What is the difference between Gauge and Scale?
“Gauge” is the term that relates to the distance between the rails. Specifically, all trains of a given gauge have the same width of wheels on the rolling stock (the cars and locomotives). This does NOT mean they can run on the same track together necessarily but it does mean that rolling stock of the same gauge can usually sit on the same track for display purposes.
In general there are seven gauges of trains which are made by major manufacturers and which are more or less readily available in the United States, each represented by a letter. From smallest to largest, they are: Z gauge, N gauge, HOn3 (HO narrow gauge), HO gauge, S gauge (sometimes called American Flyer), O gauge (popularized by Lionel Corporation, also called ‘zero’ gauge), and G gauge (also called 1 gauge). Rail Tales carries N, HOn3, HO, and O gauge equipment, figures, buildings and so on but can order items in other scales.
“Scale” refers to the relative proportions of the model to the real world, usually expressed as a ratio. All trains which are the same scale will be in proportion to each other and use the same size figures, automobiles, and structures. Being of the same scale does NOT mean they can necessarily run on the same track or that they have the same width of wheels! Z gauge trains are 1/220 scale and N gauge trains are 1/160 scale, while S gauge trains are normally 1/64 scale. Both HOn3 and HO gauge trains are 1/87 scale and so use different widths of track but use the same figures, buildings, automobiles, etc.
O gauge trains all operate on the same track width but may be either 1/43 scale or 1/48 scale or no particular scale at all. O gauge trains which are labelled as ‘scale’ are 1/48 while those labelled as ‘semi-scale’ are approximately 1/43 and many are not really any scale. When adding to an existing O gauge train set, it is advisable to continue purchasing items which are the same scale. All three major manufacturers of O gauge equipment (MTH, Williams, and Lionel LLC) produce both scales of O gauge so just knowing the brand does not automatically mean products will be the same scale. Rail Tales can help you choose suitable products.
One (1)/G gauge trains may be any scale from 1/20 to 1/32 and this ratio usually is based on the brand so purchasers are advised to stay with the same brand for expanding a set.
To further complicate matters, track comes in different types or heights and in different turn radii. This is generally reflected in the minimum turning radius that a train can make and the height of track that a train might require. Rail Tales can assist you with these issues.
What is O-27?
The term O-27 refers to 1) O gauge trains that were and are built to a specific tolerance for turning. O-27 means that the train can turn on a track that has a diameter of 27 inches; 2) a specific type of O gauge track construction (one that is lighter and cheaper than standard); and 3) a category of Lionel product which fit items 1 and 2 and which was specifically made to be sold in mass market outlets in the postwar and early modern era (but which were also sold by authorized dealers). O-27 trains will run just fine on other types of track and mixed with other brands of trains, keeping in mind the rule about scale explained above.
Can I Mix Marklin trains and other trains?
Yes and no. The Marklin battery trains can be run on most HO gauge track types but the cars only couple to other batter train cars.
Standard Marklin trains use a unique ‘3 rail’ system to power the locomotives. The rolling stock also have solid wheel sets which will short non-Marklin track. This means that without heavy modification, your Marklin trains cannot be run on non-Marklin track and in fact could cause damage to the train and power supply. Further, unless a locomotive is designed to operate on the Marklin system, it will not work on Marklin track (though it won’t hurt it either). Marklin trains are also equipped with special European style couplers that do not interface with American style HO equipment.
Roco and Fleischmann un-powered rolling stock have Marklin compatible couplers and the insulated wheel sets won’t hurt Marklin systems. Marklin collectors can add Roco and Fleischmann cars to their trains, though in stock condition, the cars will not ‘trip’ special track sections. There are conversion wheel sets to allow Marklin cars on standard track and allow R/F cars to trip Marklin special track sections.
Rail Tales is a dealer for Marklin and for Roco/Fleischmann and can advise you on purchasing compatible equipment.