Getting Started in S Scale


What is S Scale? Simply put, S Scale is the ratio of 1:64, modelled at 3/16"=1'-0". You can use a regular ruler, an architectural scale, or dedicated Model RR scale ruler to measure & build your models.

How does S Scale fit in? Looking at the range of commonly used model railroad scales, the sequence is as follows:

Z (1:220) the smallest commercially available scale
N (1:160) the second most popular & readily available after HO
TT (1:120) uncommon in North America, primarily European outline equipment
HO (1:87) the most popular & widely available scale
OO (1:76) uncommon in North America, primarily British outline equipment
S (1:64) <- A happy medium. Looks great, less filling!
O (1:48) "The king of scales"
G (1:32 up to 1:19)

Why model in S Scale? If you like to operate reliable equipment in a realistic manner, scratchbuild and/or super-detail your models, S Scale is an ideal size. It offers a 36% larger area to decorate and detail than HO scale - allowing for higher fidelity, more robust construction, and more visual presence. It consumes 25% less space than O scale - allowing more railroad in the same amount of space, or a less cluttered look & feel for a given track plan.

What are the benefits of S Scale?

It's the best of both worlds; a bigger canvas than HO, uses less space than O.
The cost to fill a square foot of layout is less than that of N or HO.
It's easier to see & easier to work with the raw materials.
There's more space inside the engines (even switchers) for DCC installations.
Electric motor current draw is less than O (closer to HO).
Greater mass than HO translates into better tracking on the rails.
A larger size than HO translates into more visual presence.
Good range of quality products. The vendors are mostly S modellers themselves.
Lots of die-cast vehicles available; cars, trucks, construction & farm equipment.

What standards apply? The NASG (National Association of S-Gaugers) and the NMRA (National Model Railroad Association) maintain the dimensional standards for S Scale track & turnouts. Track and coupler gauges are available from the NASG and Kadee, respectively.

What can you buy in S Scale? While there are fewer choices available than HO or N scale, there are still a good number of ready-to-run locomotives available off-the-shelf. The two major manufacturers offer the following selection:

S-Helper Service
EMD NW-2
EMD SW-1
EMD SW-8
EMD SW-9
EMD Phase II F-3 A & B
EMD Phase I F-7 A & B
Richmond Locomotive Works B&O class E27 Consolidation 2-8-0
American Models
Alco FA-2 A & B
Alco PA-1 A & B
Alco RS-3
Baldwin/GE GG-1
Baldwin S-12
EMD F-40PH
EMD FP-7 A & B
EMD GP-9/18
EMD GP-35
EMD E-8
EMD SD-60
FM H-24-66 "Trainmaster"
GE U25B
Santa Fe class 2900 Northern 4-8-4
New York Central J3a Hudson 4-6-4
USRA Heavy Pacific 4-6-2
Pennsylvania Railroad K-4 streamlined Pacific 4-6-2 (#3768)

In addition, there are pre-fabricated track sections, turnouts, details, decals, dry transfers, trucks, RTR passenger cars, RTR freight cars, vehicles, and figures available from a variety of manufacturers.

Once you move beyond the ready-to-run aspect there are many kits for freight cars, locomotives, vehicles, and structures to build & detail.

For a complete listing of what's available in 1:64 model trains, see Craig O'Connell's S Scale website.

Is there a traditional "train set" available? Both American Models & S-Helper Service have train sets for sale. S-Helper offers sets with either the SW-1, SW-9, or F-7A engines along with up to five cars and a caboose. All of the S-Helper sets come with a 40"x 60" oval of nickel-silver, ballasted track and a DC power pack. American Models offers the NYC "Empire State Express" with 4-6-4 Hudson and streamlined Budd passenger cars, plus an Amtrak "Superliner" passenger set with F-40PH diesel, or a Trailer Hauler set with three spine cars (complete with truck trailers), an S-12 diesel and caboose. The Amtrak & Trailer Hauler sets come with 20' and 17' of track respectively. A separate power pack is required for all American Models sets.

But I already have a lot of XX scale equipment already! Every modeller, at some time, wants to dabble in another roadname, era, or theme. Why not try it in S Scale? You could build a shelf switching layout, a diorama, or a module to particpate with other enthusiasts. These options do not require a large initial investment and will allow you the freedom to try something new without reliance on, or being limited by, material from the other scale.

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