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1:32 Scale Narrow Gauge
One Size Fits All


I WAS WITHOUT a scale of my own back in 1986 even though, for almost a decade, I had been custom building models in various scales for many customers. I had sold all my On3 equipment because it began to seem too small. 1:29, 1:24, and 1:22.5 scales seemed too large to be practical for an indoor layout in the space I have available and, outdoors, I prefer a scale closer to 3/4-inch.


I had been a military modeler since 1967 and scratchbuilt whatever was unavailable in kit form. My models always had concentrated on the Pacific area during World War Two and, in 1975, I built a 3 by 8 foot diorama using 1:32 and 1:35 scale models, the classic military scales. Why mention that here? Because the scene featured a complete two foot gauge sugar tram representing the Nippon Panay Sugar Cooperative.

At the time, I knew nothing about either railroads or narrow gauge; building those models required some very exhaustive research. I spent hours in libraries and strayed far from military sources to find what I needed. The resulting sugar tram was very accurate and used a German Mann-type Henschel belly frame 0-4-0T 4-ton locomotive with 18 inch drivers. It was static, though and, maybe because of that, I gave trains no further thought for years. Once I had entered model railroading and, by 1987, found myself dissatisfied with On3, I looked for a scale allowing me to build very small prototypes for an indoor layout but still large enough see easily. Out came the old scrap books of my early military models and, with them, a photo of that old plantation diorama.

Within one week I had built a prototype frame for an 1889 6-ton Porter (its prototype was the Pot, an Arcada & Mad River 0-4-0T) and soon my first 3/8n3 model was born. I fell in love with the size and an extremely popular military modeling size had entered the world of scale model railroading.


In many other countries, 1:32 is a common scale for standard and narrow gauge model railroads. In this country, 3/8n3 is new and unusual. A more correct designation might be 1n3 since, technically, its proper name is Number One scale. You could also call it 1:32n3.

Number One scale and gauge have the reputation of being the oldest in our hobby. The scale of 3/8-inch equals one foot established itself in the first third of the nineteenth century as the standard for building all models of products applying for a patent. Applicants offered three dimensional renditions of their inventions without actually building full scale versions. All railroad patents also appeared as 1:32 scale models so, in the early twentieth century, hobbyists chose that size for building miniature railroad models.

Eventually, model railroaders standardized four different gauges and named them 0, 1, 2, and 3. At first, they were primarily popular with live steam modelers. Around the time Lionel appeared, "0" became "O". (The term "HO" represents "Half-O".) Even LGB chose Gauge One for its 1:22.5 scale narrow (meter) gauge toy trains. Good idea; strange scale.

In Number 1 (or 1:32) scale 3/8-inch equals 1 foot. That is the only correct scale accurately to represent standard gauge (4 foot 8 1/2 inch) models on Gauge 1 track. 3 foot narrow gauge models in 1:32 scale properly run on a gauge of 1 1/8 inches. Since no commercial track exists, modelers in that scale must build their own.

That was no obstacle for me because I had been scratchbuilding my own engines and rolling stock since entering the hobby in 1980. Where I live, nobody else was around for help or information so my first months in the hobby involved intense and obsessive research. I had no idea then about the relationship between scale and gauge.

[Scale refers to size, gauge to the distance between the rails. Assuming you keep the distance between the rails the same, as you increase a model's scale (or size) but keep its wheels the same distance apart, you decrease its gauge. That is why in 1:32 scale, LGB Gauge 1 track represents 4 feet 8 1/2 inch standard gauge but in the larger scale of 1:20.3, the same track represents 3 foot narrow gauge.-Ed.]

One day, at a hobby shop in (of all places) Hungry Horse Montana, I found a copy of the Narrow Gauge and Shortline Gazette. The high quality of the modeling on its pages resembled that of the military models I was used to. I entered the hobby as a narrow gauge modeler and the Gazette's publisher, Bob Brown, helped me tremendously. Soon I began to build railroad models professionally and ultimately focused on 1:32 scale.

I also have built models to fit commercial O scale track. They represent 40 inch gauge equipment (3/8n40 or 1n40) and, at first, they were popular because the gauge was convenient. But after about a year, my 40 inch gauge customers began to sell those models and reorder the same ones in 1n3. By the second year, I had no more orders for 40 inch gauge models; everyone prefers either 3 foot gauge or 2 foot gauge because those gauges were far more common on full size railroads.


Theme: Since I have pioneered 1n3 and have built models in that scale and gauge since developing the combination in 1987, I feel qualified to make some suggestions about its possibilities and its drawbacks. First and obviously, it requires a fairly large space to model even relatively small prototype operations. Outdoors, for example, a 30 car D&RGW consist will take up almost 35 linear feet-a lot of real estate. Indoors such a train would be completely impractical. And I doubt a 1:32 scale indoor model of even a small common carrier like the Nevada County Narrow Gauge would be satisfactory.

Industrial rail operations are another matter, though. They offer a grand and wonderful world of creative opportunity and 1:32 scale is just right. You could choose a prototype as large as the West Side Lumber Company or the Madera Sugar Pine Company. Or you could build a freelance model railroad following prototype practice. The world of industrial operation is so exhaustive and so few models of those railroads exist, you would have almost virgin modeling territory.

Your models would be small but still large enough to run superbly and to see clearly. They would have plenty of room for sound systems, detail parts, tools, and figures. Even an average size indoor layout would have space for such "accessories" as vehicles, structures, or anything else you might want.

Modeling supplies: 1:32 scale offers more support in modeling components than 1:64 (S), 1:48 (O), and 1:24 (half-inch) scales combined. How can I say that? Because nearly all 1/4-inch scale parts on the market are not only usable but often better looking in 1:32 scale. The wrench in Figure 1 demonstrates the point. Since 1:32 scale is 50-percent larger than 1:48, everything in 1:48 scale shrinks accordingly. So all those beautiful 1/4-inch scale white metal castings (jacks, lathes, vises, saws, wrenches, hammers, mauls, barrels, machinery, drums, donkey engine kits, windows, doors, stoves, ground throws-need I go on?) transfer beautifully up to 1:32 scale. What is more, many of those castings are slightly heavy looking in 1/4-inch but become much more accurate in 3/8.

You also have access to countless figures and vehicles. Military and other plastic models provide thousands of very high quality figures and hundreds of vehicles at extremely reasonable prices. A Tamiya six man tank crew kit sells for about three dollars. You easily can turn the figures into loggers. You could easily spend twice that much for a single figure in 1:22.5 or 1:24 scale. The raw material potential seems almost limitless.

Track and rolling stock components: Nearly all O scale standard gauge wheels are oversize in their own scale but work out to finescale dimensions in 1n3. Athearn O gauge trucks are a good example. The wheelbase of their archbar sideframes scales a very common 3 feet 7 inches in 1n3. By the time you read this, I will have produced 1n3 finescale brass Russell and Carter trucks and wheels, fully equalized and ready-to-run. Foothill Model Works' 26 foot Nevada County Narrow Gauge boxcar should also be coming onto the market now. Other manufacturers are watching and waiting.

Motive power: As far as I know, my company, Stillwater Mills, is the only manufacturer with 1:32 scale narrow gauge locomotives now on the market. You may have seen some of our ads for Porters and geared engines in back issues of the Gazette. We build them by hand, one at a time, and they are extremely accurate. They are expensive but cost less and run better than most brass imports. JMG Hobbies has advertised a 3/8n3 K-27 in Outdoor Railroader. If you prefer gas mechanicals or diesels and have some mechanical ability, you may buy an O scale model and kitbash it. But, in fairness, 1n3 motive power is pretty limited.


1n3 models are about 5-percent smaller than most O scale standard gauge equipment. A 24 foot Carter Brothers flatcar is about the same size as an O scale 36 foot flat. A 30 foot Rio Grande boxcar measures about 11 1/4 inches long, slightly larger than an O scale 40 foot AAR boxcar.

Overall, 1:32 scale is still the realm of scratchbuilders, kitbashers, and people with some discretionary income. But many hobbyists have sold small scale brass models to generate cash for 1n3 locomotives. Those in the large scales might consider the same thing. The money you receive for selling two LGB Moguls could finance a far more accurate 1:32 scale Porter. In model railroading as in art, less usually is more.


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