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General Large Scale Information

by Jim Murray

The large scale backyard railroad hobby consists of individuals who love railroads and who want to operate trains in as real a manor as possible. Most can’t afford to own and operate full size trains and are not satisfied operating table top trains. There are many choices about scale and track gauge to be made by the prospective large scale backyard railroad tycoon. Miniature railroads have been built in every conceivable scale from 1/2 inch to the foot to 6 inches to the foot. and track gauge from 2-1/2 inch to 36 inches. Today the most popular is 1-1/2 inch scale with a gauge of 7-1/4 inch or 7-1/2 inch. The 1-1/2 inch to the foot scale is large enough to ride comfortably, is the largest size which can transported easily from place to place, but is not so large as to be prohibitively expensive for most individuals.
We in the hobby build trains, track, bridges, tunnels, and other infrastructure items outdoors in the real world and have to deal with the same problems that the 12 inch to the foot prototype railroads do. This makes for an interesting challenge. Many in the live steam hobby do not have their own layout, instead they band together in. In that way much more extensive layouts can be constructed using the talents of all the club members and spreading the track building labor and costs around. In this scale there are two track gauges, 7-1/4 inch which is prevalent in the northeastern parts of the United States and Canada and most of the rest of the world and 7-1/2 inch gauge which is prevalent in most of the United States and Canada. Neither gauge is strictly correct for 1-1/2 inch scale. The correct gauge is 7-1/16 inch. This is one of the reasons many people build to a scale of 1.6 inch to the foot rather than 1.5 inch to the foot. For 1.6 inch scale 7-1/2 inch gauge is correct. This slight difference in scale is not too noticeable except that it gives an extra inch of interior space in equipment.
The locomotives are powered by steam, batteries, or small gasoline engines. The rolling stock can be made of wood or metal. The type of individuals involved in this hobby are varied. Some construct all their equipment from scratch, some build there equipment from kits of materials and instructions purchased from, and yet others, who not having a machine shop at their disposal, buy machined kits which they finish themselves. The last category of large scale backyard railroaders is the ones who purchase their equipment ready to run.

Choose a Scale

From Koster's Miniature Railroad Supplies, Inc, Catalog 6-B

Bill Koster says: "Welcome to the hobby of Large-Scale Model Railroading."
For that feeling of real railroading, you must "Ride The Train." Smaller scales cannot provide the feeling of real railroading. Find out what slack in a long train feels like, feel what a train will do when you try to stop fast. In 1-1/2 inch scale, cars are large enough to ride on comfortably. You don't need a lot of room to build a railroad, most backyards will do. Since you can run but one locomotive at a time by yourself, most backyard railroads have only 1 or 2 locomotives and a few cars. This makes the cost comparable to a moderate railroad in smaller scale. Other things that 1-1/2 inch scale have to offer include working on cars and locomotives of much larger size (also easier on the eyes); the chance to learn machining while making parts for your railroad; track construction and maintenance similar to the prototype and outdoor railroading.
The following is written as an introduction to newcomers in the hobby. If you have not yet decided on a scale or gauge, perhaps the following comments will help in your decision.
Live steam and large-scale model railroading have covered the following scales: 1/4 inch, 1/2 inch, 3/4 inch, 1 inch, 1-1/2 inch, 2 inch, 2-1/4 inch, 3 inch and 3-3/4 inch to the foot. Of these scales, 2-1/2 inch and 3-3/4 inch are primarily devoted to narrow gauge modeling, which we will discuss later. In standard gauge modeling, 1-1/2 inch scale has become the most popular. The reason for this is obvious, 1-1/2 inch scale models are about the smallest that most people can ride comfortable and yet the models can be made light enough to be transported fairly easily. The next most popular scale is 1 inch to the foot, where cars are 10 inches in width making them difficult to sit on. Smaller scales are almost always ridden sidesaddle on elevated tracks. The larger scales, 2 inch and 2-1/4 inch to the foot have not had many followers making availability of parts somewhat difficult. 3 inches to the foot becomes a park size train. Since the weight of locomotives and rolling stock is proportional to the cube, 3 inch models will weigh almost eight times as much as a 1-1/2 inch scale model.
In 1-1/2 inch scale, two gauges of track are used, 7-1/2 inch and 7-1/4 inch. All of the United States with the exception of most of New England, New York and parts of Pennsylvania & New Jersey are 7-1/2 inch gauge. In New England most of the trackage is 7-1/4 inch. For this reason, when considering your choice of gauge, it is suggested that you use the same gauge as others in your area. This allows for interchange such as a t meets, where live steamers from all over gather to operate their equipment on one track. Neither of the above gauges are exactly correct as the prototype track gauge (56-1/2 inches) divided by 8 comes out to exactly 7-1/16 inch. For this reason, a few modelers using 7-1/2 inch gauge track will build their models to 1-5/8 inch (1.6 inch) to the foot. A locomotive built to these proportions does look considerably more massive when displayed alongside a model following the 1-1/2 inch scale dimensions.
Narrow gauge modeling on existing tracks can present an interesting variation. For example, if one wishes to model a 3 foot narrow gauge prototype and uses 7-1/2 inch track gauge, the model is then built to a scale of 2-1/4 inch to the foot. Since narrow gauge cars are at least 8 feet in width, the models are then at least 20 inches wide. If the model is of a 2 foot prototype, the scale then becomes 3-3/4 inch to the foot. Modeling in these two scales can provide large models with the ability to be compatible with 1-1/2 inch scale models on 7-1/2 inch gauge track. The two limitations in narrow gauge are a lack of commercially available parts as well as the necessity to model old time equipment.
Whatever your choice of scale or gauge, you will find that large scale model railroading will provide you with a most rewarding hobby.

One Part At A Time

By ChipsAhoy:

I visited and eventually joined a group "XXX Live Steamers" And I never had a hint of an idea that I would ever build/operate a Live Steam Loco. I was encouraged to build anything that struck my fancy and was assisted by a longtime member in building a pair of Davenports with gas engines. That put me on the rails where I was able to run with the "Steamers". In a way, I was their equal, I was "in".
At the end of a long day, several of us were sitting around the club campfire. I was visiting with a well respected owner of a Steam Loco, a Heisler, in the course of babbling and drooling over the steamers I told him "I could never build one of those, I don't have the time or skill". And he said to me, "Just build one part at a time, make it correctly, make it over and over if you have to, when it is right, set it aside and build the next part...I can't do it for you, but I can help, one day you will have a fine steamer."
I currently am knee deep in building my first steamer (first steamer!!). Because of the good attitude of those fellows, there is one more engine being built and hopefully someday being operated.
Countless people have stopped by my place, viewed my work in progress and perhaps one or two of those will find an interest. When chatting with the visitors, if they POO POO on their own skills, I try to work the conversation around to what I was told... "Of course you can, just build it one piece at a time. I can help."