On the Naming of Scales and Gauges

Since I began my Outdoor Model Railroad about half a dozen years ago, different folk have told me it was G scale, F scale, and most recently, H scale.  Sometimes I've heard "n-something or other" thrown into the mix as well.  For the life of me I couldn't tell you which letter is correct, because I believe none of them are.

Speaking strictly for myself, I've really had enough of our trying to use the alphabet to designate the various scales. The practice cannot be defended on any rational grounds, in my not so humble opinion.


We must be getting close nowadays to having more scale and gauge combinations out there than there are letters in the alphabet anyway! I believe life would be simpler for us all if we dropped the alphabet soup.

I use mathematical proportions and track gauges in mm. to describe both model and toy railroads, thus we have some examples:

87:1 + 16.5mm
72:1 + 16.5mm
64:1 + 16.5mm
64:1 + 22.4 mm
43:1 + 32mm
48:1 + 16.5mm
48:1 + 19mm
48:1 + 32mm
32:1 + 45mm
24:1 + 45mm

... and so on.


Clearly, you can fit your own particular flavour wherever it belongs in the list.

You can read the + sign like this:  "on", "sur", "et", "and",  or whatever suits your home language. Personally, I read it as "on", but if you say "and",  folk will get your drift.

Anyone worldwide will understand you. It's mathematical, just like the business of creating scale models and plans, etc., so it's just naturally right.  Notice that by using proportions we also eliminate the very peculiar and near-impossible business of mixing Metric and Imperial measures, as in statements like 3.5mm = 1'. Try getting a Brit, or one of our Canadian kids, or someone from anywhere else in the world, who all his life has never seen a foot ruler, to fathom that one.


I do know how much I'm clashing with tradition, by the way; I've been a model rail since about 1955, for what it's worth....  I say the tradition may have been manageable once, but these days it's gone 'way past being comprehensible. Far too often I get some guy telling me: "I model in 'X'n2; that's blahblahblah on blahblahblah track." (or whatever).  Then he has to start again and describe his thing numerically anyway!!!

I prefer to stick with metric measures for the gauges as this is an international hobby, but I guess we could nod to our well-loved American friends and let them say things like 48:1 on 3/4", at least among themselves.  I believe they'd be wiser to refer to their track gauge in millimeters, which is after all the worldwide standard of measure.  Congress did make metric official at one time, by the way!   ;>)

I recently read about a guy who thought he was modelling in Hn15.  And I wondered what Hn15 was.  Turns out he was modelling in 1:24 + 16:5mm.  Maybe he was right, maybe he was wrong.  I model my buildings in 1:24 and I've never called them H, or heard them called H before...


But then I guess I wouldn't, would I?


Curmudgeonly yours,
John Le Forestier, Toronto


If you agree in general with what I've said here, and you'd like to promulgate these ideas, please feel free to do so, including this permission!   You'll be helping to make common sense go viral.

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  • Bill Bagley
    Bill Bagley You are correct, then you get my neighbor, the Rivit counter?
    December 11, 2013
  • Steve Seitel
    Steve Seitel Right on, John!
    August 15, 2014