Can't decide, but leaning toward N scale

Discussion in 'N / Z Scale Model Trains' started by Burger, Jan 9, 2007.

  1. Burger

    Burger New Member

    Hey Guys!

    Santa brought my 8 year old son an HO scale Bachmann starter set with the EZ track. I've determined that I'm going to build him an under the bed roll out layout for his bedroom, for him and his friends (& me) to play with. He has a couple of manual switches and 5 or 6 cars with his DC loco. This will be on a piece of plywood, framed on the bottom with some cheap plastic casters to allow it to roll under his bed when he's not using it. Which has gotten me fired up about building a permanent layout, leading me to this:

    I am in the planning stages of building a permanent father and son layout out in our finished out storage shed. I have an "L" shaped space roughly 9' x 9' ranging from 2 1/2' to 3 1/2' in depth. I used the atlas RTS freeware to design an HO plan which would pretty well suit our vision. But, I'm thinking that N scale would be a better size for us, increasing the number of operations, etc. I realize that N scale (at least I think I do) has less detail on the Loco's and rolling stock. My main question is, do the N scale have all the operations of magnetic coupling, uncoupling, switching, DCC & sound, (basically all the bells and whistles) you get with HO or are they size restricted? I've read up on the Kadee knuckle couplers for HO, are they the same for N scale?

    I've been reading alot of these posts and I know you guys have some pretty elaborate layouts with a bunch of amazing stuff. I want to get to that point someday, but I don't want to get 2/3 of the way into N scale or HO for that matter and discover I've invested in the wrong scale and have to start over. As you can tell, I'm new to this and to be honest quite astonished as to how much can be done, like the multiple elevations, etc.

    What are your opinions? Pros and Cons? Thanks for your help and ideas... I'll be asking more questions I'm sure.:)
  2. umtrr-author

    umtrr-author Member

    I may be a little confused about how you described your space, but it seems to me that it would be pretty tight at a range of 2 1/2 feet to 3 1/2 feet to get turnaround curves into.

    But I digress...

    You can do all of the things you asked for - magnetic coupling and uncoupling, switching, DCC and sound, in N as well as HO. But there will be differences:

    1) Physics will limit the sound qualities of speakers sized to fit in N Scale locos vs. HO.

    2) The tolerances will be finer. You should consider whether your 8 year old is ready for that; although I think most are or can be.

    3) On balance, N Scale costs a little more than HO, and availability is lower - fewer items in fewer outlets. HO has about 60% of the market so there is more selection. However, the number of products available in N is growing every year, and the price difference is shrinking-- although I think it's more HO going up faster than N Scale is.

    4) The amount of layout you can get in the same space is significantly greater. You can take the HO plan and build it with N Scale track instead with the same radii, etc. and have much more "wide open space." A key advantage of N over HO is the track to scenery ratio.

    5) I think that the detail on N Scale items (above "entry level") has improved to the point where they are about equal, relatively speaking. No, there aren't details to the number that there are on HO items, but you can't normally see some of those when you're looking at 1:160 vs. 1:87. There is the occassional complaint that detail is getting so good in both scales that the equipment is becoming too fragile as a result. I don't think you need to worry about lack of detail in N.

    The Kadee couplers are made by Micro-Trains which was a part of Kadee until 1990. The basic design is the same. As in HO, there are generic equivalents now, most popularly the Accumate which appears on Atlas and other equipment. The Rapido coupler, the N Scale "universal" coupler, is dying fast; one indication of this is how poorly Rapido couplered equipment is selling in the aftermarket. (Yes, I watch that stuff.)

    You probably need to consider your budget as a factor as well. It is easier and less expensive to get started in HO (realizing that "you get what you pay for").

    Now, for the caveats: I have been in N Scale since 1969, and I was younger than 8. I am firmly entrenched right now, but if I were to have to take a do-over I would switch to HO. Even so, I think for the space you have in mind, and with a reasonably dextrous 8 year old, you'd be better off with N Scale.

    I would also counsel starting slowly. As was said many years ago, "Don't try to build the whole layout at once." Get some experience with a simple plan and try out all of the facets of the hobby-- benchwork, track planning, construction, scenery. Then build up from there.

    Whichever way you go, welcome to the World's Greatest Hobby!
  3. railohio

    railohio Active Member

    Since he already has some HO scale stuff is there really a need for two modeling scales in the house? Inevitably down the road you'll decide one over the other and the loser will have to go. Why not just stick with HO scale now? You could make a great switching layout for yourself in HO scale in the space you have. He'll get a lot of mileage out of his current setup before he's ready to move on to helping you with yours. In the mean time this will help serve a little to segregate your equipment. He can always bring some of his trains down to "play trains" on your layout. When he's a little bit older you can introduce him to operations and detailing.
  4. MCL_RDG

    MCL_RDG Member


    ...Santa brought the set it's gotta be the thing. 'specially for an 8 year old. I remember many Xmases of HO extravgant layouts my Santa built. When Santa switched to N- WOW. Santa was a Double E (Electrical Engineer). I had no idea until I asked. Those many early years of appreciating The WOW of playing trains led to wanting more in the same space and the next thing ya know- WOW I'm my own Santa- in N.

    But for the boy I was at 8- I could only break the handrails and stuff off the locos and cars by handling them. I had to RAM the cars together to get them to smash and stuff. And have accidents with my HotBox cars.

    Ahhhh to be eight again! The cat did it!!!

  5. Herc Driver

    Herc Driver Active Member

    May I make a suggestion...

    I had the same under-the-bed idea for my boy's room but we used a smooth door with furniture moving teflon coated slides. That way, we didn't have to limit the building height and were able to make some not too high mountains. Also, a door is very light weight, semi-rigid, and you can cut it to length (to fit under a bed) and place a yard stick (cut to size) in the cut off end, and when glued in place, will give the door its strength back. I drilled through our layout door and routed the turnout wires beneath the door and covered them so they wouldn't catch on the carpet. I used velcro on the backs of the turnout switch mechanisms (we used bachmann ez track and turnouts with their accompanying switches) and velcro'd the switches to the door side so they're easily accessable and you can remove one if it ever needs to be replaced. The entire layout never made it under the boys bed - we elected to put it on a table top instead - but it sits nicely on a folding leg table and can go right to the floor if need be. If you need pictures to unscramble my long winded explanation - let me know.

    Oh...go can do a lot with a small space. Of course, HO has a HUGE amount of stuff to buy for any type of layout, and almost ever hobby store will have a good HO selection.
  6. Burger

    Burger New Member

    Thanks for all the quick responses guys. Let me respond and clarify a few details.

    UMTRR-AUTHOR, Sorry about the confusion regarding the space I have available. I have attached a picture below of the maximum bench dimensions and just a quick draft of what I might be able to do with HO. On the end of the "L" (near the factory) I had to use flex track on the Atlas RTS freeware in order to get the curve (? proper term) of the track to match up. I'm glad to hear that the differences in detail of N vs HO scale isn't that big of an issue anymore. I'm a beginner/novice and detail isn't too important right now, especially since my boy is more interested in playing engineer than building ultra detailed models at this age. I appreciate your advice on starting slowly. That has been my plan for this layout, especially if I go N scale. I'm not looking to have this finished in a short time, but more of a work in progress that we can spend quality time together learning about trains and more importantly how to use tools, build things, repair, trouble shoot, etc. This will be a "supervised build and operation" layout. I am figuring budget won't be too much of a problem with my planned "buy as we" go approach.
    Just curious, you mentioned if you had a "do over", you'd go with HO, why?

    BRIAN, Thanks for the reply. I knew somebody would probably ask me why two layouts and in different scales. Well, quite honestly I want my boy and his sister to have something they can use and play with now(the HO set Santa brought) in his room, easy to operate, fairly inexpensive, and expendable should an accident occur. If he wants to get his matchbox cars or little plastic army men out and haul them around on his oval layout (with a couple manual switches) he can do that simply by sliding it out from under his bed. His friends may even get interested enough to get into the train business and that would help develop common interests and friendship, in between football, baseball, and soccer. The other layout that I'm considering doing in N scale will be out in our finished out shed in the back yard. This will be for more serious modeling and train operations on a layout that will take a considerable amount of time to complete. I want his interest to remain high and his imagination to be fueled by "play" with his HO set while we work together to incorporate some of his ideas and learning into the other layout. I hope that makes sense to someone besides me :D. If I do go with HO scale on the second layout, you're exactly right, he could bring his trains out to the shed and run them on that layout. That's one of the reasons I haven't decided which way to go.

    MCL_RDG, Yup, you nailed it! I want him to have that same type of excitement, wonder and enjoyment. He's really close to what you described. As a matter of fact, we set up his HO set tonight for awhile and I told him that we were going to make an under the bed layout for him. He (and his mother) thought it was a good idea and later as I was tucking him in bed, he said he was already wanting to write a list out for Santa to bring him a new tank car, some buildings and scale autmobiles for his train. I am positive the HO scale emergency management responders will have plenty of "accidents" to deal with in his room with that tank car being derailed...:D

    HERC DRIVER, Great idea! I'm thinking a trip to Lowes or Home Depot is in order for tomorrow after work to get those supplies you mentioned. I hadn't thought of the door solution, but that will be much much better. :thumb:

    Thanks again guys for your input. Remember this picture is just a "thought" for HO scale in my space available. I have full range from floor to ceiling, except the leg of the "L" where the 4 buildings are located. That portion is a cabinet with drawers, but it's wide open to the ceiling. If you have any other comments, suggestions, food for thought, I'd be appreciative of what you have to say. Thanks again!

  7. Herc Driver

    Herc Driver Active Member

    Just to clarify...the tunouts on our "door" layout are fixed securely on the door. The switches that control them are velcro'd on the side of the door with the wiring affixed to the bottom of the door. That way, none of the wiring gets caught when the door needs to slide across the flooring. I used screw-in type furniture glides so that the whole thing easily slides across the carpet when needed. The advantage for this simple layout is that you have all but the thickness of the door plus 1/4" to build upon. With the average kids twin bed frame about a foot off the carpet, you'd have enough vertical room to make a small mountain/hill or overpass. But the key is adding that yard stick (free from Lowe's) and gluing it in place if you need to cut off the door to fit it under the bed. The yard stick is exactly the right size to fill the gap and when glued with some carpenter's glue - maintains the rigidity of the inner door framing. Most of that door is hollow and cardboard stripes on edge, only about 1 to 2" of the door edge is a harder board substance. The bottom 6 to 10" or so of the door is also a harder board - which is what I had to cut off - so adding the yard stick back to the bottom worked great.
  8. Meiriongwril

    Meiriongwril Member

    Hi Burger -
    I'd say definitely go N Scale for the 'serious' layout. I'd have to disagree to some extent with Umtrr-author: in that most of the locos and freight cars I consider are cheaper in N than HO and buildings certainly are. This might be different if you go for DCC (I haven't checked prices there), but otherwise I think you get a better deal with N.
    The realism from the greater space is a marked improvement (unless you have an enormous basement of course). In the past I have modelled OO (which is UK equivalent of HO), but N is now so much improved from what it was just 10 or more years back I have no regrets at changing.
    One thing tho - items do not stay available long. Keep checking the good websites and order things you want when you see them. Out of stock items often pop up on Ebay where I've managed to get some bargains.
    If you do go N, get hold of a current (2007) Walther's Catalog of N and Z: they list many stockists of everything from locos to lamp-posts. Also check out some good websites:, and among others

    Good luck!
  9. pgandw

    pgandw Active Member

    Some thoughts about your plan - particularly the HO under-the-bed portion.

    Stored under the bed means pull out into the floor to play with. Make sure the frame slides or rolls easily, esecially if floor is carpeted.

    Stored under the bed means pull out into the floor to play with. Also means sitting on the floor to play with. This may be OK for the kids, but can be hard on adults to join them. A lot of the fun in playing with the layout comes from parents joining in. The parent interaction factor is much more important than the toy itself to most children most of the time. How much/how long can your knees take the getting down onto and off the floor?

    A twin bed mattress is 39" x 75". This is the maximum size, including outside frame, that can fit under the bed. Pulling out/pushing in a maximum size frame from under the bed means the bed legs are going to get hit, nicked, and scarred by the layout frame on entry and exits, especially when handled by a child.

    The train set track will not fit very well in just 39" (including framework). The radius of the center of the train set track is 18", which means a center line circle of 36". Edge of the ties is another 5/8" on each side, Which means 37" total, and doesn't leave any room for a train to come off the track, or anything between the track and the edge of the frame. For anything narrower than 40", I strongly recommend using 15" radius curves (available in Snap Track) in HO. But this will limit the rolling stock and locomotives that will go around the curves.

    Many twin beds have very low front rails (don't ask me how I've learned so much about under the bed layouts!), which will limit how high the structures can be. Typical is about 9" (but I've seen as little as 7") clearance between the floor and bottom of the bed rail. In this space has to go the frame, casters or glides, roadbed, and any scenery and structures. Seldom is a tunnel possible.

    Because of all the above issues, I recommend building/buying a loft or bunk bed and building the train layout in permanently where the lower bunk would go. Gets it off the floor, don't need space to pull the layout into, lets you use the maximum space under the bed possible, and gives plenty of vertical clearance. Besides kids that age really enjoy loft or bunk beds.

    my thoughts, your choices
  10. Triplex

    Triplex Active Member

    It looks like, on his plan, the inner track on the right side is in fact 15".
  11. umtrr-author

    umtrr-author Member

    Some comments on the plan, this is with respect to it being in HO Scale:

    I would drop a couple of the shorter tracks out of the yard. You're not getting much more capacity for the expense of the extra turnouts (switches) and it might actually be a wash if you have fewer longer tracks vs. more shorter ones.

    If you really have a 15 inch radius on the inner track, the equipment you'll be able to use is going to be limited to short locomotives and freight cars. 18 inches is about the minimum and 22 inches is better, but I don't think that will fit in the space available.

    I probably would not go with a track in front of the mountain/tunnel; from a plausbility standpoint, it would make someone wonder why they bothered to dig an expensive tunnel when the other track just goes around it anyway.

    You asked about my "do over": if I were to start over, I would do urban railroading (i.e. my home town of Jersey City) and the amount of product available in HO is an order of magnitude more than N Scale for what I would have in mind. (It's improving but it's still not there).

    A word of clarification on the costs: In terms of "entry-level" equipment and the next tier up, let's say moderately priced, I think HO is still somewhat less expensive. We are not talking hundreds of dollars here, but we are talking "street price." There are a number of places that sell HO equipment for much less than their MSRP via mail or internet ordering, for example. For example, it is still very possible to get decent HO cars for under $10 if you know where to look, but with the exception of the Trainman line by Atlas, it is rapidly getting impossible to do that in N Scale. For luxury items, HO is more costly, and there is a lot more to choose from. Some plastic buildings are breathtakingly overpriced in both scales.
  12. Will_annand

    Will_annand Active Member

    I too would agree with Meirion.

    N Scale is, at least up here in Canada :D cheaper than HO. What makes it more expensive is that you need twice as much to make it look crowded. sign1

    I would agree with Umtrr, to design the plan in the Atlas software using HO scale track and then simply substitute the N scale rail. What I did was grab a package of cheap paper, planned my layout in Atlas software and told it to print it out in 1:1 format. then layed all the 100+ pages on my layout so I could lay the track correctly.

    Due to my space limitations however, and the fact I am modeling 1880-1900, I used 11"R as my minimum. This is fine for the older smaller rolling stock, but I have run a new diesel and 80' passenger cars around the layout (before I pulled up the track and relaid it) and they DO NOT look pretty. The make it, but boy are they ugly in the corners, swing way to far out.
  13. Burger

    Burger New Member

    I measured the width of his HO scale Bachmann EZ track layout (the oval part) and it's 38" wide... meaning it won't fit on a on 36" hollow core door. I like the idea of the teflon slides instead of casters and I may go that route with 1/2" plywood cut to adequate size. I bought a Walthers 2007 N&Z scale catalog (?) today and have been browsing through it. I'm still weighing both the pros and cons of N vs HO scale for the shed layout. I'm figuring it's going to be awhile before I decide as there is tons of details/capabilities I want to be sure of before I jump in.

    The bad thing in all this is that there are no clubs or LHS in my area. Hobby Lobby is here in town, and I'm sure you are familiar with their limited choices. The hobby shop I went to today is 87 miles away and if it wasn't for a business trip to that area, I wouldn't have gone. That shop is primarily an R/C airplane and car business, but they have a very limited MRR supply, mostly Bachmann starter sets and model power rolling stock. So, you guys and the Gauge are essentially the one and only source of information readily available, and I sincerely appreciate all of your comments, advice, etc.:)
  14. Will_annand

    Will_annand Active Member

    I think you just answered your own question there Burger. You state that a loop of HO is 38" wide. And in your track plan you have a table allotment of only 33.5". If you want the ability of continuous running, you need to go to N Scale.
  15. pgandw

    pgandw Active Member


    I don't know where you live. But if there are no clubs or LHS in your area, you are going to need more than just the Gauge until you have more experience in the hobby. I recommend a beginning book on N scale model railroading or a book of constructing N scale project railroad(s). Also, take out a subscription to Model Railroader. These will give you the basics to get started in model railroading. I still do both of these because of the ideas they give me in constructing my own layout.

    Unless you can dedicate 4ft across in at least 2 places for turn back curves (with access to the back side!), you don't have room for continuous running in HO. There are exceptions and compromises to work in less, but unless you understand and accept the limitations in advance, you will not be a happy camper when you bump up against them.

    N scale can be done reasonably with 30" deep turn back areas, although 3ft is better.

    There are plenty of model railroaders who do not have continuous running, but there are few kids who will be content with a shelf switcher for long.

    my thoughts, your choices
  16. pgandw

    pgandw Active Member

    Another couple of things to consider - 1/2" plywood by itself is not rigid enough to support a layout. It will flex considerably between the glides. At a minimum, you need a frame of 1x3 lumber (used vertically) to support the 1/2" plywood every 16" - 18" along the long axis. If the plywood is the full length of 8ft instead of the 75" under the bed maximum, the lumber running the length of the plywood needs to be increased to 1x4.

    A much lighter option is to use 1/4" plywood with 2" extruded insulating foam (pink or blue) glued on top. Put this inside a "bed frame" of 1x3 lumber, and use 1x2 "slats" every 24" or so. With the "bed frame" and foam, you can actually do away with the plywood altogether.

    For the shed layout, if you use HO you must be able to be content with the shorter cars and locomotives that go around 15" radius curves. And you can't use less than 15" radius wihout causeing additional problems. 15" radius curves means no passenger cars (except Roundhouse Overtons), small switching locomotives (steam or diesel), and 40ft or less length freight cars.

    again, my thoughts, your choices
  17. Burger

    Burger New Member

    Will annand & pgandw,

    Thanks guys. I think you're right about the continuous running, I just don't have enough room for HO to do it up right. I appreciate the advice on the "how to" books and the MR magazine subscription. I'll be subscribing... I picked up a couple mags at Books-A-Million until it starts rolling in.

    I'll do a search here in a minute for this as well, but what beginner N scale books do you recommend? Which ones helped you more than the others?

    Thanks again for all your advice!:thumb:
  18. Will_annand

    Will_annand Active Member

    If you go N Scale, before you sub to MR, have a look at "N Scale Magazine" or "N Scale Railroading", MR seems to be a little shy on N Scale material.
  19. Meiriongwril

    Meiriongwril Member

    Kalmbach have a couple of intros to N Scale (the people who publish MR), but they're somewhat out of date now, and rather superficial.
    I'd also welcome any suggestions as to a good intor book!
  20. Burger

    Burger New Member


    I did a search for beginner N scale books on the Gauge today. I wasn't able to find anything concrete, yet. I appreciate the heads up on MR and the N scale mags
    Will annand.

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