O Gauge is not Difficult, just 'Different'.
(Note: The prices quoted here are based upon 2006 pricing)
2006 saw the Fiftieth Anniversary of the Gauge O Guild. In 1956 there was little or no trade support for O Gauge. Consequently, it was then mostly a scratch builder’s medium and in danger of disappearing. Thanks to the small band of enthusiasts who launched the Guild, much has changed and trade support is widespread and thriving.
Nevertheless, there has grown a perception that O Gauge is expensive; cheque book, modelling. I think that this (wrong) perception puts many people off taking up modelling in 7mm to the foot. (2012 Ixion Models have now produced a Hudswell Clark 0-6-0T for less than £250, in several liveries too and a Fowler 0-4-0 diesel. This is has encouraged other manufacturers to dip their toes in the water including Dapol and Minerva.)
This is a pity because, though it is perfectly possible to spend vast sums of money commissioning custom made 7mm models, most of us have perforce to pursue the hobby on modest means.
The thoughts that follow are entirely mine, based upon my experiences and research reflecting my personal preferences and prejudices.
So, how to start in O Gauge without spending a king’s ransom? Many people come to 7mm modelling via the smaller scales. So, what are the advantages of moving up? The "style" of most O Gauge layouts tend to be very personal and intimate.
No longer a place to "just run trains". They are sometimes idiosyncratic and often based on real places where detail and fidelity to prototype are more important than quantity.
This picture of Nigel Bowyer’s excellent "Napier Street" illustrates this perfectly and is only 10’6" long. O Gauge trains, because of their greater mass and weight, make the right noises over track joints and point work and modelling in the scale is easier on ageing eyes, though one tends to model more detail so that may be a mixed blessing.
The sheer size makes handling O Gauge models an enjoyable experience. The models are large enough to fit sound and smoke units, and DCC chips. These are just some of the benefits that we latter day O Gauger’s enjoy.
Though prototype and period are often very important, I suggest that if one is starting out largely to ignore it for now. The important thing is to get something running, experiment and gain experience and skill.
Settling on a particular railway and time frame can come later with knowledge and experience. The first thing to do is join the Gauge O Guild (but then I would say that wouldn't I?) The help and information available are invaluable so, go to http://www.gauge0guild.com where you can join on-line. Once joined you can use the Guild's website to find details of the vast majority of traders who manufacture for the scale and use the Forum to gain a wealth of information and help. Back to Top
Another great feature of this site is its comprehensive, and growing, listing of traders and manufacturers who provide an enormous variety of models, kits, parts and raw materials for the O Gauge modeller. There is also a well-established market for good used models and equipment, which members of the Guild freely advertise in the Guild News (a companion publication to the Gazette).
Do plan a modest beginning; A model railway of 9x2 feet is perfectly feasible in O Gauge, particularly for a goods and shunting layout. Paul Smith’s "Water Street Sidings", in the Guild publication "Small Layouts Vol. 2", is an excellent example as these pictures illustrate.
There are examples of O Gauge railways in as small a space as 5½x1¼ feet and such layouts have featured at Guildex (the Guild's 2 day flagship show in September each year) but most of us have room to fit in something around 10 to 12 feet in length.
Very Basic tools.
A fully equipped workshop is not necessary. A few simple tools are all you require to get started. Some of which are: a good soldering iron, a steel straight edge, small engineer's square, files, modelling knife, a piece of thick plate glass to ensure vehicles are built square, pliers, wire cutters, small drills. Other tools will become necessary as you progress. I have found Eileen’s Emporium most helpful in this respect, for both tools and raw materials.
A look at the advertising pages of the Gazette (the Guild’s prestigious quarterly magazine) or the Guild's website, which has a comprehensive listing of most of what is available in a searchable database; they reveal literally hordes of traders and hundreds of products.
Where to start? What do we need? The essentials are baseboards on which to build or lay the track, wagons and a locomotive to run on it. That’s enough to make a start at playing trains (that is after all the object of the exercise). Scenery, more stock, more engines and buildings can come later. It is even easier now to produce baseboards quickley, go and look at http://www.graingeandhodder.co.uk/ who produce laser cut kits of parts for a range of sizes at reasonable prices, so one has no need of carpentry skills for this basic requirement.
The next question is whether to build or to buy ready-to-run (RTR). RTR, where it can be found, used always to to be costly and many such manufacturers still exist so things can be up and running much faster. However, there are now new producers in the market for RTR at reasonable prices, take a look at http://www.ixionmodels.com/ who are leaders in this field. Let’s look at what is available. Back to Top
Ready to Lay track.
For the beginner, this is probably the simplest route since building track from basic parts can be quite a time consuming process There are several manufacturers. Probably the oldest established is Peco. Twelve yards of nickel silver, bullhead flexitrack is £52.95. They also offer 72" left and right hand turnouts or a "Y" turnout at £32.90 and a diamond crossing at £38.
C&L manufacture flexitrack in both nickel silver and steel bullhead rail at £40 per 8 metres (or £5 per metre). Turnouts, however, are only available as kits and so I will deal with them later.
Marcway provide a comprehensive range of ready made turnouts and crossings ranging in radius from 48" to 108", single and double slips and tandem 3 way turnouts. Prices range from £27.50 for a simple 48" turnout to £72 for a double slip.
All of these manufacturer’s products can be combined together so that is it possible to lay out a quite complex track system from off-the-shelf products however, Marcway points will need some packing to bring them to the same height as other items for consistency.
Ready to Run Wagons.
There used only to be one manufacturer producing RTR wagons. Skytrex make a range of read-to-run wagons and vans priced between £35-45 each. However, Dapol also now produce a range of ready to run wagons and are reputed to be bringing out a Terrier in the New Year.
Ready-to-run engines used to be a problem but companies like Ixion and Dapol are now making inexpensive out-of-the-box RTR engines as noted earlier. Lima used to make steam and diesel outline models that may still be found in the second-hand market though their are not truly to 7mm-1ft scale. However, the Guild’s major shows have 2 stands (Bring & Buy and Executive & Trustee) where one can find engines built and painted from as little as £120.
There is usually a test track nearby to check them out too. (Since this article was written several manufacturers have introduced RTR engines including Bachman.)
Of course, if your interest lies with American practice then the range of RTR engines, and stock at reasonable prices is very large. Far East production for an enormous market has its advantages. Back to Top
Build it Yourself.
O Gauge for many is about building, some, most or all of it oneself. The range of kits available is truly staggering. Guildex regularly hosts 160 traders offering thousands of products. As a beginner though, where does one start?
Flexitrack means it is unnecessary to build ordinary track but if you want custom turnouts to fit a specific location, they need to be built. The C&L range are the simplest for the beginner since they are of glued construction using ABS plastic timbers and chairs with Butanone solvent.
A range of ready-made parts and templates is also available including a "Point construction kit" at £40. It has all the parts like crossing nose, check rails and blades ready machined and soldered up, with a template and comprehensive "how to" instructions.
Marcway also produce kits to build turnouts; you will need to solder the rail to copper clad timbers. However, all the difficult parts come ready made with cast crossing noses and machined blades, etc. All that is required is to cut the timbers to length, stick them to the plan with the double sided tape provided and begin construction.
Wagons & Vans.
The temptation is to begin with a locomotive but I strongly counsel instead beginning with a wagon. There is less room for error and demotivation and it builds confidence and skills Learning how to solder is often a key part of O Gauge modelling. All etched kits and most white metal kits are best built by this method.
Some of the best kits available today are etched brass and are available from a large number of manufacturers. However, it is generally accepted that Jim Mc Geown’s range of "Skill Builder" kits from Connoisseur is perhaps the best place to start.
They are aimed specifically at the beginner, with clear, step-by-step instructions about how to build the wagon. Such kits cost between £20 and £40 but will need wheels so add about £7.5 per axle for each four-wheeled vehicle. A few evenings work is all that is required to build most of the range.
Once one has built a couple of these, it is relatively easy to progress to more complex kits. On the subject of wheels, these are easily available from several suppliers; see the Guild's on-line Product Directory.
Here are pictures of some completed Connoisseur kits. Back to Top
A GWR 20T Brake van and a Hydra. They both went together easily and were each built in a few evenings of enjoyable work.
Plastic injection molding is used by Parkside Dundas (now part of the Peco empire) among others for an ever-growing range of well-designed kits that can be built in an evening or two. The kits come complete with wheels and transfers in a box that will hold the finished model. Parkside kits cost about £25 each.
Here is an example of a North British 8 Ton van. Slater’s also have a range of plastic wagons and vans at similar prices but I have no direct experience of them yet.
Mastering the skills needed to build etched brass and plastic kits such as these will provide the keys to more complex kit construction later. Other manufacturers, such as Slater’s and Peco, produce kits using a range of different materials including plastic, etched brass, white metal and brass castings. These can be difficult for the beginner. Start with something simple.
Having now developed skill and confidence building a wagon or three let’s look at building an engine. Not an A4 pacific or King 4-6-0, but something small and simple to master new skills. Most locomotive kits are etched brass with brass and or white metal casting for the various fittings.
A growing number are using resin castings for major parts like boiler/smoke box in the more complex and costly kits. I suggest sticking with etched brass and develop your skills to produce a small engine that runs well.
The Connoisseur range is again an excellent place to start; offering small 0-4-0 and 0-6-0 tank engines aimed at the beginner ranging from £80 to £115. Most engine kits also require wheels, motor and gears. The most comprehensive range of locomotive wheels come from Slater’s.
A pair of wheels and axle will cost about £14 so, for an 0-6-0 the cost is about £42. Connoisseur can also supply a precision cut set of gears and a motor for £29. So, an average price for the parts to build a small loco is in the region of £160.
To begin with, concentrate on building the chassis so that it runs easily and smoothly. Most manufacturers will be happy to respond to requests for information if you are stuck or have difficulty and the Guild's Forum pages hold a wealth of information too We also need to have some sort of control over the engine by converting mains to 12 DC via a transformer and controller.
There are a number of such units available but they are not cheap. Fortunately, one has only to buy a single unit to run a small layout. It was once necessary for controllers to supply several amps of power for O Gauge. However, the advent of coreless motors means that many O Gauge engines (and especially small engines) now draw only milliamps.
To do this of course requires a free running chassis. It may therefore be possible to run your railway using a 00 scale controller. However, let us look at a couple of controllers designed for O Gauge. "All Components" model MPC5/0 will provide power for the track and an auxiliary supply for points and signals for £65.95 while "Gaugemaster Conroll's" model 10LGB at £79.95 is similar. Back to Top
There are 00 controllers that cost less but be sure you have a motor that draws little current in a free running chassis. Alternatively, there are many suppliers of controllers mountable on the baseboards but will require an external power supply.
What then is the potential cost of starting? Assume a simple layout such as that illustrated (based on Paul Smith’s "Water Street", the fenced off section is the fiddle yard/hidden siding) and decide to build as much as we can. (Track plan drawn using Templot.)
It fits a space 9x2 feet, requires 6 turnouts and about 4 metres of track. We need an engine and a half dozen wagons to provide a shunting layout, capable of interesting operation, and a power supply/controller.
|6 Markway turnout kits @ £16.00 each||£96.00 as at 2006|
|4 Metres of C&L track @ £5 per metre||£20.00 as at 2006|
|3 Parkside open wagon kits @ £23.95 each||£71.85 as at 2006|
|Connoisseur Brake Can including wheels||£42.50 as at 2006|
|Connoisseur Loriot including wheels||£29.50 as at 2006|
|Connoisseur Goods Van including wheels||£42.50 as at 2006|
|Connoisseur 0-6-0 tank kit||£80.00 as at 2006|
|A set of Slater's locomotive wheels for above||£42.00 as at 2006|
|Motor and gears from Connoisseur||£29.00 as at 2006|
|Materials for baseboards - say...||£30.00 as at 2006|
|Controller||£65.00 as at 2006|
|TOTAL||£548.35 as at 2006|
Alternatively, if soldering point work is not for you, then use the C&L version with solvents instead. This will increase the overall cost by £144 to £692.35.
Now, consider that which ever sum you choose, it will be spent over, at least, several months if not a year or more. On that basis, the costs are minimal, less than a bottle of wine a week. Furthermore, if one chose a simpler track plan, using fewer turnouts the cost can be pared to the bone.
My suggestion would be to start with a couple of wagon kits, metal and plastic, before starting on the track for them. That way you will have something with which to test out your track.
One other important thing, join your local model railway club. You will find people willing freely to give of their time and expert knowledge.
|Eileen’s Emporium, Unit 19.12 Higham Business Centre, Newent Road GLOUCESTER, GL2 8DN||https://www.eileensemporium.com/|
|Slater’s Plastikard, Old Road, Darley Dale Road, MATLOCK DE4 2ER 01629 734059||https://slatersplastikard.com/|
|Connoisseur Models, 1 Newton Cottages, WEOBLEY, HR4 8QX. 01544 318263||http://www.jimmcgeown.com|
|Marcway Pointwork, 598-600 Attercliffe Road, SHEFFIELD S9 3QS 0114 2449170||http://www.marcway.co.uk/|
|C+L Finescale Track Building Ltd., 125 Reaver House, 12 East Street, EPSOM, KT17 1HX||http://www.finescale.org.uk/|
|Peco Patent Product Co Ltd., Beer, SEATON EX12 3NA||Peco|
|Parkside Dundas||Parkside Dundas|
|Skytrex Ltd., Unit 1, Charnwood Business Park. North Road, LOUGHBOROUGH LE11 1LE 01509 213789||http://www.skytrex.com/|
|Gaugemaster House, Ford Road. ARUNDEL BN18 0BN 01903 884488||http://www.gaugemaster.co.uk/|
|All Components, Upper Owlbury House, Upper Owlbury, MONTGOMERY, SY15 6SZ. 01588 638678||http://www.allcomponents.co.uk|
|Ixion, PO Box 532, EASTLEIGH, SO53 0DG. Tel: 07775 782 086||http://www.ixionmodels.com/|
|Dapol, Gledrid Industrial Park, Chirk, Wrexham, LL14 5DG. Tel: 01691774455||http://www.dapol.co.uk/|
Expanded and updated from an original supplement first published by BRM in 2005 - © Raymond Walley. All rights reserved.