Scale refers to the proportion of the scaled down model with the real
thing. For example, HO scale is 1.87 or 87 times smaller than the real thing.
N scale 1:160 is 160 times smaller. Gauge is the distance between the railheads.
Here is a chart on the most popular scales.
||SCALE TO FOOT
||5 3/4 inch|
||7 1/2 inch|
||22 1/2 inch|
||1 1/4 inch
||1 3/4 (#1)
||23 5/8 inches|
||LENGTH TO A SCALE MILE|
||24 foot 0 inches|
||33 foot 0 inches|
||60 foot 7 1/2 inches|
||82 foot 6 inches|
||120 foot 0 inches|
||234 foot 8 inches|
An important area to consider is your scale's minimum radius. This will
play a major roll in determining the size of your layout.
Here is a brief explanation of the minimum and maximum radii:
Broad curves: Can run the full length
passenger cars and all locomotives including steam locomotives. Appearance
of running trains is more realistic.
Full length passenger cars will not derail if curves are provided
by easement curves, all freight equipment except 85' piggy back cars, and
all transport cars will operate.
Sharp curves: Cars up to 60' long,
switch engines, 4 wheel base and small steam engines.
BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF SCALES
O and S Scales
These two scales got their start in the 1920's and 1930's. They were mass
produced more as toy trains than scale models. Manufactures began making
tracks in various widths. For marketing purposes they were numbered No.
1, No. 2, or No. 3.
In 1910, the Ives Company came out with a track narrower than size No.1
and the company called it 0 (zero gauge). The size was a success when Lionel
and American Flyer offered their train sets in that size.
Soon it went from being called Zero to O gauge. The tracks were tin plated,
hence their name given to Lionel and American Flyer as the tin plates.
Lionel had O and a smaller gauge called O27. This referred to the 27"
diameter of the circle it made. The engines and cars were shorter to negotiate
the tight curves. American Flyer went to true scale trains, the S scale
(1:64). These were truer to real trains and ran on two rails.
Lionel's Ives were running on three rails because three rails were easier
to wire than two rails due to the fact that the 3rd (middle) rail was always
positive so it did not produce a short circuit on switches and return loops.
There is also a scale O gauge available that runs on two rails.
HO Scale (1:87)
This is by far the most popular scale. Today
75% of the hobby is in HO scale and because of that manufacturers tend to
produce more products in this scale.
N Scale (1:160)
This scale is now #2 in the hobby at 16%.
It's a smaller size and excellent for apartment dwellers or those with a
Z Scale (1:220)
It was introduced in 1972 and is even smaller
than N. It does not need much space. You could build a layout in an attache
case or an enclosed coffee table. The major manufacturer is Marklin. The
majority of the equipment is European flavor. However, Micro Trains offers
an F7 locomotive and American style freight cars.
G Scale (1:22.5)
We owe this scale to the German manufacturer
Lehmann. Their popular brand of LGB trains are actually GN3 models running
on No. 1 gauge track. They represent narrow gauge track. The letter G stands
for garden. The G scale Aristo Craft Trains run on No. 1 gauge. They are
proportioned at 1:29 and represent American prototypes. These rugged trains
definitely are at home in the great outdoors.
Here is a brief explanation of the sizes.
Narrow gauge verses standard gauge:
The first transcontinental railroad in the US was built with the rails spaced
4' 8 ½" apart. This became the standard gauge for railroads.
Before that, gauges ranged from 2 to 7 feet. Three feet was also a popular
size used in the Colorado Rockies and Appalachians. It was cheaper to build
and could negotiate tighter turns, which was useful in the mountains.
Gauge 1 Narrow Gauge:
The real narrow gauge equipment was about 3/4 the size of standard gauge.
Hold on to that concept otherwise things can get a bit confusing from here.
You have two separate groups of models available that will run on gauge
1. Models that are replicas of real narrow gauge, (made by LGB, Bachman,
Hartland and Aristo Craft). The other group are models based on standard
gauge real railroads and equipment (from Aristo Craft, LGB, USA Trains,
Lionel and MDC). Most of these brands make both narrow and standard gauge.