HO scale model trains are currently the most favored train scale in the world of model railroading, with over two thirds of train enthusiasts ranking HO as their favorite scale. If you are considering HO scale model trains for all or part of your layout, you are not alone!
“HO” stands for “half of O” meaning it’s half the size of “O” scale trains, making it’s scale 1:87. In this scale, 3.5mm equals 1 foot. The standard track gauge is 16.5mm. HO scale is similar to the European “OO” scale, which is highly popular in Great Britain. OO scale uses the same track as HO scale (16.5mm).
HO model trains are small enough so that you can fit a lot of model railroad in a limited space, yet large enough to provide fine detail. HO is not so delicate that a child cannot play with it (my first set was HO), there is little risk of small parts being damaged. HO scale provides an excellent balance between detail and space requirements.
HO has benefits for the older hobbyist as well. This scale is easier to work with than “N” scale (actual scales vary from 1:160 to 1:148, the gauge of the track is 9mm). While about twice as much of an N scale layout can be fit into the same space as an HO layout, the size of the pieces makes them more difficult to work with from the point of view of seeing what you are working on (us older modelers with glasses know what I’m talking about) and also handling the trains can be difficult – sometimes just getting a locomotive with all it’s wheels aligned on the track can be troublesome. HO scale is large enough that we can work comfortably with them.
There are many many choices in train equipment and scenery in the HO scale. Locomotives, rolling stock, sets and accessories are available from many companies. Another source of HO model train equipment is Ebay. You can find many HO scale train sets with modular track ready to run, there are also very high quality kits, scratch building supplies, highly detailed locomotives made from brass, you name it. Suppliers can be found locally, as well as internationally. Just about every type of prototype train equipment ever made has been reproduced in HO scale, so if you are attempting to replicate an exact prototype railroad, in a particular time and place, your chances are good that you can find HO scale trains to fit your need.
Some model railroaders use HO scale trains in combination with larger and smaller scales to introduce or increase the amount of perspective in their layout. Imagine a layout with “O” scale trains in the foreground (closest to the observer), then a set of HO track and trains a bit further back. This way, the layout “compresses” the distance, making the scene look more realistic, especially if you want to show vast distances in your layout.
Adding to your layout some “N” scale train and track further in the “distance” (perhaps against the far wall) will increase the perceived distance even more.
Your dreams of having a vast landscape, with mountains, hills, towns, industries and activities can be easily realized using HO scale model trains. Your friends (and fellow club members) will be astounded and amazed at your highly detailed layout, watching your locomotive pulling it’s load down the track, appearing from tunnels, over bridges, winding along a landscape of your own design.