Category Archives: S Scale

S Scale History Revised!

We like to think that S scale, or what became S scale, was first conceived of in 1896 by Edward Bowness, with his model completed in 1898.

This appears not to be the case, as the following from Locomotive Engineering, Dec. 1893, Vol. 6, No. 12, clearly demonstrates – and look at the fine (scale) flanges! No toy trains here, and live steam to boot.

The accompanying text states:

The Very Smallest Locomotive

We have several times within the last few years given illustrations of extremely small locomotives that were complete in all parts, but that shown in the annexed engraving is the very smallest working locomotive that we have heard about.  It was built by a jeweler, and is the property of Mr. W. E. Gallant, Chicago.  This elaborate toy is built to run on a track 7/8 inch wide and has a total length of 9 ½ inches with tender included.  The cylinders are ½ x 3/8, the driving wheels are 15/16-inch diameter.  The boiler is ¾ x 3 inches.  The total weight of engine and tender is 9 ½ ounces.  Gold, brass, steel, and nickel are the materials of which the engine is made and the pilot is of wood.  It is a real working model and spins along in good shape with its own steam, a spirit lamp providing the required heat.

I wonder what happened to this – it is now at least 125 years old?

Shortline Inspiration 2: the Edgemoor and Manetta

This line in deepest South Carolina is a little gem, and thanks to Chris Ellis, editor of Model Trains (now, after various name changes, Model Trains International) is quite possibly better known in the UK than in its home country! It featured as long ago as 1980, with all 6 turnouts of the line (plus the interchange connection to and owned by the Seaboard Air Line, Atlanta Division) and a somewhat compressed plan. Although I can see the reasoning behind the latter (the plan would fit onto two shelves in the corner of a room, taking up 7′ x 7′, in H0) I feel that the compression goes too far and prototypical operations would be hard to replicate, particularly at the interchange. With Chris’ permission, the plan – along with a later version by Giles Barnabe for N scale – has been reproduced on RMWeb. (Click to open up a link.)

The prototype was a very short, short line about 2.3 miles long which ran from an interchange with the SAL at Edgemoor to the Mannetta mills at Lando (Manetta Mills owned the line). The line even managed to have a plate bridge over a river (with timber trestle approaches, which collapsed at least once!) In short, it had one of many of the features modellers look for.

E&M number 5
Trains latterly consisted of a Porter 0-4-0 tank engine, hauling up to two freight cars at a time! Freight was primarily coal in, and blankets out, generally requiring hoppers and boxcars. Trains were worked with the engine at the Lando (terminal) end: pushing up the hill to the interchange – sometimes pausing half-way to pump up more air – and pulling down to the mills. When delivering coal, the engine was trapped at the end of the coal ramp spur whilst the hoppers were emptied; coal was also delivered to the boiler house in the same manner. The engine itself was coaled by shovel, from a roadside truck whilst standing on the loopneck at the end of the line. The railroad also owned a flat car which never left Lando: once the day’s switching and shifting was done, it was left between warehouses separated by the tracks at the start of the loop to act as a platform allowing access between them! It had to be pulled out of the way at the start of the raiload shift, and put back at the end. The mills worked three shifts in 24 hours, but the railroad only operated for one of them. At the interchange, empties and deliveries were dropped off by passing ACL/SAL freights, which collected loaded cars and empty hoppers which had been left on the house track at Edgemoor. In earlier times there was even a passenger service, and the line ran with 0-4-4T and 0-4-2T power.

As big as a train can get on the E&M!

It was the last steam-worked non-tourist line in the USA, but operations ceased in July 1975 when the engine failed its boiler inspection. Trucks took over, and that was more or less that, although the loco was still there nine years later!

With a requirement of a small loco (it might be possible to use the old Rex loco as a starting point in S – anyone have one for sale?), half-a dozen boxcars, a couple of coal hoppers a gondola, a flat car and maybe a tank wagon, this would not be a difficult line to equip. I have sketched out an idea for a 12’8″ x 8’10” spare room, designed to feature most of the features of the line. Although I have had to come down to 42″ radius curves, I have used number 8 turnouts as even with a small engine and 40′ long freight cars, this simply looks better than anything tighter. If anyone wishes it, I can supply the plan as a Templot file, or – if you let me know the paper size – as a pdf for printing. There were warehouses both sides of the loop, the spurs served the coal traffic.


For further reading search out the following magazine articless:
Jim Boyd, “The Last Steam Shortline”, Railroad Model Craftsman, March 1972
Chris Ellis, “The Edgemoor and Manetta”, Model Trains, May 1980
Giles Barnabe, “Edgemoor and Manetta Revisited”, Scale Model Trains, May 1986
Giles Barnabe, “Edgemoor and Manetta RR”, Model Trains International, Issue 101
Finally, the Arcadia Publishing book, “Lando”, by Pual Scott Williams of the Lando-Manetta Mills History Center (2007, ISBN 9780738552682) has a lot of information, including the Sanborn Insurance map of the Manetta Mills and railroad tracks at Lando.


I have been amused by recent events on a web forum, relating to a letter published in a model railway magazine. The letter was pleasantly worded (I checked this with my wife, who is not so much a disinterested party as a supremely disinterested party) and made some observations relating to such things as the correct uniform and headgear for a policeman in that part of the country at that time, what sort of bus would be present and the paint scheme it would carry, and so forth. All in all, I would say this is really useful information, and it was offered freely so that the layout concerned could be even better – and so that anyone else interested in that particular time and place could take one step closer to creating a realistic scene. I am sure we have all watched films and TV shows and commented (or thought) that the train being used didn’t exist in the era or location in which the unfolding story is set. Well, this is that sort of issue: “Here is something I know, because at that time, I lived in the area. If you get this right, then your layout will be even more believable.”

The builder of the layout being “criticised” was upset about this and viewed it as very negative nit-picking, and was more than a bit churlish and childish about it. Unfortunately, the inevitable storm in a teacup ensued, and rather than point out that the letter actually required some effort to write and was intended to provide information of help to the layout builder so could he please calm down and put his toys back in the pram, his on-line “friends” sent him messages of support, and generally joined in the condemnation of the letter writer and the magazine editor for daring to print the letter and thereby increase the sum of human knowledge. Anyone attempting to put the other view was subject to the usual cyber-activities of ad hominem attacks rather than reasoned argument (difficult to put one, if there are no reasonable arguments). It was a disgusting sight, thankfully brought to my attention sometime after the event and the matter was deemed closed, so I managed to avoid making a silly arse of myself by getting involved. As my wife said, “It’s only toy trains at the end of the day.” As she is a community-based psychiatrist and is told to go forth, multiply and die a horrible death on a daily basis, she thought the abuse was quite lightweight, but she has seen internet bullying in action elsewhere and thought the above event was unpleasant. I only hope that the upset party has written a letter to the magazine, expressing his displeasure, so that the editor can print it and let the world see how petulant and petty some people can be in the face of criticism. I doubt that a response would be really necessary.

What, you may ask, has this to do with armchairs? Well, one of the more childish responses made against the letter writer was, “Until she [yes, it was a lady modeller] shows us that she has built a layout, and offered it for criticism, she can’t comment on anyone else’s layout”. This sort of line gets trotted out at regular intervals, often with the phrase “armchair modeller”, but just because it is regularly repeated doesn’t stop it being poppycock. On this basis, I cannot vote as I have never been a politician; I can’t proclaim my preference for Mozart over Beethoven as I have never written a concerto or symphony, and so on. (I presume that, although very amateurish, the fact that I have written directed and produced school plays, and help with scenery construction, lighting and even acted in amateur dramatics, I am allowed to have an opinion on the theatre, if not plays in general. Or am I restricted to amateur productions and pantomime?)

No, this is ludicrous. By all means react appropriately to people who tell you how you must conduct your modelling, especially if they have never done anything at all themselves, as this is rude and presumptuous of them. But offering an opinion? Suggesting a possible but different approach? Proffering more information? Since when have we ceased to have a free society, and one which requires experience of delivering entertainment/products/services rather than simply enjoying them before being able to think and talk about it?

Thankfully, the finescale modelling world seems more tolerant of people making an effort and the sharing of information, but can still fall back on the, “Where’s yours, then?” school of response. But may I suggest that next time someone politely offers a suggestion, provides information or even proffers criticism, ask yourself if they are trying to help you – and thank them if you think they are.

Easier panelled coach sides

I would love to take credit for noticing this, but in all honesty must thank Chris Mears for bringing this to my attention.

Prince Street

I’ve only just discovered the Yeoton Wharf blog. The blog itself reports on the construction of a beautiful 3mm scale railway set in Victorian times and featuring a mix of broad and standard (oops, sorry, narrow) gauge track. While browsing through the blog’s pages I came across one in which he descibes his method for producing panelled coaches:

The process couldn’t be simpler and certainly couldn’t be more brilliant!

1 Print coach side elevation onto a sheet of self-adhesive label paper
2 Stick label “side” to a sheet of thin plastic
3 Cut out the window openings (the glazed bits) removing the plastic
4 Cut around the panel lines removing only the label material where the raised panel beads should be

…and there you go. Three easy steps and it should be quick, reliable and yield a very nice looking car side. As testiment to the process he’s…

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Short line Inspiration 1: The North Stratford Railroad

NSRC Boxcar

Looking for a small railroad on which to base a model? Like rolling countryside and boxcars? Have a penchant for small diesel engines? Want simple layouts that can be built as stand-alone modules, and connected together when there is more space?

Then look no further than the North Stratford Railroad Corporation (NSRC), an example of New England Yankee thrift and ingenuity.

To be honest, there was not much to it: a 44-tonner, an Alco S1, and 100 40′ boxcars, all of which have been or are in production in most modelling scales. Trains ran on a couple of days a week: firstly to sort out the loaded cars and swap them with the empties, and then to run the loads down to the CN (Grand Trunk) interchange, returning with new empties. The primary service was a furniture factory in Vermont, but the railroad was supported by the State of New Hampshire, which provided the lease on the track bed.


The terminus, at Beecher Falls, was just south of the Canadian border.

Canada ahoy!

There are some very nice pictures on the net: a simple search will turn them up, but for more information including layout plans, look no further than the ever wonderful Trainlife website, where all is explained.

“S”electing a “S”cale

Taking up S scale as the chosen medium for railway modelling is not for the faint-hearted – I am not talking about collectors of American Flyer here, but those who want to create a finescale model railway. It is not, though, as daunting as it may seem. This is a recurring theme on the S Scale Forum, which if S scale interests you, you are strongly urged to join (it costs nothing, although donations towards the upkeep are welcome). I though it an interesting exercise to tabulate some reasons why S scale might be right for someone, and indeed, why it might not:

  • Although only 36% longer than H0, S has 2 1/2 times the volume and mass – things roll better;
  • S is only 3/4 the length of 0, requiring only 56% of the area;
  • There is a reasonable range of RTR and kits, as well as limited run brass, on which to build;
  • Because of this, there is scope for individualism via modifications and new paint schemes;
  • If you wish to model something off the beaten track, where kit-bashing and scratch-building will be essential, then the larger size is easier on the hands and eyes;
  • Large enough to see details and models yet small enough to fit a layout into a reasonable space;
  • An active, if sometimes disparate, social scene where everybody has the common interest of enjoying S scale.

Against that, there are some valid reasons not to get involved, and some less valid reasons:

  • “I want access to a large manufacturing base offering great variety at the lowest possible cost.” Can’t really counter that – if that’s what you want, then H0/00 or N are probably for you;
  • “I have a large circle of modelling friends, all of whom model in H0, and I like to host sessions where they run their trains on my layout.” OK, stick with that, then, but maybe do a little bit of S scale for a small module?
  • “I don’t have the skill to alter RTR and kits, or to build kits.” Skill comes from practice, and from not rushing things;
  • “I want as much landscape as possible, in a small space.” OK, then N is probably best for you!
  • “I want really big individual models” I am not interested in a layout.” Well, S scale is a good size for this – you can pick things up more easily than in larger scales, but it sounds like 1:48 or 1:32 may be a better idea.
  • “I have too much invested in another scale already.” That depends on how it is invested. If you are 70 years old, and have spent the last 25 years building up a large operational empire and it all works, then maybe now is not the time to rip it all up! However, if you simply have a cupboard full of kits and RTR, then selling off those kits which you may never build via eBay or friends could fund your first steps into S.
  • “Nothing is made in S.” Look around: starting with the S Sig website and the NASG, as well as the UK S Scale Model Railway Society for an example of an organisation which has used the facilities of a group to produce the necessary parts;
  • “I don’t like the size.” Fair enough.

As ever, it is always a personal choice, but for someone who doesn’t want to run with the herd, someone who enjoys a challenge, then I would say, S scale is ideal.

If you are not sure, I think you should.