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 On30....must resist
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New Hire

Posted - 06/08/2011 :  1:04:16 PM  Show Profile  Reply with Quote
Hello fellow modelers. I've always been more of an HO scale guy, but lately the urge to build an On30 layout has been wearing on me. I found this forum doing some research on the net one day, and to my surprise, I was actually a member at some point. I only needed to remember my password and log in. So the thing is I have always enjoyed HO scale modeling, but never really built a first 'real' model railroad. One that would ever be sceniced or completed. I have been thinking about getting started soon on a new layout, and being someone who enjoys the slightly more modern diesel-electric era, of the '80s and '90s, I do not know that I could build a smaller mid-sized layout without compromising on certain aspects of the design. I.E. tighter curves, shorter train lengths, less space, and probably a lack of staging. So that brought me back to the On30 Climax I had gotten for Christmas one year. I thought, hmm, why not give On30 a try? I always liked the logging railroads, especially the geared steam locomotives, and I really like the character and charm that such equipment has, along with the ability to enjoy all the wooden structures common to the era. Life was simpler back then. Trains shorter, and they moved at a slower pace. Suddenly I feel like giving On30 a try!

So that brings me to a few questions.

What can I expect to reasonably fit into say a 10x10 foot area? Obviously the track has the same dimensions as HO gauge. I considered 32" to 36" radius curves as a minimum in HO scale, but can I reasonably get away with something just a little tighter in On30. Yes, I know the equipment often runs on 18" radius curves, but that's way to tight for my tastes. Maybe 26" radius curves? I also noticed ME is the only company making On30 turnouts, and only #5's. I know I could use larger turnouts from HO scale track but if #5 turnouts work for everything in On30, then I'm okay with that. I could fit more track in anyway, with #5 turnouts. I'm not really considering handlaying track or turnouts. I'd like to get things up and running a little quicker.

Grades - obviously the On30 trains would be shorter in length, which is a plus for smaller layout. How many cars can I expect the Bachmann Climax, Shay, 2-8-0, or 2-6-6-2 to pull up a 3% grade? More then necessary needed? I don't think I would push the grades any steeper then that.

What is the typical track spacing difference in On30? It looks like 3.5" would be enough?

How much larger are the O scale structures in this scale. HO is roughly half the size, but are some of the O scale structures slightly smaller to take up less space none the less? Maybe not quite twice as large as HO scale structures? I'm just trying to get a feel for what I can fit into a given space, with On30.

Finally, would you say On30 requires a quite bit of scratchbuilding? I like all the craftsman kits out there, but what about things like bridges or trestles? I haven't a clue what's all available these days. I was going to pick up an O scale Walthers catalog at the local shop, but Walthers doesn't even seem to have them published anymore in O scale. Strange.

Well thanks for reading my long winded post. The more I look at everyone's fine work on this forum, the more I'd like to give this On30 stuff a try. I like the freedom it offers and all the charm. It seems like a really fun scale to model in. I will not give up my HO scale stuff, but perhaps cut my teeth on all the aspects of building a layout, in On30 first. The thing that really sells me is the slightly larger, more detailed locomotives and equipment, yet they are still small models that can handle tighter curves, and all the rolling stock is short and stout.

"I love the smell of diesel fumes in the morning!"

Country: USA | Posts: 21


Posted - 06/08/2011 :  2:03:31 PM  Show Profile  Visit milocomarty's Homepage  Reply with Quote
Welcome to the dark side Nathan.

Room's more than sufficient for a 0n30 layout, take a look at Verne's Arizona desert inspired layout.
Most of the curves on my layout are 24 / 26" there will always be people who say you need larger curves but my forney's run fine through this curves and man the swing their asses.
Use between 3 and 3.5 as trackspacing, not familiar with grades...
And scratchbuilding gives me the most fun in this scale...


Country: Netherlands | Posts: 6662 Go to Top of Page

Engine Wiper

Posted - 06/08/2011 :  4:26:22 PM  Show Profile  Reply with Quote
i have 4% grades. mallet will pull 5-6, the shay will pull 3-4 logging cars loaded with a crummy.

i have peco on30 turnouts, should be able to find them.
and i have mostly 20" curves, but one is 15..... and everyone but the mallet handles it fine.


Country: USA | Posts: 353 Go to Top of Page


Posted - 06/08/2011 :  4:28:03 PM  Show Profile  Reply with Quote
Welcome Nathan and you'll find a lot to learn here. Your room is certainly big enough but you are right to consider structure sizes.

O scale buildings are 4 times as large as HO, not twice. That means the footprint takes up 4 times the square inches as an HO structure of the same size/design.

In order to work around this, many modelers use selective compression when building an On30 model. Like making it slightly lower, or eliminate a few windows so it is shorter or narrower.

This works well with On30 because of the track size and the comparative compression of the locos and rolling stock.

Dave Mason
D&G RR (Dunstead & Granford) in On30
“Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.”~Benjamin Franklin
The 2nd Amendment, America’s 1st Homeland Security

Country: USA | Posts: 6597 Go to Top of Page


Posted - 06/17/2011 :  7:02:49 PM  Show Profile  Reply with Quote
Hi there Nathan,

On30 is a
Big Bug to Be Bitten By..............



Time is the Gauge of Existence

Country: Australia | Posts: 1324 Go to Top of Page


Premium Member

Posted - 06/17/2011 :  9:16:42 PM  Show Profile  Reply with Quote
Resistance is futile, the ON30 force is strong. 10 x 10 is a good size for a nice point to point on30 layout. Maybe a loop at one end and a turntable at the other end.
Welcome to the crew.

Country: USA | Posts: 11011 Go to Top of Page

Crew Chief

Premium Member

Posted - 06/17/2011 :  9:49:59 PM  Show Profile  Send lemkerailroad1 a Yahoo! Message  Reply with Quote
you have made the right choice

i did ho and n scales once upon a time,
now im loving On30


good luck with the venture and i cant wait to see the progress


On30 Dave
seen on G+, YOUTUBE and FB

Country: USA | Posts: 826 Go to Top of Page

Engine Wiper

Posted - 06/17/2011 :  11:27:17 PM  Show Profile  Send Dustymalaymann a Yahoo! Message  Reply with Quote
Hi Nathan, dive straight in like I did. I never scratch built anything before I started 0n30 & now all my buildings and terrain is scratch built. No problem with the help and guidance of this and a few other forums and groups and really enjoy the companionship they give me as I am a bit isolated here in Malaysia. Keith Miller

Country: Malaysia | Posts: 133 Go to Top of Page


Premium Member

Posted - 06/18/2011 :  12:16:43 AM  Show Profile  Visit MinerFortyNiner's Homepage  Reply with Quote
Nathan, resistance is futile! The Climax got to me too, stole me away from many years modeling in N and HO. That was five years ago and I've never had so much fun in the hobby. As Marty said, I have a 10 by 10 spare room, you can do more in On30 in a small space than you might think...

I have found the biggest challenge is choosing what you really want from the many possibilities availalble in On30. You will find lots of friendly, expert advice here to help you on your way!

You can see more on my construction thread on this forum:


The link below points to my website if you are interested in more background on the design and history behind my little railroad.

Edited by - MinerFortyNiner on 06/18/2011 12:18:13 AM

Country: USA | Posts: 2793 Go to Top of Page

New Hire

Posted - 06/18/2011 :  02:18:57 AM  Show Profile  Reply with Quote
Thanks everybody! I appreciate the advice and information. Well, I am still somewhat undecided on what I will end up doing. I've been a bit of an arm chair modeler for years, having nothing more then a simple oval loop of track to run some trains. I am still watching videos on youtube, of On30 models and equipment. I absolutely enjoy the videos I have seen. There is so much more character in the small little logging lines. And it looks like a lot of fun to just wing it and go free-lanced completely.

I could not access the forum for almost a week, after posting my thread. I thought perhaps my post was to be blamed for shutting down the forum, but to my surprise, I see things are finally up and running again. I would have sent my thanks for all the replies sooner, but I simply could not get onto server. Glad that the forum is up and running again!

So one more question. In On30, if I was to upscale a track plan from HO scale, how much might it need to be upscaled. The plan I have in mind is an HO scale (actually OO scale - it's an old book) that is exactly 10x10 feet, and has some pretty broad curves. About 30" radius plus. The only problem I see is track spacing on center would need to be changed, and structures will definitely need more room. 4 times larger! Yikes, that's more then I thought, but I am sure still do-able. If structure size and track spacing demands it, how much larger would I expect the OO track plan to grow? If I can, perhaps I will share a photo of the track plan this weekend.


"I love the smell of diesel fumes in the morning!"

Country: USA | Posts: 21 Go to Top of Page


Premium Member

Posted - 06/18/2011 :  02:40:49 AM  Show Profile  Visit MinerFortyNiner's Homepage  Reply with Quote
Nathan, your track spacing will increase considerably, and your minimum vertical separation is much greater, so that may affect the grades you need if you are bringing track over your right of way. However, your access and aisle requirements are the same as HO. It helps greatly that you plan to go 30" gauge, with its generally narrower equipment. Before you commit yourself to a plan, you might want to experiment with some cars and locomotives to see how things fit. I actually built a trial layout (just flextrack laid on my layout base of shelving) and fooled around with different arrangements for more than a year before settling down to really design a project layout. I suggest you 'play with trains' and get your feet wet with some track laying, etc., while making nothing too permanent so you can reuse the track, etc. when you really figure out what you want.

After 'seeing' spaces in smaller scales for many years, it took me a while to figure out just how much space some things require. If you want a sawmill or engine house, be prepared to devote some serious real estate. The plan you mention may technically work but look too crowded to your liking...the curves are broader than you really need for logging, but if you share the plan I'm sure you will get great advice from the crew here!

Country: USA | Posts: 2793 Go to Top of Page


Posted - 06/18/2011 :  03:09:59 AM  Show Profile  Reply with Quote
Hi there Nathan,

As you stated, the beauty of On30 modelling is that you can follow any prototype that you wish, even a fictitious one...

'Freelancing', as it is sometimes called, means that you can take whatever items that you like from the various systems and manufacturers and mix them up (within reason, of course) on your railway, and there is no-one to tell you that you are 'doing it wrong'.

Your 10' square layout area is more than adequate for a lively little layout, with good operational parameters, and a good expanse to create some interesting scenery. It would make some modellers drool at the prospect... (a hundred square feet????)

I understand your desires to keep all curves at the maximum radii that you can, and this is of course, always desirable. However, in On30, it is not always achievable - nor even always necessary.

The sight of a diminutive Porter, or a hissing Shay, edging their way up a slope, and around a minimum (read 15") radius curve as it pulls its consist up through the cutting, just has to be experienced to be appreciated.

After all, most real narrow gauge lines were privately owned, and most often ran on the smell of an oily rag, with mix 'n' match motive power, rolling stock and infrastructure. This means that sharp radii are the rule, rather than the exception....

For instance, in HO, one might take visual offence to a Mogul pulling a set of passenger coaches around an 18" radius curve, but in On30, that same tight radius that looked so strange in HO, now looks great! That's part of the attraction of our chosen scale.

Whether you choose to use standard HO flex track for your logging empire, or opt for the On30 trackage from ME or Peco, you can use an old OO track plan - just use more clearance on parallel curves and at junctions.

As to the size of O scale buildings, I cannot blame you for being a bit apprehensive about their dimensions, but that is really only a problem if you are attempting to depict a city or suburban site.

Fortunately, most of the 'backwoods' On30 layouts that are built are just that - set in the backwoods, where small ad hoc structures abound.

Keep the detail level interesting, and try to place little areas of 'action' from your scenes: even if the scene itself is completely static.

Sorry, I didn't mean ramble on and on, but I reckon that you have the correct ingredients for a fine railway modeller. Inspiration, imagination, creativity, a track plan, and best of all - a space in which to build your pike!!

Would like to see your prospective track plan when you get around to it.

Have fun!


Time is the Gauge of Existence

Country: Australia | Posts: 1324 Go to Top of Page

New Hire

Posted - 06/18/2011 :  09:30:49 AM  Show Profile  Reply with Quote
Thanks for the morning replies, guys!

Well it seems I am on the right track then, pun not intended! I figured for 3 to 3.5" track center line spacings, after measuring how wide my Bachmann Climax is on one track. Vertical separations of 4" should be plenty. Oddly enough, being in HO scale, with more modern era double stack contrainer trains and hi-cube box cars, I find the min 3.5 to 4" (my min. standard anyway) HO scale vertical separation actually carries over to On30. Interesting stuff. I like these larger, but smaller models! It feels a lot like HO scale, but with heftier models and opportunities to enjoy the details more easily!

I have a picture to share of the track plan I have been looking at this morning. Some years back, my uncle gave me an old Kalmbach book, from 1940. It belonged to his dad, who happened to like model railroading and trains as well. I never met the man, but my uncle found the book one day and passed it on to me. It's amazing to read this book, as I didn't realize just how serious guys were about building and designing layouts for opterations at that time. I just automatically figured everyone from that era was happy running trains in circles, and sometimes I am too. The track plan was drawn by Lynn Westcott, so maybe it's no surprise he was always ahead of the game!

Here is the track plan -

It's a rather basic twice around loop. Something I wouldn't normally consider for a more modern HO scale layout. Yes, I like the mileage it adds to the mainline run, but there is something in my mind that clashes with the concept of modeling a prototypical railroad in HO scale, with trains passing through each scene twice that just doesn't jive, yet in On30, I welcome the thought. The twice around loop seems to add more charm and character to the layout. After all, logging roads have to climb somewhere, right? Why not climb up into the hills, above the little namesake town, from which the line originated from, by means of a switch back, or a convoluted loop? Perfect modeling material, for On30.

Now the space is 10x10 feet, but I could stretch this a little if I wanted. Interestingly enough, Westcott proposes the space be 16x16, with 48" radius curves, for an O scale layout. I have room for a couple extra feet in one or both directions. Stretching to 10x12, 12x12, or 10x14 feet perhaps. If necessary, the extra space could be used to lighten the climb, but there is enough room for a 4" vertical separation, with a max 3.5% grade, and the run-arounds can be perfectly level, so cars don't roll away, while switching.

One thing I do see, however, is the space for structures seems tight. That could be a problem. On the plus side, though, there are very few structures, and that's fine. I'm not much of a city modeler. I am drawn to the back woods, small logging town scenes. Buildings are smaller little shacks that take up less space, but a saw mill is almost a requirement here, and I suspect that a structure like that would require a large amount of room. With a little creative imagination, I can replace some of the towns with logging camps, and the short little branch that runs down to 'Sandy' is a cool little feature, but I think it begs for a run-around near the end of the line. I picture that branch going to a low ground, somewhat swampy area. Perhaps a rock quarry is located there?

It's very interesting to note that Lynn had a bit of a staging area, in this design. For a layout of this size, I think the somewhat hidden passing track is long enough for a couple shorter trains to be (serial) staged there.

The only problem I see with this plan, and converting it to On30 is that maybe I would be trying to fit to much in some locations. Especially with the wider track centers of On30. Still, I think it's do-able. One can add a little depth to the scenes easily, without over doing it. Or up size the plan slightly. 12x12 feet? I am not totally restricted to a room. This would be built more like a free standing modular layout. I could stretch it a little. Maybe even make it sectional and portable - kind of.

There is not a ton of switching opportunities with this plan, but I think there is enough to have some fun. I am not a hard core operator, and I do enjoy railfanning, with the trains just crawling along through each scene.

I think the tightest curves here are of 30" plus radius. I had not considered the fact that I could go tighter, but it sounds like I could, and that may free up some room for other things. It makes sense that tighter curves may work better, and actually add to the character and charm of the layout. As long as a mallet can run through them fine. I have my eye on the Bachmann 2-6-6-2.

So what do you guys think? I really like this plan and think I can make it work.


"I love the smell of diesel fumes in the morning!"

Edited by - Nathan on 06/18/2011 09:52:27 AM

Country: USA | Posts: 21 Go to Top of Page

Engine Wiper

Posted - 06/18/2011 :  9:58:58 PM  Show Profile  Reply with Quote
3 dimensional buildings are going to be 8 times as big. twice as wide, twice as deep and twice as high. 2x2x2. Everything is going to 8 times as big. Hence the tendency to be going for flats and shallow buildings. I'm doing some initial sketches for a module and I'm now re-thinking the "town" into along the tracks with mostly a general store and a rooming house, a packing house, and a whistle stop platform vice full station. and moving the ore mill an associated industry off to the next module.(both in time and space) I was going to have a 18"/20" gauge (HOn3 gauge) trestle and flume come in from off stage to provide ore to the mill and feed a pelton wheel for the industry. Hidden oval to bring in loads and then bring back empties. (My overall space has been made longer but narrower driving some but not all of the rethinking.)

Don't push me bureaucrat, I've got a bit of hangover

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Premium Member

Posted - 06/19/2011 :  02:57:12 AM  Show Profile  Visit MinerFortyNiner's Homepage  Reply with Quote
Nathan, it's certainly an interesting plan...I have spent hours dreaming since I was a kit over track plans like this one! One of their characteristics is they look really good on paper...if you think about the creek or the station how they are rendered, they are really small - and that is small for HO. Crowded scenery in HO won't translate well into On30, but with determined creativity these obstacles could be overcome! It has lots of potential, and I have always liked the twice around layouts for the pure fun of watching trains run.

If you have even a few feet...let's say four feet...more in one direction, that is a huge game-changer in your favor! It would open up many possibilities that a square space doesn't support.

Country: USA | Posts: 2793 Go to Top of Page


Posted - 06/19/2011 :  05:21:33 AM  Show Profile  Visit andykins's Homepage  Reply with Quote
buildings is where i found out just how big o scale really was! all the buildings on my on30 layout (albe it far smaller at 6 foot by 1 foot are flats

the one thing i would sudgest is to try and not to copy a plan as it is, my worry is like yours in trying to jam everything on the plan, while making room for on30 trains to go around, less is more. however you may find once you get going you have more room then you thought, and you may be able to get something in you didnt think you would

Country: United Kingdom | Posts: 4279 Go to Top of Page
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