Sunday, March 13, 2011

The Case for 30" Gauge

In the early 1980's/late 70's there was a surge of interest in HOn30 thanks primarily to the work of Hayden and Frary and their use of this gauge to render the two foot gauge railroads of Maine in HO scale. These backwoods railroads were ideal for perfecting rural scenery techniques, quaint New England waterfront scenes, and more. The roads seemed a pleasant break from the busy and bustling mainline railroads of America, despite the fact that these miniature roads were almost never successful business enterprises. To be sure, brass HO and O scale equipment could be had in brass if you had the funds and were willing to hand lay the trackwork, however, the use of N-scale mechanisms and track made things a little simpler and the 6" difference from the prototype wasn't a worry for most. Around this time folks looking for a little larger format reasoned what could be done in HO could be done in O scale, and started modeling in On30 scale. I remember being a member of a On30 group back in the late 80s and early 90s and still have some of their newsletters around. On30 eventually took off with a much broader audience after Bachmann began releasing fine looking and running, but inexpensive, equipment in this scale.

Given all this interest it seems someone is always apologizing that things are slightly off - not so. Yes, the three foot gauge and two foot to a lesser extent, predominate where narrow gauge railroads operated with the semblance of a common carrier, but, the vast majority of narrow gauge equipment was used in industrial applications, intra plant railroads, or in mine to mill type situations. Given that, the gauges within the industrial narrow gauge umbrella varied greatly - from 42" to 18". Three foot gauge even in the industrial setting still was a stand out, BUT, 30" gauge was used and was by no means rare. US Steel used 30" throughout their Homestead Plant to move ingots,..etc. In New Jersey, the United States Metals facility in Carteret had about 20 miles of 30" track within their gates, moving copper ingots and plates. (For perspective, the other two copper plants, American Smelting and Refining, and Anaconda, in Woodbridge, and Perth Amboy respectively, both had equally large 3' gauge intra plant railroads. ) I've posted some photos with this blog of the USS 30" gauge locomotive and ingot cars, and photos of the dock of the US Metals plant - one taken in 1991 by me and the other, from many years ago when the plant was in operation.

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