Introduction to On30 Model Railroading

On30 Locomotive Conversion by Allen K. Littlefield

So Just What's So Special About On30?

In the U.S. modeling in On30 involves using HO gauge track and mechanisms with O scale (1:48) models to represent 30" narrow gauge in O scale. Outside of the US this is sometimes called O-16.5. O scale is slightly different (1:43/7mm to the foot, or 1:45) in other parts of the world.

Modeling in O scale means that your models will be 1/4"=1 foot scale. It's important to remember that your buildings and figures will be roughly twice as large as HO. On30 modelers use HO gauge track to represent 30" gauge in O scale. This lets On30er's fit more layout in the same space as regular O gauge.

One advantage to modeling in this gauge is the availability of HO gauge locomotive chassis's and components such as trucks and couplers. You can also use HO gauge track components, though once getting into this gauge, most modelers use On30 flex track and turnouts, or hand lay their own track.

Another advantage is the availability of Bachmann's line of On30 ready-to-run models. These are well made and inexpensive models, and offer a wide variety of equipment.

Why I Model in On30

For many years I modeled (off and on) in HO/HOn30 scale. My inspiration came from the fine articles written by Dave Frary and Bob Hayden who model in HOn30 (the HO scale equivalent of On30). One of the reasons that I am switching to On30 is that as I grow older I'm finding that it's much easier on the eyes to work in a larger scale. I also enjoy modifying figures for my layout, and it's much easier to do so in O scale.

On30 enthusiasts model a wide variety of narrow gauge railroads. While some of these diminutive railroads were built to 24" gauge and some to 36" gauge, some On30 modelers accept the compromise of using 30" gauge in order to have the availability of HO gauge components such as trucks, loco mechanisms, and track.

For the modeler in 30" gauge that doesn't want to compromise there are some choices. Not many of these RR's were located in the US, but there were a few, such as the Yosemite Short Line, the Empire City Rwy. and the Sloat Lumber Co./F. S. Murphy Lumber. to learn more about the 30" logging roads, click here!

Another nice US prototype to model is the Harbor Springs Railway, built by Emphriam Shay, inventor of the Shay locomotive. To see more about this fascinating RR, click here!

The Eureka Mill Railroad provides yet another US prototype to model. The EMRR transported silver ore from the Virginia & Truckee RR to the Eureka Mill. It was only a little over a mile in length, so would be ideal for those who are space challenged! For a picture and brief description of the EMRR, click here!

In addition to these, there were a host of 30" gauge RR's in other parts of the world, as well as a number of indutrial lines and tramways. Click here for Michael Johnson's excellent listing on 30" prototypes from areound the world. Research and have fun!

On30: Quick, Easy and Inexpensive

By Bobber Gibbs

On30 Critters by Bobber Gibbs

In On30, some of my four car trains are shorter than one standard gauge passenger car. I can model an entire rinkydink railroad in a smaller space than some yards I have built in other scales. I can use 50 foot radius curves and the equipment with Kaydee couplers do not complain. With link and pin couplers I can use even tighter curves.

Using mechanisms from some of the new and inexpensive HO locomotives, I can kitbash and create a fleet of unique, deadslow and smooth-operating Oscale engines for a fraction of what I have paid for some brass locomotives that did not operate as well.

I can model a railroad that is so obscure it defies the rivet-counters or make up my own and still be prototypical.

I enjoy operating trains and I require "play value". I usually have too many tracks, switches, locomotives and cars and not enough scenery, structures or details but I get lots of operation and that's fine for me. I may have to move several cars or engines to get the ones I want and that adds to my enjoyment. Once I am satisfied with the way things run, I can add the rest later. My model railroads are built to please me first.

In On30, quarter-inch scale models operate on track that is the same gauge as HO. Try this for fun....

  1. Set up one piece of HO track and a transformer/speed controller.

  2. Locate and buy (betcha cant buy just one) a new Model Power (yup) HO Porter Hustler, either #6708 gray (SP) or #6709 primer red (PRR), a little four wheel diesel that looks somewhat like the old Athearn Hustler. Put it on the track, right out of the box, and call me crazy if it doesnt run just as smooth and slow as your finest brass engine. Notice that it has four wheel pickup, doesnt stall anywhere, (not on my Peco switches, anyway) crawls like a man dying of thirst and has bi-directional lighting. What are you going to pay for this jewel? Well, at Niagara Hobbies in Buffalo, NY, it sells for the magnificent sum of $10.99!!!! (When I bought ten, I got them for $8.50 each.)

  3. File the sun shades off the tops of the windows and scratch up a simple 1/48 cab with a curved roof that will slide snugly right over the existing cab. Install Kaydee couplers then use some brake fluid to remove the old lettering and paint to suit. Add your own extra details. You now own a super running On30 14 feet long critter that should cost you less than $20 and one night's effort. That also makes you an official Critologist and a member of LOCO, the Loyal Order of Critter Owners.

  4. Buy two Roundhouse HO 30' shorty flats with those side and end boards and let your imagination soar. (Sorry, they might cost four or five dollars each) Leave one as a flat (or build a center shed for a transfer caboose) and make one gondola with double high side and end boards. Wow, that's a train with 17 foot long cars, just over five feet wide.

  5. Create a short portable display (interior hollow core doors are great) with a switch or two, cover the ties or lay your own track with appropriate ties, one or two structures, some figures and a vehicle or two and you have an On30 switching layout and test track.

  6. Interchange with a standard gauge track to show the difference with narrow gauge.

  7. We just built an O scale railroad layout and I'm exhausted.

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