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SCALE AND GAUGE
WHAT EVERYONE SHOULD KNOW ABOUT MODEL RAILROADING

BY RUSS REINBERG


"WHAT IS YOUR problem, Reinberg? First an editorial, now an article? I run LGB, AristoCraft, and Delton together all the time and they look fine to me. After all, they're all G gauge. What's the difference?" Before I explain the difference, an anecdote: I have been a professional musician for many years. Early in my career I was recording a jazz album with a very good rhythm section. When I finished a solo the piano player told me I had played a wrong note. I listened to the replay and it sounded fine so I dismissed his comment as a nit pick. About a year later I was listening to another musician play the same tune and heard him play what sounded like a wrong note. It turned out to be in the same place as where I had hit that clinker during the recording session. In the space of a year my ear had developed more sensitivity. What had once sounded fine now sounded wrong. Here is the point: What may look fine to someone in the hobby for a year or two may look wrong to someone with more experience. Not because experience creates a nit picker. Because our sense of size and proportion tends to develop over time.

SCALE VERSUS GAUGE

The scale of a model is its size in specific units of measurement. A model of a 30 foot boxcar in the scale of one inch to the foot would be thirty inches long. Gauge refers to the distance between two rails. The gauge of LGB track is 45 millimeters. You may build a model to almost any scale and make it run on track of almost any gauge. It may look very silly, but you may do it. Large scale manufacturers currently offer models of four different proportions. Each is to a different scale. But all run on the same gauge. Nearly all of us own models that run on track with a distance between the rails of 45 millimeters. The proper name for such track is Gauge One. Some people mistakenly call 45 mm gauge track "G Gauge" but they are confusing G Scale with One Gauge. "G Scale" is the term LGB uses to define the size of its models. LGB trains are 1:22.5 scale, or 0.53 inch to the foot. And they run on One Gauge track. LGB chose that scale because in Gauge One the distance between the rails in 1:22.5 size works out very close to one scale meter the most common European narrow gauge.

NOW FOR THE CONFUSION

But our hobby has four major scales, all running on the same gauge. LGB is the largest. Next comes 1:24, or Half-Inch, scale. After that is 1:29 scale (.41 inch to the foot). And, finally, 1:32 scale (three-eighths inch to the foot). LGB pioneered large scale model trains so originally they had the most products. Other manufacturers building to other scales tried to make their products compatible with LGB's so they would couple together and run in the same train. That is where the trouble began. Kalamazoo, and later Delton, built models to a slightly smaller scale than LGB. And even though LGB builds its trains to 1.:22.5 scale it changes the proportions of its American prototype models. So LGB rarely offers a truly scale model; it sells what I call "idealized" scale models. Usually that means the engine or the car is undersize in length and oversize in height. The width may be correct or incorrect depending on the designer's perception of the overall effect. If you compare a photo of an LGB model to a photo of its prototype the model often will have a "cute" appearance; its proportions sometimes may even look more pleasing than its prototype. Some model train companies building to other scales have dealt with LGB's proportions by mounting their smaller models higher than would be correct and by using bigger trucks and wheels. The idea is to raise the roof of their cars closer to the height of the roof on an LGB car. But the overall effect appears toy like to modelers with more experience. Many companies also used different dimensions than LGB for coupler height, wheel profiles, and track. Even though they claim their models are "LGB compatible" their wheels may derail or jump when rolling through LGB turnouts; their couplers may accidentally uncouple from LGB cars or, for that matter, from non-LGB rolling stock. That is the reason for this month's editorial on "Standards". If the track, wheel, and coupler profiles of all companies were the same, their products would all run together flawlessly even if they are to different scales. In other words, they would run right even if they look wrong.

THE SOLUTION

If we all refused to buy products that fail to conform to "large scale" standards we might ultimately force the model train companies to fall into line. But that would still leave the problem of several different scales running on the same gauge of track. Each manufacturer has invested too much money in tooling to rebuild all its models to a new size. The answer is for each of us to decide what kind of railroad we want to model and what size appeals most to us, then stick with that decision. At least for a given operating session. For example, you might like both narrow gauge trains, such as the Delton C-16 and its Rio Grande prototype boxcars, reefers, and cabooses. But you may also like mainline standard gauge diesels such as Aristocraft's FA- and FB-1 and their 40-foot boxcars, gondolas, stock cars, and tank cars. Instead of mixing everything together in one train, run the Delton train for a while, then run the AristoCraft. When the Delton train is on the track, you'll be operating a narrow gauge line. The gauge will be technically incorrect--3 feet 6 inches instead of a true 3 feet but the entire train will be to the same scale 1:24. When the AristoCraft train runs, you'll be operating a standard gauge line. Again the gauge will be technically incorrect 4 feet 4 inches instead of a prototypical 4 feet 8 1/2 inches but at least the scale of the train will be a consistent 1:29. Even when LGB American style trains run on LGB track the gauge is technically wrong one meter instead of three feet. Only in 1:32 or 1:20.3 scales does Gauge One track work out to the correct sizes for most American railroads (4 feet 8 1/2 inches and 3 feet respectively). But those are the compromises we must make at this stage of our hobby. Most of us, even the pickier ones, are willing to live with gauge discrepancies as long as the scale of the trains remains consistent. As one scale modeler said, "When I run trains outside I'm more interested in the overall impression than in each little detail. Sure, I wish my 1:22.5 train were more perfect. But when I add a few castings, new paint, and a little weathering I end up with a believable train. Since I'll never have a perfect model, no matter what scale I'm in, credibility is what it's all about." For those perfectionists among us, it may be a philosophy worth considering.

Locomotives and Rolling Stock
1:20
Little Railways
1:22.5
Aster (C&S Mogul)
Bachmann
Chuck's Custom Cars
D.A.N.
Hartford Products (except SP boxcar and stock car)
LGB
USA Trains
1:24
American Model Builders
Delton/Caledonia Express
Hartford Products (SP boxcar and stock car)
Kalamazoo
Model Die Casting (caboose only)
Precision Scale (narrow gauge only)
1:29
Aristocraft*
(*some models closer to 1:32 scale)
1:32
Chicago Train Works
Eastern Railways
GHB
Great Trains/American Standard
Lionel
Model Die Casting
Precision Scale
Roberts Lines (Zephyr)

Structures and Detail Parts
1:20
Little Railways
1:22.5
POLA
Lone Star Bridge and Abutment
Ozark Miniatures
Shortline Car and Foundry
1:24
Depot G/Columbine
Grandt Line
Northeast Narrow Gauge
Oakridge Corporation
Railway Design Associates
Russ Simpson
Ryan Equipment Company
Starr's Hobbycraft
Trackside Details (nominally)
Westlund Manufacturing
1:29
Cal-Scale

Structures and Detail Parts
1:20
Little Railways
1:22.5
POLA
Lone Star Bridge and Abutment
Ozark Miniatures
Shortline Car and Foundry
1:24
Depot G/Columbine
Grandt Line
Northeast Narrow Gauge
Oakridge Corporation
Railway Design Associates
Russ Simpson
Ryan Equipment Company
Starr's Hobbycraft
Trackside Details (nominally)
Westlund Manufacturing
1:29
Cal-Scale



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