Beginners Ask Trains Where do I get HOn3 track and trains? Can I use N scale?

Where do I get HOn3 track and trains? Can I use N scale?

By Steven Otte | April 1, 2024

Ask MR: N scale track and locomotive mechanisms are too small for 36” gauge, but they work for HOn30

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A steam locomotive pulls an old-time passenger train on an HO scale layout
N scale track and locomotive mechanisms can be used in HO scale to model 30” narrow gauge railroads, also called HOn2½. But HOn3 track and trains are available for those who want to model a 36” narrow gauge railroad, like Mike May’s HOn3 White Pass & Yukon, seen here. Mike May photo

Q: I always thought N gauge track was the go-to gauge for narrow gauge HO operating equipment. I found out yesterday that is not true. I got a model kit for an HOn3 locomotive. Everything was going smoothly until I discovered the wheels and trucks supplied with the kit are spaced too far apart for N gauge track. The distance between wheel flanges is about 1/8” too much. So what gauge track do I look for, buy, and use with this locomotive? — Horse Veit, Craig, Alaska

A: You’re right; N scale track is the wrong gauge for HOn3 trains. N scale track gauge is 9mm, while HOn3 — 36” narrow gauge at a scale of 1:87.1 — works out to about 10.5mm.

Three-foot was the most commonly used narrow gauge in the United States. Some of the most famous narrow gauge railroads in the country ran on 36” gauge rails, including the Denver & Rio Grande Western, Rio Grande Southern, Colorado & Southern, East Tennessee & Western North Carolina (the “Tweetsie”), Oahu Railway and Land Co., White Pass & Yukon, and several short lines owned and operated by the Southern Pacific. There were dozens more less-famous 36” gauge lines. I model an Ohio short line that started out as a 3-foot-gauge line, the Cincinnati, Lebanon & Northern, though I model it after it was converted to standard gauge.

You didn’t just imagine that N scale track is used in HO scale, though. N scale’s 9mm gauge comes out to just about 30½” in HO scale. Although it wasn’t as popular as 36” gauge, 30” gauge prototypes did exist. And the simplicity of using N scale locomotive mechanisms to model HO scale narrow gauge equipment has made HOn30 (also called HOn2½) a well-known modeling scale.

If you want to model in HOn3, you can without much difficulty. A significant portion of HOn3 modelers to whom historical authenticity is important handlay their rails, but that’s not at all necessary. HOn3 track and trains are commercially available. Track is offered by such companies as Micro Engineering and Peco.

Locomotives and rolling stock in HOn3 are a little harder to get your hands on. Brass locomotives and brass, resin, and 3-D printed car kits are available. Blackstone Models (a subsidiary of SoundTraxx) appears to be undergoing some supply-chain issues at the moment, but the manufacturer’s website indicates it’s still in business, and you might be able to find some of its products in hobby shops and at swap meets. San Juan Details also offers some Colorado & Southern-prototype car kits in HOn3.

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One thought on “Where do I get HOn3 track and trains? Can I use N scale?

  1. Don’t forget 009! Basically OO scale or 4mm to the foot (rather than. 3.5 mm/ft in HO) using 9 mm (N gauge) track which scales to 2 ft 3 in. and is widely used in Great Britain, especially for modeling the preserved great little narrow gauge railways of Wales which range from about 2 foot gauge to 2’4″. Peco makes scale track as well as rolling stock, and kits and Bachmann features the Thomas Narrow Gauge range as well as highly accurate, detailed models of Welsh Narrow Gauge equipment. Several on-line retailers and the 009 Society, an organization dedicated to 009 modeling, can supply British profile Narrow Gauge equipment.

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