I think I first became aware of G scale trains back in the late ‘70s, in those lost years after I had sold my first electric train set, bought a guitar, grown my hair – and sublimated what remained of the railroading urge into a little, surreptious 1/35th scale military vehicle modeling. Trains were even more uncool than WW2 tanks and armored cars, but you could hide all evidence of the latter a whole lot easier and quicker. Modeling in the closet, if you get what I mean. And then one day, I saw a G scale train in a military modeling magazine. HO gauge I knew, because that was what all my friends had. O gauge I knew, because I read the train magazines, but G scale? This was new – and big!
G Scale! What’s that!
G scale: I’d never heard of it, but it was obvious it was something special. The locos in the featured layout were 0-4-0 tank engines, of decidedly Germanic appearance. Little, but big! This layout wasn’t in the spare room or the basement: it was in the owner’s garden! That’s right – outside, open to the weather and the elements, in the garden. And clearly, from the look of the roadbed, the track stayed out there all year round. This G scale train immediately reminded of one of those great, classic Donald Duck cartoons of the late 40s or 50s. You can find it on YouTube. Chip and Dale, the chipmunks invade Donald’s house – the basement to be more precise – where Donald has a large-scale model railroad. Big enough for Donald to ride the tender of lovely 4-4-0 American. What a fantasy that was – riding your own rails! Chip and Dale manage to get Donald riled to the point where then railroad gets wrecked and I never found that funny, funnily enough. But the image of these big trains that held out the promise of being able to ride your own layout was the bit that stuck for me.
Now G scale trains aren’t big enough to ride, not even for kids. But big they are and you can operate them outside. In model railroad terms, G scale trains are built to a scale of 1:22.5 (that’s twenty two and a half times smaller than the real thing) and they run on brass track – hence the weatherproofness. That’s right – you can lay the track outside and leave it there. The tracks are spaced 45 millimeters wide; to get an idea of how big that is, HO track is 16.5 mm and N track is 9mm. A number of manufacturers make trains in G scale; in the USA, you are most likely to see Bachmann’s products, although Lionel makes a nice – and inexpensive – G scale Polar Express set, though this is aimed more at the young end of the market. Bachmann have been particularly clever with their marketing, because they make not one, but two G scale ranges. The first is termed “Large Scale” (it’s G, trust me, because the track is 45mm) and then there is the more upmarket Large Scale Spectrum Range.
How long is a piece of string? It’s more expensive than the popular indoor scales, HO and N, but it gives you so-o-o-o much more! The Bachmann Mountaineer set, consisting of their beautifully detailed 4-6-0 steamer and two coaches, track, powerpack and instructional DVD all in the box has a recommended retail price of 0.00. That’s an awful lot of train for a very modest outlay of dollars. At the top of the Spectrum range, the heartbreakingly beautiful D&RGW K27 Mikado is 75.00. But how much does a set of golf clubs cost? Or a fully configured and tricked out X-Box, with a dozen or so games? G scale trains get you off the couch and into the garden.
The market today is a little more populated than in 1969, when I saw my first G scale train. Is G scale OK for kids? Well, if it wasn’t, I don’t think Bachmann would have bothered marketing their Thomas with Annie and Clarabel set in G scale. If G scale trains can survive blizzards and twisters, they should stand a better than average chance with your 5 year old. Big has the advantage of being easier to handle and most of the locos made by the above manufacturers have comparatively simple wheel arrangements, so are easier for small hands to align with the tracks.
G scale trains are just one more option that the model-railroader of any age has to enjoy this great hobby.