Model railroads - model railways and trains > Gauge of a model train

Gauge of a model train

Gauge of a model trainThe gauge of a railway is the distance, measured in feet and inches, between the inside faces of the track or railway lines.

This measurement on English railways is 4 ft. 8in., but there are a few narrow-gauge railways, like that from Barnstaple to Linton in Devonshire, and the 15-in. gauge Eskdale and Ravenglass railway in Cumberland. This is a real railway, although it is the smallest in the country.

Model railways are made to definite scales; that is, they bear a properly proportioned relationship to the real railway. For convenience the smaller scales are named by gauge numbers, and the larger models by their scale proportion.

The smallest model railways that are made commercially are known as No. "OO" gauge, built to a scale of 3.5 millimetres to 1 ft., the gauge being 5/8 in. The next size is the No. "O," which has a scale of 7 millimetres to 1 ft. and the gauge is 1.25 in. Then comes the No, "1" gauge, which measures 1.75 in. between the rails and is usually modelled to a scale of 10 millimetres to 1 ft.

The last two are the most popular, and by far the widest selection of accessories can be had for models of these sizes. There are a good many 2-in. gauge models to a scale of 7/16ths in. to 1 ft., and some 2.5-in. gauge, 0.5-in. scale models. Then come the larger sizes only suited for exhibition or outdoor use, of which the 3.25-in. gauge, 5/8-in. or 11/16ths-in. scale, are the most favoured.

The wise selection of the scale for a contemplated model railway is of the utmost importance, and should be very seriously studied at the outset. Interest in a model railway usually dates from the presentation of a toy engine and lines, to which a few accessories are usually added before the question of gauge is given any serious thought. Let it be understood at the outset that there is no "best" size any one of the previously mentioned gauges may, in fact, be the best for certain conditions ; everything depends upon circumstances and local conditions.

Perhaps the most important of them all is that of personal desire : what is expected of the railway? After all is said and done, the model is primarily intended for amusement ; is valued for the pleasure it affords the owner and friends. When viewing the problem in this light it is well to picture the railway in an advanced state of development, to visualize it as more or less complete, as it may ultimately materialize.

This is desirable, because two intimately connected factors are thereby introduced - those of cost and space.

It is one thing to dream of a fine railway, and quite another matter to bring it into being, except for those enviable folk who can command unlimited resources. Let me outline some of the important factors that should have weighty consideration.

The primary decision must be the determination of the service expected from the railway, and its locality, practically speaking, is settled by deciding if the line is to he laid indoors or outdoors. By far the greater number of model railways are laid indoors, for they are then available at any time of the day or night and in all weathers. Outdoor lines are, as a rule, only satisfactory in the larger gauges, say, from 2-in. upwards.

Attention will, therefore, be directed chiefly to problems of the indoor line, and this brings in the second most important factor, that of available space. Now, with any given space, the most attractive model is usually the one with a well-balanced selection of straight and oval tracks, sidings, and station buildings, because some such arrangement permits of diversified operations. For example, the oval track is wanted for continuous runs, sidings for shunting and making up of trains, while stations are essential as points of departure and arrival.

Obviously, therefore, any consideration of available space must be bound up with the gauge of the line, or vice versa. Clearly, if the smallest gauge, No. "O," be chosen, the greatest number of stations and sidings can be accommodated, with some pretensions to realism; but if, for example, a 22-in. gauge line were installed, it would probably appear very cramped and unduly restrict the desired operation. There is, however, a point to consider at this stage, and that is, the probable length of run of the engine, a matter conditioned by the motive power.

Most favoured, as its length of run is limited only by the durability of the mechanism, and the maintenance of a sufficient supply of electricity of the requisite voltage. Actually, the better class commercially made model locos are fully capable of dealing with any traffic or length of run usually possible under ordinary circumstances. The effect of size on the realism of the line deserves careful attention, especially as it should be clearly understood that anything approaching a scale length of track is out of the question under practical conditions. For example, if two stations on a real railway are one mile apart, they would, when represented by an O gauge railway have to be over 100 feet apart. If this were done, the model line would be comparatively uninteresting, owing to the lengths between the stations, and the cost of track would be disproportionately high compared to other models.

What has to be done, therefore, is to dispose the various elements in an attractive manner, and by various artifices impart an air of spaciousness to the model while keeping within the limits of practicable space.

Now comes the intimately related question of cost, which to a large extent is proportional to the scale or material size of the model train. The most practical way of ascertaining the probable cost, or such expenditure as may be immediately necessary, is to study the attractive catalogues produced by the firms specializing in model railway supplies. An almost bewildering array of desirable and possible requirements is presented in those books; indeed, their complexity often scares the cautious buyer; but if the catalogues be studied carefully, a number of money-saving items will be found. For instance, the various pieces for the track can be purchased separately, sets of parts for wagons, coaches, station buildings and so forth are inexpensive and their construction is an agreeable pastime. There is also a wide choice in the matter of rolling stock. Some of the lithographed metal varieties are agreeable in appearance and cost very Iittle, so that if a wise restraint be exercised, a tolerably good model railway can gradually be accumulated at a modest outlay, which, moreover, is automatically spread over a considerable period, for, like Rome, a model railway is not built in a day.

Undoubtedly the bigger proportion of the justifiable outlay ought to be allocated to the purchase of the best available locomotives, as upon them depends the whole success of the line. An inefficient, but possibly low-priced, engine is nothing but a constant source of annoyance. The construction of a really good model loco calls for highly skilled work much of it has to be done by hand. Those who have experienced the joy of a well-made loco will fully appreciate how much better it is.

After due consideration, the choice of gauge for an indoor railway will become limited to one of these possibles, the No. "OO" gauge, the No. "O" gauge or the No. "1" gauge. The No. "OO" gauge is admirable for a dining-table railway, or one which has to be accommodated on something of about that size, but at present there is only a limited selection of engines and accessories. The No. "1" gauge provides a very attractive size for a powerful steam­driven model and is desirable for heavy loads or when there is adequate space but taking everything into consideration, the No. "O" gauge is usually the most attractive. Small enough to avoid most of the problems of track planning in a limited space, but big enough for a powerful clockwork mechanism in the locos, it is also a practical size for steam-driven models and is, of course, equally practicable for those actuated by electricity. The No. "O" gauge is very practical for portable lines, which have to be put away when done with, and is equally or even more effective on a permanently installed model railway system.

The great thing to aim at is a place where the model can be used when wanted, and left untouched until again required. Many suitable sites are generally to be found in the upper rooms of most residences. A box-room, large loft, or an attic room is often out of use or seldom required: and here is an ideal site for the line. It can then be set up permanently, and worked at from time to time as opportunity or inclination dictates.

Then again, there are items like signals, points, and their controlling wires and rods to be considered, and these are only practicable on a permanent line. The enthusiast should, therefore, give thought to all these things, and if the preliminary toy model does not seem to fit into the scheme, it is better to dispose of it at the start and go ahead with a new gauge, than be for ever hampered by its drawbacks. So far as any choice between available rooms is concerned there is little to consider as regards shape, except that in a large, square room, the line can be set up in the middle, and thus be approached from all sides, whereas in a long, narrow room, a line around the wall would be preferable as affording the maximum accommodation. This course may introduce complications in the way of movable bridges across a doorway or past the fireplace but this is not insuperable.

When one room is not in itself sufficiently large, it is often possible to make a small hole through a wall and use two or more adjacent rooms, especially when a well-considered scheme of signalling is incorporated in the system. Finally, it should be remembered that a line permanently installed does not deface the room or make it uninhabitable in any way, provided it be nicely finished, when indeed it becomes a thing of beauty.

Outdoor lines are usually more easily accommodated, but much the same remarks apply as to scale and space. It is, however, very desirable to raise the track off the ground.