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The Many Scales of Model Railroading

When planning a model railroad layout, model railroaders have to choose what scale they are going to be modeling. The ratio between real life size and model size is known as the scale. On an HO scale layout, or 1:87 scale, the scenery, rolling stock and buildings will be 1/87 of the real life, or prototype size.

By far modeler's favorite scale to model is HO scale (1:87). Where you don't have a lot of space available for setting up a model railroad layout, the smaller scales, N scale (1:160) and Z scale (1:220) would be more suitable. On Z Scale layouts, scaled objects would be 1/220 the size of real life objects, whereas on N scale layouts, scaled objects are 1/160 the size of full size objects. If you are considering modeling the smaller scales, keep in mind that good eyesight and hand eye coordination will be needed.

S Scale (1:64), O scale (1:48) and G scale (1:24) make up the larger model railroad scales. O scale became very popular back in the 50's and 60's when Lionel was the household name for model railroading. It is still a very popular scale. G or Garden scale is very popular for outdoor model railroad layouts. G scale works well on outdoor layouts as it is fairly simple to keep the existing scenery in proportion to the rolling stock.

For those who like to model G scale, several Garden Railroad Clubs can be found across the country. The best part of garden railroads is that it's a hobby that both husband and wife can enjoy. One can tend to the railroad while the other tends to the plants. Some garden centers have even started to carry plants and shrubs specifically for the garden railroader.

The term scale and gauge do not have the same meaning. Scale refers to the size of objects in proportion to their prototype. Gauge refers to the distance between the rails. Most scales model standard gauge track. Standard gauge railroads are those whose rails are 4 feet 8 and one half inches apart.

Those modelers that model 3' gauge, or narrow gauge railroads use a combination of scales and gauges. For instance, you can model narrow gauge using HO scale. It is called HOn3. The HO refers to the scale and the "n" refers to narrow gauge and the "3" refers to 3' between the rails. The only thing that sets HOn3 apart from HO is that the 10.5mm gauge track it uses is not as wide.

You can also model O scale, N scale and S scale as narrow gauge. They are called On3, Nn3 and Sn3. Again, the only thing that differentiates them from their parent scale is the use of narrow gauge track. It is possible to use 30" gauge track (30 inches between the rails) and 2' gauge track (24" between the rails). Some popular scale/gauge combinations are On30 and On2.

Park rides and live steam layouts use large scales and gauges such as 1:12, 1:8 and even 1:4. A popular gauge for live steam and miniature railroads is 7.5 inch gauge.

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