new to narrow gauge

Discussion in 'Narrow Gauge Model Railroading' started by highwayzero, Jun 9, 2006.

  1. highwayzero

    highwayzero New Member

    Hola, everybody...i've been out of model railroading since my teens. looking to get back into it again. i want to start a small HOn3 or Nn3 track. i love the old steam era logging and mining layouts that utilize the "shorty" or "bobber" (at least i think that's what they're called) engines and rolling stock. now for the big there a company that makes ready-to-run narrow gauge locos and rolling stock in HO or N, or does everything have to be kit-bashed?

  2. Canopus

    Canopus Member

    I realise this isn't anything to do with the specific question you asked (which I'll get to later), but you mention that you've been out of the hobby a while... how long exactly? The reason I ask this, is because the gauges you mention (HOn3 and Nn3) require more than just a little bit of skill, and aren't really suited to beginners. I'm not making any assumptions here about your level of skill, because for all I know you may've been making model ships or something during the time you've not been making model railroads, but if you are basically a beginner to modelling in general, HOn3 and Nn3 probably aren't the best scales to start out with.

    The reason for this is, HOn3 and Nn3 in particular require a lot of scratchbuilding, and modelling skills, in order to work with. This may or may not be challenging for you, but either way is worth being aware of.

    As for your question, the short answer is no. The long answer is yes. In simpler terms; RTR brass models are available, and RTR plastic locos and rolling stock were available, but most modellers scratchbuild or kitbash the majority of their models. And this is just broadly talking about US HO narrow gauge here, not HOn3 specifically.

    I'd recommend HOn30, which is HO scale narrow gauge running on N scale track and is the closest thing to what you want without requiring anything more than entry level skills. You can reuse N scale chassis, and the track is readily available making life a lot easier (you can even get purpose made narrow gauge track from Peco, called "crazy track"), compared to HOn3 which at best involves scratchbuilding points/switches/turnouts or whatever you want to call them, and regauging chassis or scratchbuilding them.

    A good starting point for HOn30 is the Bachmann N scale plymouth 0-6-0 diesel switcher, which is pretty simple to bash into anything you want. It can be made into an 0-4-0 with some modifications (you can remove the center wheel and use a dremel to grind off the axle journal and leaf suspension), and scratchbuilding a body is easy enough - the thing has a very nice motor, lots of weight, and runs smoothly and reliably. Alternatively you could always hunt around at swapmeets for some second hand AHM minitrains stuff, like the Baldwin 0-4-0 saddle tank or Plymouth diesel.
  3. 60103

    60103 Pooh Bah

    There is also On30, which is O scale on HO track. Bachman started this fad, and it seems to have caught a lot of people.
  4. pgandw

    pgandw Active Member


    Check out this thread for a discussion of the various narrow gauge scales and gauges:

    I disagree with Canopus about the relative popularity of HOn30 and HOn3, but popularity is not as important as other matters. What does HOn3 have today?

    - track. Shinohara and Micro Engineering make flex track in a variety of narrow and dual gauge configurations. Both companies also make pre-fab turnouts. Many hand-lay their track; it's not all that difficult. The real problem is that only a few hobby shops stock any HOn3, you have to order from them, or on-line or mail-order sources.

    - locomotives. Plenty of used brass at a variety of prices. I bought a Ken Kidder 0-4-0T for less than $50. Price of a mint brass Shay might be $700. FED and Ken Kidder (low end brass) can typically be found on eBay for less than $150. Roundhouse Shays are still available in kit and RTR. The Keystone Shay kit and NWSL motorizing kit can be found for about $120. Blackstone is releasing an RTR K-27 2-8-2 for around $200, can be had with both sound and DCC. Sound is not likely to happen in smaller HOn3 locomotives, DCC can be done, but usually takes some fiddling. I almost forgot the Roundhouse generic 2-8-0 kits can still be found in both inside and outside frame versions. Getting a smooth running locomotive out of the box in HOn3 is not a given - you often have to improve the mechanism and/or electrical pickup.

    - cars. Lots of kits of almost any prototype, freight and passenger, most are very detailed craftsman kits. MicroTrains just released a beautiful RTR HOn3 composite frame reefer, with more body styles to come.

    Hope this helps
  5. highwayzero

    highwayzero New Member

    i have been out of the hobby for about 16 i don't want to jump into building turnouts or alot of kit bashing locos...the HOn30 (HO on N rails) sounds like a little more my level. i'm really not looking to do more than a 3x5 layout, just a small mining/logging layout to watch trains go around (i've got a baby on the way, and need something to do around the house besides watch tv!). i pick up model railroader once in awhile, and i always fall in love with the narrow gauge layouts. i'm also not looking to build a "scale precise"'s not a big deal to me if the rails aren't EXACTLY to scale of the 1800's.

    thanks for the replies!
  6. zedob

    zedob Member

    Hi Highwayz,

    I used to model in HOn3. When I started, there wasn't much of anything and that was one of the reason I found it to be interesting. My first loco was brass and never really ran great, but it had a motor in the tender and was coupled to the engine by a universal shaft. The whole thing was inherently wobbly, but that was that loco. There are some real nice runners out there, but you pay for then,or get lucky. One of the reasons I got away from NG was the running characteristics of HOn3. The locos are light and therefore have pickup problems. This is not to say that thye can't be tuned to run smoothly, or that extra elec. pick-up shoes can't be added.

    If I were to get back into NG specifically, I think I would model in Sn3 if I were to model any particular RR, or, On30 if I just wanted to create my "own little empire" with no thought as to being absolutely historically correct.

    On30 has some nice pros, like being able to see details, tiny, tight turning and nicely priced locomotives and a layout footprint no larger than one in HO scale , YMMV.
  7. jetrock

    jetrock Member

    highwayzero: If you don't want to do any loco kitbashing, HOn30 is *NOT* for you. Just about everything has to be kitbashed--about the only RTR HOn30 equipment ever produced were the old Roco sets from the 1960s, and those are rare, hard to come by, and around 30-40 years old. As mentioned above, just about the only "RTR" narrow-gague equipment is On30. Now, if you like shorty equipment, then a 3x5 layout could be plenty of space for On30--an 0-4-0 Porter and some shorty rolling stock can track just fine on a 15" curve. Take a look at for what some people can do with On30 narrow gauge in spaces even smaller than 3x5 feet!

    Nn3 is pretty much *ALL* scratchbuilding or kitbashing. Nn3 is basically Z gauge track and mechanisms with kitbashed N-scale narrow gauge bodies on top, and almost nothing is produced at that scale. If you have VERY sharp vision and VERY high levels of skill at putting together tiny things you might want to try Nn3.

    Check out On30, it might be more your speed if you're really interested in narrow gauge and want to be able to have fun right out of the box. The On30 Porter and four-wheel gas-electric motors are pretty cute and can run on tight curves.
  8. Canopus

    Canopus Member

    Yeah that about figures to what I predicted reading your first post. If HOn30 sounds good to you then definately go for it. Have a think about what kind of layout you'd like, decide on a plan, then come back to us for suggestions on what you want to do about rolling stock and locomotives. There's plenty of experienced people here who can help you out with things like that. On30 people by the way, as you've probably noticed, are fiercly loyal to their scale for some reason, and when they see the chance to recruit a new member (despite the fact that they already have the vast majority of narrow gauge modellers on their side) they seem to jump at the chance, like so;

    Don't let this put you off, or rush you into choosing a scale you're not happy with - if HOn30 is the scale for you there's no reason why you can't do it. It's not true that everything has to be kitbashed - there are many kits, and the 1960s RTR stuff is anything but rare - you can pick it up dirt cheap at swapmeets (or for rediculous money on ebay, if that's your thing!).

    Narrow gauge layouts, like you say, are things that are easy to fall in love with. This takes a little bit of effort as you can imagine, but in my opinion it's a worthwhile effort. So a little bit of scratchbuilding and kitbashing, though it might seem daunting to you now, is worth it to get that extra bit of customised charm. It's not as scary or difficult as some people make out either, and is actually quite rewarding to see something you've made yourself actually jump into life and become a working piece of equipment that will bring you many hours of enjoyment.

    If scratchbuilding or kitbashing really isn't your thing, then that's understandable. There is still a vast wealth of kits and rtr models available. Roco manufacture a whole range of small mining and logging cars. Roco also make an attractive and smooth running little diesel locomotive, which with a few simple modifications can be made into a brilliant little American diesel (even without modifications it's fine, to be honest, but some people prefer to give it a few americanized touches). If steam is your thing, then Roco cater to that too, with three different steam locomotives, two of which being outside framed (meaning you get to watch these cool little flycranks whizz round as it trundles down the track). Again, these benefit from a bit of americanization in the form of a balloon smoke stack, a bell, cowcatchers perhaps, and a large lamp is always good (all of this stuff is easy to get hold of as parts that can be simply glued to the model).

    If none of that appeals, most plastic or resin locomotive kits require nothing more than simple assembly, painting and a steam or diesel loco N scale chassis, which you usually simply insert into the shell and away you go.

    It's certainly true that HOn30 is not something you can take straight out of the box and start playing with. But the fact is, part of the fun is in customising things, so even if you have the luxury of a RTR model, most people will still do some work to it. It's that desire to take something and put your own mark on it, to make it truly something you can be proud of, and not just a "wallet achievement" as I like to call it. So there's no reason for you to be put off at all. Scenery doesn't come straight out of a box from Bachmann, but that doesn't stop anyone from going right ahead and enjoying it.

    Good luck with whatever you choose to do. :thumb:
  9. pgandw

    pgandw Active Member


    Canopus makes a lot of sense, even if I prefer 3ft gauge :) . You mentioned staying with a 3ft x 5ft layout or thereabouts. That is a good size to get restarted in the hobby with, you can get a feel for model railroading without committing large chunks of money or time. But it limits what you can do, especially in the larger scales.

    Fact is that any of the narrow gauges except On30 are small niche markets. There is stuff available, but rarely can you drive to a hobby shop (unless your LHS is one that specializes in narrow gauge) and buy what you want RTR. Narrow gauge modelers tend to develop their modeling skills more than the RTR crowd in HO, N, and 3 rail O. One of the side benefits of becoming a better modeler in narrow gauge is that you generally have fewer locomotives and cars, but more pride because of the personal effort you put into each one. There is a limited amount of RTR available for all the narrow gauges, but again you have to research (lurking an posting on forums works for me) what was/is produced, and then look for it at specialty shops, train shows, eBay, mail order, and on-line ordering.

    The advantage of HOn30, Nn3, and On30 over their straight 3ft gauge counterparts is that if you decide narrow gauge is not for you, you can simply switch to the corresponding standard gauge without relaying any track. Hminky, an active forum member who runs the Pacific Coast Airline Railway web site, tried modeling the 1870s in HO and OO scale, went the other way, and switched to On30 without having to re-lay his track. If you choose HOn30 - a good fit for your space - you can switch to N standard gauge if you need an RTR fix. If you make your structures portable, and don't mind a few things out of scale, you can even switch between operating sessions!

    The advantages of the straight 3ft narrow gauges (On3, Sn3, HOn3) is they tend to be very accurate models of actual prototypes. 3ft gauge was the dominant narrow gauge in North America, with 2ft gauge a distant 2nd. Becasue they are accurate models, the minimum radii tend to be larger than the n30 scales. Very little HOn3 will go around less than 14" radius (and some requires 18" or even 22"), which is quite generous for HOn30. On the other hand, 30" gauge was rare but did exist. So many "n30" models are free-lance - models of what might have been, rather than what actually was.

    So get yourself a few pieces of 1x4, build a 3x5 ft box frame, glue some 1/4" ply and 2" thick extruded foam inside it. Lay a loop of track in the scale/gauge of choice on top of some thin cork with a couple of turnouts and spurs, and get started! If you don't like your choices, lift the track and sell it and any rolling stock on eBay, and start again in the next choice of scale/gauge. Once you are settled in a gauge/scale, add a switchback operation, and some more scenery and structures. Have fun!

    my thoughts, your choices
  10. Canopus

    Canopus Member

    As an aside, even though the "british narrow gauge" equivolent to HOn30 is 009, 4mm scale, which represents 2 foot 3 inch gauge using N scale track, I know of some modellers (myself included) who use HO 3.5mm scale on a British outline layout to make the track 2 foot 6 inches, which is the standard for British narrow gauge.
  11. Greg Elems

    Greg Elems Member

    Another scale and gauge to consider is Sn42. It uses HO gauged track but is S scale (1/64th) sized equipment. The S scale gauge is 42". CN had that gauge for their Newfoundland Railway. New Zealand and Australia have 42" gauge railroads as well as numerous other countries in Africa. HO diesel running gear make good basis for starting points in Sn42 diesels.

  12. sumpter250

    sumpter250 multiscale modelbuilder

    Someone has to be the first to say, Welcome to the gauge!, so I'll take the opportunity. Among other things I model HOn3, and On30, and I have about 20" of handlaid Nn3 track along side my N scale drydock.
    First off, narrow gaugers are a minority. As a result, the market is small, and the products are pricy. The On30 people are doing the right thing "recruiting", as it will result in more product, at lower prices. It is also a scale that has virtually no rivet counters!
    Of the choices On30, HOn3, HOn30, Nn3:

    On30. Primarily Bachmann Spectrum, and some kit manufacturers, mostly wood and resin.
    Buildings are standard O scale, with some kits designed for narrow gauge. Not many
    O scale ( 1/48 ) vehicles, and scale detail parts. Great for freelancing.

    HOn3. Mostly Brass locos, the Roundhouse kits are geting harder to find (rats)
    rolling stock kits are pricy, Micro Trains is just beginning to enter the market, many
    of the Roundhouse(MDC) "oldtimer" kits can be cut down to narrow gauge
    proportions. I've found that most HOn3 modelers like my outside frame 2-4-4-2,
    but usually make some comment about it not being prototype ( my reply is usually
    "it is the prototype" ) Buildings, detail parts, and vehicles, are readily available.

    HOn30. Same as HOn3, except lots of kitbashing to get locos.

    Nn3. Someday..........(right) when I have a year or two to devote, I'll build the Nn3
    version of my HOn3 2-4-4-2. Buildings, track, vehicles, etc., almost as abundant as
    In any case, the larger the scale, the better the running ability (heavier locos, better pickup), the easier to see (I use a 5X optivisor, and someetimes wish I had a stronger one)
    Whichever scale you choose, have fun!
  13. Canopus

    Canopus Member

    It's fine to promote your gauge, I have no problem with that. But hostile competitive promotion? Come on, that's not on, and it's what I see On30ers doing all the time. They've almost completely drowned out HOn30 and Nn3 (although Nn3 is never going to be popular due to the whole microscope requirement thing). I don't deliberately convert people to my preferred gauge, or attempt to steer them away from a gauge. Yeah sure, there isn't anything much in the way of RTR for HOn30... but at one time it was the same for On30... did that put you On30ers off? No. Did you consider that a reason not to model in On30 or encourage others not to model in it? No.

    And I think we should both know by now that if there were no rivet counters in any scale then the RTR manufacturers would have no insentive to make anything actually representative of the real thing.

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