A very brief moment of weakness

Valley Mallet portrait photo SP-1767-05.jpg

While Hunter Hughson and I waited for Mark Zagrodney to arrive for yesterday’s ops session, layout design discussion and dinner, I hauled out some of the Proto:48 equipment that I’d acquired for a planned Southern Pacific layout. Hunter is a musician as well as a modeller, and we had been talking about the shortcomings of trying to push full-sized locomotive sounds through the tiny-and-therefore-tinny speakers that we’re forced to install into our models.

I thought Hunter would enjoy hearing what can be done when one has the space for a decent-sized speaker. And even in a small prototype, such as this SP 2-6-0, there’s a veritable cathedral of space inside the tender. In this case, I was able to fit a 1.77″ diameter High Bass speaker. As this brief video from a couple of years ago demonstrates, the sound is pretty spectacular compared to what one is used to in HO – even captured through the condenser mic on my camera:

The detail on the O scale locomotives in my collection is also impressive. I take no credit for it – it’s all the work of the builder (Boo Rim) and the importer (Glacier Park Models):
A study in piping photo SP-1767-06.jpg

Cab light photo SP-1767-03.jpg

Back-up light photo SP-1767-04.jpg

And the couplers – retrofits from Protocraft coupler kits – are as realistic as one could want. They even operate correctly: to uncouple, one uses a dental pick to lift the cut bar, which in turn pulls the pin.

After playing with the locomotives and some other equipment for a bit, we went onto other things – but it got me thinking about whether I’d picked the right scale (S) and the right prototype (CNR) for my current layout. Did I make a mistake?

So this morning I re-read one of my earliest postings, called “Why S Scale?” I reflected on my observation from more than two years ago that, as I put it:

When trying to draw an O scale plan for my layout space, I always came away unsatisfied… (and)… my two primary objectives for the layout were in conflict.

That took care of the waffling – and serves as an example why it’s useful to document one’s progress in the hobby. Re-reading my blog this morning, I was able to cast the hard, cold light of reality on yesterday’s moment wistful nostalgia for O scale. 1:64 is definitely the right scale for me – for this layout room, at least.

I also had a look at my entry about the SP Friant branch on my Achievable Layouts blog. In that post, I included a rough sketch of an S scale SP layout for my space. It reminded me that in O scale, the already-compressed scenes in that plan wouldn’t fit at all:
SP Friant Branch Layout in S scale (space test) photo SP-FriantBranch_zps8053816f.jpg
(Click on the plan to read more)

That said, I’m going to hang onto my O scale models, which slumber in a display case in my home office. I enjoy looking at them – and I really enjoyed running a couple of them on a simple test track yesterday.

Maybe – someday – I’ll figure out how to use them as the basis for a layout:

It might have to wait for a move and a bigger layout room.

Or perhaps when I get the S scale layout a little further along I can think about doing a UK-style exhibition layout: Another advantage of those big speakers is that the sound the generate can actually be heard in a public hall.

Failing that, maybe I can find space in my current house for a shelf switcher. It may seem counter-intuitive but when the trains themselves are so big, even a simple “Inglenook Sidings” style of layout can be entertaining.

Well, we’ll see. It’s a hobby and I’m in no rush to make a decision on this. But in the meantime, yesterday’s fun also reminded me that I still have to install DCC and sound in some of these locomotives, a procedure that includes a second decoder to provide independent control of headlight, back-up light, class lamps, illuminated number boards, and cab interior light. Working on these will be a nice project when I need to a break from Port Rowan and recharge my enthusiasm for layout-building.

It’s all good!

14 thoughts on “A very brief moment of weakness

  1. Trevor,I too have some O scale “hanging around”, and pretty much for the same reason. I think it’s my favorite scale, but, like you (and probably a lot of us), a lack of space forces us into a smaller scale. But each scale has its charm and challenges, so it’s all good. Happy Holidays.

    Mark in Oregon

  2. With more bass sound certainly sounds better when coming from an O scale locomotive. An O scale group always has a portable layout set up at the Cocoa Beach RPM meet. The sound certainly sounds better than in HO. However, even in the O scale engines the speaker is in the tender and when the engines go by the sound sounds like it is coming from the tender and not the locomotive. Because of the model size the distance from the tender to the locomotive is greater than in HO. Modelers need to figure out a way to pipe the sound to the front of the engine where most of the sound is being made on the prototype.

    • Hi Jared:
      You’re right. And my S scale steam engines address that problem with two speakers – one in the tender and one in the smokebox. The sound tends to blend near the middle of the locomotive – better than having it all behind.
      Audio has its constraints of course – sound quality depends on the size of the speaker cone and the ability of the magnets to move that cone back and forth. Given the paucity of space we have in our models, we must make do with what we can do. To my ear, any sound – even tinny sound – is still better than no sound, because it allows us to use whistle and bell signals, and the aural feedback tends to make operators run at more realistic speeds.

  3. An alternative to the UK exhibition style layout may be to search out or start an O gauge running group. Over here, some of the Gauge “O” Guild local groups and some of the clubs which have large O gauge layouts offer running sessions at the weekends to members and guests where you “run what you brung”.

    My local Gauge “O” Guild group meets once a month (for the American enthusiasts) in a church hall and erects their sectional layout for such running sessions, and provide a simple lunch.

    Very enjoyable to watch the trains run and give full voice to their sound systems!


    • Hi Terry:
      Good idea, although my locomotives are all equipped with P:48 wheel sets so that limits the number of running groups with which I could participate…

  4. Trevor, that’s the exact reason I mentioned only “dabbling” in O Scale for a short while in my other comment – not enough space to build a satisfying layout. Still living with my parents in a small rowhouse at the time, there just was not enough basement real estate available without obstructing mom’s path to the clothes washer. I still love the detail you can have in larger S and O scales…maybe one day the pendulum will swing back in that direction for me.

    • Hi David:
      Good observations.
      I actually wonder if larger models would be just as satisfying in smaller spaces. Since there’s more drama in larger models, one could conceivably design away many of the other aspects of a layout. For example, in O scale, one could model the RoW and the loading docks at spurs, and design away the attached structures (by placing them in the aisle, for example) and probably be very happy shuffling cars about. That same scenario might be less satisfying in a scale like HO, where the visual impact of the locomotives and rolling stock is not as great…
      Hmm… things to ponder…

  5. Those O scale models are so beautiful, they even had me reconsidering things, although only briefly. I was snapped back to reality when I thought about how much space I’d need to build even a modest layout. I can appreciate why you’re holding on to them, but honestly Trevor, that CP SW1200RS was begging to come home with me 😉


    • Hi Hunter:
      Perhaps someday I’ll put the entire collection of SW1200RS, Sweeps and other 1980s era switching power in HO to good use on a layout. I have all the goodies to build one around an auto-plant theme sometime in the future.
      But I’ll have to do the SP layout first…

  6. Don’t you need to build a module to upgrade your membership of the S S Workshop before you build something in 0 scale, first?
    He asked, whistling innocently, and running for cover….

  7. I should probably reiterate that I’m in no rush to build anything for this O scale stuff to run on. There’s plenty to do on my existing layout and until I turn my stash of supplies into stuff on the layout, I don’t have any spare room to build things for a project other than Port Rowan in 1:64.
    Maybe in the future. Time will tell. But not today…

  8. I model in HO but I occasionally dream about the detail and realism of P:48. A quick on-line search revealed some beautiful SP 2-8-0 and 2-8-2 models have been made in the past (although I’ve ridden behind 1744, I’m not so much a fan of the 2-6-0). I have a 9′ x 20′ space in the basement–would you even consider an O scale layout in that space? It’d be great to build something but really the only room I have would create a larger-scale 4×8 layout, albeit with interior access instead of reaching in from the outside.
    Jason – Calgary, AB

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