How did the scales get their names?

Discussion in 'N Scale' started by Fotheringill, Nov 17, 2004.

  1. Fotheringill

    Fotheringill Staff Staff Member TrainBoard Supporter

    How did N scale get to be N scale?
    And HO?
    And S?
    And O?

    I think I figured out G to be for Garden.
  2. BrianS

    BrianS E-Mail Bounces

    Popular legend has it that HO scale was considered to be roughly "half O" so the name HO was coined.

    N scale was originated in Germany and since the track gauge is 9mm and the German word for nine begins with an "N" (So I'm told, I don't speak the language.) so that was picked up.

    "Garden" would make sense for G scale, but could it also be for "large" like the "G" in LGB?
  3. TrainBoard Member Advertiser

    N = Nine Millimeter gauge
    HO = Half O
    O = Oppressivly large?
  4. SLSF Freak

    SLSF Freak Staff Staff Member TrainBoard Supporter

    I seem to remember "Half O" and "Nine (German: Neun) Millimeter" as well for the explanations of HO and N. Had to do a little research on "O" however and found this:

    "The original name for O gauge and O scale was 0 [zero] gauge or Gauge 0, because it was smaller than Gauge 1 and the other existing standards. At the time (around 1900), it was believed to be impossible to make a toy train any smaller. It was created in part because manufacturers realized their best-selling trains were the smaller scales."

    Original Source:

    Sounds plausible to me... [​IMG]

  5. Rob M.

    Rob M. TrainBoard Member TrainBoard Supporter

    (Please note, this is coming from my memory rather than from reference material. There may be errors, but I think it's correct in the main.)

    Originally, the popular toy train scales (or more correctly gauges, since very little was "scale" about most of the equipment) were numbered. No. 2 gauge (2.25", if I recall correctly) was the most popular initially, but No. 1 (which had a gauge that corresponded to 1:32 scale) overtook it.

    Furthering the trend toward smaller trains, manufacturers introduced the No. 0 gauge, meant for (roughly) 1:48 scale trains. The zero in No. 0 became corrupted to a letter O, and 1:48 became known as "O scale." Lionel, of course, was perhaps the major driving force in O scale, although they certainly were not alone.

    American Flyer introduced S scale ("S" meaning "scale"), 1:64, to compete with Lionel. The selling point of S scale was that by using a smaller scale, American Flyer could produce realistically proportioned models that were still small enough to be practical. In addition, American Flyer opted for realistic two-rail track instead of Lionel's three-rail system. This concern for realism means that S scale can be considered the first scale introduced for "model railroading" instead of "toy trains."

    OO--"double O" or "double zero"--scale is 1:96, exactly half the size of O scale. However, at the time it was introduced, 1:96 was a bit too small to hold workable motors, so most OO equipment was actually built a bit oversize. After working with this discrepancy for a time, the modelers finally standardized on a slightly larger scale, 1:87.1. This scale was called "HO," for "half-O," to distinguish it from the slightly smaller OO. (I can't recall the reason for the odd ratio, but I think it's related to metric-to-English measurement conversions.)

    As technology improved, smaller equipment became possible, and the TT (for "table-top") scale, 1:120, was introduced. Unfortunately, it encountered a problem that S scale had already run into. TT, like S, wasn't enough different from the already-existing scales to carve out a niche for itself, and never really took off as a mass-market scale (except, apparently, in East Germany, where the Iron Curtain shielded TT from the encroachment of N scale).

    A British company, Lone Star, introduced the OOO ("treble-" or "triple-O/zero") scale, at 1:152. Once again, however, the scale was pushing the limits of technology, and modelers tended to build equipment slightly overscale to accomodate the mechanics, especially in England where real locomotives are generally smaller than in the US. Much "OOO" equipment is actually built to 1:144 scale, but as far as I know the 1:144 has never acquired its own name in the fashion of HO.

    While Lone Star worked on OOO scale, a West German company called Arnold introduced its own, very similar, scale, at 1:160. At that scale, the track had a gauge of nine millimeters. Since the word for "9" begins with the letter "N" in the majority of European languages, they called the new scale N scale. Several model-railroad companies in Europe picked up on N scale, and OOO was simply overwhelmed. (OOO equipment, however, will run just fine on N scale track, so it was more of an assimilation than a conquest.)

    Z scale, 1:220, was introduced by the West German company Marklin, apparently because they didn't move fast enough to get a chunk of the N scale market. I don't know the reason for the choice of 1:220; I presume the name "Z scale" was chosen because "Z" is the ultimate letter of the alphabet and Z scale was (and still is, for all practical purposes) the ultimate smallest model railroad scale. Like S and TT, however, Z is too close in size to the already-established N scale. That, and the significantly higher cost of Z scale equipment, have prevented it from seriously challenging N scale in the marketplace.

    G (for German "gross"="big") scale, 1:22.5, was introduced by LGB (Lehmann Gross Bahn). The scale was chosen so that No. 1 track, normally used for standard-gauge 1:32 equipment, could be used to accurately represent one-meter-gauge track for narrow-gauge railroading. Unfortunately, "G scale" equipment from various manufacturers ranges in actual scale from LGB's 1:22.5 to No. 1 scale's 1:32 ratio. This is mostly due to the desire to manufacture American-style equipment to run on G scale layouts, even though one-meter gauge is not accurate for any railroad in the United States.

    Q scale, 1:45.2 scale, was developed because at O scale, Lionel track actually represent five-foot gauge, not the correct 4 feet 8.5 inches. Thus, Q scale equipment is built slightly larger, to bring the Lionel track down to the proper size in proportion. This is purely a scratchbuilder's gauge, and relatively rare. More common are people who build and gauge their equipment correctly for O scale's 1:48, and hand-lay track to the correct gauge to accomodate it.

    Proto:48 and Proto:87 modelers build equipment in O scale and HO scale, respectively, but insist on using actual scaled-down railroad standards for parts such as track, wheels, and couplers, instead of the "compromised" standards accepted by most modelers in the name of easier construction and operation.

    Did I miss anything? :)
  6. Thirdrail

    Thirdrail In Memoriam In Memoriam

    Rob M, you have the scales off slightly. First, the correct scale for 1.25 inch or O track would be 1:43.5, not 1:48, which is how HO became "Half-O" OO is actually 1:76, slightly larger than HO, rather than slightly smaller. British models are built to OO scale but run on HO track. At one time, Lionel, and a few others, made scale OO gauge track and equipment for the US market, but it was pretty much moribund by 1950.

    British OOO is 1:152, or half of OO, 1:76, while Japanese N is 1:150, since the standard trackage in Japan is 42" gauge.

    Bachmann makes 1:20.3 trains to run on No. 1 gauge track. This is the correct proportion for 3 foot gauge, while LGB's 1:22.5 is correct for meter gauge. It gets confusing, doesn't it?
  7. Stourbridge Lion

    Stourbridge Lion TrainBoard Member TrainBoard Supporter

    Interesting Question and got me into "Search" mode and I found this From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

  8. Fotheringill

    Fotheringill Staff Staff Member TrainBoard Supporter


    I commend you on your contributions this board. I never expected such quick and informative responses.
  9. Stourbridge Lion

    Stourbridge Lion TrainBoard Member TrainBoard Supporter

    That's what I love about TrainBoard as no matter what question you have on the hobby there is always someone ready to help
  10. Colonel

    Colonel Administrator Staff Member TrainBoard Supporter

    Excellent responses guys, Rob thanks for the time and effort, interesting information.
  11. slimjim

    slimjim Passed away January 2006 In Memoriam

    HO is one of the metric scales at 3.5mm/foot. 1:87 is close. When I do HO I use metric as it is real easy and accurate to measure. Am now doing Sn3, 1:64. Don't need a scale ruler. 1/64th of an inch is 1" in "S".

    OO is another metric scale at 4mm/foot.
  12. Alan

    Alan Staff Staff Member TrainBoard Supporter

    What a comprehensive set of answers [​IMG] And all this knowledge was imparted whilst I was in bed :D

    Good work guys [​IMG]
  13. BrianS

    BrianS E-Mail Bounces

    On a personal note, I always assumed "HO" to stand for "Horribly Oversized" and "O" to stand for "Opressively large"

    :D :D :D
  14. mdrzycimski

    mdrzycimski TrainBoard Member TrainBoard Supporter

    And "N" stands for "Normal Scale"
  15. Paul Bender

    Paul Bender TrainBoard Member

    This is also one reason why there are Proto scales.

    O scale equipment runs on track with a 5' gauge (.25"= 1 foot, and the track is 1.25" gauge), proto:48 runs on track with a 1.177" gauge, which is a scale 56.5" (rounding to one decimal place).

  16. Stourbridge Lion

    Stourbridge Lion TrainBoard Member TrainBoard Supporter

    We still have "S" and "Z" Scale to go on how they got there letter settings...

    [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG]
  17. Warbonnet-Fan

    Warbonnet-Fan TrainBoard Member

    Impressive record of scale history, gentlemen!

    With a name like 'Niner', I had to respond...N scale is (you could say) in my name!
  18. Tony Burzio

    Tony Burzio TrainBoard Member TrainBoard Supporter


    You want to know an eerie thing? The correct wooden tie to use when hand laying N Scale track with PC board ties is an S Scale 2x4!

    Tony Burzio
    San Diego, CA
  19. BrianS

    BrianS E-Mail Bounces

    I seem to remember hearing that when "Z" scale was developed it was thought to be the smallest scale that could be practically used so they gave it the last letter of the alphabet.
  20. Stourbridge Lion

    Stourbridge Lion TrainBoard Member TrainBoard Supporter

    That would be funny give the "O" definition. I can see it now a HZ scale for Half Z

    :D :D :D :D :D

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