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
Festival of Trains wraps up in Kent NarrowsThe Star Democrat, December 22nd
Ellen Foster of Grasonville won a Bachmann Thoroughbred HO scale train set, Brad Hartlove of Chester won a Penn Flyer Lionel Freight O scale train set and Andy Plante of Queenstown won a Bachmann Fast Freight Haulers G scale train set in the raffle...Read more
Lords of the trainsNew Jersey Jewish Standard, December 19th
The result: The world's largest O-scale model railroad layout. On Sunday, you're invited to the third floor of a former silk factory in Paterson to see it. If you go, brace yourself. Prepare to be amazed. There are tracks and trains and buildings...Read more
Arbutus train garden provides entertainment for the young and old alikeBaltimore Sun, December 16th
This year's display of 11 trains range in size from N scale at the smallest to O scale, at the largest, Connie Atkinson said. Model trains use a standardized scale system for measurement, which is a ratio between life-size trains and their model...Read more
Train-and-light show bedazzlingStarNewsOnline.com, December 15th
The show continues as you walk through the museum to see the children's O Scale trains lit up with holiday lights. The lighted path will eventually take you to a visit with Santa, who is ready to talk with all the visiting boys and girls. Leaving Santa...Read more
Area Model Train Clubs Open Doors For The HolidaysWebster Kirkwood Times, December 11th
The Big Bend Railroad Club runs its O-scale trains on tracks at the Webster Groves Frisco Depot at 8833 Big Bend Blvd. in Webster Groves. The club welcomes the public to its holiday open houses on Saturdays, from 2 to 4 p.m. on Dec. 13, 20 and 27.; and...Read more
Model trains on display in Columbia, Santa plans two visitsLancasterOnline, December 10th
The Ed King Memorial Holiday Model Train Open House will be open on four occasions this holiday season — twice with Santa Claus in attendance. The Lower Susquehanna O-Scale Modular layout will be downstairs at CHPS. The Columbia HO Model ...Read more
Local families attend reception for holiday train displayGwinnettdailypost.com, November 29th
#Hargraves is one of many children that attended the opening reception for the O-scale train display at the George Pierce Park Community Recreation Center. Children of all ages excitedly observed the three-tiered display complete with two model trains ...Read more
The Trains of Christmas Display Hits 25th AnniversaryWHAG, November 29th
HAGERSTOWN, Md - The Hagerstown Roundhouse Museum (HRM) celebrated its 25th anniversary Saturday with sounds and smells of Christmas past and present with an "O" scale toy train track as part of the Trains of Christmas display. The toy train ...Read more