O scale refers to a model railroad train that is 1/48th the size of a real train—in the U.K., O scale trains are generally 1/43rd the size of the real thing while in Europe they are 1/45th as big. Like a real train, O scale model railroad trains run on two-rail tracks. The gauge of those tracks is O, which describes tracks whose rails are 1 ¼ inches apart. Even though O scale model trains frequently run on O gauge tracks, strictly speaking, the two Os have nothing to do with each other.
The letter "O" is actually a misnomer since the designation was initially conceived to identify trains that were smaller in scale than 1, which had been the standard. Since the only number smaller than 1 is 0, that’s how early O scale trains and O gauge tracks were identified. Similarly, HO was originally intended to describe a scale and gauge that is half (H) of zero, but the letter O (pronounced “owe”) crept into everyday use among model train buffs and has remained the way to refer to zero ever since.
Confused? A lot of people are. But for those who are first and foremost focused on O scale, nothing else matters. For these enthusiasts, replicating the detail of a full-scale train in an equally detailed layout is the only goal.
An O scale model train’s tracks, as it turns out, are a key part of creating a sense of realism. When an O scale train is run on three-rail O gauge tracks (the middle rail delivers the power to the locomotive) such as those made by Lionel, the train rides higher off the surface than it would in real life, thus shattering the illusion. Model railroaders who run O scale trains on three-rail tracks are known as hi-railers. It’s not quite a put down, but it isn't really a compliment, either.
Toy manufacturers in the early part of the 20th century originally embraced the O scale so they could offer customers model trains that took up less space than their standard-sized counterparts. Because they were smaller, these trains were also less expensive. At one time or another, Märklin, Lionel, MTH, Williams, Atlas, and Weaver, among others, all offered O scale trains. Fans of brass model trains are also frequently O scale acolytes because the earliest, most collectible brass trains made in postwar Japan were usually O scale.
The smaller scale took off in the 1930s, when affordability trumped most other concerns thanks to the Depression. The scale also benefited from its adoption by industry leader Lionel, which sold two O gauges for its O scale trains. Lionel’s regular O gauge track was the same width as its O-27 gauge track (1 ¼ inch), but the O-27 had a lower profile than regular O, and its thinner rails allowed all but the longest O scale model trains to make tighter turns (a circle of O-27 tracks has a diameter of 27 inches instead of 31).
Today, neither appeal to O scale purists who put accuracy and authenticity above mere convenience. There is even a vocal contingent of two-rail O scale enthusiasts who advocate for the conversion of model trains designed to run on three-rail tracks to model trains that will run on just two. This often requires changing a train’s trucks (the framework for the axles and wheels) as well as a layout’s wiring (from AC to DC), but the lower profile that results makes an O scale model train look a lot less like a toy and more like the real thing.
Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)
Airfix Model Railways
Postwar Lionel Trains Library
Tech Model Railroad Club of MIT
Clubs & Associations
- Train Collectors Association
- National Model Railroad Association
- Lionel Collectors Club of America
- Toy Train Operating Society
- National Association of S Gaugers, Inc.
- Train Collectors Society (U.K.)
- Lionel Operating Train Society
Other Great Reference Sites
Most watched eBay auctions
Recent News: O Scale Model Trains
Source: Google News
County by county news for FridayAtlanta Journal Constitution, December 19th
George Pierce Park Community Recreation Center is displaying O scale model trains in a winter 1940s village scene now through December 31 at 55 Buford Highway in Suwanee. This free event closes early on Christmas Eve and New Year's Eve and will be ...Read more
Carthage man is all aboard for model train hobbyQuincy Herald Whig, December 17th
Every kid wanted a train for Christmas." Many of those kids grew up to be train collectors, like Wollbrink, who continues to add to a collection of more than 50 locomotives. "I have O scale. HO used to be a real popular scale, and it still is. That's...Read more
Weekend calendar - Dec. 14Herald-Mail Media, December 13th
Visions and sounds of Christmas past and present displayed on an “O” gauge layout featuring the trains of Lionel, MTH, Williams and others operating in a snow scene. Also trains for kids to run, “HO” and “O” scale model railroads, artifacts, photos and...Read more
Community invited to hop aboardThisWeekNews, December 11th
Visitors also could watch other trains, including the holiday trolley, which actually picks up and delivers riders to the Middletown Station, and models ranging from the Z-scale (the smallest) to the O-scale (the largest). The Thomas & Friends section...Read more
Train gardens have long history in Baltimore areaCarroll County Times, December 8th
29 to watch antique O scale trains and a street car wind their way past Baltimore neighborhoods, the zoo, Gwynn Oaks Amusement Park and the viaduct in the train garden. The museum also has 40 fire engines on display, an exhibit of telegraph equipment ...Read more
Blast of winter weather doesn't stop hundreds from attending Vicksburg Holiday ...Mlive Kalamazoo, December 7th
Travis, a sort of apprentice train engineer, also added a modern wrinkle to the train: He attached a cell phone to the engine and made a video of the smoking O scale train going around the 200 feet of track bordered by replicas of Vicksburg buildings...Read more
Train show on track for this weekend at Stanislaus County FairgroundModesto Bee, November 28th
Prizes include shirts and hats, with the grand prize an O-scale board with the train and track. Santa Claus will be at the show, giving out wooden train whistles and candy and posing for photos. Tickets are $5 a person or $10 for a family. For more...Read more
Middle Ga. Weekend: Model Trains, Holiday Music, And Broadway Comes To ...GPB, November 27th
There will also be an O-scale Lionel layout, where railroad cars experience “hot box” fires, a Christmas Village, a Thomas the Tank Engine layout on Sodor Island, a modern train on the World's Greatest Hobby layout, and a large G-scale floor display...Read more