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H0 Scale for British Railway Modelling

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H0 scale as we now know it was developed in Britain in the mid 1920s by members of the Wimbledon MRC as 3.5 mm/ft on 16 mm (later 16.5 mm) gauge track, and eventually adopted by almost the whole world but not by the country where it began. This blog post is a simple account of the milestones in the development of H0 scale, written up mainly for modellers of British railways who are considering tackling a small layout in the scale, and the modest number of people who already do. I am very grateful to three members of the RMWeb – David (“Pacific231G”), Kevin (“Nearholmer”) and John (“Allegheny1600”) who posted up a great deal of the content here in a short exchange of posts in a topic dealing with 00 gauge, in the Spring of 2018.

 

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H0 scale is quite an old scale, and Bassett-Lowke is quoted as saying he had the idea for producing half 0 gauge model trains in the 1900s but unfortunately the "great war" got in the way after 1914.

 

In 1922, Bing (of Germany) started making small model trains, in close cooperation with Bassett-Lowke. The models were quite toy-like and so the scale seems rather vague, but the gauge was nominally 16 mm or 5/8”. There is a representative display at Brighton toy museum. Some time later, modellers started to add an extra 0.5 mm to the gauge. In those days 3,2,1, 0 and indeed 00 always referred to the gauge and were generally referred to as no. 1, no. 0 or no. 00 gauge and so on.

 

In around 1923/24, Stewart Reidpath, A.R. Walkley and M. Longridge (all members of the Wimbledon MRC) settled on a scale of 3.5 mm/foot (1:87 scale), which is, of course, half of British 0 gauge’s 1/43.5 and 7 mm/foot.

 

Henry Greenly championed a scale of 4 mm/ft for 00 gauge to allow for the 3.5 mm wide tyres (5 mm wide wheels) he considered necessary and stated very firmly his opinion that "the gauge is not the correct method of arriving at the scale". It certainly wasn't for the locos he designed for the Ravenglass and RHDR. There seems to have been an assumption on his part that most modellers would continue to rely on semi-portable track rather than laying it on baseboards, and that 00 would be a table-top equivalent of 0 gauge with equally tight curves rather than a gauge for broader scale modelling.

 

By 1925, when the Model Railway News first appeared, the public debate between those going with Greenly's 4 mm/ft scale, especially Greenly himself, and those looking for scale models and going for 3.5 mm/ft scale seems to already have been in progress. Both approaches were of course designated “no. 00 gauge”.

 

Actual models using this 00 gauge were still fairly rare and layouts featured in the magazine were as likely to be 1 gauge as 0 gauge. In the magazine’s first year only eight physical models for 00 gauge appeared with photographs rather than as just drawings, and six of those, including two layouts, were 3.5 mm/ft scale.

 

Nevertheless, 3.5 mm/ft scale was consistently adopted in North America and throughout continental Europe, and almost completely abandoned in favour of 4mm/ft scale in Britain, between 1926 and 1939. The designation “H0” became associated the smaller scale, and “00” became associated with the larger scale. There is a detailed write-up of the development of 00 at the web site of the Double O Gauge Association.

 

In 1935, the National Model Railroad Association (NMRA) was founded in North America, and later the organisation chose to define H0 scale as 1:87.1. This is 3.5 mm/ft written to one decimal place rather than rounded down to an integer - the difference with 1:87 is negligible for practical model-making. The NMRA publishes many standards and recommended practices, and some of these are useful for modelling British H0.

 

Meanwhile in Continental Europe, some French modellers used 1:86 scale and referred to it as “00”, while some German modellers proposed a scale of 1:80. In 1952, an agreement at the Ruedesheim Conference of European Model Railways Associations decided that the scale of H0 would be 1:87 and its gauge 16.5 mm. The Conference became an annual event and a couple of years later it agreed to set up an "Organization of the Model Railway Friends Europe" (MOROP) as an international standards body registered in Switzerland. MOROP later changed its full name to “Organization of Model Railroaders and Railway Friends Europe".

 

MOROP is formed by several of Europe's national model railway associations. Writing this up in March 2018, there are 21 members from 16 countries in Continental Europe, and none from the UK. The organisation publishes the NEM series of standards ("norms of model railroaders"), and again some of these are useful for modelling British H0.

 

There are a few RTR railway models described as H0 but built to a different scale, most notably by Rivarossi (Italy) whose European prototype models were for a time to 1:80 rather than 1:87 scale - though their contemporary US prototypes were to 1:87 scale. The British outline models by Rivarossi and also Trix Twin (Germany) were around 1:80 scale. The usual German scale for no. 0 gauge was (and still is) 1:45, and this may explain why some other (older) German “H0” models were made to 1/90th scale.

 

Japan is an interesting case, where both 1:80 and 1:87 scale are used to represent 3ft 6in gauge trains on 16.5 mm gauge track, and the models are all described as “H0”. It is unclear why the Japanese didn't adopt 1:87 scale with 12 mm gauge track, which is actually closer to 3ft 6in gauge than it is to the metre gauge it's normally used for as H0m. In practical terms, N gauge is far more popular then the local versions of H0, because there is so little space in Japanese homes.

 

Some model buildings and kits marketed as “H0” are closer to 1:100 scale, but these are departures from the accepted scale of 1:87 rather than different flavours of H0. There are examples from Jouef, Noch and Faller. The use of a smaller scale is similar to the way some model buildings sold for 00 today in Britain (like some items in the Bachmann ‘Scenecraft’ range), are actually to 1:87 scale.

 

I have omitted mention of the BMRSB here, partly for clarity but mainly because I cannot find anything pertinent to the present-day modeller of British railways in H0. This leaves the modeller with two sets of popular standards to choose from: those of the NMRA and those of MOROP. Essentially, the production of most Peco track is driven by the market in North America, while most of the RTR rolling stock finding its way onto a British outline layout has its origins in Europe; and both work happily together.

 

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At a personal level, British H0 is engaging me in the hobby far better than my prior efforts in most of the popular British scales and gauges. I hope to write fresh things about British H0 as I gain experience with my own model-making and layout, usually with specific models and occasionally with more general posts like this one. In the meantime, these notes will be the introduction to my blog.

 

- Richard.

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Thanks, Richard, that's a very useful potted history of 3.5 mm.

 

Personally I agree that modelling in HO is more satisfying than other more commercial scales. It's not that my work is any better in 3.5 mm than it would be in 4 mm, but I do think it is more satisfying to work in a scale where you have to use imagination and ingenuity rather than a pen and cheque book.

 

I suppose I was initially attracted to British H0 because it still feels as the hobby must have felt in the thirties and forties, when people like Edward Beal and John Ahern had to make best use of the limited RTR resources available. That's a feat you've managed spectacularly well on Shelf Island! 

 

A welcome development that I've noticed in the last few months is that more 3D designers are beginning to offer their British locos and stock in 3.5 mm as well as other scales. And of course H0 track is remarkably easy - after all, every OO modeller is already using it! 

 

I'd recommend anyone curious about British H0, even if it's only to discover why anyone would do anything so bizarre, to join the British 1:87 Scale Society - it's free and there's absolutely no obligation to join in the online conversations or to model anything in 3.5 mm if you don't want to. 

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Well done, Richard,

I like it!

One tiny point, Greenly had apparently specified 5mm width wheels for the "table top" railway - even in 4mm scale, this is rather wide! 

John.

I've put in "5 mm wide wheels", this correlates with the 3.5 mm treads which David described. You really cannot check your own work - even when other people contributed nine tenths of it!

- Richard.

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Ian - I think you have hit the nail on the head with the word "satisfying". We (meaning, people who write on the RMWeb) are old enough to be able to argue anything, which it why I steer clear of trying to argue specific merits of British H0 in the forums, but it is certainly the most satisfying scale for me, and I went through roughly 00 - H0 - N - EM - O - S (only for narrow gauge) - 00 - H0 to get here!

 

It seems to work especially well for me in for a present-day setting, where modern prototypes are physically bigger than they were in the days of steam, and the saving in space makes for a better layout, either more spacious or more track.

 

I want to write a post here about "track", to describe what I have found works best for me.

 

- Richard.

 

Editted as underlined.

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Thanks, Richard. I didn't intend to highjack your blog to preach in favour of H0, and I'd be sorry if it came across that way to anyone. I really don't think H0 is superior to 00 in any way - it just suits me better! 

 

Definitely looking forward to your article on track.

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Ian - I didn't detect any "preaching" at all but on rereading I've edited my last comment. I do sometimes see a desire for people to want to compare H0 with 00, and I have been as guilty as anyone of doing this - but really, British H0 is good enough to stand on its own without such comparisons. The blog is better, at least until I finish the layout, if it simply describes what I am doing, so hopefully this post will be one of very few where H0 and 00 seem to get compared.

 

- Richard.

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Interesting History, Richard - thank you!  - and I never know it all started 'over here..'

re your comment in the main text "... some model buildings sold for 00 today in Britain (like some items in the Bachmann ‘Scenecraft’ range), are actually to 1:87 scale"

Is there a list anywhere of those Scenecraft builidings that are actually 1:87 scale? This would help me greatly as I'm a recent newcomer to H0 and have a lot of catching up to do! (may have to resort to some cheque book modelling to catch up....)

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On 08/07/2019 at 10:50, andyb92 said:

Interesting History, Richard - thank you!  - and I never know it all started 'over here..'

re your comment in the main text "... some model buildings sold for 00 today in Britain (like some items in the Bachmann ‘Scenecraft’ range), are actually to 1:87 scale"

Is there a list anywhere of those Scenecraft builidings that are actually 1:87 scale? This would help me greatly as I'm a recent newcomer to H0 and have a lot of catching up to do! (may have to resort to some cheque book modelling to catch up....)

 

I don't know of such a list, but it would be a pleasant exercise to compile one. Half the fun of working in H0 is finding what you can adapt from other scales. I have a feeling, I read somewhere the Scenecraft 'Deco' station buildings are 1:87. If so they would look good with a rake of the Bulleid coaches. This could be a static diorama on a shelf as a place to display models as you buy or build them.

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This is actually very interesting, and begs a question . Why `re so many of us struggling, I speak for myself, to produce smooth running controllable models to all sorts of high standards, F/S00, em P4 S4 or whatever when all the time there has been a reasdy supply of H0 chassis, models and so on adaptable or actually to British outline.ready to run on scale track,available off the shelf.

 

I look at my work bench where reside many different wheels to 4mm scales,  chassis with or without compensation, all intended to meet my personal pleasure which is building locos.

 

Then I realise that I could just as easily build a body to 3.5mm/foot and use a drop in chassis with all the right(ish) bits in place already.

 

As you may guess chassis are not my best point.

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5 hours ago, robert17649 said:

This is actually very interesting, and begs a question . Why `re so many of us struggling, I speak for myself, to produce smooth running controllable models to all sorts of high standards, F/S00, em P4 S4 or whatever when all the time there has been a reasdy supply of H0 chassis, models and so on adaptable or actually to British outline.ready to run on scale track,available off the shelf.

 

I look at my work bench where reside many different wheels to 4mm scales,  chassis with or without compensation, all intended to meet my personal pleasure which is building locos.

 

Then I realise that I could just as easily build a body to 3.5mm/foot and use a drop in chassis with all the right(ish) bits in place already.

 

As you may guess chassis are not my best point.

 

I think the scale is ideal for models of diesel and electric prototypes, and all British rolling stock. You have to accept restrictions on which steam locomotives you can tackle but there are enough doable prototypes to keep me happy.

 

The chassis of models from North America and continental Europe are engineered to a far higher standard than those of modern 00 RTR. The running qualities of models from Roco, REE and Trix especially seem to be near-perfect. The only exception I can think of to mention here is the Rapido APT-E, which does run very well ... but then again, this was from a Canadian manufacturer.

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The problem with using Continental and American chassis is that the loading gauges are much bigger. even if you find something with a suitable chassis it's unlikely you would be able to just drop a new British body on it without making it over scale in width (both the Fleischmann Warship and the Lima 33 were a couple of mm too wide).

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1 hour ago, HSB said:

The problem with using Continental and American chassis is that the loading gauges are much bigger. even if you find something with a suitable chassis it's unlikely you would be able to just drop a new British body on it without making it over scale in width (both the Fleischmann Warship and the Lima 33 were a couple of mm too wide).

 

There is an article on the BR class 42 in Wikipedia, and here the width of the prototype is given as 8' 10". Now, I cannot verify this figure but it equates to a scale width on 30.9 mm. The Fleischmann model is a whisker under 32mm wide, so 0.5 mm too much each side. That's barely visible. The review in the 'Railway Modeller' in the 1970s claiming the model is 2mm too wide is in error.

 

The Lima class 33 is about 2mm too wide. But if you rework the body so it is around 0.5 mm too wide (a quarter of a millimetre each side), the result drops into place on a Life Like Proto 2000 FA2 chassis. The FA2 chassis is closer to prototype than the Lima original, and it runs well too.

 

To my mind, much of your comment is unnecessarily unhappy. Anyone making a British outline model will inspect a donor model with some care before making a purchase, so major problems should not arise. You can expect bogies to be around 1mm too wide, to make room for over-scale wheel thicknesses. This makes for 0.5 mm too little overhang below the body each side. This happened on my class 87, but truly it does not show. Many RTR H0 chassis are quite a bit narrower than the superstructure on top of them, or accept straightforward modification, and I think you will have a pleasant surprise if you look a bit more closely. It is very easy to get bogged down in closeness to scale dimensions when really, the overall effect of the train on its track is much more important for enjoyment of the layout.

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