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A Forgotten Love Awakened

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This can be a confusing topic and frankly, most of the confusion is brought about by people who do not understand the relationship between Scale and Gauge and then use them incorrectly. So from all my research, here is how a very clear topic became so catawampus that even many train dealers don’t really understand what they are saying and use the words scale and gauge incorrectly.

First I will cover what should bring no arguments; because there is nothing to disagree about.

Scale: Is a proportion from the original size. The prototype, often abbreviated as proto, a real locomotive.

Gauge: The distance between the insides of the rails. For “Standard Gauge†in the US, the proto distance would be 4’ 8.5†or 1435.1mm

From here, everything starts to get a little muddy because you are dealing with the first element of confusion; two standards. One from Europe (where the first working steam locomotive was built and many of the large scale trains were conceived), NEM (Normal European Modelling) and the second from the US, NMRA (National Model Railroad Association) who doesn’t seem to like large scale trains.

It appears that rather than saying the scale of the model you wanted (like 1:87.1) is was much easier to say and remember letters (like HO). So for a 1:64 scale (3/16†= 1’) train, they decided to call that “S†scale. For 1:48 scale (1/4†= 1’) they decided to call that “O†Scale (see Note 1). For 1:87.1 (3.5mm = 1’) they decided to call that HO (half O scale) (See Note 2). And for my beloved MTH 1:32 Scale (3/8†= 1’) they decided to call that “1†scale.

Note 1: The second element of confusion is that some letter designations (like O scale) have different scales sizes in different countries. (Somewhat like “G†but different) In Great Britain and France; it is 1:43.5. In Germany, Japan, Russia, Czech it is 1:45. In the US it is 1:48 scale.

Interestingly, O scale was originally called “0†Zero Scale (1 – 10 were larger scales already in use in Europe), because 0 (aka. O) was a step down in size from 1 scale (My beloved MTH) they called it zero scale. From the 1920s until after World War II, 0 scale dominated the model train market. But as model trains became more affordable for the average person, the space required to set up the tracks became a major consideration in purchasing model railroad trains so sizes (scales) got smaller. It is easy to see how the Zero scale morphed to O scale because it happens today when people say their ZIP code which is all numbers; like 17078. Instead of saying One Seven Zero Seven Eight they will frequently say One Seven Oh Seven Eight. The third element of confusion; is it a letter or a number???

Note 2: Although the HO nomenclature was meant to be half of the O scale, because the size originated in Europe, the metric system did not successfully become exactly one half of O. The fourth element of confusion; combining English and Metric measurements.

Now comes the fifth element of confusion; people calling a gauge by the scale name because of the standard prototypical relationship. People with track that has a gauge of 31.8mm (1.25â€) started to say I have O gauge track. What they really mean is that 1.25†track is the gauge that O scale reflects when wanting to make a “standard†railroad (not narrow gauge). The sixth element of confusion comes when you use that same 1.25†track for models in Europe that call there models: 16mm scale (actually 1.19.05 scale) or Fn3 scale (Actually 120.3 scale) or Scale 7 (actually 1.43.5 scale) ARE YOU REALLY CONFUSED NOW? Wait, it gets worse!

The seventh element of confusion. The model railroad community is mixing and matching different scales with different gauges to replicate narrow gauge railroads faster than girls mix and match their clothes. You’ll read more on this later.

Now, to the heart of the matter, and my eighth element of confusion; “G†or large scale. There are several accounts as to what “G†stands for. Some say it is from the Note 3: This link states that 1 scale was also a US scale.

Because people quite often mix and match terms without a great understanding of the words they use, the 45mm track is most often referred to as 1 gauge. But as you know, they use the same track associated with 1 scale (1 Gauge / 45mm) to operate all the other large scale trains. Did you know that for LGB (1:22.5 scale), the “standard†gauge track for that scale is actually 3 gauge track which is 63.5mm. However, in the US, they use 1 gauge track for all large scales (except 1:32 scale) to replicate a narrow gauge railroad. In the case of LGB, its proto would be operating on 40†track. Aristocraft’s 1:29 scale, for standard gauge, is best suited for 2 gauge track 50.8mm.

“So Larry, if 1 gauge track got its name from being associated with 1 scale trains (the scale of 1:32); can you really call it 1 gauge track when it is track that is being used by a 1:22.5 train?" I say, "Call it what you want, but if my cat had kittens in the oven I won’t be calling them biscuits!†(Meaning it should no longer be called one gauge track when it is being used by any train that is not 1 scale / 1:32 scale)

As you can see, it is very confusing when people talk about model trains; especially when mixing and matching scales and gauges.

In conclusion, there is no “one†scale named G; just a bunch of large scales that fit into a category that people call “G.†And I find it hard to accept we should still call a track width by the scale name it was associated with (1 scale) when you are using it with another scale…it should just be called 45mm gauge track.

Remember, although your trains may fall into the G category; not all G category trains are 1:32 scale, or 1:29 scale or 1:22.5 scale.

Comment: Mike’s Train House (MTH) refers to their 1:32 product line as “Railking One Gauge†trains. From a technical standpoint, this is incorrect as they sell 1:32 scale trains (1 scale); not track associated with that scale commonly referred to as 1 gauge. In easier terms (?), they are calling their 1:32 train by a term used for distance (gauge) versus what a 1:32 proportion is called; “scale.â€

Want to get an idea of how convoluted model railroading has become with the

scale/gauge relationship? Check out the links below:

Larry G.


My getting into Large Scale came purely by accident. Being in my 60’s I decided I should decrease the many possessions that I have collected through my life. I grew up and was mentored by Depression Era parents and relatives that never threw anything out because, “You never know when you might need or repurpose that object.†Not only do I have my stuff, but I have a lot of my parents, 2 aunts, 1 uncle, 1 grandparent, my sister, and my son’s stuff. So as you can imagine, I needed to lighten my load before my son has to face all this mess when I pass on (at least it is all in one space versus scattered across Maine and then hauled to PA.

In this cleansing process, I arrive at my 1953 027 Lionel train set that dad bought new for me as a young child. I still had the track/layout attached to a 4’x8’ sheet of plywood so I lugged that down from the attic, lugged the trains up from the basement, and set them up in my garage to insure they would work when prospective buyers came to get their child a last minute train set just before Christmas 2012. Although the train set was somewhat rare, it was not a “valuable†one in general and had a few cosmetic defects. I listed it as, “A real train set to spark the interest of a young railroader without the fear of damaging a costly collectable.†Price $90 for all.

Well I immediately got calls from all the people who thought they made a real find and wanted detailed photos of the engine and rolling stock. I posted a few photos on line but told people it was not the great deal on a collectors set they had hoped for; I just wanted to give a parent a break on a real train that their child could play with.

A man came over to see the set and I ran the train so he could see the lights flash, the gates go up and down, and that all the stitches worked. In the process of my demonstration he looked at me and asked, “Are you sure you want to sell the train set?†Not looking at him because I was watching the train go though the switches to a different track I said, “Yes; why?†He said, “Because it looks like you are having too much fun.†I told him I was sure and that I needed to simply my life. So with a smile on his face, I helped him load the set into his pickup. The same scenario happened when I sold my 027 Lionel switcher which was more valuable than the entire set I just sold.

I got thinking about the observations made by the purchasers of my trains and realized I still had a spark of enjoyment about model railroading. I still had/have a lot of HO stuff and wondered if I should set that up and restart an old hobby. I wanted to get my new wife involved as we seem to have too many different interests. She does love gardening and landscaping and I seem to still have an interest in trains so maybe we should consider doing a garden railroad?

I made the pitch to her and got a lukewarm response; but it wasn’t a no. (She probably wishes now that she HAD said no.)

This time around I found that larger trains rather than smaller ones caught my interest. For now I am happy playing with my trains on the basement floor. It de-stresses me just watching the train go round and round. Like a child, I still find myself watching the cars disappear around the boxes wondering where they have gone and will they reappear. I can feel excitement and anticipation building when I see the engine headlight light up the basement wall and its reflection off the track just before the engine comes into view. Sometimes the basement lights are on; sometimes they are turned off. When I come up I always have a smile on my face which has my wife calling me her little boy. In the basement I regain the magic, innocence, and simplicity of life that I once had before my world became more complex and intense with my routinely life or death profession.

Now watch me overcomplicate it. LOL

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