What Size is HO Scale Trains and Does Size Matter?

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The Official Consumers Guide to: What Size is HO Scale Model Trains

Hobby Railroading and Model Trains

There are more than 300,000 railroading hobbyists (and yes... most of us are quite normal thank you!).  And they cover a diverse group of people.  Retires, blue collar workers, professionals and even children!  The common thread between all these folks is the love of trains and an eye for details...

While there are many different hobbys, I think you will find  Electric Model Steam Trains and railroading a satisfying and challenging hobby that will give you hours and hours of enjoyment -- operating the model trains.  It is amazing what you can do with them.  You can create a "story" in the layout.  You can remotely decouple and recouple trains.  The sky is the limit. So what do YOU want your model steam train to do?

Definition of Scale

The scale of the trains refer to the proportion of the model train when compared to the real train.  Pretty simple huh?  For instance, if you are wondering what size is HO scale, the HO scale is 1/87.  So you could say that your HO model Steam train is 87 times smaller than the real train out in the train yard.  There is 6 most common types of scales in railroading.  But 90% of all the rairoading hobbyists are in just two scales -- HO and N.  There are differences between the two that you may not be aware of and should know if you are just starting out in this hobby.  

Continue reading to find out more...

HO Scale Trains

    HO Scale Mantua 2-6-6-2 Articulated                      HO Scale Mantua 0-6-0 Goat Switcher

As I mentioned above, HO scale is 1/87th of the real size.  And HO scale is by far the most popular scale for model railroading, 74-80 percent of the hobbyists build in that scale.  Also, HO scale is HALF of the O scale and hence HO -- "Half O" Scale.  Get it?  Now, modeling in the HO scale gives you wider options and much more variety to choose from than any other scale.  That is because HO scale is the most popular scale among hobbyists and model train manufacturers have a big market that demands variety.  Makes sense huh?  Also, HO scale trains, buildings and scenics are big enough to easily add detailing to make your railroading layout more realistic. 

By the way, my favorite tip is to take pictures of the real train engine that most resembles your model train.  Then figure out how to add the identical marks, dirt and grime to the steam train to make it look like a working train.  And be sure to take a look at the picture I took showing the comparison of the N scale and HO scale train side by side.


                     Comparison between HO Scale Model Train and N Scale Model Train

N Scale Trains

  N Scale USRA 2-8-2 Mikado Steam Train       Same Model Steam Train -- Closeup Side View

How big is N scale?  Great question!  The N scale is 1/160 of the real thing.  Use this scale if you want to run very long trains or have small space available to run the trains.  One drawback of N scale railroading is that its difficult to keep the track and wheels clean enough for stall-free operations.  Also the proportion of the rails and the wheel flange is not close a match to the real thing.  And the distance between the coupled cars is larger than it really is in the real world. But this scale is the 2nd most popular scale that railroading hobbyists choose (about 16 percent).  As mentioned above, check out the picture of the N scale train and HO scale train side by side to get a feel for size.

O Scale Trains

The O scale trains are 1/45 to 1/48 of the real thing.  This scale is used by hobbyists who are more experienced because they build much of the equipment from small parts and from scratch.  It is a hobby within a hobby and may not be for everyone. About 6 percent of the hobbyists choose this scale.  O scale hobbyists spend more time just assembling the layouts and model train sets.  As mentioned above, O scale is twice as large as the HO scale.  As a result, the O scale layout and train sets take up much more room in your garage.  Since everything is larger -- wood, plaster, track and rolling stock -- it is more expensive. So if space is a premium or you want to keep a manageable budget for your railroading hobby -- consider smaller scales such as HO or N.  If you enjoy building almost everything from scratch, then this scale may be appealing to you.

G Scale Trains

The G scale model trains are the biggest of all the common railroading scales at the proportion of 1/24 of the real thing.  G stands for the first letter in the word, "Garden."  This train scale is commonly used in the outdoors among the shrubs and trees.  You could google to find some pictures of awesome outdoor layouts with choo-chooing trains weaving among the flowering plants.  This is a BIG hobby and you probably have to have an understanding spouse because you are going to have to tear up the garden to lay out the tracks.  So if you have lots of land and like to build stuff, you may want to consider the G scale trains.

Z Scale Trains

And last but not the least... ok, I'm wrong, this is the smallest scale of them all.  The Z scale trains are 1/122 proportion to the real thing and that is really small!  You could build a layout on top of your computer ( but not recommended of course!).  :)

The Bottom Line...

Decide which scale appeals to you the best BEFORE purchasing any trains or equipment.  Since you now know what size is HO scale or how big is N scale, I recommend the N Scale or the HO scale for most hobbyists because of the widest variety of options to choose from.  And eventually, you will need to replace parts that break or fail.  You may want to redesign your layout to make it more complex -- well, it will be much easier if you use either of these scales because more manufacturers offer product lines that cater to what you have in mind. 

And lastly... Railroading is an extremely fun and interesting hobby that gives you hours and hours of delight and quality enjoyment!   Happy model railroading!

And Remember, if you are not back in your garage operating your model steam trains, you just aren't living!

Be sure to check out the links below for more information on the exciting hobby of railroading...

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