Big models of small prototypes

S is a minority scale – not many of us work in it – so it sometimes takes some explaining to those who are not familiar with it. I think a photo can convey a lot of useful information about the relationship between S and HO – and where each scale has its strengths – so I took one:
 photo SvsHO-Steam_zps79a0ba38.jpg

At 1:64, S is 36 per cent larger than HO – in each direction. For me, what this means is that S is an ideal scale for building models of smaller prototypes, such as the CNR Mogul at left. This S scale 2-6-0 is roughly one foot long – or about the same length as the HO scale New York Central 2-8-2 posed with it.

From a model-building perspective, this means that the CNR 2-6-0 – which would be darned tiny in HO – is a decent size in S scale. Many HO scale models of these small locomotives look great, but run terribly. But in S, there’s space in that boiler for a decent-sized motor, there’s room to thread wires to extra electrical pick-ups, there’s an opportunity to add a decent amount of weight, and so on.

In fact, there’s arguably more space, because S scale models are taller and wider as the photo shows. The space advantage also applies to tiny details such as the lights and number boards – which are easier to illuminate in S simply because there’s more space for LEDs (or lamps) and wiring.

At the same time, this small S scale steamer requires roughly the same standards on a layout as a medium-sized HO steam locomotive. Turntables, storage tracks, tails for run-arounds, and so on – if an HO Mikado will fit, so will an S scale Mogul. The 2-6-0 will demand a larger minimum radius – in part because the equipment it pulls will also be larger, and will look better on broader curves. But it’s also likely to pull shorter trains than a 2-8-2, so the actual train lengths – and therefore the space taken up on the layout by staging, yard tracks, sidings and so on – may work out to about the same.

Since I like small steam prototypes, S scale allows me to enjoy them while also enjoying the presence and performance benefits akin to well-detailed, well-tuned, medium-sized HO scale steam.

(Thanks to my friend Pierre Oliver for the loan of this locomotive to help illustrate this post!)

12 thoughts on “Big models of small prototypes

  1. Trevor,

    Excellent post/topic. I get the same looks now-a-days with Sn3. Since Blackstone has been releasing RTR items in HOn3 I have had numerous people ask me, why model in S scale. My answer, it is the perfect scale. Engines are heavier, more room to place DCC, sound, weight etc. The cars are heavier and you can switch them.

    There have been a few days when I ask Graham if he wouldn’t mind a larger scale than N for his model trains. I push a cut of empty hoppers and if they go through the correct combination of switches and slight curves we are on the ground. Just too light to be pushed in too long of a cut (whose length and car number is prototypical), so we end up push two instead of five. Takes away from job of the shifter crew when operating at a more prototypical level.

    Something I don’t think many folks take in to consideration is if you want to switch cars, especially open empty cars, they need more weight, excellent trucks, reliable couplers etc. All of a sudden, their expense is the same or even more than the same car in S.


  2. Interesting, in that the boilers are (on the models) roughly the same diameter and pitch, but overall the loco+tender is shorter in S than H0.

    Although S is 36% longer than H0, it has two and a half times the volume, and hence potential for increased mass and momentum. If comparing models of the same prototype in the two scales, that’s a big difference.

    • Hi Simon:
      Good point about the difference in volume – which, as you say, really does show up when comparing models of the same prototype in different scales.
      There have been many photo comparisons in magazines featuring N, HO, S and O versions of the 40-foot boxcar, or F7 locomotive, or other hobby standard. I was going to compare a 40-foot boxcar in HO and S, but then decided what I really wanted to get across to people is how S allows me to model small prototypes (2-6-0s and 4-6-0s) that run as well, or better, than medium-sized HO prototypes – and that require roughly the same amount of space on a layout.

  3. I may have become interested in S as my eyesight is not so good in these so-called “Golden Years” and hands not as steady, but for a couple of factors: Being a minority scale and the equipment larger, the cost is considerably higher than HO. While rolling stock is not terribly larger, as you mentioned, buildings are 36% larger as is track spacing, etc. I barely have room for my 18″ by 12 foot switching layout in HO. I can find used locos and cars on eBay at pretty cheap prices. My biggest problem is finding 1900-era models, but as I like scratchbuilding and kitbashing, I get by OK.

    I am envious of your ability to have the larger scale. I had an American Flyer layout when young …. the detail was much better than Lionel’s.


    • Hi Skip:

      Good points – S can be a lot more expensive than HO. I don’t know what Pierre paid for the brass NYC 2-8-2 (and it’s none of my business) but I can guess the mogul was three to four times as much.

      But every scale has its advantages and tradeoffs. This is one of the reasons why – despite appearances – I don’t really wave the flag for S (or O, or HO, or any scale for that matter).

      While I’m sure my blog encourages some readers to take a closer look at S, I hope they’re making up their own mind whether it would work for them. I never write about S being “the perfect scale” – unless I’m writing that it’s “the perfect scale for me“…

      I do encourage people to look at other scales and do some work in them – even if they have no intention to change scales/gauges/eras/whatever. At a minimum, doing a bit of work in another scale exposes the hobbyist to new techniques, suppliers and so on – and can give one an even better appreciation of their favourite scale.


  4. Well although I have strayed a bit by messing with N scale over the past couple of years, I am already a believer in S scale.

    Simon brought up a point about the mass. To further that it causes the cars and locomotives act heavy; much more like O scale models. The only HO locomotive that behaved that way out of the box is the Trix Big Boy because it was unbelievably heavy!

    Within the past two weeks one of my local MRing buddies showed off all his programing adventures with Tsunamis in HO. His hard work paid off with a way to simulate this weighty performance by customizing the CVs.

    I like the fact that my S scale locomotives work that way out of the box. With O scale because of the weight issues it causes real wear headaches if run often. S scale doesn’t seem to have those problems. S scale might be in a bit of a sweet spot for weight.

    Another thing about S scale is its presence. S rolling stock has a significant chunk to it. It also has a similar ratio to my hand as when starting out with HO as a child. It just feels right.

  5. Having moved up from N to HO about 15 years ago (via HOm!), I have been tempted by some German O scale models lately!
    What is it for me? Believe it or not it was the sound, somehow it seemed more real.

    • Very true, Brian.

      I first moved up from HO (to On2) for just that reason. And I have some sound-equipped O scale steam that can actually produce bass notes.

      The S scale steam I run sounds pretty good – and I think it’s because of the extra width in the tender, which accommodates a decent-sized speaker.


  6. I’ve been following your progress for a while now and have been really attracted to S scale as a result, but it wasn’t untl this post that it all really came together – as you put it: “I really wanted to get across to people is how S allows me to model small prototypes (2-6-0s and 4-6-0s) that run as well, or better, than medium-sized HO prototypes – and that require roughly the same amount of space on a layout” Very well put. As you know, my Valley Local was mogul-powered as well and as great as the NERS HO model is, I can only imagine how much better it’d be if it were offered in S scale. But I wouldn’t prefer S only for locomotive operating reliability (which I agree would likely be substantial, especially with a smaller prototype engine), but since I’m discovering I have to scratchbuild most/all of my prototype structures, working in an architect’s scale – or at least in 1/64 rather than 1/87 – would make everything more satisfyingly larger. That all said – and I’ll break the “news” here first :^) – if a New Haven Railroad K-1d mogul is ever offered in S scale, watch eBay for a wholesale sell-off of HO stuff from the Valley Line….

    • Fortunately for you, Chris, you’re probably safe making that kind of statement here. It’s highly unlikely that you’ll see such a locomotive in S scale unless you put up the coin to have it manufactured. At a guess, I’d say it’ll show up in O scale first…
      Every scale has its advantages and disadvantages. I’m fortunate that my (fairly flexible) prototype interests aligned with some excellent and available models for this layout.

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