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N scale: myths & facts


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Myths & facts about N scale

A few, admittedly very subjective, thoughts about model railroading in 1:160. Without claim to completeness or correctness. Rather, a tongue-in-check revue of diverse "proportionalities" which have been held under my nose (or put in my hands) during the course of my career as an N-scale railroader. Facts, myths and oddities! The collection will be continued…

1:160: Today a very popular scale

N scale track plans

"N" = Nine Millimeter

When Arnold, a German manufacturer near Nuremberg, started in 1962 with N scale trains, many people smiled at this undertaking. Up to that time HO was the most popular scale; a locomotive in a tiny 1:160 scale neither was regarded as technically reliable, nor as a realistic looking model. Today we know: N scale is established, and it is probably the best compromise concerning space requirements at home and realistic looking details. Only very few people have 500 sq ft. of spare space to build a small railway station exactly to scale along with all the peripherals, as this would very likely be the actual space needed.
Be that as it may: What should be big is always too small, and what should be small is always too big. That´s model railways for you! So let me start with…

# Myth 1: Realistic Mountains

Yes - I love HIGH mountains on model railroad layouts! Especially N-scale track plans within Swiss or Bavarian Alps sceneries. But a real calculation of a 1:160 scale mountain shows: 1 ft on a N scale model railway layout is equivalent to 160 ft in reality. So modelling a mountain with 16000 ft altitude in 1:160 opens the first chapter of my "Myths & Facts" collection…

Panorama view in the Bavarian Alps

N scale scenery

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# Myth 2: The gauge

The profile height of N scale tracks from large volume manufacturer like Fleischmann, Minitrix, Kato Unitrack or Arnold is about 2 mm (= Code 80). This is equivalent to a real track height reaching up to your knees! N scale model railroad track plans will look more realistic when using code 55 tracks (= approx. 1.4 mm profile height, like Peco Finescale Code 55). It´s possible to use even more realistic rails (code 40), but then some standard wheel set flanges of the locomotives and carriages might cause problems.

# Fact 3: No entrance here!

Obviously this truck will have a serious problem, when entering this factory. So who did the miscalculation here? The truck manufacturer, or the manufacturer of this N scale building? Both claim: It is 1:160! Or did I not understand - this is not a factory building at all? It´s just a garage for - automobiles? A good resource for N scale vehicles you will find here: www.nscalevehicles.org.

Litlle carhouse or big factory?

N scale trucks

Ladders, railings and fences: The rough and the delicate

Houses are always something to smile about, i.e. N scale kits with ladders, railings, fences and the like…. When the cross section of the step of a ladder corresponds to the trunk diameter of a mature tree, a gutter resembles a water sewage pipe, or a simple garden gate is obviously modelled on the "elephant and rhinoceros" department at the zoo, the aspiring hobbyist is likely to want to have a word with the corresponding manufacturer. For it is precisely such details that upgrade each model railroad layout.

# Myth 4: Wide curve radius

R 3 and R 4 are standard N scale curves, which Fleischmann describes as "wide radius". As I like football (US: soccer!), I calculated it out and made an exemplary comparison - see the photo. Seems to be more a radius for a city tram or streetcar wobbling around street corners than for a high-speed intercity line! So advanced modellers prefer N-scale track plans with flex tracks.

Sports and N scale

N scale tracks

N scale track plans and the theory of relativity

It is a popular rumour that Einstein stumbled upon his relativity theory on a train journey. As the train chugged along, he became fascinated by a fly buzzing around the compartment. How fast was the fly moving? And in relation to what?

Let´s leave prototype railways now and return to the world of N scale track plans: When thinking about model railway speeds, this intellectual game can easily cause one´s thoughts to turn to other theories (in my case: strictly non-scientific ones!). For example: Speed is relative to the size of a model railroad layout. The same locomotive moving at the same speed on the same track gauge "seems" to move much more slowly on a 5 m piece of straight track than on a 50 cm piece of wiggly track. In other words: The speed "seems" to be quicker, the smaller the carriage (= length over buffer). And to what extent this might be related to distance, or more precisely, to the relationship between the observer and the observed object…. But that´s taking things too far now.

Fact is though: N gauge didn´t exist when Einstein was around. One wonders what would have become of him, if it had. Maybe a designer of N scale locomotives with integrated space-time reality principle. So we´ll have to satisfy ourselves with the following equation for most locomotives:

V max in N gauge = the "bullet train" to the power of two


# Myth 5: The distance

What would you regard as improper: The freight car wagon or the castle? Both are sold as 1:160 N scale supply. So let me pick up, what every architect, painter or photographer knows: Objects in the background look "smaller". Placing this castle in the background (or on the top of a mountain) will give a visual impression of "more" distance, especially on small N scale layouts.

Tiny castle for the "distance trick"

N scale supply

Fantasy or a reproduction of reality?

But isn´t it precisely this constraint which makes model railways so exciting? After all, it´s still true to say that as reality fades, fantasy becomes more imaginative. This means: The "How" is interesting. How to walk the tightrope between proportionality and feasibility. It´s an open secret of course though that there´s something boring about a super realistic looking model railway.
However, building a N scale model railroad layout is a delicate matter. But this only applies to the scale - not to fantasy. How else would I have got the idea of attempting a track plan with a big terminus station and showpiece stretches on an area of 2 sq m? Only "hobby railroaders" have such crazy ideas. "Model railroaders", in the true sense of the word, actually aim to model something exactly.

# Myth 6: N scale trees

Most of the trees, which explicitly are sold as N scale supply, are in my opinion just bushes or christmas trees. At best they are stuff for a tree nursery, but not for a real forest on N scale layouts. But fortunately this is not a real problem: We can buy HO trees!

Trees on a N scale layout

N scale trees

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