How do I determine the gauge of my train?

Discussion in 'FAQs' started by Dave Pollard, Dec 20, 2006.

  1. Dave Pollard

    Dave Pollard New Member

    I know nothing about model trains. I am helping a friend who also knows nothing about model trains. We have a train with track 3/4" wide. What is the "gauge" of this train?

  2. MasonJar

    MasonJar It's not rocket surgery

    Hi Dave,

    Welcome to The Gauge!

    "Gauge" and "scale" are two different things, although many people use them interchangably, especially in larger scales. Gauge technically refers to the distance between the tracks - standard gauge is 4' 8 1/2". Narrow gauges are narrower (duh hamr), with common gauges being 2 feet, 2 1/2 feet and 3 feet. Some railroads in the late 1800s were built to a wider gauge - in Ontario (Canada) the official provincial gauge was 5 feet for a while.

    Scale is what ratio the model is compared with the real thing. THe most common scales today are N (1:160), HO (1:87), with O (1:48), S (1:64), Z (1:220), and "large scale" (garden trains) being anything from 1:20 to about 1:30.

    One way to determine the scale of an item you have is to look at any figures (people) or doors that might be on the model. In HO, one real inch is about 7.5 scale feet, so most "adults" are about 3/4 of an inch high. Doors are up to about 1 inch.

    Are the ties 3/4" long or is it the space between the rails? If it is the distance over the rails, I would guess this is probably HO scale. Is the locomotive slightly longer than your hand or bigger (or smaller)? if you can post a picture of the items in question with something for scale (like a ruler) in the shot, I am sure we can tell you for sure.

    Hope that helps.

  3. Dave Pollard

    Dave Pollard New Member

    Distance is from rail to rail.

    Hello, Andrew!

    Thanks for the reply. Yes, you have helped greatly. I believe we are talking about, "scale", according to your information. I measured from rail-to-rail, not the ties. Does this still sound like HO? I'm guessing not if I am getting the gist of this 'scale' idea. A tie of 3/4" would probably support a smaller track, right?

  4. Dave Pollard

    Dave Pollard New Member

    Size of Locomotive.

    Andrew, I forgot to mention that the locomotive is about the length of my hand (8") or slightly smaller. I am certain the locomotive is not longer. Also, it's a bit strange (then again, I know nothing about model trains) in the regard of the coal car which attaches to it physically and electrically. There is a wire between the two and two contact wheels on the coal car, both on the same side.

  5. MasonJar

    MasonJar It's not rocket surgery

    Dave -

    Any chance of a picture?

    Many steam locomotives have wires between the tender (coal car) and the engine itself. Some even had the motor in the tender so it pushes the loco in front. Many older designs pick up power on one side of the tender, and the opposite side of the locomotive to complete the circuit.

    In the real world, the enitre unit is really considered as a whole, since the locomotive would not really get very far without fuel and water - both of which are supplied from the tender. They are usually coupled together in a more or less permanent fashion, and are only separated when major work is required.

    8" works out to about 58 scale feet in HO. Is this just the locomotive or both the loco and tender? 58 feet long would be a mid-sized loco, but only a few "small" units would have both loco and tender together under 60 feet.

    Again, if you can supply a picture, or even more of a description (reasonably accurate dimensions, number of wheels, etc) we can give you more information.

  6. Dave Pollard

    Dave Pollard New Member

    Picture and better description of the locomotive.

    Hello, Andrew!

    Yes, I will get a picture and the precise description of the locomotive and coal car. I do not have the locomotive with me at my personal computer location. So, I will have to do this tonight and communicate again tomorrow.

    My next question is in regard to repairing locomotives. Is repairing a reasonable possiblity or, are we usually looking at replacement? For example, the locomotive worked last Christmas, but, not now. When I put an ohm tester on the two contact wheels of the coal car, the meter shows resistance. But, when I test any of the wheels on the locomotive, I don't get resistance. I'm not asking you to repair this locomotive for me, but, just trying to get a grip on what is practical with model trains and what is chasing ghosts, so to speak.


  7. MasonJar

    MasonJar It's not rocket surgery


    Yes, repair is almost always feasible, especially if it ran in the recent past.

    You are probably getting resistance across the tender wheels because one side is insulated. The electrical path will likely be from one side of the locomotive, through the motor, to the opposite side of the tender.

    You might be able to find a path throught the tender wheels that are all on the same side. Be careful that one of the trucks has not be reversed (i.e. turned all the way around).

    If you take things apart, you might want to take pictures as you go to remind you how it all fits together. You'll likely want to open it up anyway to make sure that there's no lint or other crud binding the gears, and to check that there is adequate lubrication for the bearings, etc.

    Gauge member Ray Marinaccio is one of our most talented members when it comes to reviving old steam locos. Once you start on your "restoration", you may want to start a new thread to catch his attention...! ;) :)

    Looking forward to those pictures.

  8. Russ Bellinis

    Russ Bellinis Active Member

    When a steam locomotive has pick up on the locomotive and tender, the most common problem is that at least one of the tender trucks have "spun" or rotated 180 degrees. The wiring on the locomotive and tender has to be in the correct polarity to work correctly. If one or both tender trucks rotate around you get either a short or all of you power pick up on one rail and nothing on the other rail. Regarding your scale, it sounds like ho track, but Bachmann also makes On30 models which are narrow gauge Oscale trains that run on ho track. A picture will help a lot to determine what you have.
  9. Dave Pollard

    Dave Pollard New Member

    Measurements of locomotive; pictures soon to follow.

    Many thanks to Andrew and Russ for their replies.

    My friend took digital photos of the locomotive and tender last night and she says she will download them to her computer and e-mail them to me so I can provide them for your viewing. In the meantime, below are specifications that I have verified:

    1. Locomotive length: 6 inches.
    2. Tender length: 5 inches.
    3. In small print on the underneath sides of both the locomotive and tender it reads:
    "Made by TYCO in Hong Kong".

    This train set was purchased approximately 15-20 years ago.

    Russ and Andrew mentioned the possibility of trucks on the tender being turned 180 degrees, thus, causing my problem. However, I don't think that is possible in my case. The trucks on the rear of the tender has the coupling attached to them, so, there's only one way it can be turned and still have the coupling to the rear. The front trucks (and rear also) have pieces on the sides that are modeled after the devices that keep wheels on genuine-sized trains. The model tender wheels are not actually attached to these pieces, but, they prevent the trucks from being rotated as you have described.

    Another symptom is this: When I have the locomotive and tender on the track and I push the lever to energize the tracks, if I put my hand on the locomotive and push it a little, the light on the locomotive comes on, but, the wheels do not turn on either the locomotive or the tender.

    I will start a new thread as Andrew suggests for Ray Marinaccio in regard to repair. But, I will also provide the following info in case either of you or someone else can provide input. When I used the ohm tester I referred to earlier in my postings, I contacted the two contact wheels on the tender and the meter displayed resistance. When I contacted two wheels on the locomotive (as I have done with other engines), the meter showed no sign of resistance. However, at that time I did not know that the contact wheels on the tender (right side in my case) typically are in coordination with the contact wheels on the opposite side of the locomotive (left side). So, maybe I should have used the tester by contact on the right side of the tender and left side of the locomotive?

    Pictures later, I hope. Still trying to nail down the scale of this train.

  10. MasonJar

    MasonJar It's not rocket surgery


    It is almost certainly an HO item. Tyco manufactured lots of "low end" trains over the years. Not to say that they aren't operable; they are more often considered toys than scale models. However it is likely that thousands or even tens of thousands of modellers go their start with Tyco or Bachmann "toys" anywhere from 15 to 35 years ago.

    It sounds like it will need some TLC to get going again. If the light comes on, you know that there is electricity flowing through it properly. If the trucks are physically impossible to reverse as you suggest, then it's unlikely they are the source of the problem.

    I would suggest that you take off the shell and look at the gearing. It likely needs to be cleaned out and re-lubricated. Be sure that you clean as much of the old lube away as possible - especially grease in the gearing. Then relube with plastic compatible oil (motor bearings) and grease (gears and any universal joints). Remember that "less is more" with the lubes. Add only the tiniest amounts, run or turn by hand, then add more if needed. I use a pin or small needle to drop the lube in place. Don't squirt it from the bottle. Also, don't use 3-in-1 household oil - too heavy and sticky. And a blast of WD-40 is way too much...!

    While you are at it, don't forget to clean the wheels, and the track.

    Don ("ezdays") has a terrific overview of using a multimeter in your modelling... Clck here to read it. You will be able to see which sides are the correct contacts once you open the loco. You can also look to see if there are any visible pick-up points - brass strips rubbing on the backs of wheels, or check for insulated wheels by looking for a platic insert between the wheel and the axel it is mounted on.

  11. Dave Pollard

    Dave Pollard New Member

    Andrew's lube suggestions and ezdays for metering.

    Thanks, Andrew! Yes, I will clean the tracks with alcohol. I was ready to do this and haven't done it yet, though, another engine works ok on it. Cleaning is always a good idea. When you say, 'metal polish', would Brasso work?

    Any suggestions on the 'plactic compatible' oil and grease? This may be something I need to purchase from a model shop? I'm concerned about getting something too heavy or sticky as you cautioned.

    I will also check ezdays for correct metering procedures. Thanks, again!

  12. 60103

    60103 Pooh Bah

    Guaranteed plastic compatible oils and greases are made by Labelle and stocked at your hobby shop. They will say "plastic compatible" right on the container. (There may be other brands as well). Use as little oil as possible: I tear off a bit of aluminum foil and put a drop or so on it, then I use a pin to transfer a tinier drop onto whatever needs it. With gears, I put on a blob of grease from the tube. Some motors have felt oil pads and I tend to saturate them; maybe I shouldn't.
  13. Russ Bellinis

    Russ Bellinis Active Member

    A spray can of electronic circuit board cleaner may be helpful if the locomotive has old, hard, caked on lube oil and grease int he gear boxes. Make sure it says it is for use on circuit boards. Some electrical cleaners disolve plastics, circuit board cleaners should be safe for plastic.
  14. Dave Pollard

    Dave Pollard New Member

    Russ and David's replies on lubes and cleaners.

    Thanks, David and Russ for your oil, grease, and cleaners recommendations!
    I will let you know how this all turns out with the tender-driven locomotive (TYCO).


Share This Page