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.
In the 1990s, there was a brand of collectible village called Liberty Falls Americana, made by a company called International Resource Services and sold in department stores. The figures are stamped “IRS” on the bottom. The product line consisted of porcelain buildings that are close to HO scale, but the figures are pretty close to 1:64 S scale. Made-to-be-collectibles tend not to hold their value very well, which means they’re still inexpensive today, and not hard to find on Ebay.
Set in the American West in the late 19th century, the figures are passable on a train layout even if your layout is set in a later era. Women in long, formal dresses won’t look out of place near a church, for example. Perhaps there’s a service or a wedding going on. Men in suits and hats work in that setting as well, and men tended to dress much more formally up to the 1950s than they typically do today, so the male figures in suits and hats wandering around the commercial district are perfectly believable on a traditional American Flyer toy train layout.
Then again, if you want Western figures to complement an American Flyer setup featuring a Casey Jones loco, the Liberty Falls figures are the very best thing you’ll find.
Sometimes the figures come painted and sometimes they’re just stained pewter. If you can score some painted figures, of course, they can go straight to the layout. Painting unpainted figures can be part of the fun too.
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 have 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.
A frequent question I see regards the proper scale of snow village-type buildings, like Department 56 and Lemax, and whether they’re suitable for use with Lionel electric trains.
The answer is that their scale varies, but the buildings work very effectively with traditional Lionel trains, or, for that matter, 1:64 S scale American Flyer trains. Many hobbyists have built elaborate winter-themed layouts using these buildings. Typically the scale runs from anywhere from 1:64 to 1:48, with lots of selective compression to make the buildings fit an approximate footprint. The very same thing is true of the Lionel trains of the 1950s, so, intentional or not, they end up being a pretty good match.
The figures sold with these buildings, on the other hand, tend to be much larger–very close to 1:24 scale. This discrepancy bothers some people more than others. 1:24 figures are better suited for G scale.
I found a few plaster buildings at Michael’s (the crafts chain) this week. The size would work for O27, S scale (1:64), or 28mm scale. They included a diner, a pet store, a post office, and a church. They come unpainted, but would paint easily with acrylic paints. They were priced at $4.99.
Frequently the trucks (the wheel/coupler assembly that sits under train cars) come unattached. Lionel trains from the 1970s and first half of the 1980s are especially prone to this, though other makes of trains aren’t immune either. And sometimes you just want to change the trucks–some Lionel and Marx O27 cars are just the right size for American Flyer S scale, for example, only the trucks are the wrong gauge.
It’s tempting to try to just re-attach them with a nut and bolt, but as the train runs in circles around the track, the nut loosens and eventually works its way out.
If you’re a tinplate fan like me, it would behoove you to make a trip to Big Lots sometime this week. Big Lots has a selection of building-shaped cookie tins priced at $5 each. The buildings include a town hall, post office, bakery, and general store. Additionally, my old friend Radio Shack is selling a building tin full of AA and AAA batteries for $10 until December 10 (it’ll be $20 after that). Read more