7-1/4 vs 7-1/2 Gauge

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The 7 1/4 versus 7 1/2 Debate

As worldwide communications improved and it became evident that having two standards for 1:8 scale modeling in the U.S. was counterproductive, an attempt was put forth to adopt a true standard for track gauge, wheel profiles and couplers. The organization known as the International Brotherhood of Live Steamers was consulted, with representatives from areas around the world working with riding scale railroads. Via mailings, all known private and club railroads were contacted and asking for input on what the standards should be so a single set could be established. From the replies, it became abundantly apparent there was no easy solution within the U.S. and the I.B.L.S. settled on adopting and recommending standards following those being used in California and sent these out as "proposed standards" to everyone. Since these first included 7-1/2" as the correct gauge for 1:8 scale, they were never officially adopted by everyone and have remained as proposed ever since. However, in the U.S., these proposed standards have been used by most everyone for wheels and couplers and each area has used their local gauge standard. This has allowed for the trains to easily travel to other railroads and interchange equipment fairly easy, except for crossing The 1/4" Demarcation Line in the northeast. Today if you look at most IBLS wheel and coupler charts, you will find gauging standards for both 7-1/4" and 7-1/2" that have become the accepted standards by most. What is really most interesting is the fact that for exact 1/8" scale, the track gauge should be 7 1/16 inches.

An example of the variations that existed in gauge, here is a 6" gauge locomotive. Eugene may have had a difficult time selling it. From "The Miniature Locomotive", Jan-Feb 1953.

First 7-1/4

The British newsletter 7-1/4 News claimed that Stephen Lafayette Pagenhardt built the first 7-1/4 inch gauge locomotive in the United States, named Little Maryland.

Questions and Answers

Question: Someone once told me that the break in gauge between 7 ¼ and 7 ½" gauge started when Carl Purinton wrote a letter to Victor Shattock in the 1950's and accidentally typed 7 ½" as the standard instead of 7 ¼". This seems to be the most plausible story out of all I've heard (including some conspiracy theories) and I wonder: is there any truth to this or is it just another urban legend?

Answer: From Ken Shattock, 23 March 2013

In regards to your question about the 7 1/2 vs. 7 1/4 inch gauge controversy, I don't recall anything about a "letter" between Carl Purinton and my grandfather, Vic Shattock. However, just this evening (March 23rd) while going thru old records of our GGLS club history, I cut out the notation from the GGLS secretary, in the 1956-1957 time period which mentions this gauge problem.

By August of 1956 discussion was underway as to whether a planned ground track at Redwood Park should be 7 1/4" gauge or 7 1/2". It was in this month too that Vic Shattock was asked to write a history of the club. A few months later, in November of that same year, Vic celebrated his 50th. wedding anniversary.
It is easy to forget that as well as being the oldest live steam club in the country GGLS has other notable attributes to be proud of. The August 1957 issue of the Callboy noted that the club had the longest 2 1/2" gauge track in the world!
In September of 1957 it was announced that 7 1/2" gauge had taken hold as the standard gauge on the West Coast and that would be the gauge that the club would use at Redwood Park. That adoption has led to many conflicts over the years. Obviously one cannot travel from coast to coast (or overseas ) with a large scale engine and expect to be able to run on all of the tracks belonging to all live steam clubs. In fact, only for the two smallest, passenger hauling, gauges can one find facilities everywhere on which to run.

Question: According to the stories I've read, the reason that the east has 7 1/4" gauge and the west has 7 1/2" gauge all started with none other than Walt Disney himself.

Answer: No. Walt Disney's Carolwood Pacific Railroad was built in 7-1/4" gauge according. See Carolwood Pacific Railroad - Wikipedia.

Arguments for 7-1/16" Gauge

The following appeared in The Miniature Locomotive, Jan-Feb 1953

I would like to offer a few remarks on the subject of "Gauge Dilemma" by Mr. Stephen Booth in the Nov.-Dec. issue of our paper.

The matter of standards are very important as Mr. Booth points out and I hope you will see fit to print my comments and encourage others to write in and progress this matter to establish satisfactory standards.

With regard to the correct gauge for 1-1/2 inch scale it should be 7-1/16 inch between rail heads and in my opinion it is the only proper gauge to use for the following reasons:

Clearance Diagram Standard vs Narrow gauge.PNG

First, the majority of models made, excluding engines without trucks, are of the Atlantic, Pacific or other types having a four-wheel engine truck. If the prospective engine builder attempts to build an engine with a two-wheel leading truck, for example the Santa Fe large 2-10-4 to 1-1/2 inch scale, he will find that if the gauge of track is over the scale width the front crank pins will not clear the guides while the locomotive is negotiating a curve. In the design of large modern engines of this and similar types you are confronted with the following:

The large diameter cylinders with cylinder head flanges extending out to the road head flanges extending out to the road clearance line means that the cylinder transverse centers are fixed by the bore. The high piston thrust to be distributed over four or five driving axles will require wide guide bars, further reducing space between the guides and front drives. Ten, and very often eight, coupled engines are provided with lateral motion devices on the front driving boxes to assist in curving. Inasmuch as the rods barely clear the guides of the full size design when curving, the relatively sharp curves used in model practice would result in interference of moving parts if the gauge is over width.

Second, the gauge must be correct for the scale selected in order to produce the proper prototype appearance. There is no good reason to use an incorrect gauge as anyone having ability to build an engine can gauge track to 7-1/16 inch width as easily as 7-1/2 inch width.

In so far as stability is concerned the difference between 7-1/6 inch versus 7-1/2 inch is not marked and need not be considered. In fact the stability of a locomotive is largely dependent on the design and effectiveness of the springing and equalization.

Good stability has been obtained in full-size practice on railways as narrow as 2'-0" in gauge. It is freely admitted that speeds are not high as compared with standard gauge lines but rather powerful engines can be produced for this gauge. An American example that many may have observed are the former standard gauge D.&R.G.W. locomotives which have been cut down to operate on the 3'-0" narrow gauge lines and these engines are not particularly subject to derailment. To bring out the proportions clearly I have superimposed an Indian 2'-0" gauge clearance diagram over a New York Central clearance which is of smaller cross-section than most of our roads. The great width of the narrow gauge equipment with respect to track gauge is readily apparent.

Vernon L Smith
1928 Randolph Ave
Topeka, Kansas

The Whysall Light Railway Theory

Keith Taylor sent this email on 25 March 2013:

The story that I hear how the gauge discrepancy came to be is a little different.
Back in the late 1930’s there was a railroad in Michigan called the Whysall Light Railway that was owned by a Mr. Horace Shaw. A Chicago area live steamer wished to build an inch and one half scale locomotive and he contacted Mr. Shaw to get the specifics of things like the track gauge. The Whysall Light Railways was 7 – ¼” and I know this to be true because all of the equipment still exists and is owned by Mr. David Booth in Michigan. However….when the Chicago area steamer contacted Mr. Shaw, he was told the track gauge was 7- ½”! There was a reason for this and this has also caused problems with tinplate toy trains. Mr. Shaw was a collector of tinplate trains. Tinplate train track (because of the tubular rail heads) is measured from the center of the rail to the center of the rail! Lionel for decades referred to their “Standard Gauge” track as being 2 – ¼” gauge, when it is in fact 2 – 1/8” gauge. The builder proceeded to build his locomotive to what he “thought” was the correct gauge.
When the Chicago area steamer finished his beautiful Hudson loco, other steamers in the Chicago area wanted build to the same 7 – ½” gauge so they could all run on each other’s tracks. When the folks in California started to become interested in 1.5” scale, they contacted the folks whose lines had been written up in the Miniature Locomotive magazine and the Modelmaker magazine…and these were the folks in Chicago. Back in the 1950’s this wasn’t much of a problem as not many folks traveled to distant locales to run their equipment.
While 7 – ¼” gauge is not correct to scale, it is a “standard” set at the turn of the 20th century by Henry Greenly in Great Britain.
7- ¼” gauge became the gauge of choice here in the Northeast United States and Canada as the first locomotives of that scale here were imported from England.

An article entitled "Gauge Dilemma Another Answer" appeared in The Miniature Locomotive, May-June 1953, supports The Whysall Light Railway Theory.

The 1/2 of 15 Inch Gauge Theory

by Bill Donovan of Real Trains Inc, responding to "7 plus Gauge Debacle"

That is an interesting and well documented story. I knew Irene Lewis well and have been to the David Rose Layout. As a point the Rose layout still exists today and is 7-1/2 inch guage.

This differs quite a bit from what I have been told. It is tied to England and the migration of the scale through the east coast. This is where 7-1/4 inch gauge still is used.

There is another path to the development of 7-1/2 inch guage that was not due to errors. Before and after WWII there were a number of firms making park size trains. These were commonly in 15 inch guage. Being too large for most yards and expensive there was a desire to make something smaller. The simple solution was to simply divide everything in half and so 7-1/2 inch gauge. These were not scale models but simplified to save cost and so the gauge was not seen as any type of error.

This also explains why we have 1" inch high rail in 1-1/2 inch scale. The 15 inch guage equipment runs on 12 pound mining rail which is 2 inches high. For a 1-1/2 inch scale rail to be 1 inch high the prototype would have to be 8 inches high and as far as I can tell no rail was every made this size (there is crane rail but that is flat on top and not for railroads). The other reasons for the 7-1/2 inch gauge do not explain this and so I tend to believe it more.

Friend Theory

Lester Friend wrote an article, "Track and Switches for Live Steam", which was published in the May 1944 edition of The Model Craftsman. In this article Lester specifies the BLS standard for 1-1/2 inch scale as 7-1/2 inch gauge.

Lester made another error in the document, Referring to the son of Carl Purinton as "Charles A. Purinton" instead of Charles S. Purinton.

It is not known if the gauge mistake was made by Lester or by the magazine typographer.

Ken Shattock wrote on 19 April 2014:

Martin Lewis of Little Engines called Lester Friend in Danvers, MA and asked him what the gauge was for 1 1/2-inch scale. Lester was taken by surprise and stated 7-1/2 inch!! This info came from former LALS President Gordon Sherwood who states further on that he (Gordon) would stand by "Seymour" (Seymour Johnson) as Carl did...

Cary Stewart posted on Chaski.org</i>:

In 1956-57 there was a magazine called The North American Live Steamer which lasted 12 issues. The two fellows that were behind it were using their own funds to publish it and in the end there were not enough subscribers to it folded. From Vol. 1, issues No.s 9, 10 & 11 comes these much edited letters.
No. 9: A letter from Mr. L.D. Hays of Independence, MO
He is planning on building a 1.5 inch scale loco and wonders what the correct gauge should be. He apparently read some place that it was either 7.0 inch or 7.5 inch (yes the letter says 7 inch gauge). He also asks if there are any other Live Steamers in his area.
No. 10
Mr. Richard B. Clark responds to the above. Using a slide rule he calculated that the correct gage for 1.5 inch scale should be 7.05 inch which for all practical purposes is 7 inch gauge. As a side note I was told that if I wanted to build a true scale track it should be 7-1/16 inch (7.0625 inch) which would be close enough (Cary). Of course this is just academic now.
No. 11
In a response to Mr. Hays' letter came this reply which apparently is from the early part of 1957. I have much edited it as it was just too long to include the text. This letter is from Bob Harpur of Harpur/Allen Mogul fame. In response he submitted the following information.
In the May 1944 issue of The Model Craftsman magazine there is an article my Lester Friend. I think this is the fellow who started Yankee Shop in MA. The title of the article was "Track and Switches for Live Steam". Mr. Friend states that the gauges which are considered standard by the Brotherhood of Live Steamers and all member clubs are as follows:
* 1/4 inch scale track gauge = 1-1/4 inch
* 1/2 inch scale = 2-1/2 inch
* 3/4 inch scale = 3-1/2 inch
* 1 inch scale = 4-3/4 inch
* 1-1/2 inch scale = 7-1/2 inch
Mr. Harpur goes on to discuss and present arguments for the 7-1/2 inch gauge standard.
In my opinion Mr. Friend or the editors of Model Craftsman magazine made a typographical error that now lives in infamy. Why would a man who saw Live Steam in the North East from the beginning and also saw that earliest 1.5 inch scale track gauge was 7-1/4 inch gauge make such a statement? I have was told a long time ago by a member now long gone that an article in some publication before or during WWII there occurred a typo. So now we have the great North American gauge goof up.

Harpur Letter

The North American Live Steamer, Volume 1 Number 11

In answer to Mr. L.D. Hays' letter as to track gauge for 1-1/2 inch scale I wish to submit the following information.

The May 1944 issue of The Model Craftsman magazine contains an article written by Lester Friend, whom we all know and highly respect, entitle "Track and Switch Layouts for Live Steam" (a copy of which I have before me) and I quote from this article:

The gauges which are considered standard by the Brotherhood of Live Steamers and all member clubs are as follows: 1/4 inch scale track gauge 1-1/4 inch; 1/2 inch scale track gauge 2-1/2 inch; 3/4 inch track gauge 3-1/2 inch; 1 inch scale track gauge 4-3/4 inch; 1-1/2 inch scale track gauge 7-1/2 inch ...

The rest of the article discusses track radii---how wide to open track on curves, and gives the minimum radii for all of these different scales.

Little Engines and other manufacturers have stuck to these gauges as their standard ever since this article was published, because they were established by the Brotherhood.

Maybe it would be a good idea for The North American Live Steamer to publish these standards from time to time. This would greatly help fellows like Mr. Hays. It seems a shame that after some 25 years of there being a Brotherhood there could be any doubt, eve in the minds of new-comers, as to what gauge goes to what scale. We do not wish to confuse these people, but to help them. And surely this is a function of the Brotherhood.

If you, Mr. Hays, would like to be convinced as to 7-1/2 inch track gauge, you are more than welcome to come to Seymour F. Johnson's Goleta Valley Railroad in Santa Barbara, California for the annual Golden Spike Run to be held August 2, 3, and 4, 1957, and see what will be the largest gathering of 1-1/2 inch scale engines this country has ever known. We believe then that you will see for yourself that 7-1/2 inch is the gauge for 1-1/2 inch scale, and that any other is a bastard size.

It is true that 7-1/2 inch is not true scale, but it was selected and put in writing years ago by the Brotherhood, and as far as I am concerned there is no other track gauge that should be considered for this scale. What is the Brotherhood for?

Bob Harpur
Lomita, California

Penrose Estate

A miniature railroad was built several years prior to 1947 on the estate of Pennsylvania Senator Boise Penrose. Frank H. Moore, Jr mentions the railroad several times in Building the Little Railroad, and each time it is said to have been a 7-1/2 inch gauge railroad. The Pennsylvania Live Steamers purchased the track for $50 for their 2-1/2, 3-1/2 and 4-3/4 inch multi-scale track. The current PLS track is gauged at 7-1/4 inch.


From Richard W. Symmes, Co-Founder (1967) of the North East Live Steamers

Some people recently have been having good luck using special frogs on their 7-1/2" gauge pikes which allow the operation of 7-1/4" equipment without further alteration of wheel sets. Nick Edwards in Wimberley, TX is an example that comes to mind. Nick has a marvelous 7-1/2" gauge track, and many have been the visiting locomotives from the northeast that have run successfully on it. So there is a way to make tracks accept equipment of both gauges.

An email from Bob Hornsby, received 25 March 2013:

There are many stories about why the gauge changed from 7-1/4 inches to 7-1/2 inches. I can also relate a few stories, but what does it matter now because, for the most part, there is harmony in the hobby. We will never know the REAL reason for the mix-up, and if we did, the damage is done. It’s water over the dam.
Nick Edwards had a dual gauge track in Nashua, New Hampshire that worked flawlessly. He moved to Texas, and so did I, where we built a new railroad with nearly three miles of track. All of it is dual gauge. We run trains mixed with 7-1/4” and 7-1/2” gauge in the same train without a problem, locomotives and cars. The late Bill Fitt also had a dual gauge track in Michigan. We have been running this dual gauge now for over 12 years without a problem. It works! If anyone is interested, I’ll tell you how.
In reality, 7-1/4 and 7-1/2 inch gauges are here to say, so what is the issue? So what if there is more 7-1/2” gauge. Everyone is happy building and running trains. Can’t we keep it this way?