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Seeking thoughts from the scenery pros on here.   My O scale layout has limited space.  It's decent size at 15x17 but I have a lot of track so not that much real estate in between and spots where I want to put scenes, town, army base, etc.   Now on to the thought... Since I don't care all that much about total realism, mostly just looking for passable characterization of... just for fun, ya know?   So, can I get away with using S scale buildings from eBay and model websites to save on the real estate?   OR, must I really use the O scale buildings and such?   It seems much of the S scale is around 6.5 x 6.5 footprint x around 4.5 - 6" tall.    This would fit much better on the layout, and the large O scale stuff that seems to take up closer to 9x12 footprint and 8-10 tall.   Thoughts from those who have worked with both please.... Thx!

Last edited by 42trainman
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I have a larger S scale layout and smaller S scale seasonal layouts. Unfortunately, availability of true 1/64 scale structures is very limited compared to 1/87th or 1/48th structures. We were unable to purchase most of the buildings we needed in 1/64th. I have about 50 structures on the larger permanent layout. Only 12 of them are 1/64 kits. another 10 were custom made fronts by laser cutting plastic to make the fronts. Some structures are O scale, carefully resized to fit a scene. The balance were HO with resized doors and bases added to get to about 1/64.

Customized Plasticville should work well. What can be found in S should also work ok. The slightly modified HO on my S layout look like the correct scale but the footprint is smaller. Your idea is good, I hope you can find what you need.

I would take it on a case by case basis. Not every building labeled O scale is actually 1/48. Some are designed for traditional O, and some are designed for scale. I have O "scale" buildings that look ridiculous next to my scale passenger cars. Don't worry so much about height, breaking up the view line can make a space look larger than it is.

What matters is not what the "pros" think but rather what fits with your vision of your model railroad.  To me a town filled with S scale buildings people and cars is going to be OK on a layout featuring tubular track with traditional sized Lionel trains.  It will look less so if you have Ross track and are operating scale sized equipment.  To me a farm field with an S scale barn and tractor is going to look OK if the barn is a foot away from the table edge, but less so if the barn and tractor are adjacent to track or other 1/48 items that highlight it is undersized.  Also very large buildings in S scale are going to look more acceptable on an O layout than smaller structures.  That is just me though.  Others may feel differently.

I agree with Bill N, place the S scale building further back and away from track if possible or at least a view break of trees etc. I decided not to use my MTH bank, firehouse, and freight station because they just take up too much real estate and that freight station next to two Woodland Scenics buildings looked unrealistic. I also took all of my MTH stores and removed the large bases which are too tall anyway. This way I can place a group of them together with no alleyway between them. As Sean suggests, don't worry about the height, in fact, I am looking for more height so I can break the view from one town to the next suggesting distance. I also use some of the larger HO factories in the background and raised up suggesting distance (some can even be used in the middle ground with a vehicle or tree blocking the small door). I just started my new layout in my new home this past summer so I am not quite ready to share photos yet.


@Bill N posted:

What matters is not what the "pros" think but rather what fits with your vision of your model railroad.  To me a town filled with S scale buildings people and cars is going to be OK on a layout featuring tubular track with traditional sized Lionel trains. 

Absolutely, especially if you go for a '50's vibe, as I did. Plasticville has been described as "S scale buildings with O scale doors and windows". It looks good in many settings (urban, suburban, rural), but scale issues will be apparent if used with "true O scale" rolling stock, cars, etc.  I just live with it, because I am stuck in 1955 (and I'm not just referring to my layout.)

I'd be wary of populating the entire layout with S scale structures. While you can get away with an occasional building here or there using forced perspective, using it on an entire O scale layout might end up looking out of place.

Instead, I would concentrate on locating smaller O scale structures with footprints that will fit into your layout. There are many out there, including those made by Plasticville, Lionel, MTH Railking, Woodland Scenics, etc.

I should probably clarify a little bit. I still use some Plasticville buildings on my layout, just not when they interact directly with the trains. I especially like the Plasticville apartments, if you add extra floors they look closer to "O" and take up less space. I have a modern era layout, and I love using Woodland Scenics for an "Old Town" look.

Here's a suggestion. Keep an eye out for Skyline kits from the late 1940's and early 50's. Their foot prints are usually small, but the doors and floor heights are closer to O than S. An added advantage (depending on one's point of view) is that the heavy gauge litho cardboard does not have the 'tacky plastic look'. Skyline structures were used both on the 1948 Lionel showroom and the early 50's Gilbert Hall of Science layouts. Some examples of a Skyline No. 601 and a No. 605 below.

Have fun!


601 Front 2601 sideNo. 605 Front 2


Images (3)
  • 601 Front 2
  • 601 side
  • No. 605 Front 2
Last edited by Bob Bubeck


I totally agree with you.  O Scale stuff is just way too big, unless you want a layout where you have to strain to see you trains running between or around the buildings.

I was looking at a Lionel O Gauge control tower last week.  It was 11.5 inches tall!  Who wants a foot tall accessory sticking up in the middle of their layout?

What I have started doing is looking for multi-story, tall, HO scale structures, that are of industrial buildings or towers and have lots of detail. I have been able to find really nice, hand built and hand painted ones for cheap at train shows and flea market shops.

These tend to have taller doors, larger windows and more height to each floor than residential stuff.   And, if you put it in the middle or back of your layout, it really doesn't look out of place at all.   Just make sure you don't put an O Scale person standing right in front of it.  :-)


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