Tag Archives: o scale

Creative sourcing for O and S scale train layout figures

Hobby shops frequently carry a decent selection of figures for O and S gauge layouts, but if you look at the magazines long enough, you start to see almost all of them┬áhave the same figures–and they’re probably the same figures the shop near you sells as well.

There are ways to get a better variety of figures so your layout can have something distinctive about it–and the good news is you can save some money doing it as well.

Continue reading Creative sourcing for O and S scale train layout figures

I don’t think this basement layout abandoned since 1967 is necessarily a tragedy

A query appeared on one of the train forums and has slowly spread through several discussion groups I’m aware of, regarding a 2-rail O scale train layout, built by a hobbyist in the 1950s and 1960s, who died in 1967. The layout sat for 45 years, and now someone has approached a couple of hobbyists about possibly liquidating it.

Of course, lots of armchair pundits have their own ideas about what should have happened to that layout in 1967, when the builder died.

Continue reading I don’t think this basement layout abandoned since 1967 is necessarily a tragedy

An easy DIY Lionel-compatible high-side gondola

My preschool-aged boys and I made train cars this weekend. Yes, I introduced my boys to the idea of making train cars from scratch–scratchbuilding.

They aren’t finescale models by any stretch. But the project was cheap–no more than $30 for the pair of cars, total–and it was fun.

Here’s how we made these simple train cars, so you can too. Continue reading An easy DIY Lionel-compatible high-side gondola

Frequent questions about setting up toy trains and trains and Christmas trees

Here are some train-related questions I’ve been seeing from Google searches that I really don’t think I ever answered adequately elsewhere. I don’t know where they’ve been landing before today, but hopefully this will help. Continue reading Frequent questions about setting up toy trains and trains and Christmas trees

Cars for trains

Vehicles are a frequent topic of discussion on the various O and S gauge train forms. At times these discussions can get rather heated.

Since use on train layouts is rarely the objective of the companies making various diecast vehicles, there’s no true right answer to what one should or shouldn’t use. This is my personal philosophy. Take it for what it’s worth.

I run prewar and postwar Lionel and Marx trains on my layout, primarily. Most of them are undersize O27; I only have a handful of American Flyer cars that might perhaps approach proper 1:48 O scale.

Prior to the early 1970s, Lionel paid no particular attention to scale. Therefore I see little need to break out the scale ruler and be anal retentive about what vehicles will and won’t go on my layout. A Lionel 6014 Baby Ruth boxcar is very close to 1:64 scale, although it’s riding on trucks that are very close to 1:48. The famous Lionel 6464 boxcars are about 1:55 scale. Marx had a whole line of 1:64 scale O gauge trains; its cheaper plastic cars are also very close to 1:64. Some of its “deluxe” cars were closer to 1:60–somewhere in between the Lionel 6014 and 6464 in size. Maybe making them bigger than the 6014 for about the same price made them seem to be a better value for the money.

And for that matter, while A.C. Gilbert’s American Flyer division paid more attention to scale, Gilbert wasn’t shy about shipping off-scale stuff with the American Flyer name on it either. The trains themselves were pretty close to scale, but many of the accessories and buildings were too large or too small.

Needless to say, it doesn’t bother me then that a Matchbox VW Beetle is 1:55 scale but a Matchbox model of a larger vehicle, say a ’57 Chevy, will be 1:64 or perhaps even a bit smaller. If it’s the right era, I’ll use it.

Besides, park any of them outside a Plasticville house, and it’s clear to anyone that it’ll fit inside that garage. Therefore, it will look believable.

I do pay attention to era. Even a casual passer-by can tell the difference between cars from various decades. And I do think era sets the tone of a layout, so I draw my line at 1949. Postwar fans have it easier, as there are tons and tons of great vehicles from the 1950s and 1960s available. Since I stick to pre-1950, generally speaking I can only count on each manufacturer of Hot Wheels and Matchbox type cars offering one or two vehicles per year that I can use. If I drew the line later, I could probably find a couple dozen cars per year to buy.

Many cars have to be modified to suit my purposes, since I want everyday city street scenes, not a hot rod convention. In the case of the Hot Wheels ’32 Ford Delivery sedan I picked up at Kmart tonight (along with baby formula and a cordless phone–you gotta love it), the car is pretty tame. No jacked up wheels, no overly funky colors. It does have flames. Remove the flames with some nail polish remover or purple cleaner on a cotton swab, and I can probably pass it off as stock to a casual observer. Other times, it’s necessary to drill out the rivets on the bottom, swap out the wheels for more conservative ones, and maybe even strip and repaint the vehicle.

According to a car buff on an S gauge board I read frequently, prior to WWII cars tended to be painted dark shades of green, brown, blue, red, and black. Fenders might be a different shade of the body color. After WWII, the colors lightened up and two-tone paint jobs became popular.

The need to swap wheels means sometimes you have to buy cars just to get their wheels. So I’ll look for cheap vehicles with conservative-looking wheels to use as donors. This adds cost, but consider some people pay $20 and up for each vehicle on their layout. Compared to that, it’s still cheap.

Some people get irritated at having to modify vehicles before using them on the layout. It doesn’t bother me all that much. I think it’s part of the fun, and the result is that I have vehicles that don’t look like anyone else’s.

An O scale glossary of sorts

I just spent some time explaining some of the terminology that goes along with Lionel and other O gauge and O scale trains. So I thought maybe a definition of some terms might prove useful to somebody.

Gauge — the width of the track. O gauge track is 1.75 inches wide. “Gauge” and “Scale” are often used interchangeably but they aren’t the same. Very few Lionel trains made up until the mid-1990s that ran on O gauge track were actually true O scale.

Hi-rail — realistic scenery using toy trains. The term originated because Lionel O gauge and American Flyer S gauge track are much taller than scale.

Narrow gauge — Track that is less than 4’8.5″. This was used for short, private railroads (such as in and around mines) and in mountains, where smaller trains presented a cost or mechanical advantage. Some modelers model narrow gauge lines because it can be possible to model an entire railroad in a relatively small space. Narrow gauge models are designated as the scale, followed by the letter n, and the track gauge, i.e. HOn2, On30.

O27 — The cheapest track system used by Lionel, Marx, Ives, and American Flyer. A circle of O27 track measures about 27 inches from one side to the other. This curve is very sharp, so trains intended to run on O27 track tend to be undersize.

O27 profile — O27 track stands about 3/8 of an inch high, so “O27 profile” track refers to straight and wide curves that will plug into O27 track.

O31 — This was Lionel’s costlier, more durable track. Its wider curves allowed for bigger trains, and since the rails were made of heavier metal, sometimes it can withstand being stepped on. A circle of standard O31 track measures about 31 inches in diameter.

O31 profile — straights and wide curves made the same height and thickness as O31 curves.

On30 — Narrow gauge trains running on track that’s a scale 30 inches in gauge. This was popularized by Bachmann, because HO scale track is very close to 30 inches wide in O scale. Bachmann seized this idea, using HO track and mechanisms to make O scale trains. There wasn’t a lot of 30-inch gauge track in the real world, but it caught on and now is possibly the largest-growing segment of the hobby.

Prewar — trains made before World War II. By and large these trains are more colorful and less realistic than those made after World War II.

Postwar — Trains made after the end of World War II but before Lionel Corporation sold its train line to General Mills in 1969. Technology advanced rapidly during these years, allowing the trains to become more realistic and gain new features. Since these are the trains Baby Boomers grew up with, they are very popular.

Scale — the size of a model in relation to the real thing. O scale is 1:48, meaning a quarter inch on the model equals a foot on the real thing. S scale is 1:64, meaning 3/16 inch on the model equals a foot on the real thing. An O scale model of a 6-foot tall human being is 1.5 inches tall. When people talk about “scale trains” in the context of O gauge, they generally mean 1:48 scale trains of recent production that have much greater detail and scale fidelity than trains produced during the postwar era.

Standard Gauge — Large-scale Lionel trains made until the 1930s. There was actually nothing standard about it, but it caught on. They were big, loud, gaudy, colorful, and toylike.

standard gauge — Four feet, eight and a half inches. This is the standard width of railroad track. When someone talks about “standard gauge O” or “standard gauge HO,” they’re talking about an O scale model of a standard gauge train.

Super O — a form of track introduced by Lionel in the late 1950s to address some of the shortcomings of tubular track. It was much more realistic, and while it developed a cult following that remains to this day, it didn’t really catch on.

Tinplate — Before plastics, most trains were made of tin-plated steel that was formed into shape. Either the metal was printed with a design (usually lithography) before it was formed, or it was formed and then painted with enamel paints.

Tubular track — the oldest form of toy train track, invented by Marklin in the 1890s, made of steel sheet formed into a tube and crimped onto a small number of large, oversized ties. Lionel’s O27 and O31 track are both tubular. A number of companies now offer newer track with a higher degree of realism.

Cars (as in vehicles) for train layouts

I was at Kmart today, and as I usually do, I wandered down the toy aisle on the off chance I might find some cars that might work on my train layout.

I did a lot better than I usually do–Jada and Maisto came through for me.I won’t talk about HO and N scale trains because for those scales, you can walk in to any hobby shop in the country and find pretty much anything you want. Us Lionel and American Flyer fans have it a lot tougher.

Lionel O scale is roughly 1:48. You won’t find 1:48 vehicles anywhere these days, but you can find 1:43 and 1:50. Some people fret that 1:43 is way too big, but sometimes you can hold up one maker’s 1:43 vehicle next to a similar 1:50 vehicle from another make and find they’re just about the same size. Maisto and New Ray are two makes of cars that size.

Lionel and Marx O27 is 1:64, more or less. Maisto, Jada, and Ertl make lots of 1:64 cars. Some Hot Wheels and Matchbox cars are close, but most are closer to 1:72, which is a bit small.

American Flyer O gauge trains made after 1937 are 1:64 scale, and all American Flyer S gauge trains are 1:64.

Since I run O27, I have lots of vehicles to choose from, but the problem is finding something era-appropriate. Contemporary vehicles are no problem to find, but if you want something old, it’s hard to find much other than a ’57 Chevy. Well, you can find a handful of late ’50s cars of various makes, but it tends to lean towards the late ’50s, and from looking at the stuff in the diecast aisle, you would think Ford and GM were the only two companies making cars in the ’50s. Want a Studebaker or a Hudson or (gasp) a Dodge? Good luck.

Of course I had to make things more difficult. I like really old trains, so a ’57 Chevy isn’t exactly going to cut it. I need 1930s and 1940s cars.

Maisto just happens to be offering a 1:64 ’36 Ford Coupe as part of its G Ridez series. It has homey-ized rims and thin tires, but other than that, it looks pretty stock. Hot Wheels has offered a ’36 Ford since I was a little kid, but it was always a hotrod.

Maisto also offers a ’37 Ford, but it has a prominently chopped roof

And Jada is offering a 1:64 ’39 Chevy Master Deluxe as part of its Dub City Old Skool line. Like the Maisto, it has thin tires and weird rims, but aside from that, it looks stock, and it’s black. This is a very nice car to have because it’s a late 1930s station wagon–a family car. It looks just like the cars you see families using in the movies set in the ’30s and ’40s. I hope I can find a few more of these because it’s the kind of ordinary car that will look natural even if I had several on the layout.

So if your toy train preferences lean towards American Flyer S gauge or Lionel or Marx O27, a trip down the toy aisle at your local Kmart or Target would probably be a good idea.

One thing I’ve learned is that I have to be patient. Usable cars are out there, but there may only be a handful of them issued every year–including anything Mattel releases under the Hot Wheels or Matchbox brands, undersize or not. I take what I can get. But improving the layout a little bit at a time over the course of years is part of the hobby’s appeal. At least it’s supposed to be.

Cheap buildings for a train layout

I’ve read about The New Pretty Village, published in book form by Dover Publications in 1980, as a source of buildings for a train layout, particularly a layout featuring tin litho Marx or prewar trains. Now I’ve got one in my hot little hands.I found some pictures of a reproduction online, and Marx expert Walt Hiteshew’s layout has used them as well.

Dover’s version consists of 18 buildings, if you consider a tent a building. Like many toy villages that came before and after, they’re a bit simplified compared to real buildings. If one measures the doors to the buildings, they’re probably best suited for a 1:64 scale (S or O27) layout. If one measures the adult humans portrayed, then they’re about right for O scale (1:48). So they look fine with any Marx trains, and pretty much anything O gauge made by Lionel, Ives, and American Flyer, not to mention lesser-known makers like Dorfan and Bing.

The size is a good match for postwar S scale American Flyer as well, so the set could represent an older part of town on a Flyer layout, or the main part of town with a Flyer Casey Jones set.

Since the originals were drawn in 1897, the earlier the trains are, the better the match. They’d look great with a Bing or Ives windup cast-iron train pulling lithographed tin cars. They look good with Marx, but the brighter colors on Marx’s postwar tin overwhelms the more subdued colors McLoughlin Bros. used in 1897.

The originals were intended to take up about a 4’x2′ space. Since the smallest possible O27 layout is around 9 square feet, one book does a nice job of filling it. If you want more buildings, you can get another set.

Here’s what you get: eight houses, a log cabin, a blacksmith shop, a firehouse, a school, a church, a florist, a photography studio, a boathouse, a hotel, and a tent. You probably won’t want to use all of the buildings in multiple sets (just how many blacksmith shops do you need?) but you can match up sets pretty effectively.

Used copies sell for about $2 plus shipping (about $3.49). Check the condition of the used listings, of course. New copies are $6.25. If you can get a good used one for under $6 delivered, that works out to 30 cents a building. You wouldn’t be able to make color photocopies of the buildings for that price.

I like the set, and I’ll be using it on my layout.