Introduction to N Scale


Thank you for your interest in the hobby of N scale model railroading.

Long ago I read in Model Railroader magazine the limits we face are Time, Space, and Money. I’ve found that this is true of many of life’s interests. A lot of Money can buy Space but can’t always buy Time.

Skills. There are activities within the hobby that encompass other hobbies and, like hobbies should do, allow us to continue learning. These hobbies can be electronics, mechanics, carpentry, painting, history, architecture, scenery, photography, and even theater. There are folks doing state of the art electronics and others who are practicing Luddites. You can set goals or just let things happen.

Scales and Gauge. N scale is the proportion of 1:160 (or 10′ = 3/4″) and the gauge is 9mm between the rails. Why N Scale rather than a larger scale? Some people get into N because they don’t have the room for larger scale railroad. I call this “Little H0”. Most N scalers would still prefer N even if we had unlimited space because N allows us to make a more realistic railroad with large radius curves. The hardest thing to make a ‘realistic’ railroad is representing realistic curves. In N a ~78″ radius is about the tightest a mainline railroad would use.

Prototype and Freelance. Prototype modeling refers to representing actual items that exist now or did at one time. Freelance refers to modeling railroads that didn’t exist. At one time it was probably easier for pure modelers to freelance but there are so many more products now that modeling a prototype railroader is easier. Protolancing is modeling what could have/ should have been. Reality is that most of us probably model “generic prototype”.

Armchair Railroading. Can be a beginner or veteran, this person often doesn’t have much discretionary time. This is perhaps the least expensive in Time, Space, and Money. Those of us involved with producing N Scale Railroading magazine highly recommend N Scale Railroading magazine for all Armchair Railroaders as well as all railroaders and non-railroaders.

Casual Railroading. Perhaps visits a hobby shop 2-4 times per year and hopes to be more active later, but family and job commitments leave little time for hobbies.

Collecting. A Collector actively purchases N scale as it comes out and enjoys hunting for pieces not owned. Some non-Collectors think this is an End of Civilization activity but collectors can make it worthwhile for manufacturers to make additional products. Some people blame collectors for the “Limited Run” phenomena. Microeconomics says consumer behavior rewards and reinforces this phenomenon. EG “I’ll buy X now because I can wait an buy Y later.” Collecting shouldn’t be confused with speculating. In a broad sense most of us are collectors in that we have owned more rolling stock than we’ll ever be able to put on our layouts.

Running. Some people just like to run trains and watch them. Synonym: Chasing the Caboose/ FRED. Why plumb a pond when you can listen to the soothing gentle roar of N scale trains?

Operating. The idea is to simulate prototype operations. This can vary from running a single switcher on a shelf layout that represents a switching district to representing the operations of a whole division (often ~200 miles) over a 24-hour period, often with a “fast clock”. Some things I’ve read about operations sound more tedious and dull than a real J.O.B. but “operating” on a layout done right is just a very unique experience that cannot be explained. Yes it can sound really silly but it’s a hoot.

Railroad Modeling. Many folks love to build models for the sake of modeling. Usually the smaller the scale, the harder it is to make models. N scale is blessed with many modelers who are extremely good model builders. N scale railroad modelers can often have the space to build great looking dioramas to display their models.

Model Railroading. In a way this is the opposite of the model builder although many people are great at both. One example might be someone who accumulates (via purchasing or modeling) a theme of a specific railroad at a specific time at a specific geographical location. Many of us start out with broad tastes and narrow things a bit as we gain more knowledge and develop tastes.

Most Important. This is a hobby and you determine what you do and don’t want to do. Many of us have been more than one of these caricatures over the years. Whether you choose to be a lone wolf or actively participate in a group or club: The main thing is to have fun and be comfortable with this wonderful hobby.

Click here to return to the beginners’s resouces page.

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