herein that the outer surfaces 22 and 24 may provide substantially the same height to the formed playing surfaces 22 and 24 (see FIG. 5) from a supporting surface. However, it should be understood that playing surfaces may have their own three-dimensional contour (e.g. impressions or protrusions or even added features) as may be deemed appropriate for a given play scenario. In addition, FIG. 3B happens to illustrate that offset "Y" may also be the offset between the center of the two pivots 16 and 19.

[0039] For example, in the event that one desires to form a case which: [0040] (a) when opened provides a playing surface that is 3.0'' from the floor; [0041] (b) where 2.5'' of portion 14 fits within portion 12 (this can best be seen with reference to FIG. 8); and [0042] (c) under circumstances where one desires to form a closed case that provides an overall thickness of 3.5'' the pivot location 16 may be offset an amount "Y" of 1.25''. Accordingly, when 2.5'' of portion 14 is made such that it fits within portion 12 (see again FIG. 8) it can be defined herein that such condition forms a 2.5'' envelope. Therefore, the offset "Y" is preferably selected to be 1/2 the value of any such selected envelope value, or in the above referenced exemplary case, the offset "Y" is set to about 1.25''.

[0043] Furthermore, another feature of such offset "X" in combination with offset "Y" is that as inner cover 18 engages with portion 12 as shown at 18A, and is accommodated by a recess in one of the peripheral walls of portion 12 (or any another mechanical features such as a latch) the cover will then prevent pivot location 16 from any further rotation. Accordingly, it can be appreciated that cover 18 then provides a structure and technique to form a case that provides in open condition a playing surface that may be locked into such configuration.

[0044] FIG. 4 illustrates the cover 18 frictionally engaged inside of peripheral wall 44 of portion 12. This allows the case to be physically interlocked in an open position due to the action of cover 18 held by hinge 18 and engaged inside of peripheral walls 44 of portion 12. Small openings, such as those shown in feature 72, can be conveniently placed at the corners of inner cover 18 for grasping the cover and returning it to the storage position in portion 14 when the set-up is being dismantled. Inner cover 18 may also be more firmly engaged in peripheral walls 44 or 12 through mechanical features (e.g. snap fits, detents . . . etc) or magnets.

[0045] FIG. 5 illustrates the present invention in a configuration ready for play and enjoyment. The case 10 has been unfolded and inverted from FIG. 4 such that the top surfaces 22 and 24 form a toy train track layout and playing surface. The main portions 12 and 14 hinge together such that the tracks 32 and 34 are continuous from portion to portion. Also shown is a turntable or wheel 80 which may be rotated on surface 24 to provide an alternate track configurations/paths (say from north-south (N-S) to east-west (E-W)). A ramp 60 is shown placed in opening 40 for transitioning a toy train from an upper level, surface 22, to a lower level, represented by tracks 36 on inner cover 18 to access tunnel openings 50, 52 and 54.

[0046] The case as displayed in FIG. 5 may be easily connected to other like cases or other lengths of track through the interlocking and mating ends built into the track at each termination. This can readily be seen in FIG. 7.

[0047] FIG. 6 illustrates a simple universal connector (male/female) 90 comprising a socket 92 and a ball 94 which engage with other balls and sockets at various track termination points on the case to allow linking of the cases together. Other types of terminal ends and connectors may be employed, such as, tongue and groove, dovetail, etc. Preferably the connector has mating features which retain the sections of track from easily pulling apart. FIG. 7 is a view illustrating the use of the universal connectors in FIG. 6 allowing linking of the cases and other tracks. FIG. 7A illustrates how the carrying case may be integrated with other track portions to provide an overall playing environment.

[0048] Thus, one may appreciate that the present invention, in a preferred embodiment provides a carrying case 10 consisting of two primary portions 12, 14 which, based on the unique pivot location, may doubly-envelope into one another through the action of one or more hinges or pivot locations 16 positioned on one of the peripheral. When closed, these two portions 12, 14 create a six-sided box, or storage and carrying case, capable of being closed and transported. When opened, the location of the hinge 16 allows for each side to pivot relative to the other, with an included travel angle of about The location of the hinge may allow each side, when unfolded and placed flat, to maintain a play surface which is preferably about 3 inches from the supporting surface. Furthermore, because of the "double enveloping" design, when closed, the box may still be approximately 3 inches thick. The three inch dimension is of course only one preferred dimension around which the standard elevation increments have been established for all brand name wooden toy train sets. Consequently, the two sides of the case may be designed to open to one preferred standard elevation increment.

[0049] On the outside surface 22, 24 of each portion of the case 10, there may be, preferably, an integral track layout 32 that is united with a mating track layout 34 on the opposite portion as the case is opened. This may create a complete layout, with any variety of configurations, when the case 10 is opened. In addition, each portion of the case may have one or more connection points 82, 84 upon which external tracks can mate. These connection points may allow the play surface to expand the layout onto the surrounding surface supporting the case (i.e. the floor, a train table, a kitchen counter, etc.). The integral tracks may only be of partial height of standard tracks on most of the case surface, but expand to full height at the connection points near the edge. These connection points may be located anywhere along the outside perimeter of the unfolded case, either orthogonal or at an angle. Because the case 10 may also allow for train and track storage when closed, the partial height tracks allow for maximum utility of the storage area 70. Of the two primary portions that create the case 10, the inside of the second piece 14 may be largely dedicated to storage, and the inside of the first piece may become an integral tunnel area. A train setup may then be created such that one or more tracks run "through" the first portion, or tunnel area. The second portion, also in the instance where the case 10 is folded up, may contain an inner cover 18, largely flat, which better retains the stored tracks and trains. This cover 18 may be removable or pivotable to gain access to the storage area. This cover 18 may also contain integral track segments 36 on one surface that may be used in the tunnel area or connected to the primary train layout.

[0050] The case 10 may also have one or more access areas 50, 52, 54 which allow for user access to the tunnel area. This may enable the child to reach into the tunnel area and manipulate the trains.

[0051] Because the case 10 pivots as it is opened, there exists the possibility that fingers could get pinched between the two portions 12, 14 of the case as the included angle of travel begins to reach The invention contemplates a "compliant" pivot which may allow for some amount of translation between the hinged walls of the two portions in the event that a finger, or other item becomes lodged between the two walls of the case. One example of such a compliant pivot is illustrated in a perspective view in FIG. 8, where the flexure points are shown generally at 96. With attention to FIG. 8A, a cross-sectional view through the hinge is provided, which illustrates carrying case lower portion 98 hinge flexure and carrying case upper portion 100 hinge flexure. In addition, hinge flexure may be independently provided by the feature of a compliant hinge pin 99, which may be fabricated of polymeric material such as an elastomeric material (e.g., natural rubber, synthetic rubber, thermoplastic elastomers, thermoset elastomers, etc.). Accordingly, compliant hinge pin 99 may be used either alone or in combination with hinge flexure portions 98 and 100. FIG. 9 shows in cross-section how the hinge flexure would accommodate a finger inadvertently positioned at the hinge location. As can be seen, the hinge is such that when the case is in the open position, the hinge also provides relative movement between the peripheral walls that are joined by the hinge such that the walls may move apart from one another to reduce the amount of pinching/force that would otherwise occur at such location. Such relative movement may be, as illustrated, generally in a horizontal plane.

[0052] FIG. 10A illustrates another optional structure to provide hinge flexure. Specifically a spring type hinge may be placed as shown at 102 which would similarly flex to accommodate a trapped finger as shown in FIG. 10B. Accordingly, in all of the aforementioned embodiments in which some form of hinge flexure is provided, the hinge may be said to provide two "pivot" zones, one for the primary purpose of opening the case and a second pivot (hinge flexure) which may be spring loaded and not normally used, but which provides movement between the two peripheral walls of the two case portions such that a reduced force may be applied to a pinched finger or any other sort of inadvertently placed item.

[0053] It is understood that the embodiments described herein can be modified within the spirit of this disclosure to accomplish similar novelty and unobvious inventions.

[0054] We intend the above description to illustrate embodiments of the present invention and it should not be construed to be limiting the invention as claimed herein. Obviously, there are many ways that one might modify these embodiments while remaining within the scope of the claims. In other words, there are many other ways one may practice the present invention without exceeding the scope of the claims herein.

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