Wondering about scale vs gauge? You’re not alone. It’s a common question, and I’ll try to provide a simple answer. The two terms may appear interchangeable, but they aren’t quite.
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What scale are Matchbox cars, you ask? Unfortunately it varies a bit. Nominally they’re around 1:64 scale. But scale isn’t Matchbox’s objective. Fitting in the package is. That means the size of Matchbox cars is between 2.5 and 3 inches, depending on what looks right for the prototype model. So it can take some homework to figure out the actual scale of any given model.
Sakai trains were made in HO and O gauge by a Tokyo-based manufacturer and sold abroad, particularly in the United States and Australia after World War II. Sakai’s O gauge product bore a curious resemblance to Marx. I have read speculation that Marx once used Sakai as a subcontractor, and Sakai used the tooling to make its own trains rather than returning it to Marx, but there are enough differences that I don’t think that’s the case.
What I do know is that Sakai’s O gauge product was a curious blend of cues from Lionel and Marx and the trains worked pretty well. They’re hard to find today, but not especially valuable since few people know what they are. They turn up on Ebay occasionally.
Over the years, Marx made electric and clockwork trains in no fewer than seven sizes and two gauges. Depending on how you count Marx train sizes, you can say it was more than that. Here’s an overview of what they made.
If you go to sell Marx trains, correctly identifying the size definitely makes them attract more bids.
In the 1950s, Marx and Lionel took turns being the biggest toy company in the world, largely riding on the popularity of O gauge trains. Neither company particularly liked the other, but both owed some degree of their success to being compatible with one another. Because of their interoperability, the two makes of trains are frequently compared and contrasted even today. Let’s take a look at Marx vs Lionel.
In 1950, Marx introduced the largest locomotive it ever made, the Marx 21 Santa Fe diesel. Marx made both powered and unpowered versions, and they were dressed up in the same warbonnet scheme as Lionel’s iconic F3 diesels, but unlike Lionel’s effort, they were nearly 1:48 scale (proper for O gauge) and made of metal.
Marx only made them for two years.
The breadth of Department 56 product lines, such as Department 56 Snow Village, is rather extensive, but there are items they don’t produce and likely never will. If you want to complete your village with other items, or use Department 56 in other settings, such as a train layout, then scale might matter to you—and Department 56 scale is undefined. Here’s how to make sure the things you want to use together will go together, size-wise.
The answer, by Department 56’s own admission, is that it varies. But since I see the question come up again and again, I’m going to tackle it. It varies, but there’s a method to it the madness.
I get a lot of questions about the difference between HO scale and 1:64, and it occurred to me that I missed something. I was thinking of model train HO scale, which is 1:87, which is about 25% smaller than 1:64.
But for whatever reason, slot car HO scale is 1:64.