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Monday, March 25, 2013

Railroads for the Old West in 28mm

Trains add a very distinctive look to the gaming table and I feel that its very important for them to have the right look and feel. Whether its a scenario recreating a locomotive chase or a train robbery or as a supporting element to a WWI or WWII game they need to look like they fit in with both our terrain and our miniatures. I have had this discussion of scale and proportion, both with myself (yes, I do talk to myself) and on a couple of forums, before. When we look strictly at scale S Scale (1/64) is the closest scale comparison to our 28mm miniatures. Visually the track is just about perfect, it scales quite nicely with most of the miniatures we use. In other words if we try and pull the old Snidely Whiplash trick of tying our victim to the track their head and feet (sans base) will overhang the rails appropriately. S Scale track is available commercially although it has to be mail ordered. Other components like turnouts and crossings tend to be pretty pricy though. Granted within the context of our games the railroad tends to be very secondary and we are not necessarily interested in putting a lot of track on the table.

Before I get much farther let me define a few things as far as scale and notations are concerned for the gamers out there. HO, S and O (and for O scale I'm referring to American O Scale) refer to specific measuring scales; HO is 1/87, S is 1/64th, and O is 1/48th. Gauge refers to the distance between the rails and I'm going to use US standards here. For American Standard gauge the distance between the rails is 4' 8 1/2". Narrow gauge is anything narrower than this, in general there are two "common" narrow gauge sizes in the US; 36" or 3' (the most common form of narrow gauge in Colorado) between the rails and 24" or 2' (the most popular prototypes being the Maine two-footers) between the rails. There are others but these are the two, more or less, most common narrow gauge sizes. We notate this with the letter "n" followed by a number, like n3 for 3' narrow gauge and n2 for 2' narrow gauge. When you see a notation like this HOn3 we are talking about 3' narrow gauge in HO scale, if HO appears by itself then its always considered to be standard gauge. If you see two digits then the measurement is in inches so n30 denotes rails that are 30" or 2' 6" apart.

A piece of S Scale flex track from Tomalco
When looking for locomotives and rolling stock the problem we run into in S Scale is that there just isn't much available to put on the table other than the track. I have been slowly buying up old American Flyer S Scale passenger cars and engines from their Franklin Frontiersman set as these are pretty much the only source of pre 1900 equipment available in S Scale. I have recently discovered though that the cars are a lot closer to O scale so they are a bit big as is the 4-4-0. The Franklin set is all that is readily (through ebay) available to us in S Scale for our Wild West period.

In the Lead Adventurers forum a number of people have turned to On30, which runs on HO Scale track which is readily available and not particularly expensive especially when compared to S and O scales. On30 is a rare type of narrow gauge but has a good selection of products because it is produced by a major model railroad manufacturer; Bachmann. Bachmann wanted to enter the narrow gauge field but wanted something that would run on their existing HO track so they turned to On30 but used 3' narrow gauge prototypes, the Denver & Rio Grande Western (D&RGW) being one of them. They make a number of locomotives that are very appropriate to our time period (a 4-4-0 American, and a 2-6-0 Mogul) but they are on the expensive side. You will have to haunt eBay for a while in order to catch one at a good price. Despite O scale being much bigger scale wise than our miniatures the On30 looks pretty good with our miniatures, so why is that? Proportionately narrow gauge equipment is about 2/3rds the size of standard gauge equipment so while the scale is a bit large we discover that the proportions are much closer to our miniatures and make a really good match. There is a fair amount of equipment already available in On30 that fits our Wild West era much better than we find in S Scale.

My immediate thoughts are to take the On30 equipment and swap out the On30 scale trucks (wheels) for S Scale standard trucks, which is a pretty easy conversion. Proportionately this is about bang on for S Scale trucks because Bachmann uses a 3' narrow gauge prototype and really should be running on wider track than HO, S Scale track fits the bill. The difficulty will be with the locomotives, I can't just swap out trucks because we dealing with the drivers and the pony truck (and possibly a trailing truck as well) and there aren't going to be any direct swaps possible. I will have to go in and swap out the axles, which is not the easiest thing to do but certainly possible. Hopefully that will give me the best of both worlds, easily obtainable equipment running on the track that I consider to be proportionately correct for our 28mm miniature scale.

I already have an American Flyer Franklin 4-4-0 and some passenger and baggage cars to go along with it but I should be able to readily dispose of that on eBay and help finance the acquisition of some On30 equipment.
The American Flyer Franklin 4-4-0 and Baggage Car from the Frontiersman set circa 1959-60.

I had posed a question about conversions of other scales to S Scale standard on one of my railroad forums. In between the usual Christmas railroad set conversions (which work just fine, just not to my taste) was reference to a website for something called 55n3. Essentially he follows my own argument about scale versus proportion. Its a very interesting website with a lot of helpful information and if you are interested in the railroad side of things its worth checking out: 55n3

So that's where the railroad for Calamity is headed. Incidentally I found out that the Bachmann 2-6-0 Mogul (In the Bumblebee paint scheme. Incidentally this paint scheme is incorrect for our Wild West period, it wasn't introduced until 1949) is very close to the #1 Engine on the Colorado and Northwestern, the railroad I want to model. So the Colorado history is now subject to my whims and since the location of the town of Calamity itself is somewhat vague I think I may letter the Calamity railroad as the Colorado and Northwestern, time will tell.

Bachmann 4-4-0 American in On30


  1. I've always envisioned my Western towns to be in CO since I love CO narrow gauge. Ironically, I've based my figs for a desert look since most people assume Western = Desert. Go figure.

    Check Micromark: http://www.micromark.com/bachmann-on30-locomotives-and-powered-equipment.html

    They sell the Bachmann 2-6-0 for $109 and the 4-6-0 for $150. They run sales on these as well. Recently, the 4-6-0 was on sale for $100 undecorated. The Forneys are also $100, nice for a silver mine or logging run.

    I used to be a rivet counter modeler, a founding webmaster on the NMRA Web Committee ages ago, and so on. But I enjoy gaming so I don't have to worry about all those details any more--quite liberating! :-)

    Love the website BTW.

    1. I have setup my eBay searches for all of those! Will see what I can come up with, I don't even really need these to run when it comes right down to it (although that would still be cool, I can see problems within the context of the game of having operating locomotives running around on the board). I got over being a rivet counter a long time ago as well, I would rather operate my trains than worry whether my CF7 is correct or not.

      I'm going to try an shy away from the western desert look as much as possible there are definitely green areas in this state!

      I appreciate the compliment! Thank you.

    2. My dream is to set up a great Western town at a con with some track, and then during the game run out a sound-equipped Mogul or something hauling a train (maybe full of baddies), blasting the whistle while running the train into the town. It would be amazing. Talk about getting some attention!

      I can run an N scale train on a plain 9 volt battery. Not sure what size battery I would need for a Bachmann with a sound unit, unless I ask for a table near a wall outlet. Hmmmm... 8-)

    3. See you shouldn't give me ideas like that. I can just make a couple of cartridges and actually have the train enter and exit the board using a couple of those. And sound is pretty much mandatory. I have an NCE DCC unit adding a decoder into an On30 engine should be a piece of cake, one with sound of course. I can always request a spot close to an outlet.

  2. This is a very well written piece Kris and I learned something here today. You should consider locating other Western/train enthusiasts and get together a cooperative blog.

    1. The Wild West section in the Lead Adventurers forum is like that now. There are a lot of ideas going around there but a whole blog could be very interesting.