If you are considering taking up model railroading as a hobby, you probably have wondered about certain terminology that those with experience in the field seem to use. The model railroad scale is one of those terms that you can never figure out as an outsider to the hobby. Let’s explain it a little better. When you decide to invest in a model railroad set, you’ll find that every bit of hardware, the tracks, the train itself and all the accessories, come in several sizes or scales, each one with its own name. In the beginning, the scale names used only referred to how wide the tracks were. These days though, those are considered specifications that include everything to do with a railroad set. If you want to be assured of buying a set that is completely compatible, you want everything to take the same scale.
What do model railroad scale names sound like? Usually, they are several letters of the alphabet and combinations thereof. The most popular ones are HO, N and O. What exactly does this mean? A model railroad scale name goes to show you how much smaller than the real thing a model is, proportionately speaking. The HO scale size for instance is one-eighty-sevenths smaller than the real life engine it takes after. If you have a model engine on the HO scale that is 9 inches long, that means that the real engine it’s been scaled on is 87 times as long as that – or about 65 feet. Most people prefer the HO model railroad scale because it’s big enough without being too big. You could probably fit a basic railroad loop with a few sidings inside 10 feet. Should you buy HO?
The good part to buying HO is that it’s the most popular size and economies of scale really kick in in your favor. If you feel that HO size is rather too big for you, the size that comes next on the scale is the N. It is half the size HO is, and in general, you can do with an N scale model railroad set about four times as much as what you could do with the next bigger size. In about 10 feet, you can get a really elaborate railroad route all nicely arranged in. N is the size of the future in model railroad scale. It lets you do so much more, while still being big enough to be a boatload of fun.