HO Scale Model Trains: Everything You Need To Know

HO Scale Model Trains: Know Your All Awesome Answers

The first time I saw a model train running down the track was a phenomenon to my young mind. I was astonished at how precisely that small train was built and how accurate it looked compared to the real train. This was the time I grew a passion for scale model trains.

Today, I intend to tell my experience with scale model trains, especially HO scale model trains that are the most popular in the industry. You will get a detailed insight into these model trains in this write-up. Let’s get into the topic without any further due.

A Brief History

The HO model trains were first produced by a firm called Bing, located in Nuremberg, Germany. It came to light at the Leipzig Spring Fair held in 1935. As the model was half the size of the O scale, it was described as the Half O gauge or HO gauge.

It took the model quite a few years to succeed commercially. The O scale model was very popular then. Manufacturers of HO models like Marx and Lionel started fitting more details in HO models to make them popular. As of now, HO models are highly common in the industry with different locomotives, rolling stocks, and scenarios.

What Is Scale?

Scale in the modeling industry is used to express the ratio of the model size to the size of the real-life object. For example, if you make something 48 times smaller than the real object, it will be called an O-scale object. The ratio of the scale will be 1:48.

You can also say from the scale that the real object is 48 times bigger than the model. In simple words, scale is used to denote how small the model is compared to the original life-sized object.

What Is HO Scale?

This is the most commonly used scale for making toy automobiles or trains. The ratio of this scale is 1:87 or 3.5mm to 1 foot. That means, if you have a model rail coach of 3.5mm in length, its original size will be one foot.

What Are the HO Scale Model Trains?

HO scale trains are those models built on a scale of 1:87. It means where the original rail track is 1,435mm or 4 ft and 8.5 inches wide; the model train will run on a 16.5mm or 0.650 inches wide track.

Are All HO Train Tracks the Same?

Though all the train tracks made by different manufacturers should theoretically be the same, it isn’t often the case in reality. Train cars and tracks from different brands can be compatible with each other, but there will be some limitations.

Each company has a different patent, so their models won’t be universally compatible. Some models can be interchangeable, but that doesn’t guarantee that every model will be the same. It is best to check the compatibility before you want to mix and match models.

What Are the Types of HO Train Models?

HO model trains usually come in three types. Here is a quick overview of them.

1. Ready to Run

With these kits, you can instantly play with the model right out of the box. Everything from the locomotives to the tracks is in order so that you can start driving the train along the tracks right away.

2. Shake the Box

In this case, you need to put some effort into bringing the components together. If you love to solve puzzles, this kit might lure you.

3. Craftsman

You need a complete knowledge of model train building to handle this kit. Everything will come in the smallest component, and you need to build the train from scratch.

Which Is Better O Scale or HO Scale?

It depends on the purpose. If you have a small place to set up the layout, the HO scale will be better due to its smaller size. But if you want to have realistic detail and more element in the layout, the O scale is much better.

What Is the Difference Between HO and OO?

Though HO and OO gauges are the same, the main difference is in the scale. Both HO and OO trains can run on a 16.5mm track. But the HO scale has a ratio of 1:87, whereas the OO scale has a ratio of 1:76.

This is why the body of the OO scale model trains is slightly bigger than the HO scale. Due to the wider body, OO scale trains might not fit all layouts planned for HO scale trains.

What’s the Difference Between HO Scale and N Scale?

Before I get to the differences, let’s introduce you to the N scale first. This scale has a ratio of 1:160, which means the model train in this scale will be 160 times smaller than the real train.

The name of the scale comes from the word nine. This is because the model trains of this scale run on a track of 9mm gauge or 0.375 inches gauge. So, you might have already understood the difference between the HO scale and the N scale.

When comparing the size, the N scale is the next smaller scale than the HO scale. This model is also very popular nowadays, and a range of manufacturers produce trains and accessories for this model.

What Is HO Gauge?

It refers to the track gauge of 0.650 inches or 16.5mm. This track gauge is 87 times smaller than the real track gauge, which is measured at 1,435mm or 4 ft 8.5 inches. To clarify more, the gauge is the distance between two rails on the inside.

What Is the Difference Between HO Scale and Gauge?

The first thing you should remember is that these two terms aren’t interchangeable. Scale refers to the proportion of something compared to the real object. But gauge is the distance between two rails on a track.

Scale is expressed as ratios. For example, the HO scale has a ratio of 1:87. And the gauge is expressed in mm or inches. For example, the HO gauge is about 0.650 inches or 16.5mm.

How Big Is a HO Scale Train?

As you might already know the math, you can figure out the exact size of a HO scale train. Usually, HO model trains will be about 140-175mm or 5.5-7 inches long. When I talk about a standard set with the locomotive and three to four cars, it will be about three feet long.

How Wide Are HO Scale Trains?

HO scale trains usually have locomotives of about 35mm or 1.375 inches wide. But the cars won’t be as wide as the locomotive. The cars are usually shorter and less wide than the locomotive on real trains. So, the same will happen in the case of HO scale trains.

How Tall Is an HO Scale Locomotive?

Though the height may vary depending on the manufacturers, a standard HO scale locomotive will be about 56mm or 2.25 inches tall. But the car height will be a bit lower than the locomotive height. This is also common in the case of real trains.

What Scale Is Bigger Than HO?

As of now, model trains are made on six different scales. The HO scale lies at number four considering large to small. The third scale in this series is the S scale. This scale has a ratio of 1:64. The first train of this scale came out in the 1930s. A.C. Gilbert Co. first made this model run on two-rail tracks, which looked more similar to the real train compared to other models running on three-rail tracks.

In this scale, the track gauge is 0.875 inches. It means the rails are 0.875 inches apart from each other on the inside.

What Voltage Do HO Scale Trains Use?

Ho scale trains usually need 14V to run at maximum speed. When the locomotive is stationary, the train will require zero volts. If you increase the throttle, it will start drawing more voltage up to 14V at the maximum speed.

But running that voltage at a stretch can be risky for the motor. So, you need to use a transformer and controller that come with the train set. The wiring should also be done properly before setting up the layout. It will ensure you don’t need to rip off the layout later just because your train needs more power.

Do OO Gauge Trains Run on HO Track?

The answer will be yes. As you might already know, both these models use the same track gauge of 16.5mm. So, what’s the reason behind creating a different model that runs on the same track as the HO scale trains?

This is because the HO scale trains were the most popular when Hornby created OO scale trains. To make their product fit into the existing track system, they designed the OO trains to run on the HO track.

But the size of the locomotives and cars on the OO scale is a bit larger than on the HO scale. This has been done to accommodate larger and more powerful motors of the OO trains. So, OO gauge trains will surely run on HO tracks without any issues.

How to Build HO Scale Model Trains Layout?

The layout is the part of the ground and its surroundings that the model train uses to roam through. In simple words, everything around the train, such as roads, bridges, water, greenery, houses, cars, etc., put in a certain order is known as the layout.

You need to consider different things to create a layout that will stand out from the crowd. Check them out.

Step 1. Keep Harmony Between the Train and the Scene

Using a scale model from the old west in a modern town won’t look so realistic. So, you need to be careful while choosing the components for the layout. Try to pick everything close to the year the trained model existed.

Step 2. Have a Good Backdrop

The backdrop is important to keep the messes out of sight and give your viewers an outstanding view of the train. If you use a backdrop, it should be in a neutral color so that it doesn’t affect the scenario. Custom-designed backdrops will also be fine.

Step 3. Emphasize on Details

If you are designing a layout for public display, it should have intriguing elements in the layout to attract the viewers. For example, smaller elements like the stones on the tracks or the signal light beside the track should be realistic. These small things will make the layout look much cooler.

Step 4. Set the Layout Sturdily

When setting the layout, you should make sure that everything stays in place even when the train runs at full speed. A failed component will be a disaster in such a layout.

Who Makes the Highest Quality HO Scale Trains?

Here is a short introduction to some of the best manufacturers of HO scale trains.

1. Bachmann

This company was originally founded in 1933 and made high-quality model trains. Spectrum was one of their top-selling items.

2. Lionel 

Lionel Corporation or currently known as Lionel, LLC, designed some of the greatest toy trains in America.

3. Athearn

Irvin Athearn founded the company in 1938. It produces high-quality model train equipment in the United States.

4. Atlas 

It makes different scale models, including the HO scale.

5. Arnold

Karl Arnold founded the company in 1906 in Nuremberg, Germany. The Rapido 200 was very popular in its product lineup.

6. Walthers

This company was founded in 1932 and produced some really popular model trains, rail tracks, and other equipment.

Final Words

As I approach the end of the article, here is a quick recap of the discussion. I tried to inform you of as many details as possible about HO scale trains. Though these model trains are half the size of the O scale trains, they contain amazing detail. This is what makes them very popular among hobbyists and enthusiasts.

These model trains can be set up on compact layouts due to their sizes. Only if you pick the right elements for the layout and set them up correctly; HO scale trains will look lovely. Now that you know all the details, I hope you will end up with a scenic train on the tracks.

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