Heritage Model Trains Article

The Many Model Train Scales


Scale simply means the “reduced size relative to the original item” – so let’s understand that because we will be talking about the many different model train scales that can be purchased as a hobby. The most popular and the one we have in our home is the HO scale. I’m told that 70% of hobbyists like this scale of model train.


The HO size is like the fairy-tale of the three bears in that it is “just right” for about everything; they operate well on many size displays and has by far the most available and ready to assemble kits, parts, and accessories like buildings, people, vehicles, and bridges. Because of the variety of choices in these accessories, the whole display shows very well when complete.



Harder to find is the reason the N scale and the Z scale are less popular. The N is probably the next step down from HO in size; about half as large. This tiny layout can definitely cover more space, but working with models and scenery this small takes patience due to the fine detail in the products themselves.


The Z scale is yet another one-third smaller and presents even more challenges for those with large hands or bi-focal eyeglasses. However, this micro-size can lend itself to a children’s corner in a hospital, or in the waiting room of a dentist. Now there’s an idea.


O scale was once very popular under the Christmas tree every year. My brothers had one and we all delighted at the old Lionel engines pounding around the track sounding very realistic as it passed over rail joints and switches. This scale of course is the perfect size for young child’s hands.


G scale is the ‘garden model railroad’ choice for outside layouts. This size tends to be the best ‘garden variety’ because it allows for optimal operation as well as fitting with existing and planned scenery. Of course plant variety keeps the simplicity of the layout but control is a definite factor. That said, you have to admit it combines two passions; gardening and model trains.


That takes care of all the scales, but we do need a cautionary piece here because it is a myth to think that “scale and gauge” are interchangeable. It should make common sense that if the scale is small, the size of the track must be small and the opposite case if the train is large – it will travel on a larger track. But many times this does not seem to be assumable.


Today of course, consumer usability has been a big consideration for manufacturers and now when you shop for model train accessories, note the “scale” printed on the upper corner of the item. If you are setting up an HO scale model train layout, all of your accessories (particularly the tracks) can be found with the HO letters on the box or package.


Many a long winter’s dreary day has been passed setting up a new farmhouse complete with animals, pond, pastures, fences, trees, people and barns. With a planned church down the road, and a log-cabin café a bit further, you can imagine how fast our winter seems to be.


All Aboard……


Esther Smith, author

Heritage Model Trains