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For background, I am relatively new to the hobby. My parents gave me a Lionel Flyer set for Christmas when I was very young, and I would keep it setup and run it frequently until one day the engine quit for some unknown reason. Unable to run my train, my interest eventually subsided. The train went back into a box and got stored away where I largely forgot about it. A few months ago I had the opportunity to take the train out of the box again, and promptly decided I needed to get back into the hobby.

One of the things I didn't appreciate as a kid but understand now is Scale vs Traditional O Gauge. Back then, a train was a train! Now I notice the differences between the two types. When I first jumped back into the hobby, I initially dismissed scale trains due to the price and the wider-diameter track requirements (real estate is at a premium! ). A few months later, though, and I am now conflicted about that decision, with two factors driving that conflict: 1), there are some gorgeous and/or unique models that are made in scale (eg, L2a Mohawk, Challenger, 4-12-2 UP-type, etc.) but haven't and may never be made in Traditional O, and 2) Traditional O models aren't guaranteed to conform to a sense of scale relative to each other (for example: I have a LC+ Mikado and a LC+ 2.0 Berkshire. They are nearly the same length. I was a bit disappointed when I put the two on the track next to each other, I was hoping the Berkshire would have been a little longer. For comparison, the 2014 Legacy Berkshires are 3" longer than the 2015 Legacy Heavy Mikado (when I check the Lionel website)).

Given that I am not 100% satisfied with the sacrifices that need to be made for models to run on O36 track (ie, I would like some trains to be a little longer), combined with the beautiful scale models, I've started to reconsider. But herein lies a problem: while I don't consider myself a "rivet counter" and probably wouldn't miss some of the intricate, separately-applied details, if I bought one of Lionel's scale Hudsons with PT tenders, it would dwarf the LC+ 2.0 Berkshire, which would bother me tremendously. So, for the more seasoned collectors out there, which do you prefer to collect? If you collect both, do the differences in detail, etc, bother you at all? Do you stick exclusively to one? I am personally leaning towards sticking with Traditional O and making exceptions for scale locos that I think are must-haves, but what do you think? I realize this is an incredibly open-ended (and likely opinionated!) question, but I would like to hear others thoughts to help me come to an informed conclusion. Also I realize this isn't necesarily a Lionel-exclusive question, however I predominantly purchase from Lionel, so I thought I'd stick the question here since their product line is what I'm familiar with.

Thanks for reading!

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@0-Gauge CJ posted:

I am personally leaning towards sticking with Traditional O and making exceptions for scale locos that I think are must-haves, but what do you think? I realize this is an incredibly open-ended (and likely opinionated!) question, but I would like to hear others thoughts to help me come to an informed conclusion. Also I realize this isn't necesarily a Lionel-exclusive question, however I predominantly purchase from Lionel, so I thought I'd stick the question here since their product line is what I'm familiar with.

Thanks for reading!

That is pretty much where I am at.  I have always preferred "traditional".  However, there were a few O scale items I couldn't resist.  I have a couple O scale engines and a handful of scale cars that I run together when I get the urge.  I don't mix them; the variations among "traditional" are enough.  It is frustrating though, to see a road name or car type you want but is available in O only.


Somewhat similar story here. I started off, however, inheriting my grandfather's postwar O27 gear, in 2002. He had O27 track and all engines could handle those tight 27" curves. My Uncle had the taller O (with 31" curves, O22 switches) and few larger-than-O27 engines like the Virginian FM Trainmaster and Santa Fe F3s. That was all I understood back in the 70s and 80s, but, in today's vernacular, both of them had traditional or semi-scale.

In 2002, I bought a conventional O27 Junior Berk and conventional O27 Santa Fe FT set from my LHS to add to my grandfather's gear.  My brother-in-law decided to get into the hobby, but he started right off with scale and TMCC.  Once I saw TMCC, I had to have some and, much to my delight, there were O27/traditional engines with TMCC, so I stayed with the smaller, less expensive gear.  Even added a LionMaster engine around 2010 since I had added 42" O27 curves to my layout, further blurring the lines.

As you can see from my user name, I've got 4 girls. In 2013, I tore down the basement layout since the girls wanted more basement space for parties, etc. when home from college. In return, I got a bedroom for a smaller layout. since most of the time they were away.  Lasted just a few years.  Now 2 are out of the house, and I'm back to the basement facing the "go scale, etc." dilemma like you.

First consideration is cost. Third daughter just finished college, and I took out a 2nd mortgage to cover their tuition, so making a complete changeover to scale with $1,000 - $2,000 engines and $100 per piece rolling stock simply isn't in the budget.  Then there's the question of appearance. My layout is still relatively small as we don't have a full basement. Traditional-sized is going to look better. And, of course, while I like the items I've purchased, my grandfather's collection is the heart of collection, and it's all traditional, so in homage to him, I want everything to look right together.

The new layout has nothing less than 42" curves, many 54" and even some 72", but I decided to stick with tubular O27 low-profile. I can easily handle some of the scale gear. Question is whether I should.

I have the same concerns as you about traditional.  Why is my Junior Berk smaller than my traditional Pacific or my Williams 4-6-0? It's an outrage! Remember, however, that no one else notices!

To get closer to reality in size and to get 4 chuffs per revolution, I decided to add MTH DCS (perhaps ill-fatedly) to this layout right before they declared going-out-of-business. Not sure if I'll end up regretting that, but it DID open the door to some more motive power. To start, I picked up a Rail King Imperial Berk which is now my largest steam engine as a Berk should be (with no articulateds). The Rail King Imperial line up is huge compared the newly-introduced LC+2.0.

If you want to stick with Lionel and traditional, you can go with a used LionMaster with TMCC. My Hudson is gorgeous and is 22" long with tender. Lionel also made the traditional, not O27 Berk, like the PW  model with TMCC and later with LC+.  I think those are 21" long, a good 10% bigger than the Jr. Berk.  If you go MTH, I think the Rail King Mikado is also bigger than the Jr. Mikado offered by Lionel.

Good luck with your decision.

I want things scale, but unless you put a cap on the amount of scale (detail) you'll never be pleased.  If you want scale and want to model a specific RR, chances are you're going to have to compromise.  I've found I can usually find a scale piece that is exact for the RR I want, but finding scale engines that are accurate of the RR is hard to do.

The "Close Enough" concept works for me.  Most scale pieces of rolling stock are bigger than the traditional pieces, but they come at a higher price and finer/more fragile detail.  If you have kids, things will get broken.

Of course, you can buy traditional pieces and upgrade them if you have the time and patience.

Buy what you like, learn to become a "plastic surgeon" and modify it if you want/need.

My layout real estate presents the biggest constraint. I have a 48" by 78" layout and I insist on scale. Those are two conflicting constraints. Curves are O36. If those weren't enough constraints, I model only L&N and NC&StL on my layout.

I look at it, if I were in HO I'd be modeling scale. So, I'm not giving in on scale if I model O.



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I originally had a bunch of trad. O stuff and I am now in the process of going scale. Guess what is more expensive (buying things twice...)? Look for secondary market stuff as my experience has been everything is very lightly used, you know it works/been tested, and can often be had for 50% of retail. As a perfect example, I have a Legacy 4-12-2 with whistle steam and all the other Legacy features that I got for $695. The engine had been out of its box once and was in perfect condition; it just never got ran and the owner was looking to move on. The obvious warning is that once you start going scale there is no looking back.

I buy what I like.  I have a lot of scale stuff, and quite a bit of semi-scale as well.  I also have some whimsical pieces that don't have any "scale", and I plan on building more of those.  I'm doing this to have fun, but I can appreciate the detailing and mass of a true scale Challenger or Big Boy, and the fun of a custom made track speeder.

The only recommendation I can honestly make is when you build the layout, make the curves as wide as possible!  I was initially thinking of O72 as the maximum curve on my layout, but as my plan evolved, I realized that it would be much smarter to make O72 as the minimum curve!  This gives me complete flexibility in running scale, semi-scale, novelty powered units, etc.  Your semi-scale will look great on O99 curves, but your scale stuff will look really bad derailing on that O42 curve.

I'm not a collector (or rivet counter) but since getting back into the hobby, I have got almost entirely scale stuff. It is problematic because of cost and space and because you cannot really mix scale and sub-scale items; they definitely look odd together - maybe especially freight cars.

But scale in a confined space also looks odd, and there are those who say, with some justification, that scale engines and passenger cars in particular look really odd going around even O-72 curves instead of something much bigger. However, that I can and do live with.

Personally I think that there is more variety/choice these days in scale products - or at least in terms of new products. But it depends what you want to get out of your stuff. I prefer operating features and there's more of that in scale products, especially engines.


     My advice would be start with scale and stick with scale as in the long run it will save you money. For me I had traditional Lionel as a kid once I started to see scale equipment such as a scale Alco FA i would wonder where is the rest of my engine was. Eventually I either sold or gave away all of my traditional equipment. If space is an issue stick with smaller steam engines (Atlantics, Consolidations, Ten Wheelers, Moguls etc and four wheel truck diesels.

    The savings are incurred as whatever you invested in semi-scale equipment either sits in your closet or you end up selling and it is never a good return on your investment.


@david1 posted:

Buy what you like and can afford. Nothing else matters.


This for sure.

But beyond that, I run a mix. I have some older stuff that I love and it's "traditional". I run it just the same as the scale stuff. I'm also finding out that a lot can be accomplished. Norm Charbonneau and guys here actually add detail to those traditional items and dress them up. I've done this on some of my traditional rolling stock and been very pleased with the results. I think it's a good option to keep in your pocket if you like the building part of the hobby.

One thing that helped me was figuring out what makes things look so bad. This part is totally opinion based but I found I was bothered by the loop. And I was specifically bothered by the 90* turns you get in a square or rectangle. I think point to point track plans make for great looking trains because you don't see the train make an unnatural 90* turn and you don't really see them make turn in general. Point to point takes up a lot of space though. Luckily, I started watching Eric's Train on youtube and discovered that he somewhat hides his turns in tunnels and such and that was part of what I liked so much about his layout. I couldn't really see the things I didn't like (at least on the bottom level). So I set about accomplishing that in my track plan. Then I did some testing of my own on the basement floor and I think that's going to please me the most. There are a lot of ways to create that illusion of a long layout. A 4x8 layout that is split by a divider easily becomes an urban freight hotspot on one side and a full fledged farm on the other. So I think you just gotta play with your options. I spent 8 months tinkering with track plans and messing around with different looks on my 4x8 test layout. It was worth it.

So that's how I met in the middle of traditional vs scale. Obviously I wouldn't put my postwar turbine next to the latest and greatest models because of the glaring difference but that's ok. That turbine is an engine I really like. I like how it runs and sounds so I'm sticking with it.

Common visitors won't ever know the difference, other modelers might yank your chain about it in good fun, and the people being jerks about it can hop off

You’ve asked a good Question, scale versus traditional. First, how much room do you have for a layout? That’s the beginning and then, do you want to control your trains and layout by Command Control, or simply conventional control? If you are confined to 036/048 circles, you should buy accordingly. Choosing road names and time era’s make it easier on your budget, like CSX, NYC, Union Pacific, etc. if you limit the time era and go with Command you’ll have a lot of fun. I utilize Lionels Legacy command control. So, if it’s not Legacy or close, I don’t buy.

If you will look at the thread that Melgar posted, you’ll see a smallish layout jam packed for fun. Small sized scale engines with sound and quality features are really fun to run. GP30 Switchers, SW7 Switchers, NW2 Switchers, Heavy Mikados and 0-6-0 B6 Switchers are all cool under Legacy command. Just a thought. This is the best of times in model railroading.

Now, I suggest you subscribe to OGR The Magazine, and other magazines with great information on products and ideas on model railroading. A big layout is ones dream, but a small layout is a step in the right direction. Get the recent issue of OGR’ great magazine. Good luck and Happy Railroading Everyone.

Hi 0-Guage CJ,

After deciding to seriously get into 3-rail several years ago, I had to go through a steep learning curve too.  At first, I wanted to go with strictly 1/48 scale-sized trains.  But I had already unknowingly purchased some traditional sized equipment along with 1/48-sized stuff.  I even had previously purchased a couple of Lionel MPC-era O-27 sets in my favorite road name just for something different at that time (I was into N-scale for a long time).  I'm not necessarily set on one manufacturer either, it's too limiting.  If someone (anyone) makes something I like, I just might buy it.

At first, my plans were to get rid of the Traditional and O-27 sized stuff.  But over the past few years, I find myself embracing both of them.  While I may run more than one size at a time, I keep each consist true to its own size, so they look plausible and presentable.  One thing to note, some Traditional-sized rolling stock can and do work pretty good (looks-wise) for 1/48 sizes, at least in my opinion.  And a few likewise for O-27 sized trains.  So they may end up running in either respective-sized consists, without regrets.

A few things I came to terms with help my decisions and softening of views.  A major consideration was pricing.  While yes, I can afford some really high?-quality, high!-priced, 1/48 scale-sized 3-rail trains, I ain't about to spend that kind of money on what amounts to playthings.  The 'Jack Benny' in me says "NO!  No thanks!  No way!  Not happening here!".  Everything else is available at less cost, both new and used.  Much more to my sensibilities and likings.

Another consideration is track.  Especially sectional track.  If your head is into 1/48 scale sized equipment, and like most folks you only have a limited amount of room to set up a layout, then judicious use of easements in your curved tracks wherever possible will be a big boon to your satisfaction.  There's been plenty of discussion lately on easements, do a search on that subject to find the posts.  Along with easements, also try and use the biggest switches possible that you can fit in to the plan.  For example, if an O-72 switch will easily fit where you may otherwise unwittingly put down an O-36 switch, then by all means go with the O-72!  Your trains will look better and perform better on a bigger switch, every time!  And keep in mind, if you are starting and ending a curve with an O-72 easements, you could easily substitute O-72 switches in place of the curved track, if it helps your overall plan out.

And another thought, you may have to learn to live with what I have coined as 'Prototypical Plausibility'.  Due to the limited amount of prototype paint schemes and lettering schemes in O-gauge (as opposed to what's available in N-scale and HO-scale), you may have to live with what's available in the 3-rail market place.  Not every paint scheme is going to be 100% accurate.  Not every lettering scheme is going to be 100% accurate.  Not every paint scheme and/or lettering scheme is going to be placed on a loco or piece of rolling stock that is proper for its era.  Not every load offered on a freight car is going to be proper for the freight car's era.  Not every load is guaranteed to be the same scale to match the freight car.  So it's up to you to decide in your own mind if it's prototypically plausible, and still worthy of purchase, or else an improbability and only worthy of passing on it.  Heck, I've even purchased loaded flatcars (most notably from Menard's) where I either want the flat car, or the load, but not both.  I'll separate the load from the flat car, keep the one I want, and throw the other in the junk box.

Well, those are some of my reasons.  Hope this helps you out.  Like probably everyone else, I've learned to make lemonade out of a bunch of lemons that I purchased early on in my 3-rail journey.

If one has the room for long trains and runs, and, at a minimum O72 curves, Scale looks great and would be a satisfying way to go.

If nostalgia is important, Traditional.

Lots of people here run Traditional and Scale on their Scale layouts, however, and Traditional sized trains  look at home there too. Not so sure about the other way around, most Scale trains, IMHO, look just wrong on curves of less than O72

Last edited by Lionelski

One of the great things about model railroading is that it is a life long hobby. Many of the people on this forum are in their seventies and eighties which means you will probably end up with more trains than you can keep on your layout at one time. So you can get both and if two trains don’t look right together just take one off of the layout. Keep the boxes and then you will have a good way to store your trains just keep them clear of moisture. This is what I do and it has worked for me

I think the most important decision to make is where you want to go in the hobby.     Do you want to build a model RR or do  you want to build a collection.     If you want to build a model RR, you may want to seriously consider sticking with scale stuff.    As  you study the history and look at more pictures of prototypes, the non-scale stuff will probably begin to disappoint you.     On the other hand if you like gathering the various things the are nostalgic to you, then you can focus on those types of things regardless of traditional or scale.     Part of this decision might be to consider do you like to build stuff or just buy it off the shelf and put it on the track.   How much effort beyond purchasing do you want to put into the hobby.

If  you go scale, the second decision will be what to do about a layout.   If  you have less space,   then it is worth considering smaller prototypes.    Most RRs regardless of where and when had a lot of smaller stuff in addtion to the big glamorous 4-12-2 or big boys to T-1s on the PRR.     Learning about your prototypes will be another aspect of the hobby that is fun for many people.    The PRR had over 3000 consolidations of various classes and about 50 T1s.    Another thing about going scale, it sorta tends to lead you to be more selective and choose one or two prototypes and try to obtain models of their equipment.    and as  you learn more about these prototypes, then  the focus of your purchases can become narrower, because if  your selected prototype did not have an XYZ boxcar, there is no need to buy one, no matter how nice it looks.     This requires learning some restraint (spoken from experience) but does reduce the amount of spending, or more precisely focuses it.    This applies to steamers and diesels and cabooses and freight and passenger cars.   

Of course, another course is just to buy what you like, but then what is the definition of what you like?    

Thank you everyone for giving your perspectives and experiences, hearing everyone's thoughts is helpful, additionally I think reading these has also helped me better understand my particular question.

First, to address the comments about doing what I can afford and makes me happy - there's certainly good reason to take that approach. I think one of the high points of the hobby is that you can dive as deep into it as you like. If you're happy with a simple loop of track, that's great. If you want to cut holes in the walls of a few rooms and create a giant multi-room layout, that's also great. But for me, I am concerned that I will never be satisfied with what I have and be perpetually stuck in a "grass is always greener on the otherside" scenario. Eg: I start with traditional O, then see how great some of the scale stuff is. I buy some scale items and then upgrade the track. But after upgrading the curves on my layout I want to do more - add reversing loops and sidings, etc that the scale locos can use. So I buy more track. But then one day I get frustrated with how much space the layout takes up, so I look at downsizing. There's also the possible problem Bob outlined:

I want things scale, but unless you put a cap on the amount of scale (detail) you'll never be pleased.

To make a long story short, I think I would do well to pick some proverbial borders or personal collections rules for my hobby where I know I can be content with and enjoy what I have in the long-run. I don't want to regret choosing a rule set a few years down the road and then look to change. A few people have said they have made a switch from traditional to scale and sold off their traditional items. That is something I'd like to avoid - selling what I bought (almost certainly at a loss) is a hassle to be avoided!

In closing, thank you all again for letting me glean from your wisdom. I'm still mulling over how I will structure collecting, but some great points were brought up here to help me figure that out. Also, recommendations on minimum track diameter have been dually noted thanks again!

There is another possibilty that hasn't been mentioned yet. Model a short line railroad. If you don't desire Big Boys and long passenger trains you can run smaller scale locomotives like 2-8-0s, 4-6-0s, even 2-8-2s. Most of them will run on 042 and many on 031 and are still scale size. It can be just as satisfying.

Its a philosphy shared by most who model narrow gauge. A few trains and lots of scenery.  


You'll figure it out with personal experience. As others have noted, the big questions are (1) how much room do you have, and (2) how much money do you have/want to spend. Personally, I run and enjoy all types, scale and non-scale. I don't have a lot of room, so run smaller scale stuff, and also traditional stuff. Both have strengths. For easy, quick operation, LionChief is hard to beat, and the newest version had all the features many would ever want.

Start out somewhat slowly and see what you like.  FWIW, I was doing post-war for a few years before I decided that I really wanted the neat whistles & bells of the full command stuff.  I sold off virtually all my post-war stuff and never looked back.  You're very likely to change your tastes after being involved for a spell, that's human nature.  Don't fight it, there are choices for every budget.

@RickO posted:

........once I see detail, I can't" unsee" it. When its missing , I see it even more.

You need to run your engines faster. 

Seriously, though, with at least some engines, such as Geeps, when my traditional GP9s and scale GP9s go by at track speed, their differences are not that evident. Granted, these are relatively simple engines in appearance, and the Lionel traditional Geeps are scale in size. LionMaster steam engines have enough detail that, except for smaller size (not really evident unless running with scale stuff), they look great.

Last edited by breezinup

Scale is great and looks fantastic on the right layout, but I like to run trains that never existed; I.e. Polar Express, Hogwarts, Peanuts, Transylvania Express and yes, even Thomas the Tank Engine when the grandkids are here.

Is it scale? No. Is it fun? Yes. To me, as long as everything in one consist is in scale with each other, I run it.

My newest layout has 60" maximum curves and scale won't cut it, but the Hogwarts Express looks great!

Run what you want!

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