There are lots of scales people use to build their layouts. When I actually started the project and said “I’m pulling the trigger on building a layout today” I limited my choices to


Constraints and Influences

Physical properties of the scales

The larger scales (1:48, 1:64) allow better detail and generally your model trains will have better operating characteristics. The smaller scale (1:87) allows more terrain, more scale miles of track for a given space, needs more work to detail and more work to operate well.

Space and concept:

As I discuss elsewhere I want to build a layout that borrows heavily from Furlow’s HOn3 San Juan Central. This layout was 8 ‘ x 10′. I could fit a layout only slightly bigger than that into my available space. This tipped me towards HO or HOn3 (call it one unit of tip “towards”).


I built a small (30″ x 8′) HOn3 layout and have several pieces of HOn3 rolling stock. The trains are cute, sometimes only a bit larger than N scale. However, good operation was tough. Call it a wash.

Detailed Models

I’m a long time reader of Narrow Gauge & Shortline Gazette. Really the majority of the fine work seen in a typical issue is in larger scales. There is currently a pretty good variety of structures, a great variety of On3 rolling stock and scratchbuilding materials. On30 has a lot of energy in it these days and I love the slightly less formal atmosphere of the On30 comminuty. This tipped me towards On30 (call it one unit of tip “towards”).

Vehicles, Figures

I love model period vehicles and I want to have a full model population of figures. In 1:48 there is an “ok” variety of figures but a deplorable shortage of vehicles. Yes, yes: you can use 1:43 vehicles modified but if I’m in O scale I’m going to be wanting a bit more fidelity and there’s 10% difference in size between 43:48 (call it one unit of tip “away”).

In HO: Lots of vehicles in the late-20′s to mid-30′s timeframe I’m looking at. Lots of figures (call it one-half unit of tip “towards”).

What do I already own?

I have many classic HO structures, a couple O scale structures, many HO standard gauge kits, several HO locomotives, one HOn3 boxcab engine. This says: HO and HO standard will be cheaper to get going. Additionally, some of these HO kits are what I’ve always wanted to have on a layout and I have them *now* (call it one unit of tip “towards”).

HO wins so far: Narrow or Standard gauge?

I love narrow gauge but I the models are small. Bachmann (with a bit of help from Life Like) now provides excellent low cost small and medium size steam engines in HO standard that look and run great — and I already own several.

One of the key goals is to actually get this layout BUILT and RUNNING. So I’m going with HO standard gauge.

What price am I paying?

I believe projects turn out best when you acknowledge your compromises and confirm to yourself that you are really okay with them. Then, embrace them as guides. Boone Morrison wrote something I really agree with when he explained why he was moving from HOn3 to On3:

“HO is a great scale to build a model of a railroad, O scale is a great scale to build railroad models”

DS 1/25/2006