Saturday, July 26, 2008

Scale Changes

So much for a monthly posting, huh? I managed to make it out of my spring Ph.D. courses with A's all around. This summer, I've been focusing my modeling time on applying decals to 40 N scale ICG coal hoppers. I'm about 4 years behind on completing this project, but hey, it's a hobby!!

I've also given a great deal of consideration to a scale change. I began model railroading in HO scale, but I've bounced back and forth between HO and N scale about six or seven times. In the process, I sold my whole HO collection three times and my whole N collection twice (the other couple of times were less drastic "shifts" toward the other scale). Each time, it's been a matter of scale fidelity vs. available space vs. movability. Code 40 rail in N scale is about 150% the size of the 75-lb. rail that's used on the shortlines I model. However, HO takes up about 4 times the area of N scale and 8 times the volume. Thankfully, these changes haven't been too costly. But I haven't been satisfied in either scale.

Then I saw O scale (2-rail, scale). Now it may seem odd that something that's roughly twice as big as HO scale would appeal to a guy in my situation. Here's how it started: A friend has an O scale layout. His policy is that whoever has the most cars on the layout has seniority and gets his pick of the jobs during operating sessions. Of course, he had the most cars, but the #3 guy on the totem pole only had one car. So I picked up an Intermountain O scale hopper car kit and an Atlas pulpwood rack and got to playing around with them. The sheer size of these models make them seem more realistic. Not to mention that I can read reporting marks and car numbers from across the room instead of having to pull out a magnifying glass. And then we had an operating session. The heft of an O scale model is enough to require metal couplers and you can actually hear the "chunk, chunk, chunk" of slack run-out when you start an O scale train. This guy's layout featured some sections of handlaid code 100 track, which is a dead ringer for 75-lb. rail! So what's a fella to do? I started acquiring some O scale equipment.

Of course, that whole scale fidelity thing bites both ways. Now the models are large enough to see the details that are missing. And those wheels are big enough that scale tread width is truly noticeable. Not to mention that now we're talking about needing a full two-car garage to house what would fit in a 5' x 5' space in N scale. And it's a heck of a lot harder to sneak in a 50' boxcar in O scale than it is in N scale if you're spouse is the type to worry over such things. (For the record, my spouse is extremely supportive and I return the favor by being reasonable in my hobby purchases.) Oh yeah, and the price. O scale locomotives run anywhere from $200 on the cheap end up to $600 for the ones with all the bells and whistles. Freight cars are anywhere from $20 for a kit to $50-60 for an RTR model. While extremely nice and a lot of fun to experience, O scale wasn't going to cut it on the sheer amount of space required.

Enter S scale. At roughly 130% HO scale, S scale has some of the heft of O scale but only requires twice the area of HO scale. I've picked up a few S scale boxcar kits and have decided to give it a try. I know it's a bit crazy to jump over HO when my only objections were required space and movability, but I'm still turned on by this notion of a model that rocks and sways like the real thing. Hopefully S will have that. I'm also encouraged by older modelers in HO and N who tell me that, if they could do it all over again, they'd model in S on account of aging eyes. Maybe a jump to S will put me ahead of that curve. At the end of the day, I'm enjoying the hobby in several scales now and look forward to the day when I can make a substantial effort in one of them...