A retreat? Or a way forward?

Wayne Slaughter is an exceptional modeller who is building the Dominion & New England Railway, an achievable layout in 1:48. (If you have never visited… hit the go button on your coffee maker or plug in the tea kettle, finish reading this, then grab a hot beverage and go spend some time in Wayne’s world. It’s worth the trip.)

Wayne recently posted to his blog that after a sustained effort to attempt to make it work, he’s decided to (in his words) “Retreat from Proto:48″ in favour of O gauge (1.25” between the railheads).

I’m sure it was not a decision that he took lightly – but, I also agree with him that it’s the right one for him. As Wayne explains on his blog, he was becoming frustrated with the added expense and difficulty of regauging locomotives and freight cars – especially any steam engines he would like to run, which would require new drivers to be turned.

St George Freight House
(Wayne’s beautiful model of a freight house in 1:48. The track in front of it is Proto:48 – for now – but will soon be re-gauged to O scale (1.25″). Will that slightly wider gauge make any difference to the scene? Of course not: prototype modelling is less about the technical details and more about the approach. Click on the photo to read more about Wayne’s decision to re-gauge his layout.)

Wayne was also finding that some of the details embraced by Proto:48 modellers, such as realistic couplers, were causing more problems than they solved. I’ve run into these sorts of dilemmas on my own, S scale layout: I gave realistic couplers a fair test over several weeks, but found that they dominated post-operating session conversations, and not in a positive way. I switched back to Kadee couplers and now we talk about other things, which is as it should be.

You can read more about Wayne’s decision on his blog by clicking on the image above. But I’ll add that there’s an important lesson here:

I’m a firm believer that we should try to stretch our skill sets and that if we’re interested in prototype modelling it’s worth striving for accuracy. But we should not let such ambitions kill our enjoyment of the hobby, just for the sake of being “more correct”.

Proto:48 works for some – but not for all. A layout is only achievable if it’s one that you look forward to working on: If it becomes yet another source of frustration in one’s life, it’s going to stagnate. And what do you want out of the hobby? A “100 percent” layout that exists only in your mind? Or a “95 percent” layout that is fully realized in your train room?

Back when I first met Wayne online, he and I were both fans of the Maine two-footers. When Bachmann released its On30 Forney, there was some discussion amongst the On2 community about what this would mean for modelling the Maine two-footers in 1:48.

Some people focused in on the few inches in difference in gauge and said “30 inch gauge isn’t Maine two-footing”. But others – myself included – argued that if everything else was modelled with respect to the prototype, the gauge wouldn’t make a difference. We suggested things like “Use slightly wider ties so the rails look like they’re in the correct spot, proportionately’, “Model prototype equipment instead of using Bachmann’s three-foot inspired rolling stock’, and so on.

An On30 layout built by Lou Sassi has recently started making the rounds in Kalmbach publications and proves that this is a viable way to model a Maine two-footer in 1:48. Lou’s layout is entirely convincing – and the gauge doesn’t matter. By contrast, I’ve also seen On2 layouts that are not convincing because the builder made other compromises that were more noticeable.

I’m glad Wayne shared his thoughts about this change via his blog. It’s not a retreat – it’s a way forward. Based on the photos on his website, Wayne is building an awesome layout in O scale – and it will be “Proto”, regardless of the spacing between the rails. This is an excellent decision on his part, because it allows him to move ahead, instead of having his hobby derailed by 0.073 of an inch.

6 thoughts on “A retreat? Or a way forward?

  1. I dealt with a similar issue in 1/29. The rail gauge is too narrow by 1/16th of an inch. I experimented with the correct gauge, but discovered that it really wasn’t worth the additional work required to correct the gauge issue.

    Personally, I think a #4 turnout sticks out more than rail gauge….


    • Hi Craig:

      I agree about those turnouts. That was one of the issues with On30 – people would build their layouts with tight turnouts. The Maine two-footers were narrow but loooooooong… and the prototype turnouts reflected that.

      The good news was, even in On30 a #8 turnout didn’t really take up that much space, especially if one designed a layout that was based on prototype practices, because the Maine two-footers tended to be quite economical with the number of switches they used.

  2. If the choice is between 0w5 and no layout, then there is only one decision to make.
    To that I would add that at least Wayne tried Proto:48.

    Craig’s comment about the #4 turnout also struck a chord: snap-track turnouts are a much bigger turnoff than the track standards on, say, a number 8 turnout.

  3. Trevor, When I wanted to model the WW&F in 2-ft gauge, HOn30 wasn’t reliable and On2 wasn’t available. The Bachmann Forney in On30 allowed me to achieve a reasonable representation of the prototype. If I would have stayed true to scale, I would have stalled and likely have abandoned it as I have so many others! I applaud Wayne for his decision.

  4. I couldn’t agree more. People doing 3-foot narrow gauge are confronted with similar comments, and needless to say, I am one of the strongest advocates for On30 as a viable narrow gauge modeling medium for both 3- and 2-foot.

    Won’t most don’t realize is that I came in from modeling On3 for many, many years, and as a C&S enthusiast, was converting Bachmann 2-6-0 to On3. In the course of moving the coupler height to On3 standards and using true O scale couplers, I found the gauge disparity just didn’t bother me.

  5. Nice article Trevor,

    I totally burned myself out trying to achieve Proto:87 and make everything as realistic as possible. I was so frustrated that I quit the hobby for 5 years. I’m back now and have come to realize that there are many practical reasons why model trains are not exact replicas. Good for Wayne, I’d encourage anyone to give a Proto scale a try, but realize it’s a lot of work and you still have to compromise. Just don’t burn yourself up about it, because the hobby is super fun without all that extra stress.

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