On3 vs On30...where do you get track?

Discussion in 'Narrow Gauge Model Railroading' started by New2ON3, May 8, 2006.

  1. New2ON3

    New2ON3 New Member

    What little I know so far about narrow guage....On3 means O scale that's narrow and 3 feet from rail to rail in real life (if it sounds like I just arrived in the world of model railroading, I have...please bear with me).

    On30 means O scale that's narrow and 30" from rail to rail. I am also told that those who model in On30 are using HO track with O rolling stock that's made to fit the track. Is that correct?

    My questions to each of you experts is -- where does one find quality, highly realistic On3 track if you don't want to use On30 (HO track)? Are the rare modellers in On3 making their own?

    Your feedback is appreciated.

    St. Louis, MO
  2. Greg Elems

    Greg Elems Member

    Michael, welcome to the-gauge. You are correct, On3 is O scale with 3' gauge track and On30 is O scale with 30" gauge track. On30 was an easy way to get into narrow gauge modeling since HO trucks & power mechanisms were easy to convert and cheap. Bachmann came on the On30 scene around 1998 and produced cheap ready to run On30 trains and On30 became very popular. You can use HO layouts to some extent but you have to remember the tracks will need to be space accordingly for the larger equipment. Also buildings used for On3 or On30 will be the same size as buildings used for Standard gauge. Although narrow gauge layouts can get away with smaller prototypes. A six foot tall model person is still 1.5" tall regardless of the track gauge. 30" gauge wasn't popular in the US but that doesn't mean it wasn't used either.
    IIRC Micro Engineering make On3 flex track. I don't know about switches, the ones I've seen are scratch built. Many people hand lay their own track in On3 also. There are some great modelers on this forum and there was a thread in ‘The Academy’ about taking HO turnouts and putting new O scale wood ties under them after taking off the HO plastic ones. With an NMRA On3 track gauge, you could probably do the same for On3. The only real problem would be the throw bar that you use on the switch points. A new one for the correct spacing would have to be substituted.

  3. Cbear

    Cbear New Member

    Is there a forum or site using HO narrow guage,, I am looking at getting back into the hobby and logging shays and dioramas have my interest.. does HO have a narrow guage track and if so can it use a smaller guage exisitng track such as N or ?
  4. jetrock

    jetrock Member

    HO narrow gaugers mostly model three-foot gauge (HOn3) but there are a number of 30" gauge modelers (HOn30) who kitbash or scratchbuild equipment, often using N scale standard gauge equipment as a starting point. There is HOn30 track available, but many use N scale track, as it is cheaper and more available. The problem is that there is very, very little (well, nothing) available off-the-shelf for HOn30, aside from a few old sets made by Roco that are out of production and fetch a handsome price on eBay.
  5. Cbear

    Cbear New Member

    Thanks for the reply.. been decades since I was active.. kids, marriages, job, life got in the way.. so I'm far behind the curve in the hobby.. Still have an old die-cast o6o from 50 yrs ago, but that's about all.. so rather than a full scale layout, was thinking of mlti level diorama, early 1900's. Live in BC now, so there's some old equipment at local Forest museums to use for inspiration. HOn30 track would require proper trucks, and would probably look better in O scale, right?.. I remember laying track, rails and spikes, but don't know if I would go that route again.. also seem to remember better scaled track.. code 80?.. not common, but at scale speeds probably looks better. Is N scale close to 30" scale?.. or 2 foot. Are there narrow guage trucks available?.. What is track width for HO Shays?.. standard HO? Lots of questions, and research to do.. I suppose that using regular HO track would not really matter..
  6. RailRon

    RailRon Active Member

    Cbear, welcome to the Gauge. You'll find lots of narrow gauge and logging stuff if you browse around the Gauge pages.

    To answer your questions:
    H0n30 means 30" (or 2-1/2ft) track, modeled in H0 scale (1:87 scale). It happens that N scale (1:160) standard gauge track (9 millimeters wide) just is right in size to represent 30" wide track in H0 scale. Therefore H0n30 modelers use N scale track, turnouts etc. for their layouts. Like jetrock says, there isn't much rolling stock around which you could buy off the shelf. Liliput has a fairly extensive line of H0n30 stuff, but only European prototype. For American RRs you have to resort to scratchbuilding and/or to do modifications of N scale rolling stock.
    There is also a bunch of model railroaders who use H0n30 to model 2ft prototype, e.g. the famous Maine two-footers. Again, you can use N scale mechanisms for a starting point.

    Yep. STANDARD gauge Shays run on normal H0 track, while a NARROW gauge Shay of course needs the appropriate tracks, either H0n3 (3ft) or, as explained above, N scale track which represents H0n30 track.
    Finally there are modelers who build real H0n2 models - but as far as I know, in this case you have to scratchbuild nearly everything, included handlaying track.

    For narrow gauge tracks in H0 scale, today you would use normally code 70 or even code 55 track.

  7. Cbear

    Cbear New Member

    Thanks Ron..

    I see, thanks for the explanation. As I am currently interested in mining/logging scenerio, and not mainline [subject to change, of course] then this is appealing for that.

    Okay, which means actually modifying HO scale to use N guage running gear?

    Right, think I'll pass on this one..

    Okay, that is what I thought.. if not explicitly described as being Narrow Guage [and which one], then assumption is that all are standard guage.

    Thes are dedicated folks [g] I remeber hand laying code 100/80? years ago, and it was an effort for anything large.

    Okay, that seems the way to go then.. a bit of a compromise makes sense.. thanks again for the explanation

  8. jetrock

    jetrock Member

    Normally, modeling in HOn30 means modifying N scale locomotive frames/motors with HO scale bodies. The model is in HO scale--but the model is of a 30" gauge locomotive rather than a standard gauge locomotive.
    Here is an example:



    This is an HOn30 logging locomotive, modeled roughly after the gypsy logging locomotives of the northcoast of California. It was built starting with an N scale Bachmann "Dockside" 0-4-0. I removed the plastic body, added a new frame to support a scratchbuilt boiler and cab, added some detail parts, and painted the whole thing Grimy Black. You end up with a locomotive that is way too small for HO standard gauge, because most narrow-gauge logging locomotives were tiny beasts intended for comparatively small jobs.

    Exactly..Shays, and other geared locomotives like Heislers and Climaxes, can be found in narrow gauge versions as well as standard gauge versions and even wide gauge versions. If you're older and don't have fabulous eyesight and highly nimble fingers, I would recommend against HOn30 or HOn3, as they are scratchbuilder's scales. But there were *plenty* of standard gauge logging lines. Try digging up some books on logging in Canada to find out how the prototype did it--it will be both educational and inspirational!

    Actually, handlaying large track is probably easier than handlaying small track--the big stuff (100 and 80) is easier to handle and less delicate. Logging railroads normally used the lightest (cheapest) weights of rail they could get, so using Code 83 or Code 70 (in HO) wouldn't be out of line. Fortunately, these days Code 83 flextrack is commonplace, and Code 70 isn't hard to get. If you do go the HOn30 route then the smaller, the better.
  9. Cbear

    Cbear New Member

    Great pics.. I see what you mean about scratch building on top of N sacale running gear.


    I think I fit in that category [g] Sounds like this n3, n30 approach would be the ticket for small displays or dioramas, but intensive for larger layouts. I am leaning towards the diorama approach [multi level] but it makes sense to go with standard guage.

    Here is a location about an hour from me, where there is lots of info to acquire. I used to know an Engineer there who was running their small oil fired steamer, and got to ride several times in the cab with him, about a decade ago. But sadly, he passed on, so have not had the contact that I used to have. They also have a steam restoration shop, but didn't get a chance get a private tour, before he passed. I think this summer will be time to re visit, get lots of photos, and details..








    Some of the pics from about 10 yrs ago..

    I think you have swayed me towards standard guage and light rails.. seems to be the most effective way to see progress and be manageable..

    Thanks again.. Charles
  10. pgandw

    pgandw Active Member

    In HO standard gauge, Micro Engineering makes flex track with code 55 rail (also in HOn3), code 70 (also in HOn3). They also make turnouts, but these are generally limited to #6s, and code 70 for HO standard gauge, code 55 for HOn3.

    Biggest drawback for HOn3 is not track (both Micro Engineerig and Shinohara make it), but reasonably priced small locomotives that run well. Blackstone just came out with RTR K27s (a 2-8-2). As for geared locomotives, the Roundhouse Shay was made and still is available with searching in both HO and HOn3 RTR and kit. Keystone makes an unpowered Shay kit in HO, HOn3, and HOn30. NWSL makes a powering kit for it - but is currently out of production. They are still available with a little searching. Both the Roundhouse and Keystone Shays take work to make them run well, but they are jewels when the effort is made. Other than that, you're into brass in narrow gauge.

    HOn30, as was pointed out, uses N gauge track and N gauge mechanisms for which you build a new superstructure (sometimes from a kit).

    If using standard HO gauge, you might want to cut some ties off the track, and respace the remaining ties to get that backwoods look. Or lay your own - it's not really that hard.

    The scale/gauge combination that has it all at present for narrow gauge/logging/mining modeling is On30. Uses HO gauge track, either made for On30 with widely spaced and bigger ties (which looks better) or regular HO track covered with dirt and/or ballast. Plenty of RTR locomotives (Shays, Climaxes, steam rod engines and diesel critters), and RTR and kits for rolling stock. The only drawback, is that being O scale models of 30" gauge, structures and scenery take a lot of space. Excepting for structures, On30 will generally fit in the same space as HO standard gauge, with perhaps a little extra spacing between parallel tracks. Most locomotives and cars will go around 18" radius, a few need 22".

    I use HO/HOn3 because of the structure size/scenery issue, because I enjoy tinkering with locomotive mechanisms and building kits, and because I'm too lazy and cheap to change to On30. But I do drool over the On30 at the LHS!

    my thoughts, your choices
  11. Cbear

    Cbear New Member

    Right, I've been perusing web sites offering their product.

    Found one on Ebay, and he is selling because he can't fit DCC.. DCC is new to me, but I am seeing references to it so will do some more research. .. Advantages?.. better scale control?.. Individual control of different locos on same circuit?. No more blocking?..

    Brass seemed to be all I cuold find in recent searches.. very nice, but too expensive on a retirees budget [g]

    I was originally considering the N guage route, but I am leaning more toward standard HO guage, albeit lighter rail.

    You make a good case for On30, to be sure.. not to mention the scale is easier on old eyes and fingers, and thus a compellling reason to revisit my options [g]

    ROAR! I can relate.. decades ago, when I had a fair amount of HO stock, etc. and minimal space, I too enjoyed the hobby as you state above. But having only 1 060 switcher left from those days, On30 may indeed be the way to go. I am not now looking at a large layout, but more along the lines smaller focused diroramas.. plus my wife would like a larger scale also.. [g] If she had her way, I would be looking at G scale, and maybe a garden layout..

    Appreciated, thanks.. lots of information to catch up one..
  12. Canopus

    Canopus Member

    I should probably point out here that there are a number of manufacturers who produce kits, so not everything has to be scratchbuilt. RTR is rare in narrow gauge because it is a minority/specialist hobby. However in countries where narrow gauge is fairly standard, RTR narrow gauge is widely available. Roco for instance make RTR models of Swiss prototypes.

    During the sixties, somewhat of a "test" was carried out with RTR narrow gauge, by AHM, who were responsible for the minitrains product line. The test was unsuccessful, demonstrating that at that time there was not a significant enough interest in narrow gauge. Things have changed a lot since then, and as a result there are more narrow gauge products on the market.

    HOn30 appears to be the most popular HO scale narrow gauge type in the US due to the fact that it's easy to work with, compared to HOn3 which requires a bit more skill (and determination, if we're to mention trying to find manufacturers in some cases!). On30 is by far the most popular due to Bachmann clocking on to the American obsession with logging railroads. (which is pretty similar to the English obsession with Welsh narrow gauge) The success of Bachmann's On30 line is testament to their commendable ability to spot and exploit growing niche markets.
  13. Cbear

    Cbear New Member

    I have found a lot of product suporting On30 as and with the use of Code 83 or 70 rail, I should be able to build up an initial layout and experiment for reasonable cost. Also scratch building in 1/4" scale suits my older eyes better than HO. Bachmann product line is getting larger and more diversified, and is of reasonable cost, and is also found on Ebay at reduced prices, so I think I will likely start there. I have also extensively read Bruce's DCC site and found it quite absorbing.. Trying to decide on what DCC set, controller, etc. is the next challenge.

  14. Canopus

    Canopus Member

    Before you make the leap, you ought to be aware that On30 can be a good choice and a bad choice depending on many things. It is not necessarily easier to scratchbuild in On30, for one reason: On30 is larger, which means that you do need to put more in the same space to save it from appearing bare. This can be just as bad with older eyes, as you put it.

    In other words, you can end up doing just as much fiddly work, if not more fiddly work, with On30, as you would do in HOn30. In fact, most people go to On30 for three reasons; it's easier to model really small narrow gauge prototypes, you can get a LOT more detail in (especially small detail), and there are more products available for it these days. The last reason being surplus to the point that, you have to put a lot more small detail into On30 models that you don't have to put into HOn30 models, simply because in HOn30 you can't see it.

    It's tempting to say that it's easier to work in a larger scale, and in one way it is easier, because it's not so fiddly putting in EVERY single detail. But at least in HOn30, smaller details are not as important, niether is putting in every single detail. Let me tell you from first hand experience, control levers can get very tiresome after a while. But in HOn30, it doesn't really matter much if you can't get the cab interior details in. Rivets also gain a whole new importance in On30, and they are a royal P.I.T.A unless you only have to do about 10. I did one locomotive where I had to place around 300 rivets, and it was seriously fiddly work - the loco looked great afterwards, but I wouldn't like to have to make another one.

    Another major downside to On30 is that it takes up a lot more room, limiting you to very small operations if your designated layout space isn't an entire basement. HOn30 on the other hand can provide a pretty decent run in a small space, without necessarily having to represent a small scale operation. Trains can be longer, locomotives can be larger, buildings can be larger, and so forth. So if that's what you'd like, and you'd prefer not having to fuss over little details so much, then I'd suggest HOn30 for you.

    However, the downside to HOn30 being that it's harder to represent very small prototypes, and DCC becomes expensive and impractical. Also, donor chassis are expensive, and there are no current RTR US prototypes in production. So if modelling a small scale operation appeals to you, and you require DCC and RTR US prototypes, then based on the reasons I've just outlined I'd suggest On30. On that note it should be mentioned that scratchbuilding can be done in On30 without going too crazy with the details, but the end result will tend to look rather bare - but that can sometimes be a personal preference thing; what bothers some modellers doesn't bother others so much.

    I'm sure you've already weighed up these things, but it's better to err on the side of caution. Good luck with whatever scale you choose to model in. :thumb:
  15. Cbear

    Cbear New Member

    You do have a definite point and because many decades ago, my interest was in HO, I was gravitating towards HOn30. My thinking was that I could get much in a small space.

    Yes, I agree that to get realism, more work on detail is required in On30, than HO. But as you say, and I have found, there are more resources, etc. for the larger scale.

    I guess one has to make a decision at some point how far to go to achieve realism.. does it need to stand up under a viewpoint distance of 1 foot, 2 feet, 3 feet, or what and where on the layout. High detail can be researved for foreground objects and less so for elevated or distant perspectives. I think I would tend to leave detailing until I have an operation that I can use and like. But who really knows..:D

    Yes, it can, and I have no basement to play in [g] Living in Victoria, BC.. we have a temperate climate, which opens other possibilities in the future, [such as an outdoor line?], plus I have a wife who is an artist and modeler, as well as working in some areas of miniatures, and even wouldn't mind a mainline through the living room! So I have encouragement and help.

    I have found one site Pacific Coast Air Line Railway which I found quite intereting on his approach to modeling in small spaces, with plans to spread out later. This is in sync with the approach I was thinking of, but as expected, I would be modifying and redesigning for my own purposes.

    Right, have pretty much come to the same conclusions.. with an electronic/computer background, [even tho out of date these days], I am pursuing the On30 and acquiring some RTR and used track, switches, etc. to experiment with along with DCC and decoders.

    Exactly, back to personal preferences, I guess.. but working on a modular or diorama basis at first, should give me a feel for what I find works and I can live with.

    Thanks much.. will post as I have questions and when I make progress..

  16. Canopus

    Canopus Member

    Certainly let us hear how you get on. You seem like the kind of guy who knows exactly what he wants and thinks everything through, which is great. You should stick around and give advice to some of the new guys (and old guys too, we're all still learning really) as your project progresses.
  17. Cbear

    Cbear New Member

    Well, thanks for the good words, I will stick around.. currently awaiting some product I splurged on.. Buchmann 0-4-2, and (2) 2-6-0 's.. should be enough motive power to start.. also have some rolling stock comming as well as a bunch of flex-track, turnouts, etc.. not light rail, but affordable used stuff. [g] EZ-Command also en-route.. now have to research best options for layout platform, elevations, etc. I know the old tried way of plywood, cork and balast.. but not up on modern use of insulation board, and/or the methods used for modules in Woodland Scenics.. any suggestions pro and con welcome..

  18. Canopus

    Canopus Member

    The way I've always done it has been to use marine plywood (ordinary plywood is fine, I just happen to know a person who works for a boat building company who gives me free offcuts), and use that for the baseboard and raised platforms, which I support with blocks of pine. I place styrofoam blocks on the platforms and at the exposed sides of the platforms to give the slopes, these are cut into shape and covered with a layer of plaster. I use cork roadbed, and fill all voids with self expanding foam, which quietens the operation of the layout. Once this is all down I work on getting the scenery material down, then lay the track and ballast last. Buildings go in just before the scenery stage, and the scenery is built up around them.

    I've heard of many other ways of doing it, none of which have sounded like anything I would bother with, and while I could tell you that you can trawl the internet teaching yourself all the different methods, to be frank, it's a big waste of time doing that. You'd be best off with a woodland scenics tutorial book and a few planks of different wood/material to do some tests on, to find your own "style".
  19. Cbear

    Cbear New Member

    Always handy to have [g]
    Okay, that makes sense.
    That expanding foam is useful, but a little goes a long way.
    Travelling the interent can be time consuming for sure.. but while developing the plan and mission of what I want [currently logging and mining, turn of last century, on Vancouver Island], I can store useful ideas and old pics.. found thousands in BC Govt Archive site. I may start with Dioramas and expnd/connect them..
  20. Swissboy

    Swissboy New Member

    narrow gauge snap tracks

    Hello everyone, I am new to this forum. Hope I am not repeating too much of what has already been said. I do have a number of different gauges, but my layouts are H0 (or HO if you want) and a bit of N.

    As I live in Switzerland, I want to clear up something first. Swiss narrow gauge is 1 meter, usually. So the corresponding models are Om and HOm (m for meter). There are a few major manufacturers for HOm: most of all Bemo and D+R. Roco does or did some Om, but no HOm. For both gauges, there are snap tracks readily available, thus allowing for some easily set up temporary layouts.

    Unfortunately, I have not found any such tracks for On3 and HOn3. Only flex tracks which are not useful for a temporary layout except for a more or less straight test track. Since the previous discussions, a few months have passed, and a few more fine models have come out most of all by MMI and Blackstone. Plus fine cars from San Juan. Thus my question: does anyone know of an impending issue of snap tracks for these gauges? It is a shame that no such tracks are available as far as I know.



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