Saturday, June 15, 2019

The Case for T Scale

 Today's post is more of an editorial comment than anything else.  Below are some of my thoughts on the advantages of T scale versus other model railroad scales.  Essentially, it's a summary of  why I like modeling in 1:450, along with some thoughts on where it will go from here.  If you would like to reply and comment, please do so!  I'd like to hear from others who visit my Blog.  - Jesse

     Years ago, I picked up a copy of the charter "N Scale" magazine published by Bob Hundman (July/Aug 1989).  In it there was an editorial titled "The Case for N Scale" which outlined why N scale could be a great modeler's scale-- this was in the years before there were a multitude of highly detailed RTR models, good track, electronics, structure kits, etc. available;  Kadee's "MicroTrains Line" was a leader, and Atlas has a decent array of rolling stock.  Kato was pretty new to the scene.  Track was pretty terrible (Atlas flex), but Micro Engineering had some great flex track.  A lot of scratch building was still necessary, and detailing was nowhere near the level of today.  DCC was in it's infancy.   But you could tell N scale had potential, from the brilliance of Pete Thomas' module to the beautiful brass Shay on the back cover.  I think T scale has that same potential.  Here are my main reasons why I find T scale (1:450) a great choice for scale model railroading:

1.  You can model scenery to scale.
     Because T scale is so small, it makes faithfully scaled-down scenes possible in a reasonable amount of space.  For this reason, 1:450 is a popular scale for architects, civil engineers, and ship modelers.   At the very least, much less "selective compression" is needed to capture a scene like the prototype.  Curves can be made much broader, turnouts longer, spaces more wide open..  I'm currently planning a small diorama/module of Princeton Jct., which faithfully represents the station, full ex-PRR 4-track mainline, and a bit of the Princeton branch, in only 8x30 .. inches.  I will probably shorten the platform a bit and move a highway overpass to cut off the scene but this is still a highly accurate representation of the area.

2.  It makes modeling possible in small spaces.
     Many of us don't have large basements, garages, or even spare rooms to semi-permanently convert to train rooms.  Or, if we did we might not want to dedicate so much space to hobby use.  T scale can be modeled in the smallest of apartments, layouts carried in and out doors without hassle, niches found that can harbor models without much ado.  I do all my modeling in a corner of my kitchen in my apartment.  All my models fit on a quarter of a single shelf in a china cabinet.  Granted, it's only about 10 pieces of rolling stock, a couple structures and some dioramas but try that in HO or O..   T scale is extremely space efficient!

3.  It's a low cost scale.
     T scale is actually relatively cheap to model in.  First, because of the size of the models, any supplies go a very long way.  One Dullcote rattle lasts for scores of models.  Paints, cements, landscaping materials, scratchbuilding supplies... all last a very long time.  One small bag of ballast can do miles of track!   Yes the mechanisms and components can be comparable to other scales (ie. $40 for a locomotive mechanism) but the rest is highly cheap.  And because there is so much scratch building that also minimizes the "expensive RTR model" issue.

4.  It's a  modeler's scale.
     There is basically a tiny smattering of RTR models available in T, most are European and Japanese prototype and the lone US model (a "GP8") is an overscale, clumsy representation of the prototype.  (I'll never know why they picked the remanufactured GP8... why not just a GP7 or GP9?)   In any case, in order to have accurate North American models I have had to design and build them basically from scratch.  I employ 3D printing however I have seen other nice models made from styrene and brass bits.  I recently built a Santa Fe semaphore signal-- 0.3 brass wire, a modified bit of an etched crossing gate and a bit of 1mm styreme rod.  In other scales, there's a tendency to just buy off the shelf, ready to run models and scenic accessories..  because you can!  In T, there isn't anything like that so if you want them, you just have to make them.  I discovered this process is fundamentally rewarding.  That U25B or GG1... I didn't just assemble it, I literally created it from 3D blueprints and brought it to reality.  That process is part of the fun that I think many modelers in other scales miss out on.  You also need to hone your painting and drafting skills because there are very few decals (there weren't any until I convinced CMR Products to make T scale decals of their designs to order).. so complex paint schemes must be masked and/or hand painted. 

5.  It broadens your modeling horizons.
     Because there are so few T scale modelers in the world, the community is by necessity compressed and comprised of modelers from all corners of the globe.  Consequently, there is a very interesting and beneficial cross-pollination among modelers.  I've interacted with T scalers in the UK, Germany, Japan, China, India, Australia, New Zealand, and the USA.  The Orbost module is a landmark, Doug Kightly's amazing "Bridge", and Ewe Fenk's fantastic hand-built locomotives all have provided inspiration.  David K. Smith's models were the inspiration for my early attempts at US prototypes in T.  And since then, I've built models of the British Railways' Deltic, Class 67, Class 66, and the Victorian Railways "S" class diesels.  I built models of the RhB ABe 4/4 iii and learned about the Bernia Loop in the process.  I was generally unaware of these fantastic railroads and locomotives until I delved into T scale.

6.  The Coolness factor.
     Ok, I'll admit it.  I like being able to say "I make the smallest model trains in the world."  Or seeing eyes pop when they see how tiny these models really are.  We T scalers are definitely part of a select few.  In a sense, we're the odd bunch, the modeling purists, the tinkerers and engineers who will find a way to do things just to see if we can in 1:450 scale. 

Post Script:
     Harsh reality must be faced.  It is not a great operating scale.  I rarely even run models at all because they just don't given the light weight and track issues.  Rolling stock must still be used to push unpowered locomotives due to space limitations in the loco shells.  True, pulse transformers have helped, and have made for reasonable running at scale speeds but commercial track is still quite oversize, clumsily rendered, and oxidizes easily.  Tie size and spacing is altogether wrong for North America, and the commercial turnouts are terrible.  The coupling system is similarly awful, being oversize, not prototypic at all, and not automatic (my 3D printed ones are better but are dummy couplers).  The electric motor and drive mechanism are just a bit too large to work in hood diesels.   
     Frankly, T scale is nowhere near where N scale was in 1989 right now.. It may be closer to N scale in 1969..  My wish list is for the next 5 years is to get a manufacturer to take the plunge and make those above components and perhaps even some North American rolling stock models (although 3D printing is making rapid enough advances that rolling stock isn't such an issue for me.)  Those "infrastructure" components are the real issue if T is to gain popularity as a scale.  What a world of difference good American flex track, working #8 and #10 turnouts, and a working semi-scale knuckle coupler would be..!  Add an economical 2mm diameter 4v motor (or complete canned drive mechanism less that 3mm thick) that could be worked into the shells of hood diesels..

Well, back to the drawing board! 


  1. It's been a while since I looked in here, and this is the first time I've been motivated to comment, so...

    I thoroughly agree with your list of pros (and post-script cons) for the scale. The potential advantages are huge, but it falls frustratingly short on the practical side - almost, but not quite, good enough.

    Elaborating on point #1, being able to model a railway lost in an immense landscape is something that you almost never see in the larger scales. Orbost and The Bridge are prime examples of this in T, and more than anything else, that is what makes them such stunning models. The only large-scale layout I know of with the same feel is the Vale of the White Horse at Pendon.

    Other than the lack of usable points, reliability is the scale's main bugbear - susceptibility to dirt and lint, poor low-speed running, etc. I'd started on a large exhibition model of Ribblehead, but kept dithering and hesitating because of the amount of effort it was going to take to keep it in running order. That is why I've chosen to head off on a tangent and start working seriously with linear motor drives.


  2. Thanks for taking the time to post, and it seems we agree for the most part. I'm still very captivated by the modeling even if static models; I do still build aircraft and some armor plastic kits, which are all static and still enjoy the process and finished product.

    In addition, given the limitations we know exist--I think the Princeton Jct. module or similar style module/layouts are feasible in T scale. I purposely left it a relatively short, straight run, cleanable (no actual catenary wires or tunnels), and no (operable) points/turnouts.

    I realize I'm operating in somewhat of a "Field of Dreams" style: If you build it, they will come... - Jesse

  3. Hello from Finland,

    I've been 'planning' a long time now, if I ever would go the 'T-route', after some years with N-scale. This post of yours really made my mind and nailed everything up. So, yesterday I did order some basic T-scale stuff from Great Britain - for myself as a christmas present. This blog has been a really valuable reading, even when I live in a totally different railway environment. Thank You and keep up your good work. Maybe I will order something from you some day, you are such a creator. -iikka

    1. Hei Iikka! Thanks for the comment and sorry it took so long to get back to you. If you have any requests for specific prototypes, I've been known to do some special projects outside of the USA (for example the ABe 4/4 III, French Draisine Du 65, and the Deltic). Check out the Facebook page and leave your comments or email me at - Jesse


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