General Terminology Question

Discussion in 'Getting Started' started by JeanDagenais, Apr 9, 2003.

  1. JeanDagenais

    JeanDagenais New Member


    I started to be interested in Logging Railroad a few months ago, and as I discover more about this wonderful hobby, I came out with these few puzzling questions (at least for me!):

    a) Why is the term "prototype" used to describe the "real thing"?

    b) Why are the letters used to describe a scales?
    e.g. HO, HOn3, O, S?
    Is it arbritary or do they have a meaning?

    c) Why is the standard gauge 4 feet, 8.5 inches?
    Why not 4 feet? or 5 feet?

    d) How about the narrow gauge?
    Is it 3 Feet? Why?

    e) What is the history behind these steam locomotive names?
    Are they releated the the designer or company that build them?


    f) Do you know a good book that describes the design of these steam locomotives?

    Thanks a lot!
  2. jon-monon

    jon-monon Active Member

    Welcome to the gauge Jean!!! I'll answer the ones I know how to and leave the rest for a schmardt feler!

    Good to have another logger on-board! I am fairly new to logging and the logging forum just started up this year, but already has loads of info there!

    The letters describe the scale, the relative size of things (relative to the prototype). HO originally ment Half O. Dunno what O meant. Maybe someone said we sahould standardize the scale and the manufacturers said, "oh"?:D :D :D The number after the n indicates the gauge of the track. No number implies standard gauge. Normally in feet, but sometimes 2 1/2 ft is displayed in inches (ie HOn30 or On30). So, HOn2 1/2 is the same HOn30. Both HO (1:87 scale) both 30 inch gauge or 30 scale inches between the tracks).

    Narrow Gauge is anything narrower than standard gauge, commonly 2, 2 1/2, or 3 feet. Why? Because we like you M-O-U-S-E. Sorry, I got confused.

    I think you are right, named after the company which is often named after the designer.

    On your first 4 questons, you may find more in depth answers at the NMRA web-site.

    Welcome aboard and have fun!:D :D :D
  3. eightyeightfan1

    eightyeightfan1 Now I'm AMP'd

    Welcome to the Gauge. Lots of nice people here. We're one big happy family.

    As far as the gauge of tracks(4'81/2") is the story goes that that was the wheel width of Roman chariots. But its my understanding that in the early days of steam, American locos were actually imported from Great Britain, so instead of regaugeing the wheels, rails were laid to match the British 4' 81/2" gauge. During the American Civil War, the Southern states actually built thier railroads to a 5' gauge to prevent Northern Army from using the rails to move troops and supplies.

    According to the Websters: prototype from the Greek word original model on which something is patterned.

    Hope this helps..

    Sixth grade pays off!!!
  4. N Gauger

    N Gauger 1:20.3 Train Addict

    Hello Jean & Welcome aboard. As you will notice from the resposes you will receive, there's a great amount of wxperience & Knowlege on this board.

    From the webster Dictionary: "prototype"
    1 : an original model on which something is patterned
    2 : a standard or typical example
    3 : a first full-scale and usually functional form of a new type or design of a construction

    The NMRA site has references to the "Lettered scales" but mostly it was a way to standardize the sizes worldwide Ex.:so a German manufacturer could produce American Locos & rolling stock.

    jon 88 already answered the next Two :) :)

    As far as books go, just search the net for the names & "locomotive in quotes" Ex.: "Heiser locomotive"

    There are a small amount of books available for each locomotive.
  5. shamus

    shamus Registered Member

    Hi Jean and welcome to the gauge.
    You asked about scales etc HO O etc, there are quite a number of different scales around, so lets take for example the latest craze of On30 which means it is O gauge 7mm to the foot, the "n" stands for narrow gauge and the 30 means that the track width was 30" (2'-6") -- HO used to stand for "half O" and is 3.5mm to the foot, now OO (British Standard model railroads) is 4mm to the foot but it still runs on HO track, and also the On30 loco's run on HO track as well. Gee, I think I had better stop now, I am getting confffffffffusssssssssed.

    Hehe, makes your hair curl it does.

  6. Tyson Rayles

    Tyson Rayles Active Member

    Welcome to the Gauge Jean! On the "why" part of question D. Why narrow Gauge- it was cheaper. The smaller locos were cheaper to build, could use lighter (less steel) rail, bridges and trestles could be of lighter construction. The shorter wheelbase locos with the lower gearing could also go up steeper grades and around sharper curves so you didn't have to buy as much right-of -way, yet one more savings! The downside of course as they couldn't haul as much or go as fast so they were used mainly in places of very rugged terrain. Why 3 foot- don't know, it was the most common but not the only gauge. The smallest I've heard of was 18" and the biggest 4 foot-2 inches, with a whole lot in between, 2 ft./ 30"/ 3 ft./ 40"/ 42" 44"/ 45"/ and 50" to name a few! :D Then as 88 mentioned there were some "wide" gauges, starting at 5 ft. with largest I've heard of being 6 ft.
  7. 60103

    60103 Pooh Bah

    Toy train Gauges were originally numbered, with 1 being the smallest. (2 is now G). A new itty bitty gauge came along and was numbered 0. Even smaller ones came along and one was called 00 and the other H0. H0 was "half zero". People got confused and changed the H0 to HO (aitch oh). Then all the other zeroes changed to ohs. Then all the new sizes were given letters, since all the good numbers had been used up.
    Standard gauge is what George Stepehenson used in the 1820s. He designed railways and exported locomotives worldwide.
    Other people disagreed with him and tried other sizes. Sometimes it was deliberate obstuctionism by corporate or government.
    I read once that engineers consider a change of less than 50% to be immaterial -- this was about loco drivers, but it can be applied to gauges. Go up 50% from standard and you get the Great Western's 7 feet. Go down (to 2/3) to 3 feet, then 2 feet.
    Street car companies were often forced to build to non-standard gauges so that they couldn't pull freight cars down the streets.
  8. CarlFidy

    CarlFidy Member

    standard guage

    Something I remember seeing or hearing about standard guage(4'8 1/2") was that orginally the rails were laid(sp?) as 5' guage to the outside edges of the rails and the flanges on the wheels ran outside. Someone figured it was more efficient to run the flanges inside the rails, and instead of relay the rail the new gauge was set at 4'8.5" between the rails.
  9. pcentral

    pcentral Member

  10. billk

    billk Active Member

    RE The standard gauge of 4'-8-1/2" -- legend has it that it can be traced back to the distance between the wheels of a Roman chariot and from there to the width of a horse's rear end. I think that this has been shown to be not true, but it's still a charming notion.
  11. sumpter250

    sumpter250 multiscale modelbuilder

    Welcome. You've already got some good answers, so I'll just add this.
    One of the reasons "why" narrow gauge, was that at the time, rail cars were built mainly of wood. The 3' gauge cars had a higher load to weight ratio, and were more cost efficient, and narrow gauge was far more widely used. When steel cars were built, the standard gauge cars, which were heavier in wood, became proportionally lighter, and their load to weight ratio improved to where they were more cost efficient than the narrow gauge. Narrow gauge lines began to disappear. The bottom line, as always, is the bottom line.
  12. drake

    drake New Member


    Jean. Great answers from the other members, there are many theories about "Standard" gauge, you have now heard most of them, I believe it stems from the old days of common carrying when you could hitch your own wagon and horse on the tramroad and just pay by the ton mile.

    SHAY. Go to

    It is a truly great site.

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