Thoughts on On30 vs Sn42…

DDT Sn42 CritterSince discovering there were actual 30″ prototype railroads in North America I’ve been dabbling in On30 and I just got my first On30 locomotive, a Bachmann 0-4-0 Porter. For the price (less than $80 including shipping) it’s an amazing detail – nice detailing, runs very smooth (at least on DC – haven’t tested the built-in DCC yet), and best of all it matches almost perfectly the drawing I have of Eureka Mill Railroad #1. Setting it next to my Model Power DDT diesel – a locomotive that’s often mentioned as a great “On30″ critter – is instructive, and got me thinking about Sn42 again. In real life Porters were truly dinky locomotives, but sitting next the the DDT it actually looks large in comparison. In other words, the DDT is much too small for O Scale but seems perfectly sized for S Scale (when I put it next to my Sn3 locomotives it’s sized similarly and it’s noticeably larger than my Sn2 Forney). But I decided to measure…

The On30 Porter measures 2-3/16 tall at the cab, scaling to 8’9″. The Sn2 Forney measures 1-13/16, scaling to 9’9”. The difference in scale size seems about right (it should, I know they are both accurately scaled models), so the Porter should work OK as a “2 foot” porter if the wider gauge doesn’t bother you.

The DDT diesel critter scales to 8’6″ in O Scale – even shorter than the dinky Porter. In S, it scales to 11’4″, exactly the same as my P-B-L SP ten wheeler (#8) and slightly taller than my Tyco old tome 4-6-0 and my Sn3 C-16. The confirm it’s too small for O Scale (unless you’re modelling a really tiny locomotive) but just right for S Scale.

Narrow Minded

I really think S Scale is ideal for modeling narrow gauge. HO Scale narrow gauge is a little too small, O Scale narrow gauge takes up a little too much space, but S Scale narrow gauge is just right – and it gives you more and better choices. With HO, your choices are HOn30 (HO models on N Scale track) or HOn3. With O Scale, the choices are On30 and On3. S Scale gives you Sn2, Sn3, and Sn42.

Sn2 has a good selection of motive power as long as you like Forneys. Train and Trooper made quite a few different versions and they show up surprisingly often on eBay for around $250 – not a bad price for a nicely detailed brass locomotive. Brass passenger cars are also available once in awhile. The main problem with Sn2 is the availability of freight trucks – you can scratch build rolling stock all day long, but if you don’t have an easy way to put them on the rails you’re kind of stuck. If I was going to model a 2 foot gauge railroad I’d probably do it in HOn30 instead of S Scale.

Sn3 is awesome if you’re modeling a specific prototype – in fact P-B-L’s Southern Pacific locomotives are what got me into S Scale. No matter what prototype you want to model, chances are best that you’ll find locomotives and rolling stock in S Scale. P-B-L is the king of the hill, with lots of very nice brass locomotives imported over the years as well as rolling stock kits for various Colorado roads and my beloved SP narrow gauge. Older brass imports show up fairly often on eBay for good prices, and if you like to build, Railmaster Hobbies has lots of Sn3 locomotive kits. The problem with Sn3 is cost… a Railmaster locomotive kit is around $500, and if you want brass the price starts there and goes up to $1500 or more for a single locomotive. If you’re modeling a specific prototype the cost is worth it, but if you’re on a budget and don’t mind freelancing there’s a better (cheaper) alternative…

Which of course is Sn42 – S Scale narrow gauge running on HO Scale track, which scales to 42″ gauge. Instead of expensive brass locomotives, you can run modified HO Scale locomotives. In fact, the Tyco old time 4-6-0 is perfectly scaled for S so you don’t have to do anything to it besides paint. Other good candidates for Sn42 steam power are the MDC 2-6-0 and 2-8-0 locomotives, and HO scale diesel critters are perfect for more “modern” motive power. Some of the Athearn switchers can also be kitbashed into Sn42 pretty easily. For rolling stock you just use Sn3 kits with HO Scale trucks, and Titchy Train Group makes an HO Scale ore car that is perfect for an Sn42 mining layout. The picture shows a Tyco 4-6-0 that I just scored off of eBay. It’s just about a perfect match for Southern Pacific Narrow Gauge locomotives 12 and 13 – in fact it’s so close I’d almost consider narrowing the drivers to true 3 foot gauge and running it on my Slim Princess layout. But I need an Sn42 steamer to go with my Sn42 critters, so I’ll just paint it and run it.

Gorre & Daphetid in Sn42

Sometimes I think it’s good to get back to basics. I’ve been wracking my brain trying to come up with a good model railroad track plan for a 4 x 8 Sn42 layout. I want kind of a western theme with some mountains (or at least hills), a tunnel or trestle (or both), and good operation and scenery potential. It turns out the right layout was in front of me all the time – John Allen’s Gorre & Daphetid. The Gorre & Daphetid is a compact model railroad that fits into my space and has all the visual and operational elements that I want. There were actually 2 versions of the original track plan published – the “original” original had an engine terminal inside the loop of track, while the “as built” original moved the engine terminal outside the loop and replaced it with an industrial siding. This modification makes the Gorre & Daphetid take up more than 4 feet in width, so I’m still working on trying to decide whether to put the engine terminal inside the loop or just leave it off all together.

The Gorre & Daphetid is considered a small model railroad by HO scale standards, so how will it work when building to 1:64 scale? I think it will work out fine. I’m modeling in Sn42, not S standard guage. My Sn42 locomotives are built on small HO scale mechanisms that can easily go around a 15 inch radius curve. All my cars are the equivelent of HO scale 40 footers or shorter. The original Gorre & Daphetid fit onto a table that was only 3’7″ wide by 6’8″ long. My table is 4 x 8 so I can use the extra space to stretch things out a bit. I’ll use the extra 5″ of width to add my main line across the front of the layout. In this scheme, the G&D will be a mining branch off of the main line, served by one of my Sn42 “critters.” The main line (for now at least) will be a place for me to display some of my larger Sn42 projects like a Roundhouse 2-8-0 I just got. The extra length will be used to spread things out a little so the 1:64 scenery and buildings don’t look so jammed together. I’ve got 11 days off over Christmas break so hopefully I can get a train table built and start laying track.

My railroad won’t be called the Gorre & Daphetid, of course. I’m naming it the Owens River Valley Railroad. That was the name of a real narrow guage railroad that was to be built between Bishop and Laws, CA to interchange with Southern Pacific’s Slim Princess narrow guage railroad.