Wondering about narrow gauge HO

Discussion in 'Narrow Gauge Model Railroading' started by Austinio, Jul 31, 2006.

  1. Austinio

    Austinio New Member

    I have a 4 x 12 HO layout in my basement. So far I have the track down but no scenery and it is not totally wired. Here is my track plan. I have a single loop, no distortions, just a loop of HO that runs across the whole thing. Along about 5 ft or so of one side of the loop I have double track made via a passing siding along the straight. Off of the passing siding I have a single siding. This is all I have. I have a HUGE area in the middle that I am going to have to fill with SOMETHING. I am sort of thinking of having some of it be a narrow gauge railroad. I have some N scale track. I am wondering a few things. Please answer my questions anybody.

    1. Does regular N scale track work well for HO narrow gauge, and if so, does both HOn3 and HOn30 run on N scale or does only HOn30?

    2. Is it easy to convert an N scale loco to narrow gauge HO? What sort of tools would you reccomend?

    3. What are some good companies that make narrow gauge freight cars and passenger cars?

    4. Is there any good out-of-the-box plastic narrow gauge available or is it all brass and stuff?

    Add any other info you know about it.
  2. pgandw

    pgandw Active Member

    1) HOn3 has its own correctly gauged track which is 10.5mm (3 x 3.5mm/ft). HOn30 uses N guage track which is 9.0mm wide. This technically scales to just under 31 inch gauge in HO. Since most US prototype narrow gauges used 3ft (vast majority) and 2ft gauges (2nd most popular), HOn30 commonly creates free-lance models or models the 2ft gauge prototypes. For this reason, HOn30 locomotives and rolling stock tend (but not always) to be a little smaller than HOn3. If you want to use HOn3, there is HOn3 flex track and turnouts available. For HOn30, there is specific flex track made with the wider ties spacing and ties, but you can also use regular N track. And if you never let a rivet counter see you, you can put regular N gauge equipment for the fun of it when you want. Disclaimer: I'm an HOn3 guy myself, but you asked about HOn30.

    2) Roco sells some RTR HOn30 European prototype locomotives. They also made some similar HOn30 equipment sold under the AHM name in the late '60s and '70s. These can often be found on eBay. Keystone makes an unpowered Shay kit in HOn30; a motorizing kit used to be available from NWSL. Train and Trooper specializes in HOn30, and provides body kits to fit on specific N chassis. Ease of conversion depends on your skill levels. Basically, you will need the same skills and tools as you would need to assemble an HO steam engine kit such as Roundhouse or Bowser. Only you won't have much in the way of directions, and the parts will be smaller. Biggest issue with HOn30 locomotives is the wheel sizes don't look right. N diesel chassis wheels (scale 36"-40") are really too small to look correct in HOn30 (less than 21"). N steam chassis drivers tend to be too small also, unless the N steamers prototype used tall drivers. It takes a scale 60" driver in N to equal a 34" driver in HO.

    3 and 4) Covered in my answer to #2. Others who model in HOn30 can provide more info.

    Modeling in any of the narrow gauges except On30 is a different hobby from HO and N. Almost everything has to be ordered from very small manufacturers, either on-line or through the mail. Prices are probably twice what the equivalent in plastic would cost in HO or N. You build most of your locos and rolling stock from kits, kit-bashing, and scratch. You learn to find out-of-production items from specialty hobby shops and eBay.

    But nobody else is going to have exactly the same model when you are done. You will have pride of craftsmanship, and it will just look so good! Ain't nothin' prettier than a narrow gauge Shay or Class A Climax pulling a log train out of the woods!

    my thoughts, your choices
  3. gcodori

    gcodori Member

    To get HOn30, you simply build a bigger cab and boiler on an N scale loco. HOn3 has it's own track and locos and can not be mixed with HOn30 track. HOn30 has only a small amount of ready to run locos and kits, so be prepared to build almost everything. The plus size is that there are lots of cheap diesels and some steam in n scale you can build upon. The down size is the scratchbuilding I mentioned above.

    If you already have HO track down but no scenery - you can look at On30, which runs on HO track with O scale sized cabs/boilers. The plus side of this is lots of ready to run trains and cars (at a good price too). The down side is the size of structures and other items are O scale.
  4. Austinio

    Austinio New Member

    I am not doing it to run narrow guage, I am doing it to add more to my simple layout.
  5. pgandw

    pgandw Active Member

    If you are truly interested in adding on a narrow gauge line (assuming HOn30 using your N gauge track), you might want to put in a transfer terminal where your passing siding and spur are. A freight platform between the spur and an HOn30 spur with a crane and some other tools to transfer freight might look pretty good. The other end of the narrow gauge could go to a town up in the hills, or a mine, or a logging area located in the center of the layout.

    You didn't say what radius N track you are using, or whether it's flex track. This could be an area of concern, as I don't know how well HOn30 would go around the tighter N 9.75" radius curves.

    I would suggest you put some thought into what you want your layout to look like, become, or portray as it gets completed. I get the sense you are not sure what you want to do at this point as far as a theme, a prototype (if any), era, region, or operational focus for either the HO or the N. Not that you have to have all these ideas, but at least one or two to point you in a direction.

    Will you be operating by yourself or with others? How many others?

    What era and prototype do you have models of, or do you prefer? Do you prefer steam or diesel? Do you want to model Michigan and the Midwest? Or would you rather model the Rocky Mountains, the Pacific Northwest, New England, Appalachan coal country, and so on? Is there a particular scene you want to have on your layout?

    Which is the biggest hindrance to progress on your layout - money, time, interest, or skills?

    You might take a look at the "Givens and Druthers" sticky thread in the track planning section for ideas on how to design a layout that suits you.

    I would not want to see you launch into narrow gauge until you are ready for, or at least accepting, of the extra challenges of being in a minority scale/gauge.

    my thoughts, your choices
  6. jetrock

    jetrock Member

    If you have all that room in the middle, and your layout is a simple oval, why not add some more sidings to serve industries located in the center of the layout? Not that a narrow gauge layout within a layout is such a bad thing, but if you're looking to add operational interest, more sidings and more industries to serve can't hurt.
  7. shortliner

    shortliner Member

  8. Canopus

    Canopus Member

    I hate to say it but it probably wasn't a good idea to build your layout like that. You'll find it hard to reach the center. Many people jigsaw out the center of their board so that they can stand in the middle. In my opinion the classic beginner mistake is to have an oval, for the very reason you stated. A huge area in the center that you're going to have to fill... plus later on when you possibly get more serious about the hobby, the unrealistic oval will begin to disappoint you.

    Now is a good stage to think about whether you really want an oval, since you've only nailed down the track and haven't ballasted or put any scenery down.

    Yes, n scale track is ideal. In HO it represents 2 foot 6 inch gauge, a very common narrow gauge. No, HOn3 requires slightly wider than n scale track gauge. HOn30 represents 30 inch gauge, while HOn3 represents 3 foot gauge.

    Yes, I've been doing it since I was 14 years old and it's one of the easiest projects provided you know what to do and make a point of not being sloppy about your work. All you need is a craft knife, some sharp scissors, polystyrene cement, and styrene sheet of various thicknesses (I'd recommend 0.5mm or thinner for stuff you plan to bend like for locomotive roofs or diesel hood tops). A good drill like a dremel is very handy for starting holes for windows, which you can then square out using the craft knife. You may also want styrene strip depending on your project.

    All you do is remove the bodyshell of the N scale loco, and then build yourself a new shell to fit around the chassis. Sometimes this can be quite a challenge, and often until you take the bodyshell off you don't know what kind of difficulty level you're dealing with. You can sometimes come across one that may need physical modification before you can build the kind of loco you want onto it.

    Well since I don't model any American narrow gauge prototypes I don't really know, but one site that has constantly impressed me with it's product range has been a little shop called "train and trooper" - you'll find it on the web if you enter those exact words into google.

    Parkside Dundas, a UK kit manufacturer make a kit of a hudson skip car (the tipping V shaped cars) which is in the slightly larger british 4mm to the foot scale, but is so small that the difference is negligable. Nigel Lawton, whose products are available over the internet, makes a range of 4mm to the foot WG Allen skip cars, which look very similar but were more popular in the US than the Hudson skips (so I'm told). Nigel's kits are home made, and so for an extra 2 bucks he'll throw in the "skip seconds", which are the castings that came out warped, or with air bubbles, or other defects, which you can use to create your own pile of rusted out skips as found on many narrow gauge railroads - sometimes you get lots of these, sometimes you get none, it depends on how well the casting goes.

    There's actually a lot of good out of the box rtr models out there. For locomotives, the Roco range has a really nice 0-6-0 outside framed steamer that's beautifully detailed, runs like a sewing machine, and with a few small modifications and detail parts can easily be Americanised. It's available in both tender and non tender versions. Don't confuse that with their cheaper one, although that is a nice runner and looks pretty good since they re-did it with improved valve gear - however the ugly body shell isn't worth messing with in my opinion, it's too far gone to save.

    If you're willing to put your money where your mouth is with the narrow gauge, try Bemo. Very expensive, but the running qualities are second to none, as is the detail. I wouldn't recommend it as you'd probably be too scared to modify/americanise it at that kind of cost, but there is a cheaper, really nice outside framed diesel engine in their range (outside framed chassis are very hard to come by in rtr narrow gauge so it's good to know where you can get a chassis if you need one) - I've seen many of these used as chassis for various prototypes, all of which ran great.

    The only brass HOn30 that I know of is Brick Price's models and imported Joe Works models which are now mostly collectors items, the rest of the brass stuff is generally HOn3.

    The Bachmann spectrum Plymouth 0-6-0 switcher is a really good starting point for building a "critter". All you need to do is cut off the existing cab, and replace it with a larger HOn30 cab. Instant HOn30 diesel. If you're feeling confident, you can scratchbuild a new hood too, add an exhaust pipe, air intake, and headlamp... maybe even a radiator filler cap.

    Have fun. :thumb:
  9. shaygetz

    shaygetz Active Member

  10. rebel

    rebel New Member


    don,t forget about the cost factor, hon30 can be alot cheaper to build if you modify n scale stuff, used to take regular n scale track and removed some ties and respaced to get that make'in do look that many narrow gauges had in their latter years
  11. Canopus

    Canopus Member

    That depends on what N scale stuff you modify. A Bachmann Plymouth 0-6-0 costs around 26 bucks, but a Lifelike switcher chassis with it's dual flywheels will set you back a lot more, around about $30 more.

    The same goes for On30 - some things cost around $20 (like the ever popular model power porter hustler), and other things cost $30 or $50, so it just depends on what you use.

    Ultimately it depends how serious you are about the hobby. I could put together an HOn30 mining layout for no more than $120, the price of one HO Atlas diesel. Or I could build a huge and complex railroad, complete with industries, rolling stock and a fleet of locomotives for tens of thousands of dollars. Neither is any better than the other, they just represent different levels of the hobby, and one can still be serious about NG if they're on a budget or working in a small space.

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